Monday, 28 March 2011

Blackmore: New Insights into Tree-Ring Dating

Tree ring dating (or dendrochronology) has been with us for a number of years. The science has helped historians understand and sometimes reinterpret the history of an individual building, and its context within a community. This was the case at Blackmore a few years ago when Dr Martin Bridge was commissioned by the Parochial Church Council (with 100% grant support) to attempt to date the bell tower of the Priory Church of St Laurence.

The result, a construction date of 1400 or, at most, two years’ afterwards, was much earlier than anyone had previously thought and caused the understanding of the building’s history to change. Historians learned that the bell tower was almost contemporary with the construction of the roof over the nave and chancel (1381 – 97: being the date range of the 16 painted shields on the ceiling) and the likely piercing of a north door for parishioners’ use when the great west door was stopped up.

Almost seven years after the dating work was completed, Dr Martin Bridge gave a talk to the High Country History Group on his specialist topic. With every new and successful commission a greater understanding of timber use can be gleaned. Recent research has indicated the possibility that the timbers to build the ‘Mary Rose’ could have been sourced from many locations, from across southern England to the Welsh Marches. This makes stronger the discussion set forth in Dr Bridge’s 2004 report on Blackmore’s bell tower that its oak may have not necessarily been sourced locally.

“The very poor timber matching between the individual samples is remarkable, and again underlines the idea that timber may have been gathered from several woodlands, although the matching characteristics of the site chronology suggest the sources would have been relatively local. It is also of note that many of the sites with which the tree-ring series match best have monastic / ecclesiastical connections, matching is less good with close secular sites (for example Little Braxted, Dunmow, Good Easter and Fyfield, all within a 25km range).”

Martin Bridge also talked about the work his colleague did on St Andrew’s Church at Greensted. The results confirmed the date of construction to be much later than had been thought, destroying the age-old legend that it had been used as a resting place for St Edmund’s body in 1013. That said it remains one of the most ancient buildings in the county.

As the body of evidence grows on this subject, further insights may still be realised.

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