11 December 2015

Unhinged?

Elaborate floral design on chapel door at Cathays Cemetery
The hinge is a bit like the wheel or the zip – it’s one of those everyday objects we take for granted yet where would we be without it? Unhinged?

The origin of the hinge is obscured by the mists of time. Archaeologists have uncovered metal hinges from cultures that flourished between 4000 and 5000 years ago, and it’s likely there were even earlier ones, made from perishable materials like animal leather and wood, that simply haven’t survived.

The Romans even had a goddess of the hinge, Cardea or Carda, one of the three gods who attended to all doorway matters, though this was more to do with the Roman rituals surrounding the definition of boundaries and sacred spaces than with the physical hinge itself. 

Interestingly, the goddess’s name survives in modern language: it is the origin of the word cardinal (think pivotal member of the church hierarchy) and in the geographical term cardinal point (the cardo was the main north-south road in a Roman settlement, the road that served to align their terrestrial and celestial spaces).


Simple, yet elegant hinge design at Cardiff Castle

In the earliest days of metal production, all items were expensive and labour-intensive to produce, so only the rich and powerful could afford elaborate hinges on their doors and gates. As metal alloys were developed and knowledge of metalworking spread, the more basic hinge designs were adopted for use by ordinary people, though the most ornamental hinges remained a privilege of the wealthy through to modern times.

Another simple design, on the rear door of the yet-to-be-restored belltower at Cathays Cemetery

Lots of metal, yet a simple hinge, on this old door at the Bishop's Palace, in Llandaff

Many of the hinges that survive today from medieval through to Victorian times are on public buildings like city halls, museums and churches, and on the manor houses, mansions and castles of the very well-off. They are works of art, fashioned by skilled craftsmen – usually blacksmiths – into wonderfully ornate designs, embellished with scrolls and curlicues, and nature-inspired branches, leaves and flowers.

St Andrew's Church, Cardiff, with an ornate design for the front door and a more simple hinge for the side door

You might think I’m ‘unhinged’ for even noticing the door hinge but how could I not when there are so many beautiful examples on the buildings here in Cardiff. Even the more simple designs are noteworthy for the very fact that they were almost certainly handmade, while the most sophisticated designs deserve to be celebrated in art galleries and museums for their exquisite artistry.

I give you the hinge!

On the front doors of the Trevithick Building at Cardiff University (with beautiful wooden carving above)

Two old churches in Cardiff city

On the entrance gate to the West Lodge at Cardiff Castle

The main entrance door to Llandaff Cathedral

Llandaff Cathedral: left, a close-up on the main entrance door, and, right, a side door

The side and front doors of St Margaret's Church in Roath