Why Dendro? - How tree-ring dating can re-write the history of your church

Ref: C3528691

Dendro or tree-ring dating is essential to fully understand the complex evolution of the medieval Cornish church. Less than 3% of Cornish churches have been sampled and good opportunities are still being missed.

Course aim

This free taster session provides an introduction to dendro or tree ring-dating and its potential benefits for understanding the history and chronology of Cornish churches better. To raise awareness of the benefits of such dating methods.

Who is the course for?

No qualifications necessary, but course should appeal to church architects, churchwardens, craftsmen and builders, and anyone with an interest in church history and architecture, trees or climate change.

What topics will this course cover

Only half a dozen of Cornwall's medieval churches or less than 3% have undergone any dendro or tree-ring dating and few results made it into the latest Pevsner, initially. Results, to date, show that church building continued well into the Reformation period rather than stopping in the 15th century as was commonly the case elsewhere. This was a surprise to architectural historians, but merely confirmed Cornwall's rich documentary record of church building.

What will it be like?

WEA classes are friendly and supportive. You will be encouraged to work together with your fellow students and tutor. You will be asked to share your ideas and views in the class and work with the group to give and accept feedback in a supportive environment. The WEA tutor will use a range of different teaching and learning methods and encourage you to be actively involved in your learning. You may be asked to undertake work to support your course outside of your class.

By the end of the course I should be able to:

1. Understand what dendro or tree ring-dating is, and its limitations. 2. Appreciate how a larger sample can improve the accuracy of this. 3. Explain the benefits of tree ring-dating for both individual churches and the study of Cornish church architecture. 4. Know where to go to find out more.

How will I know I'm making progress?

By informal discussion, question and answers and church site visit.

What else do I need to know, do or bring?

Notebook and pen/pencil, camera, binoculars, warmer clothing for church visit?

Reading and information sources

Joanna Mattingly, 'Looking at Cornish Churches' (Tor mark, 2005); Peter Beacham and Nicholas Pevsner, 'Cornwall', (Yale, corrected edition 2014) are useful background for this course.

What could the course lead to?

Further WEA or University courses. 'Dendrochronology: Guidelines on producing and interpreting dendrochronological dates (English Heritage, 1998) - downloadable PDF on Historic England website.

Download full course outline

Why Dendro? - How tree-ring dating can re-write the history of your church Course Outline


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  • are paying the standard fee or are on any of the qualifying benefits
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  • have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2016
  • have read and accept the standard terms and conditions
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