An 18th Century Architect of Note.

Matthew Brettingham the Elder, (1699–1769), was an 18th-century Englishman who rose from humble origins to supervise the construction of Holkham Hall, and become one of the country’s best-known architects of his generation. Much of his principal work has since been demolished, particularly his work in London, where he revolutionised the design of the grand townhouse. As a result, he is often overlooked today, remembered principally for his Palladian remodelling of numerous country houses, many of them situated in the East Anglia area of Britain. As Brettingham neared the pinnacle of his career, Palladianism began to fall out of fashion and neoclassicism was introduced, championed by the young Robert Adam.

Matthew Brittingham (Portrait)
Matthew Brettingham the Elder (1699-1769) by Heins Senior, John Theodore (1697–1756). Image: The Royal Institute of British Architects.

Brettingham, an architect, was born in Norwich, the son of Lancelot Brettingham (1664–1727) and his wife, Elizabeth Hillwell (d. 1729), of the parish of St Giles. Lancelot Brettingham was called a mason in the city poll-book recording the parliamentary election of 1714. Both Matthew and his elder brother Robert were apprenticed, as bricklayers, to their father and, having served their time, both brothers were made freemen of the city of Norwich on 3 May 1719.

Matthew Brittingham (Thomas Coke)
Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester. Image: Wikipedia.

Matthew Brettingham’s transition from builder and craftsman to architect was gradual. Pivotal to this process was his appointment in 1734, at an annual salary of £50, as clerk of works for the building of Holkham Hall on the north Norfolk coast, a large Palladian mansion based on the designs of William Kent with a major input of ideas from the patron, Thomas Coke, earl of Leicester.

Matthew_Brettingham (Holkham)
Interior of Holkham Hall

Brettingham’s work at Holkham, which included the design of a number of structures in the park and was to extend over a score of years, earned him the respect and friendship of his employer and provided him with contacts which were to prove critical in the development of his career. His public work at this time, all within the bounds of Norfolk, included: the construction, in 1741, of Lenwade Bridge across the River Wensum; the rebuilding of the nave and crossing of St Margaret’s Church in King’s Lynn, damaged by the collapse of the spire in 1742; the raising of the new shire hall at Norwich Castle in 1747–9 and, over the same period, repairs to the castle itself; and repairs to Norwich Cathedral. Brettingham received a number of commissions for the design and remodelling of country houses in the 1740s which were initially confined to the county of Norfolk: the halls at Hanworth, Heydon, Honingham, and Langley were altered, while the hall at Gunton was an entirely new structure.

Matthew_Brettingham (Gunton Hall)
Gunton Hall, Norfolk. Image: Public Domain.

The outward extension of Brettingham’s country-house practice in the late 1740s coincided, more or less, with his increasing presence in London which, as his surviving account books show, from 1747 and for most of the next two decades, was the centre of his activity. His first major London commission was, appropriately, the building of Norfolk House in St James’s Square for Edward Howard, ninth duke of Norfolk. Other work followed in St James’s Square, Piccadilly, and Pall Mall. Engravings for the house in Pall Mall, raised in 1761–3 for Edward Augustus, Duke of York, appeared in volume 4 of Vitruvius Britannicus, published in 1767. Brettingham’s country-house work in these years included alterations to Goodwood, in Sussex (1750), Marble Hill, Twickenham (1750–51), Euston Hall, Suffolk (1750–56), Moor Park, Hertfordshire (1751–4), Petworth House, Sussex (1751–63), Wortley Hall, Yorkshire (1757–9), Wakefield Lodge, Northamptonshire (1759), Benacre House, Suffolk (1762–4), and Packington Hall, Warwickshire (1766–9).

Matthew Brittingham (NorfolkHouse_St James Square)2
Norfolk House is on the far right on this mid-18th-century engraving. Image: Wikipedia.
Matthew Brittingham (NorfolkHouse_Map)3
The location of Norfolk House is shown on the right of this 1799 map. Image: Wikipedia.
Matthew Brittingham (NorfolkHouse_1932)1
Norfolk House in 1932. Photo: Wikipedia.

Brettingham’s architecture has been described as an unexciting, if dignified, variety of Palladianism. His practice was, however, successful, and the secret of his success was his ability to adapt the grander ideas of others to the purposes of his clients, confining himself to a limited number of design themes. His corner-towered scheme for Langley was, essentially, a restatement of the same theme at Holkham; the minimal Palladianism of Norfolk House, the façade of which was no more than blank walling relieved only by door- and window-cases and a parapet, a continuation of the minimalist treatment he had observed at Hanworth and which he himself had followed earlier at Gunton. Having encountered difficulties in obtaining ashlar, the earl of Leicester settled for the facing of Holkham Hall with white brick: Brettingham was to repeat the use of white brick at Gunton and again at Norfolk House, arranging, for Norfolk House, for the bricks to be made at Holkham and brought to London.

Matthew_Brettingham (St Margarets)
St Margarets Photo, Kings Lynn. Photo: © Copyright John Salmon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Brettingham’s forays into Gothic and his use of round arches, as in the nave arcades of St Margaret’s, King’s Lynn, and the galleried exterior of the shire hall in Norwich, indicate the approach of an engineer rather than an antiquary and are now seen as outlandish. It was towards the end of his working life, in 1761, that Brettingham published The Plans, Elevations and Sections of Holkham in Norfolk, with his own name inscribed on the plates as ‘architect’. Critics, from Horace Walpole onwards, have assumed that Brettingham was claiming the credit for Kent’s designs but he himself may have used the inscription, legitimately from his view, to indicate his status as executive architect and draughtsman.

Matthew_Brettingham (St Augustine Church)
St Augustine Church, Norwich. As seen from the southwest with a large brick tower on the left and the flint body of the church on the right, showing the clerestory, south aisle and porch Photo: Wikipedia.

Matthew Brettingham died in his own house in the Norwich parish of St Augustine on 19 August 1769 and, as epitaphs in the parish church state, is buried in a vault at the east end of the north aisle, alongside his wife, Martha Bunn (c.1697–1783), whom he had married on 17 May 1721; their resting places are close to those of two of their sons, Matthew Brettingham the younger (1725–1803) and Robert Brettingham, who was probably a worsted weaver and was the father of Anthony Brettingham Freston (1757–1819). Nine children were born to him and his wife and all those for whom baptismal records have been identified were baptized in the church of St Augustine.

Matthew_Brettingham (Monument)
Matthew Brettingham’s memorial in St Augustines Church, Norwich.. Photo: Norwich Heritage.

THE END

The above text is an extract from an article by Robin Lucas in the Oxford Dictionary of National Bibliography – see link under ‘Sources’ below.

Sources:
www.norwich-heritage.co.uk/monuments/Matthew%20Brettingham/Matthew%20Brettingham.shtm
https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-3354?rskey=pHhjMe&result=1

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ and ‘non-profit making Site which publishes items which are considered deserving of wider exposure. In pursuing this aim, the Group endeavours, where possible, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. Nevertheless, please rest assured that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to sources, are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is ever intentional.

What Shaped Our Understanding of Santa?

Stories from Medieval times have shaped our understanding of this classic Christmas figure.

There are many sides to the beloved figure of Santa Claus – a giant of pop culture, he also has “miraculous” powers and ties to the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Santa’s blend of religion and popular culture is, however, not modern at all. Several of Santa’s modern features, such as his generosity, miracle-working, and focus on morality (being “naughty or nice”), were part of his image from the very beginning. Others, like the reindeer, came later.

The original Santa, Saint Nicholas, was a fourth century Bishop of Myra (in modern Turkey) with a reputation for generosity and wonder-working. St Nicholas became an important figure in eighth century Byzantium before hitting pan-European stardom around the 11th century. He became a focus not just for religious devotion, but Medieval dramas and popular festivals – some popular enough to be suppressed during the Reformation.

The Naughty List:
St Nicholas had his own version of the naughty list, including the fourth century “arch-heretic” Arius, whose views annoyed the saint so much he supposedly smacked Arius in the face in front of Emperor Constantine and assembled bishops at Nicaea.

Christmas Myths1
Portrait of Saint Nicholas of Myra. First half of the 13th century. Image: Wikimedia

An even more surprising listee is the Greek goddess of the hunt, Artemis. In popular Byzantine stories, Nicholas acted like a one-man wrecking crew, personally pulling down her temples, and even demolishing the great temple of Artemis at Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It’s almost a shame, as they probably would have agreed about the importance of reindeer.

The idea of St Nicholas’ conflict with Artemis probably relates to religious change in Anatolia, where the goddess was hugely popular. Historically, the temple was sacked earlier, by a band of Gothic raiders in the 260s, but hagiographers had other ideas. Perhaps these furious northmen even count as Santa’s earliest “helpers”. He was after all (as part of his extensive saintly portfolio) the patron of the Varangians, the Viking bodyguard of the Byzantine Emperors.

Fast travelling:
Santa’s greatest miracle is intrinsic to modern Christmases: his ability to reach all the children on Earth in one night. NORAD, the US and Canadian air defence force, has tracked Santa’s sleigh since the 1950s, presumably trying to figure out the secret of his super speed. But really, they just need to check their ancient sources.

St Nicholas had a history of teleporting about on his own — often showing up in the nick of time when people ask for his help. As the patron saint of sailors, he often did this out at sea. In one story, sailors in a wild storm in the eastern Mediterranean cried out for the already-famous wonderworker’s help. With the mast cracking and sails coming loose, a white-bearded man suddenly appeared and helped them haul the ropes, steady the tiller, and brought them safe to shore. Rushing up the hill to the local church to give thanks, the sailors were astonished to see Nicholas was already there, in the middle of saying mass.

Christmas Myths2
Saint Nicholas saves a ship. Circa 1425. Image: Wikimedia

Suddenly appearing to save people became a favourite trick in accounts of the saint’s life and in folklore. He once saved three innocents from execution, teleporting behind the executioner and grabbing his sword, before upbraiding the judges for taking bribes.

There’s also the tale of Adeodatus, a young boy kidnapped by raiders and made the cupbearer of an eastern potentate. Soon after, St Nicholas appeared out of nowhere, grabbed the cupbearer in front of his startled master, and zipped him back home. Artists depicting this story stage the rescue differently, but the Italian artists who have St Nicholas swoop in from the sky, in full episcopal regalia, and grab the boy by the hair are worth special mention.

The flying reindeer:
None of the old tales have Saint Nicholas carrying around stacks of gifts when teleporting, which brings us to the reindeer, who can pull the sleigh full of millions of presents. The popular link between Santa Claus and gifting came through the influence of stores advertising their Christmas shopping in the early 19th century. This advertising drew on the old elf’s increasing popularity, with the use of “live” Santa visits in department stores for children from the late 1800s.

Santa Claus became connected to reindeer largely through the influence of the 1823 anonymous poem, A visit from St Nicholas. In this poem, “Saint Nicholas” arrives with eight tiny reindeer pulling a sleigh full of toys. The reindeer have the miraculous ability to fly.

Christmas Myths3
The fly agaric, a mushroom which produces toxins that can cause humans to hallucinate. Flickr/Björn, CC BY-SA

The origins of the animals’ flight may link back to the Saami reindeer herders of northern Scandinavia. Here, the herders were said to feed their reindeer a type of red-and-white mushroom with psychedelic properties, known as fly agaric fungi (Amanita muscaria). The mushrooms made the reindeer leap about, giving the impression of flying. The herders would then collect and consume the reindeer’s urine, with its toxins made safe by the reindeer’s metabolism. The reindeer herders could then possibly imagine the miraculous flight through the psychedelic properties of the mushroom.

The ninth reindeer, Rudolph, was created as part of a promotional campaign for the department store Montgomery Ward by Robert Lewis May in 1939. May himself was a small, frail child, who empathised with underdogs. In May’s story, Rudolph Shines Again (1954), the little reindeer is helped by an angel to save some lost baby rabbits, once again blending Santa’s religious and popular sides.

Christmas Myths4
Reindeer in Lapland. Photo: Flickr/Steve K, CC BY

And … invisible polar bears:
A number of modern depictions have connected Santa with polar bears, such as the 1994 film The Santa Clause. It seems likely the association grew as Santa’s home became accepted as the North Pole — though in one of the oldest stories, St Nicholas saves three Roman soldiers, one of whom is named Ursus (“Bear” in Latin).

Polar bears are undoubtedly useful companions for secretive Santa, and don’t even need his powers to move about unseen – the special properties of their fur mean they are hidden even from night-vision goggles.

Christmas Myths5
Polar bears have fur that is invisible to night vision goggles. Photo: Shutterstock

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Letters From Father Christmas (1976), written by the Lord of the Rings’ author to his children, features the (mis)adventures of the North Polar Bear. Like St. Nick, the North Polar Bear isn’t shy about getting physical with those he perceives as wrong-doers. In one letter, the North Polar Bear saves Santa, his elves, and Christmas from a murderous group of goblins.

So, with Santa Claus once again coming your way, remember — ancient or modern – it’s better to be on the “nice” side of this teleporting saint and his motley crew of miracle-workers.

THE END

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. See the following ‘Source’ link.

https://theconversation.com/teleporting-and-psychedelic-mushrooms-a-history-of-st-nicholas-santa-and-his-helpers-107884