A few years ago I took my family to the 17th Century living museum and village Little Woodham, near Gosport in Hampshire. I met there James Hodgeson, or master John from the village as he prefers to be known.
In the April of 1642 the King of England, Charles Stuart and his Parliament stood on the eve of Civil War. The momentous events of that year unfold as the autumn approaches. Using extensively researched local events and people the villagers link their families and their lives to national and international events.
According to a report I read in the Times a while back, nearly 4,000 churches out of the 47,000 in the UK are slowly falling to bits and need attention. And when you average out the congregation per church the number is a mere 33 people attending. Take into account that each of these churches, again on average, require around £80,000 for repair and restoration work, a very big question is clearing being raised. Do we need these crumbling churches?
The Bald Explorer is off on another quest to find out if our ancient churches should be left to fall apart gracefully or whether they ought to be fought for. We lost most of our abbeys, monasteries and nunneries in the mid 16th Century as a result of the Dissolution and the country is scarred with their sad remains. Would we wish to allow that to happen again?
Many of the smaller rural religious houses have stood for hundreds of years, with a great many dating back to the Norman period. These Norman churches would have been the most significant building in the villages and towns and having been built-in stone have out-lasted almost all the timber-framed structures surrounding them. In some cases, a church stands alone, marking the spot where a village once stood.
The church was, and in many cases, still is the centre of the community. Not only was it a place of worship, but in the days before the benches and pews were erected and the building was more open plan, the church was effectively the village hall. Markets were held there. Pigs and sheep would be bought and sold from the nave and many feasts took place within those ancient walls. It would have been a loud, gay, busy building, white washed and painted with colourful murals, quite the reverse of the sombre, hushed place we see today.
As monuments they encapsulate the village’s or town’s history. The walls, may seem bare, scraped and devoid of life, but they full of the vibrations of all that has gone on before, from birth, to marriage and finally death. You do not need to be religious or a believer in Gods to appreciate the significance such a building has played in the history of man. The story is played out in village after village, town after town across the land. And as each town grew and spewed further and further out into the green belt, gobbling up the countryside with the construction of modern, yet distinctly plain, utilitarian houses, often like a plan from prisoner of war camp, it is still possible to discover at its centre, the throbbing heart, the parish church.
Work is under way on another Bald Explorer episode, which hopefully will be shown on the Community Channel later in the year to find out if saving our crumbling churches is possible and what needs to be done to bring this about.
I am thrilled to announce that the Community Channel has now dedicated a special Youtube page to the shows for the Bald Explorer. It gets its own nifty url too: www.youtube.com/show/thebaldexplorer which is fabulous!
The next three episodes are due to air soon on the channel and I will update you as soon as it happens.
The very nice people at the Community Channel have included the Bald Explorer as valued member of the team. They very kindly added an image of me to their new revamped Youtube page. I feel famous.
I have now delivered the next three programmes for transmission on their TV network through the year. The Bald Explorer will be off to Wiltshire to the ancient monuments that lie scattered on the chalky hills, built by our prehistoric ancestors. Can we unravel the mysterious of these strange earthworks?
West Sussex is the destination for the Bald Explorer in one episode. I am searching for the history of a typical rural town. Why were the poor labouring classes sent to Canada. What happened when a school was bombed during the Second World War and are there really still Pullman carriages at the old Petworth Station?
In the final episode of this series, the Bald Explorer, is seeking the whereabouts of an abandoned canal. He meets the people that are trying to save it and put it back in water. These old navigations have a fascinating history of their own and taking to both a narrowboat and a coracle, the Bald Explorer seeks to tell their story.
I can’t wait for the programmes to be shown on the Community Channel. After that, they will be available on their Youtube page or indeed here at the Bald Explorer website.
Meanwhile, keep a check on what the ‘BE’ is up to. He may very well be out exploring near you!
One of the things that makes the Bald Explorer programmes different to many of the videos you find on the internet is the computer Graphic images that are created for each episode. These help to illustrate perhaps, as an artists impression, what buildings and places might have been like in the period of the story being explored. They are the most time consuming part I would say of the post production process. Each graphic has to be researched from resource material, either from libraries, books or via the internet and then brought into a 3D computer animation package. Once the basic models are constructed, they under go the texture process, or if you like, skinning to make them look fairly realistic. I do not try to make them photo real, however, due to the limitations of my experience and the amount of rending time each individual frame would take to complete. I add a basic lighting rig to the CG models and give the 3D camera filming the sequence a little movement to make the video clip more interest.
In the forthcoming episode about the abandoned Shrewsbury Canal, I have built some of the major elements of the old navigation and the landmarks along the way, including the Ditherington Flax Mill. This was the grand daddy of the Skyscraper, because it was the first building in the world to make use of an iron frame internally. It is currently undergoing renovation and is inaccessible to film adequately and this where a CG model comes in handy. The canal can be added to show how it would have approached the site.
The Longdon-on-Tern Aqueduct is another structure that we visit in the programme.. Thomas Telford was involved in its creation. It is the oldest surviving iron aqueduct in the world and is what inspired Telford to go on and create on of the canal wonders of the world, the famous Pontcysyllte aqueduct, in Wales. It is no longer in water and lies almost forlorn in a farmers field. With computer animation we can put the water back in and have a narrowboat cross it again, as they once did a couple of hundred years ago.
The Community Channel will be showing the Bald Explorer programmes in February 2013. You can find out more about them here. http://communitychannel.org