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Ian Coulson’s ‘Handy’ Guide to Medieval Architecture

It’s often said that the best ideas are the simplest and here’s a brilliantly simple and effective way of remembering the basic shapes of medieval arches – Norman, Early English, Decorated, Perpendicular.

You were all born with the resource you need – a hand, as you can see in Ian’s drawings below.

The 'Handy' Guide

Ian used this way of engaging people of all ages with the basics of architectural styles in all kinds of contexts – with schoolchildren, running courses with teachers, guiding local authority advisers and teacher trainers around Canterbury, leading friends on historical trails which just happened to include a hostelry or two, persuading his basketball team-mates that you could discover a lot about a new place by exploring its architecture (and pubs).

To make it memorable you have, of course, to ‘perform’ in the way that Ian was so good at – inject vocal enthusiasm and excitement, project physical energy into your explanation and at the same time tell the story, the story of developing architectural styles. But in essence you just need your fingers.

All together now:

Hold your thumb up proudly – see that rounded Norman Arch? Let’s all say it together as we gaze fondly at our thumbs - ‘a Norman Arch’.

And now for the Early English style – this time you need a different digit, your forefinger, in all its slim, tall, beauty – hold it aloft and remember that it symbolizes that the great beauty of the late 12th and 13th centuries – say it together ‘the Early English style’.

And so on – or however you like, in any circumstances.

But please, whenever you use this activity, remember to tell your audience …

Ian Coulson showed me this’.

Ian in Memorable Action …

You can see Ian in memorable action exploring his local village with a group of pupils, using a very wide range of sources and demonstrating all kinds of excellent teaching wisdom and ideas (and tabards!) on youtube here



Constructive feedback is always welcome, particularly anything that will help other teachers.

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Handy Guide

In Memorable Action