Anthony Salvin (1799–1881), Design for Tower and Spire of Church of St Mary Magdalene, Torquay, c. 1854. Pen and ink and colour wash on yellow tracing paper.
As Torquay expanded in the mid-nineteenth century with the town’s prominence as a seaside retreat and a connection to the South Devon railway made in 1848, new churches were built to accommodate the increased number of parishioners and seasonal visitors. Whilst construction of the new church of St Mary Magdalene was begun in 1844, this sheet dates from c. 1854, when Anthony Salvin sent detail drawings for the second phase of construction that included the tower and spire.
Distributed across the sheet, three different types of drawing at three different scales aim to communicate Salvin’s attentions to the builder. Firstly, on the left of the sheet, a section cuts through the tower and spire in their entirety at ⅛ inch to the foot. Lines drawn in black ink form the outline of the tower. Pink wash indicates the thick masonry walls that make up the internal enclosure of the tower. Roughly hatched ink squares indicate the 12" × 12" timber beams that carry the dead load of each of the tower’s floors, notched into the masonry walls.
Half-way up the section are two notations: ‘A’ and ‘B’. These notations lead to the second drawing: a partial plan of the tower at its upmost level, scale of ¼ inch to the foot. Here the draughtsman has grappled with the act of representation itself. There is a tension between the conventions of the plan as a form of communication and the desire to explain the complexities in construction at this level of the building. Again, pink wash shows the masonry portions: four stone pinnacles, each on the corner of a square tower with an octagonal stone spire offset within this. Carefully annotated between two parallel lines is the word ‘gutter’, with little circles depicting the runoff of water to a projecting rectangle. Slightly offset within this pink octagon is a much thinner grey octagon; the annotation beneath explains that the drawing shows the position of the wrought iron ties. Between the vertices of the pink and grey octagonal profiles, however, is a second, lighter, grey square-shaped profile, offset within the square tower. The iron structure marks the top of the tower itself and the beginning of the spire. This plan attempts to superimpose multiple plan levels all in one image; and whilst the drawing has presence as a diagram of tectonic intent, its intentions are unclear until the final drawing of the sheet is considered.
On the right-hand side is a detail section at one inch to a foot showing the connection between tower and spire. This drawing completes the sheet’s narrative, elaborating on the questions left unanswered by the previous drawings. Drawn as generic circles and squares in plan, the section indicates how a thin, curved piece of milled lead is to be overlaid onto the profiled landscape of stone at the tower’s top. From there water will pass across the parapet and discharge violently through the mouth of a projecting stone gargoyle. At this scale the drawing is able to depict the coursing of each stone block and the dovetailed iron plugs that enable a series of blocks to stand together as a whole. Beneath these, at the level of the gargoyle, are two hollow rectangular profiles embedded in the stone blocks and cut through by the section. Visible in the tower plan, these are the two layers of wrought iron that struggled to explain themselves earlier. Acting as ring beams that hold together the stones forming the upper level of the tower and the lower level of the spire, the 3" × 7" hollow profiles provide the tensile strength that stonework alone lacks.
The sheet raises three thematic issues about the nature of architectural drawing itself. Firstly, the drawing as an order or directive. Central to achieving its aim – the successful construction of a building – the drawing relies upon language to fill in the gaps or fulfil the absences that otherwise would require another series of drawings. Questioning our understanding of the conventions of architectural drawing, the pink wash of the tower’s walls does not imitate cut bricks but instead represents ashlar. Language provides the information – facts, data, and requirements – that the lines and wash alone do not attempt to communicate. Without annotation it wouldn’t be clear how each stone should be bonded together or the overall dimensions of elements only depicted in section. Similarly language is used to orient within the world of the drawing itself: the plan of the tower is not a ‘true’ representation and instead operates diagrammatically to mediate between the two sections either side of it.
The dependency on language is not the only limitation displayed by the drawing. Despite the building contract and specification, when viewed as individual depictions each drawing fails to fully communicate Salvin’s intentions for the building’s construction. We have to view the drawing from left to right, section to plan to section, moving from the tower as a whole (although isolated from the already-built church) to a partial plan, to a key connection between tower, parapet, and spire. Just as the project’s supporting contractual documentation has a linearity and hierarchy of information, so too does this sheet of drawings.
Finally, the drawing is a copy. Contract drawings were prepared on hard-wearing linen or cartridge paper – materials better suited to the rigours of a site. Instead, this drawing is on yellow tracing paper. Before the original went off to Torquay from Salvin’s office at 20 Argyll Street, the assistant placed a piece of paper over the contract drawing and traced this copy. He was clearly bored by having to make the same drawing again: the handwritten annotation is quick and impatient; there is evidence of a straightedge, but much of the detail has been made with indolent linework that refuses to connect smartly at the intersections between lines.
Despite this casualness the drawing exhibits signs of conversations in the office. In the upper-right corner one of the pinnacles has been drawn in soft pencil in an examination of its formal presence at the perimeter of the tower, whilst in the complete section pencil again has been overlaid to test a different configuration for the large windows at the second level of the tower. In these moments the sheet becomes something more than a facsimile of instruction: all quickness and lucidity, the act of drawing stands out as a form of thinking about buildings.
– M. J. Wells