Wastell, John

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Wastell, John (c.1460–c.1515). English master-mason, perhaps one of the greatest of the last phase of English Gothic architecture. He worked under Simon Clerk at the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk (demolished), Saffron Walden Church, Essex (1485), and King's College Chapel, Cambridge, where he was active from 1486, by which time he appears to have been Clerk's partner. However, Bury was his normal place of residence, and he probably spent most of his time in the 1480s working on the Abbey there.

From 1490 his name recurs in the records of King's College, and he was also called by Cardinal-Archbishop John Morton (c.1420–1500) to Canterbury Cathedral, Kent, where he designed and built the crossing-tower (1494–1505), one of the great works of the Perpendicular style (known as ‘Bell Harry’), with fan-vaults (c.1503) almost identical to the patterns of those at King's College Chapel, Cambridge. He carried out other works for Morton, and was involved in designing buildings at King's Hall, Cambridge, now part of the east range of the Great Court of Trinity College, and including the lower stages of the Great Gate Tower. He was also engaged in works at Great St Mary's Church, Cambridge (1491–1514), and, on stylistic grounds, at Dedham Church, Essex (1494), and the lower stages of the tower at Soham Church, Cambs. It has also been suggested that he worked on the nave at Lavenham Church, Suffolk (1495–1515), and St James's Church (now the Cathedral), Bury St Edmunds (1503–21). Dr Harvey confidently attributed the latter to Wastell. He may also have designed the eastern chapels and retrochoir at Peterborough Cathedral, Cambridgeshire (1496–c.1528), the fan-vaults of which are similar in design to those at King's College Chapel.

Wastell's greatest surviving work was the completion of the latter from 1506, and building operations began in 1508, finishing in 1515. He is known to have consulted William Vertue, John Smyth, and Henry Redman about the design and construction, but it must also be remembered that he had had plenty of experience planning and erecting fan-vaults at Bury St Edmunds and Peterborough. Wastell was responsible for building the ante-chapel from just above ground level and for completing the choir, five bays of which had been roofed in Clerk's time. He and Henry Semark contracted to build the vaults in 1512, and those and most of the decorative elements, including the Tudor badges, were made under Wastell's direction. The latter (who was clearly the senior partner in the contract) designed the great west window, the buttress pinnacles, and the tops of the corner-turrets. The entire ensemble at King's is of such high quality that Wastell must be named as among the most gifted architects England ever produced.


J. Harvey (1987);
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)