Introduction – Door Hinges

Door Hinges

The next division of the subject is the use of iron in ecclesiastical art, and this comprises hinges of doors, locks and fastenings, screens, railings and vases.  We have already seen to what perfection it could be brought in defending man against his fellow man; its nobler employment in the service of his Maker remains to be considered.  The church door first engages our attention, the framing of the door requiring additional strength beyond the ordinary mortising, dovetailing and tenoning of the wood, and this additional strength was imparted by the use of iron, and so completely was this attained that we have only to turn to numerous examples, still existing, to prove the manner in which it was done and the form it took.  The hinge was usually constructed in the following manner:  a strong hook was built into the wall with forked ends well built into the masonry; on this hook was hung the hinge, which, for the convenience of the illustration, we will consider as simply a plain strap or flat bar of wrought-iron, its ornamentation being a matter of after consideration; this strap had at one end a hollow tube or ring of metal which fitted on to the hook, allowing the hinge to turn; the strap on the outside of the door was longer than the one on the inside, with sufficient space between the two to allow for the framing of the door and its outside planking, and the back and front straps were united by bolts, nails and rivets, which passed through the thickness of the wood, and firmly secured all, the form of the opening in the masonry preventing, when once the door was firmly fastened by a lock or bolt, its being forced up from the hooks on which it hung.  Allusion has been made to the planking, which invariably covered the framing; beside the security of the strap this planking was also fastened to the frame by nail heads and scrolls of metal, sometimes covering the whole of the outside of the door with very beautiful designs; in most cases the scrolls started from the plain strap, but sometimes they were separate.  This was the usual construction, irrespective of century, which prevailed in England.  On the Continent, especially in Italy, at Verona and Rome, and at other places, the exteriors of doors were entirely covered with plaques of bronze.  A survival of the ancient classic times, that of Saint Zeno, Verona, is one of the most remarkable, and is probably of Eastern work.  Although of bronze, and beyond the limits of the present paper, allusion is made to it in consequence of the ornamentation and nail heads, reminding one of some of the earliest specimens of Norman or twelfth-century metal in England and France.

It would be difficult to decide which is really the earliest specimen of an iron hinge in this country.  Barfreston Church, in Kent, has some early iron work on the doors, and the Cathedrals of Durham and Ripon and St. Albans.  It would be hazardous to say that this last-mentioned specimen is absolutely Norman; although generally accounted such, it is more probably twelfth-century.  It occurs on the door leading from the south transept into the “Slype,” the said door having two elaborate scroll hinges, more quaint than beautiful, the scrolls being closely set, and the foliage very stiff, the edge of the leaves being cut into a continuous chevron with a stiff curl at the termination; the main part of the band or strap, before it branches out into the scrolls and foliage, being indented with a deep line in the center.  From this the section slopes on each side, on which are engraved deeply a zigzag pattern whose pointmeet forms a sort of lozenge, the sections of the scrolls and foliage being flat and engraved with a single chevron.  The whole of the hinge is studded with small quatrefoil-headed nails at regular distances.  On the band from which the foliage springs there is a peculiarly-formed raised projection like an animal’s head, slightly resembling a grille at Westminster Abbey, to which reference will be made; the hinge is either a rude copy of a thirteenth-century one, or it may be a prototype of the later and richer work of the next era.  On the door of Durham Cathedral nave there is a very fine specimen of a knocker, called the “sanctuary” knocker, of a lion or cat looking with erect ears, and surrounded by a stiff conventional mane, from which the head projects considerably; and from the mouth, which is well garnished with sharp teeth, depends a ring, the upper part of which is flattened, and at the junction of the circular an flat part on each side is the head of an animal, from whose open mouth the flat part proceeds.  It is a wonderfully spirited composition with an immense deal of character about it, the deep lines proceeding from the nose to the two corners of the mouth reminding one of some of the Assyrian work.  The eyes project and are pierced; it is supposed that they were filled at the back with some vitreous paste, but of this there is no proof.  This grim knocker played a very important part in early times, for Durham Cathedral possessed the privilege of “sanctuary” and many a poor hunted fugitive must have frantically seized the knocker and woke the echoes of Durham’s holy shade, and brought by its startling summons the two Benedictine monks who kept watch and ward by day and night in the chambers above the porch, and at once admitted him into the sacred precinct, and, taking down the hurried tale in the presence of witnesses, passed him to the chambers kept ready prepared in the western towers, where for the space of thirty-nine days he was safe from pursuit, and was bound to be helped beyond seas, out of the reach of danger.  The peculiarity attached to this Durham knocker must be the excuses for this digression.

Examples of this sort of knockers, although not necessarily “sanctuary” ones, are by no means uncommon.  Beautiful examples exist at the collegiate church of St. Elizabeth, Marburg, at the cathedral of Erfurt, in Germany, and at the church of St. Julian, Brionde, in Auvergne, France.  The Erfurt example is just as grim a monster as the Durham one; the mane in each case is very similar, but it has the additional attraction of the figure of a man between its formidable teeth, the head and fore part of the body, with uplifted arms projecting from the mouth; but the ring is plain, and it has an additional twisted cable rim encircling the mane.

Farringdon Church, Berks, possesses a very beautiful specimen of early metal-work, in the hinges on one of its doors, very much richer in detail than the St. Albans example, a photograph of which is shown.  Roughly speaking, there are two hinges of not quite similar design, with floriated scrolls and a very rich band or strap between them, floriated at each end, and at the apex a curious perpendicular bar terminating at the lower end in the head of an animal, and at the upper with scrolls fitting to the shape of the arch; the whole of the hinges, bands and scrolls are thickly studded with nails and grotesque heads and beaten ornaments.  The church has been restored; the stone carving, which is of thirteenth-century character, is entirely modern, and therefore misleading, and must not be taken as the date of the door with its metal work.

At Staplehurst Church, Kent, there was formerly on one of the doors a very characteristic Norman hinge, of a very early type; but this church has also undergone restoration, and a friend, to whom we are indebted for the photograph of the Farringdon example states that this hinge was not there at his last visit; but in general from it resembles one at Edstaston Church, Shropshire, which retains its original hinges on the north and south doors of the nave.  There are many other examples scattered about England, but all these Norman or twelfth-century hinges follow more or less the same idea – a broad strap terminating in scrolls, and whose end next the stonework is intersected by another broad strap forming nearly two-thirds of a circle, with scrolls at the ends; and between the two hinges by which the door is actually hung, there is one or more flat bands, also floriated, the iron-work protecting the whole surface of the woodwork, but not so completely as in the next era.

In France the work was, like the architecture, a little more advanced.  Foliage was more extensively used, the scrolls generally finished with a well-molded leaf or rosette; but the form of the scrolls is still stiff and lacks the graceful flow of the thirteenth century.  Some of the best specimens are preserved at the cathedrals of Angers, Le Puy, Noyeau, Paris, and many others, especially at the Abbey of St. Denis.