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Don White

 Atherington loft

Rood loft constructed by John Parris of Northlew (Devon), 1537 to 1544, St Mary, Atherington, (Devon).


Supervisor: Professor Beat Kümin

Department: History


Overviw of Research

The nature of my research can be encapsulated by the phrase ‘history in the making’. It reflects a decade-long commitment to the value of woodworking artisans as a subject of wider historical inquiry. Research projects (past and present) demonstrate how the practices and products of woodworkers may serve as points of entry to aspects of pre-modern European and Colonial American communities otherwise inaccessible through other means. These efforts have also resulted in a more holistic approach that integrates knowledge derived from documents and artefacts. Sources of both types are viewed as forms of material culture, and therefore part of a single matrix of historical evidence.



Current Research

 Artisan inscribed benchend, St Nonna, Altarnun (Cornwall) Out of the Woods: The Elaboration of Late medieval Cornwall Parishes

'Out of the Woods'explores the interactions and exchanges of information between woodworking artisans and late medieval parish communities. Screens, lofts, pulpits, panelled ceilings, benches, and other forms of elaborated woodwork are seen as evidence of the ways in which external information was accessed and integrated with local concerns at the level of the parish. This process was often mediated by artisans identified as ‘carvers’, like John Parris of Northlew (Devon). These itinerant specialists moved from parish to parish overseeing major elaboration projects. Outside concepts and approaches were adapted to the unique circumstances of each worksite; resultant innovations were then transplanted to, and transformed in, the next. Particular emphasis is placed upon this dynamic in rural contexts. Consideration is also given to the wider cultural implications of sixteenth-century theological/liturgical changes. Reconfiguration, reduction, sale and removal to domestic contexts may have led to the relocation of the productive energies of woodworking artisans and the resources and social priorities of parishioners to other site

Elaboration mobilises a substantial body of documentary and artefactual evidence, some of which has never before been published. This includes pre-1600 accounts from 58 West Country parishes, court records and surviving contracts concerned with the construction of elaborated woodwork, and an archive of digital images taken in over 250 parish churches throughout Cornwall, Devon, and Somerset.


Side Project  


Medieval figure of Christ from a rood, found in Anglesey (Wales) Medieval Wood Sculpture in the British Isles: A Social History, form the Norman Conquest to the Present


For nearly a century, a single, overriding narrative dominated scholarship on the subject: near total loss of what was once the most ubiquitous form of medieval imagery. Certainly sixteenth-century mandates for destruction appear to have allowed little room for compromise, and evidence of subsequent attack abounds. However, the story ‘on the ground’ (as told by local records and the artefacts themselves) is one of negotiation and transference to other contexts and uses. This is a pattern that long predates reformation and continues to the present day.


This ongoing project seeks to identify surviving British medieval wood sculpture. An equal priority is to understand the processes of relocation and transformation that define the lifecycles of these objects in a way that is distinct to the British Isles. Efforts are underway to track down those examples that have previously escaped attention because they now reside in unexpected places and/or owe their survival to unconventional means.



Academic Profile




‘Elaborated Woodwork in Devon Churches’, Regional Furniture, XXIV (2010), pp. 121-178


 RF 2010 



(with Joshua W. Lane) ‘Fashioning Furniture and Framing Community: Woodworkers and the Rise of a Connecticut River Valley Town’, American Furniture (2005), pp. 146-238


 AF 2005


(with Joshua W. Lane) The Woodworkers of Windsor: A Connecticut Community of Craftsmen and their World, 1635-1715 (Deerfield, Massachusetts: Historic Deerfield, Inc., 2004)


 Woodworkers of Windsor


Museum Exhibitions

Guest Curator – Craftways: English Artisans in Seventeenth-Century New England, The Chipstone Foundation, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Co-Curator – Woodworkers of Windsor: A Connecticut Community of Craftsmen and their World, 1635-1715, Historic Deerfield, Inc., Deerfield, Massachusetts


 Atherington loft back

Reverse of rood loft constructed by John Parris of Northlew (Devon), 1537 to 1544, St Mary, Atherington, (Devon).









 The aesthetic existence of the postgraduate student 

 Don White

dpwhite3 at aol dot com




Receivers’ account detailing payments to artisans, including

John Parris of Northlew (Devon), for construction of

elaborated woodwork, 1534-35, Stratton (Cornwall). BL: Add

MSS 32, 244, fol. 4v. 

 Strattin transcription