Sunday, 22 June 2014

St George, Eastergate

Like so many Sussex churches, St George at Eastergate lies outside the village, down a lane and the other side of a farm. 
And like so many Sussex churches, it is very little changed from when it was built just after the Norman Conquest. Unfortunately the walls are pebbledashed which has to be renewed every so often so it looks more modern than it really is, except the chancel where re-used Roman bricks can be seen laid herringbone fashion.
The building is a simple aisle-less nave and chancel. When it was built, all the windows would have been little lancets like the one that survives in the north wall of the chancel, with its simple round top carved out of a solid stone lintel. All the other windows were enlarged later - the nave windows in the 14th century, those in the chancel and the west end in the 15th. 
The last significant alteration was sometime around 1700, when the old, narrow chancel arch was hacked out to its present width. The new arch is a simple semi-circle, with no ornament whatever, and it is surprising that the Victorians resisted the temptation to jazz it up with proper Gothic ornament. They also, happily, spared the pair of clergy stalls under the arch with their frilly canopies.
The other notable feature of the church is the glass. One window has a fragment of medieval glass dating from about 1360 - the coat of arms of a member of the Fitzalan family. Then there is a set of stained glass windows by the firm Heaton, Butler and Bayne installed between 1915 and 1926 to commemorate various war dead. The east window is in memory of Lord Kitchener, paid for by his private secretary's brother-in-law, rather oddly.
But the most charming monument in the church is a slab now in the floor close to the font. It is in memory of John Whitington, who died 1731 at the early age of 35. The inscription reads (the spelling is as on the stone):
All you that are young this do pass by
Greive not to think I here must lie
My married bead is in the dust
Yet Christ will match me with ye Just.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Arundel Roman Catholic Cathedral

When Roman Catholics finally regained the right to worship openly after operating underground since the Reformation, the resurgent church lost no time in starting a building programme designed to demonstrate they were back for good.
The Gothic style was favoured for the new churches, to emphasise continuity with the medieval church in England. The great Catholic architect A.W.N. Pugin wrote powerful satires on the Classical style that had become dominant after Henry VII's break with Rome, saying that it was ugly, untruthful and, above all, pagan. The only style to combine beauty, truth and godliness was the Gothic, Pugin said.
Where funds permitted, some amazing churches resulted such as Pugin's own church at Cheadle, paid for by the Earl of Shrewsbury.
At Arundel, the 15th Duke of Norfolk celebrated his coming of age in 1868 by building a church that would advertise the return of his ancestral faith for miles around. He provided a site at the highest point of the town and commissioned the Catholic architect Joseph Hansom to design a church that would be even higher than his own castle and put the ancient parish church completely in the shade.
Dedicated in 1873 as a mere parish church, its monumental size made it emininently suitable for cathedral status and it was duly consecrated as such when the diocese of Arundel and Brighton was formed in 1965.
The style is the French Gothic of about 1300. Its huge nave, transcepts and chancel are held up with flying buttresses. A little spire called a fleche rises from the crossing. It is very dramatic, even without the NW tower that was planned but never completed.
The interior is tall rather than long, as French churches tend to be. Columns support elegant stone tracery. At the east end of the chancel there is a French-style round apse.
The west end features a huge rose window.
The overall effect is noble indeed, but unfortunately it is in the detail that Hansom shows he is no Pugin. The carving is mechanical and he had none of Pugin's wild inventiveness or joy.
Perhaps it is not by chance that Hansom is famous not for his architecture but for the invention of the utilitarian horse-drawn cab that bears his name.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

St Mary, Sennicotts

In 1829 the rich nabob Charles Baker of Sennicotts House fell out with the Rev George Bliss, perpetual curate of his local church, Funtington. But whereas you or I would have simply gone to services somewhere else, Baker decided to build his own church.
The result was lovely St Mary's, a church alone in a narrow lane surrounded by fields.
Like the chapel at Stansted House, Sennicotts was built at the time when the Gothic style was replacing the classical style of the Georgians, but before architects worried too much about reproducing authentic medieval designs. Sennicotts is a Georgian preaching box in Gothic fancy dress.
The outside is faced in stone, the mortar between the roughly-squared blocks being 'galletted', filled with shards of flint to create a charming prickly effect. Galletting was an expensive feature and appears on many houses on the Goodwood estate.
The church is a simple box with crow-stepped gables and a battlemented tower at the west end. Inside, the pointed windows with wooden tracery provide the main Gothic touches, as the wooden cusping that used to fill the areas between the wrought-iron tie-beams and the ceiling have been lost. However, the original 'pig's blood' colour of the walls returned in a recent refurbishment.
Otherwise, the Georgian style reigns inside. The box pews retain their doors and the west end has a gallery for the choir.
The architect is unknown, though it may have been George Draper, who later designed the church of St Bartholemew in Westgate, Chichester (now the chapel of Chichester College) and had also performed a sweeping rebuilding of Fishbourne parish church.
The reason for Baker's dispute with Bliss is not known though he may have disapproved of his evangelical views and campaigns against slavery. Baker had the last laugh, however. When Bliss finally resigned as curate of Funtington his replacement was the Rev Stair Douglas, who Baker had appointed as the first curate at St Mary's. The Douglas family were local landowners who had made their money in the plantations of Jamaica, owning considerable numbers of slaves. Perhaps it was the slavery issue that caused such dissension, but in due course St Mary's was absorbed into Funtington parish and the dispute passed into history.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

St Paul, Stansted

When the Renaissance arrived in England in the 17th century the old medieval style of architecture was abandoned and derided as 'Gothic', a term intended to associate it with the barbarians who sacked Rome.

In the middle of the 18th century the Gothic style began to creep back, at first as a bit of fun for rich patrons who wanted their country houses to reek with chivalric romance. Horace Walpole, who started the trend at Strawberry Hill, said he aimed for 'gloomth'.
At this point, Gothic was not taken too seriously. Architects did not know very much about it and were more concerned with atmosphere than historical accuracy. Historians now refer to this period as 'Gothick', a spelling made popular by Walpole.
The chapel at Stansted House, dedicated to St Paul, is a lovely example.
It was commissioned in 1812 by the owner of the house, Lewis Way, as a sort of mother church for his life's mission to convert the Jews. The architect is not recorded, but it may have been Thomas Hopper, who was working on the main house at the time and was responsible for several Gothick country houses made to look like castles.
The west wall of the chapel is genuinely old - a fragment of the Tudor mansion that stood on the site. Pass through the Tudor brick arch, however, and you enter a low, dark, vaulted chamber with a forest of columns, like a crypt. 
When you go into the nave, all is light. The big traceried windows and the high vaulted ceiling and the white painted walls combine to maximise the light. So the chancel is another big contrast, with its slender columns holding up delicate vaulting, richly painted in blue, scarlet and gold and illuminated only by a painted east window with Old Testament iconography designed to appeal to would-be Jewish converts. It is jewel-like.
It is all fake, of course. The columns are cast iron and the 'medieval' vaults and carving are plaster. The window tracery is wood, not stone. But it all adds up to a captivating effect.
The chapel made a big impression on one member of the congregation at the dedication service - the poet John Keats. Many details such as the window 'diamonded with panes of quaint device' appear in The Eve of St Agnes.

Friday, 27 September 2013

St Peter, East Marden

The basic structure of St Peter's church at East Marden has changed barely at all since it was first built in the early 13th century, when the parish was given to Chichester Cathedral.
The gift included some land to form a prebend, a sort of endowment that was used to pay priestly officials of the Cathedral. The idea was that the income would make them independent of the bishop and would also attract the younger sons of the nobility into the church. 
Of course, the prebendaries lived in the city close to their cathedral and had no time for parish work, so they would use part of the income from the prebend to employ a substitute called a vicarius, from the Latin for deputy, and that is where the word 'vicar' comes from.
The prebendary of East Marden clearly did not want to spend huge amounts of money on a church he rarely visited, so the structure is as simple as it could be, with just one room and no division between nave and chancel.
The windows are simple lancets, and instead of a tower there is a small bellcote supported by beams across the western end of the nave.
The church and village today have a timeless quality, sitting in a fold in the Downs that blocks out the noise of the modern world. The houses and church huddle round an ancient well with a thatched roof, the only source of water until as late as 1924.
The only changes were to the church's interior. The Victorians decided to make the chancel more distinct from the nave, covering the walls with panelling and boarding the roof. But their biggest crime was to tidy away the accumulated character of 500 years of history.

Monday, 5 August 2013

All Hallows, Woolbeding

The church of All Hallows at Woolbeding makes a powerful first impression. There is the dramatic position, next to the lovely 18th century manor house with elegant columned arcade along the front. Then there is the plain west tower of 1728, topped by eight curious little pinnacles like stalagmites.
But it is when you approach the south porch and the wall of the nave comes into view that you get the biggest surprise - a perfectly preserved Saxon wall dating from before the Norman Conquest.
The walls of most Saxon churches have been destroyed over the centuries by the addition of aisles to north and south, but here they survive. They are pebbledashed with vertical stones called pilaster strips for decoration. 
In the middle is a blocked doorway uncovered in 1980. The crude arch is circular and the door jambs are 'long and short work' - tall corner stones anchored into the wall by flat stones between. This is very characteristic of Saxon work.
Inside, unfortunately, almost all ancient detail was swept away by the Victorians who rebuilt the chancel and replaced the windows. The best features are the great 13th century timber roof beams supported on corbels carved into leaf shapes, and unusually made of wood instead of stone.
Woolbeding House and its gardens have just been restored by the owners, the National Trust, and opened to the public after decades of renting it out as a private residence.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

St Mary, Easebourne

Most church guides list the monuments to dead worthies last, but at Easebourne the tombs are virtually the only reason for visiting.
The building itself is without interest, as almost every visible trace of the medieval building was swept away by the Victorians. Only its odd layout, with two naves and chancels side-by-side, recall the time when it was shared between the parish and the nunnery next door. The nuns had the south chancel and half of the south nave, a wall separating them from the gaze of the secular.
It is the monuments to past owners of next-door Cowdray Park that make the place worthwhile.
Chronologically, the first is the recumbent figure of Sir David Owen, the natural son of Owen Tudor and thus Henry VII's uncle, who died in 1535. He is immortalised in alabaster as a young man with flowing hair, a fact explained by the fact that Sir David commissioned it forty years before he died. Originally it was gilded.
The most impressive tomb is that of Viscount Montague, whose family had bought Cowdray from the Owens. Dating from the 1590s, it originally stood in Midhurst church but was taken to Easebourne in 1851 when the nun's chancel was made into a Cowdray chapel.
Lord Montague, in his Garter robes, kneels at a chest on top of a sort of viaduct, above the sleeping figures of his wives Jane and Margaret. Small figures of their children kneel at the side of the plinth beneath. It is all very florid and Elizabethan.
Unfortunately, the tomb had to be hacked about to fit it into its new space. Originally it was free-standing, with his lordship in the middle between his wives and a tall obelisk at each corner - exactly the same arrangement as the tomb of the Earl of Southampton in Titchfield, by the same mason.
The sequence of monuments is completed by a pair of enormous marble figures of Elizabeth, the last of the Montague family, and her husband William Pointz.
The statues look like a pair, but Elizabeth's grieving figure in white marble was carved in 1838 by Sir Francis Chantrey, one of England's finest sculptors, and William's was made in 1848 by an Italian refugee called Raffeale Monti.
The epitaphs are in the full 19th century florid style. She was "a lady whose spotless life adorned by every Christian grace shone before men a lovely and venerable image of female worth and dignity." He "was upright, generous and sincere". Both epitaphs go on in the same vein for so long it is impossible to believe these paragons actually visited the earth.