Surely these ships are another example of the family or indeed the sailor
seeking protection for their loved ones or themselves while at sea, and are
to be paralleled by not only the same devices in France (see for example
Dives sur mer exterior, or St Trophgime cloister, Arles (interior) which are
themselves a simpler or cheaper version of the votive ships actually given
to the churches - examples seen but precisely where a mystery.
From: Matthew Champion
Sent: Saturday, April 14, 2012 4:53 PM Subject: Re: Bad graffiti or good
I simply don't think much of what we discover was offensive, or designed to
be so. If you look at Blakeney church, where John Peake (the grandfather of
the graffiti survey) has been doing amazing work on the hundreds of
inscriptions, it does start to change your perception of how graffiti
inscriptions were viewed. If you look at the many dozens of examples of ship
graffiti to be found in the church you start to notice odd things going on.
All of them are found on the south arcade, although the north arcade also
contains graffiti, and they are heavily concentrated on the easternmost pier
- opposite the side altar and an empty image niche. This pier contains
almost 50 ship images, created over a period of several hundred years, and
no image appears to intentionally cross another. Some are smaller, seemingly
designed to fit the space between the larger ones surrounding them, making
it appear that they respected each others space. When you take into account
that the pier was originally pained a deep red then these ships would have
been highly visible to anyone who entered the church for several hundred
years. None were defaced - suggesting also that they were respected by the
wider congregation and the clerics of the church. The obvious interpretation
is that these ship images were, in some form, votive images. Their exact
meaning remains unclear but they obviously have 'meaning' and 'function',
perhaps as a direct interaction between individual and church as both a
building and institution; an interaction that did not require the
intervention of priest, bishop or pope. This idea of function and meaning is
what, I believe, sets apart many of the earlier inscriptions from the sort
of pure and mindless vandalism witnessed at York.
From: British archaeology discussion list [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
On Behalf Of [log in to unmask]
Sent: 14 April 2012 13:08
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [BRITARCH] York (and elsewhere) suffering from the vandals
Fair point and impressive reconstruction, but as I said I was playing
devils advocate. Maybe then to 21st century eyes used to bare stone
spray paint is more offensive.
On 14/04/2012 11:07, Matthew Champion wrote:
> I think the idea that graffiti in the past was less intrusive is not one
> that will hold a lot of water. It is less visible today, at least in
> churches, simply because the environment in which it was viewed has
> so radically. In the first instance you have to remember that, almost
> without exception, the medieval church was painted - a riot of colour so
> speak. Even the lower sections of the walls, where no formal paint schemes
> were present (we damp plays merry hell with the pigment), would often have
> simple colourwash. We have found a lot of evidence for red and orange
> as well as carbon black. These areas of wall and pillars appear to have
> particularly attractive for graffiti inscriptions at the time. The
> of inscriptions we discover were scratched through this pigment to reveal
> the pale stone beneath - making the inscription highly visible to everyone
> that entered the church. The really interesting thing is that the vast
> majority of these inscriptions were not defaced (with the noted exception
> heraldic inscriptions - but that's another story), suggesting that they
> not only accepted but were acceptable. I put together a dodgy
> on the website -
> that gives an idea of how some of this graffiti would have originally
> looked. If anything it is more visible than some of the later examples.
> Matthew Champion.
> Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: British archaeology discussion list [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
> On Behalf Of [log in to unmask]
> Sent: 14 April 2012 10:44
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Re: [BRITARCH] York (and elsewhere) suffering from the vandals
> Definatly agree with the quote of TP and that we are a society under
> stress- as a York resident for the last 12 years it struck me when I
> first came here how little graffiti there was in the city centre
> compared to where I had come from down south. I would argue the increase
> in graffiti in York over the last 10 years, particularly in the last 3
> or 4 years, coincides with an increase in city size but a decrease in
> jobs (unless you want to work in tourism or one of Yorks one every other
> shop cafes, but that is another rant). To play devil's advocate, surely
> it can be argued that at least gafittii in the past was less intrusive,
> it is there but does not stand out in the same way as bright red or
> black spray paint and this is that make modern graffiti so intrusive
> and the cause of discontent rather than the act of graffiti itself; if
> someone scratched there tag or message into the wall as in the 14th
> century it might have gone unnoticed, or if noticed not stood out.
> Perhaps we also don't want to admit to the fact that society is on the
> rocks......Pessimism on a Saturday morning- can't beat it!
> On 14/04/2012 09:40, Matthew Champion wrote:
>> It does raise some interesting questions doesn't it? Questions that we
>> had to address, albeit obliquely, as part of the Norfolk Graffiti survey.
>> Yes a few centuries does transform a piece of vandalism into an important
>> documentary record. However, it doesn't have to be a few centuries. Some
>> the most interesting examples we come across date to WWII and, like the
>> modern examples, tend to be names (tags?) that would identify the
>> However, a couple of points I would flag up for consideration.
>> 1. Many of the early graffiti examples we discover are clearly devotional
>> nature - and are not of the tag/name variety (which may be equated with
>> memorial inscriptions to some extent).
>> 2. At what point does mindless vandalism become art? Graffiti is widely
>> as a destructive process. Banksy has clearly gone far beyond the realms
>> what we would normally think of as graffiti and, I would argue, has
>> something largely regarded as destructive into something that is clearly
>> creative. I think that part of the problem is the label -'Graffiti'. I
>> no more associate the work of street artists such as Banksy with the
>> mindless vandals who daub ancient monuments than I would my own telephone
>> pad doodles with the sketches of Leonardo. The process is the same but
>> intentions of the creator and the end result may be very different
>> 3. Lastly, I think it worth highlighting something that we have started
>> notice both in early Norfolk graffiti and elsewhere. In our surveys we
>> begun to notice two things. Firstly, that graffiti (of whatever period)
>> attracts further graffiti. Therefore is a site already contains some
>> graffiti, of whatever period, then that particular wall or pillar will
>> probably be the site of subsequent graffiti inscriptions - including
>> ones. Therefore, when we enter a church and see fairly modern graffiti it
>> usually he first place we look for earlier examples. Secondly, we have
>> begun to recognise that certain time periods or eras tend to generate
>> graffiti than others. We have termed them chronological hot-spots. I have
>> already mentioned WWII - but there are other earlier periods. WWI,
>> decades of the 19th century, 1640-50, 1530-50, 1450-1490 and the middle
>> the 14th century. You will all recognise the dates. In essence, we are
>> beginning to see a distinct increase in identifiable graffiti inscription
>> from historical periods of social dysfunction and stress. Put simply,
>> 'things go bad' people start writing on the walls. What then does that
>> us about our modern cities? As the great social historian Terry Pratchett
>> once wrote - 'we ignore the writing on the walls at our peril'.
>> Matthew Champion,
>> Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey.
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: British archaeology discussion list
[mailto:[log in to unmask]]
>> On Behalf Of Malcolm J Watkins
>> Sent: 14 April 2012 09:03
>> To: [log in to unmask]
>> Subject: Re: [BRITARCH] York (and elsewhere) suffering from the vandals
>> Should we be surprised by this?
>> I used to have to deal with such idiots on the city's monuments,
>> one case of arson. I now offer a talk on the broad subject of when does
>> vandalism become an historical document - which is itself an interesting
>> take. The work in Norfolk indicates the difference that the odd century
>> make, while I have enjoyed with only modest success tracking the
>> of a graffito on a tree in a local beauty spot. He did it around about
>> time of the D-Day invasions and subsequently returned to Schenectady, NY.
>> My real anger is addressed to those fools on the 'right' side of society
>> encourage such madness. Anyone who went to see the Banksy(ie?) exhibition
>> Bristol, for example, is condoning (not to say encouraging) such criminal
>> behaviour. The museum authorities do not seem to have appreciated the
>> of throwing all responsibility to the winds in favour of blatant
>> visitor-numbers and commercialism, but if the same act were to be
>> perpetrated on their own property the reaction might be different.
>> The implication is that graffiti artists can become celebrities and
>> whereas they should simply be erased as a species along with their
>> My other worry is that these people are not, by and large, shrinking
>> violets. They actually want people to notice them, and therefore use
>> to identify themselves. Yet such blatant self-aggrandisement seems
>> of leading to their apprehension and punishment. In these days of social
>> media, is this really logical? I would argue that these people are
>> generally identifiable and ought to be traceable through such identities,
>> yet even when (as seems the case with the afore-mentioned individual)
>> identities are known, what happens?
>> Presumably at least one of the perpetrators at York uses the Guns and
>> (I assume) motif as his/her tag?
>> Should lead to a quick arrest then.........
>> Ducks flying pig.
>> Malcolm J Watkins, BA, AMA, MIFA
>> Heritage Matters,
>> ----- Original Message -----
>> From: "Robert Smith"<[log in to unmask]>
>> Sent: Friday, April 13, 2012 3:06 PM
>> Subject: York (and elsewhere) suffering from the vandals
>> Dear All
>> Considering the recent run of vandalism on historic buildings I am
>> this has not recieved much comment on Britarch. The BBC is reporting of
>> another defacement of York's heritage by vandals.
>> This is an increasing problem in York
>> But at least for one attack on Clifford's Tower they got someone for
>> that http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-york-north-yorkshire-12822480
>> These incident caused some comment on the BBC
>> Begining to think this fair city is on the slide as grafitti, not just
>> on the heritage sites but elsewhere is on the increase- sounding like a
>> grumpy old man but 10 years age, even five years ago graffitti in the
>> city centre was rare and certainly would not have appeared on historic
>> I suppose the question is what can be done about it?
Gareth Dean, Field Officer
York Archaeological Trust for Excavation and Research Limited
Registered Office: 47 Aldwark, York, UK, YO1 7BX
A Company Limited by Guarantee Registered in England No. 1430801
Registered Charity No. 509060
General Enquiries: +44 (0)1904 663000
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