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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars `She must have been a really great genius, and should be better known.' (Dante Gabriel Rossetti, letter to his mother, 1869), 22 Feb. 2013
This review is from: The Pinecone: The Story of Sarah Losh, Forgotten Romantic Heroine--Antiquarian, Architect, and Visionary (Hardcover)
On Candlemas Eve in 1836, the Twelve Men of Wreay met to consider Miss Losh's request to make improvements on the road through Wreay where it passes the church and burial ground, to expand the churchyard. Miss Sarah Losh, then aged 50 and unmarried, was the largest landowner and wealthiest resident in her part of Cumbria, near Carlisle and close to the border with Scotland.
Miss Losh's petition was successful, and six years later she constructed a new church of yellow sandstone. While the style of this new church, called St Mary's, anticipated the Romanesque revival, it incorporated symbolism from different pasts: turtles and dragons were gargoyles, an eagle perched on top of the belfry, and the interior included `strange stained glass, bright leaves on black backgrounds, kaleidoscopic mosaics, alabaster cut-outs of fossils.' There are snakes and tortoises, lotus flowers and pomegranates. And everywhere there were pinecones - `an ancient symbol of regeneration, fertility and inner enlightenment' - carved onto the walls, into the roof beams and on the front door-latch.

`To call herself an `architect' would have been unthinkable: that was a man's profession, and she was a woman and an amateur.'

We know what Miss Losh achieved, but not really why she did it. Miss Losh destroyed most of her personal papers, and the house she lived in has long been cleared of its contents.
In this biography, Ms Uglow writes that she first saw St Mary's as a girl, and `years later crossing the road from the green in a haze of Cumbrian rain... I became curious about its creator'. Dante Gabriel Rossetti visited the church in 1869, sometime after Sarah Losh's death, and described it as `full of beauty and imaginative detail, though extremely severe and simple'.
Sarah Losh (1785-1853) was the eldest of the three legitimate children of John Losh. John Losh himself was the eldest of four surviving brothers, who made their fortune in an alkali works, and then from iron foundries and railways. Sarah and her sister Katharine became their father's heirs - examples, in Ms Uglow's words of `how the industrial revolution made some women independent.' Well, independent up to a point. In a different era, Sarah Losh might have designed and built cathedrals, but in 19th century Britain this could not be possible.

I found this book fascinating. I enjoy the way Ms Uglow writes (which was the main reason I picked up this book in the first place). In another place and time, Ms Losh might well have achieved more and different things. But St Mary's, finished in 1842 with the Pennines to the east, and the mountains of the Lake District to the west, has its own mystery and charm. The photographs included in the book are a great adjunct to the text: I wanted to see and to know more about Sarah Losh and her work.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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