In the village of Wreay, near Carlisle, stands the strangest and most magical Victorian church in England. This vivid, original book tells the story of its builder, Sarah Losh, strong-willed, passionate, and unusual in every way.
Sarah Losh is a lost Romantic genius—an antiquarian, an architect, and a visionary. Born into an old Cumbrian family, heiress to an industrial fortune, Losh combined a zest for progress with a love of the past. In the church, her masterpiece, she let her imagination flower—there are carvings of ammonites, scarabs, and poppies; an arrow pierces the wall as if shot from a bow; a tortoise-gargoyle launches itself into the air. And everywhere there are pinecones in stone. The church is a dramatic rendering of the power of myth and the great natural cycles of life, death, and rebirth.
Losh's story is also that of her radical family, friends of Wordsworth and Coleridge; of the love between sisters and the life of a village; of the struggles of the weavers, the coming of the railways, the findings of geology, and the fate of a young northern soldier in the First Afghan War. Above all, it is about the joy of making and the skill of unsung local craftsmen. Intimate, engrossing, and moving, The Pinecone, by Jenny Uglow, the Prize-winning author of The Lunar Men, brings to life an extraordinary woman, a region, and an age.
Biographer Uglow (The Lunar Men) redirects her attention and the same painstaking care she's brought to historical giants (including Charles II and William Hogarth) to the obscure figure of an Industrial Revolution heiress and Victorian architect, Sarah Losh. Born in England in 1786, Losh's life took in the era's most progressive politics, arts, and technology while she rarely strayed far from her family's mansion, Woodside, in the northern town of Wreay, Cumbria. Raised in the same area, Uglow first heard of Losh through her most lasting achievement, an idiosyncratic church that pre-empted the pre-Raphaelites and embraced wildly varied cultural influences while downplaying the expected trappings of Anglicanism and even Christianity. Uglow's research uncovered a restlessly inquisitive woman, unusually independent from her era's ideas, as well as fascinating supporting characters like Losh's father, John, whose wide-ranging scientific interests led to their industrial fortune, her radical reformer uncle James, and, in a cameo, family friend William Wordsworth. By the end of the book, mystery remains around the church's bizarre pinecone-centric symbolism and Losh herself, who burned many of her papers before her death in 1853. Her voice's relative absence should not, however, diminish anyone's enjoyment of Uglow's achievement in spinning a tale of Victorian church building into a captivating epic.