Tuesday, 17 February 2015

St Nicolas, Old Shoreham

In Norman times Old Shoreham was an important port owned by the de Broase family, so they built a large and ornate church.
But the shifting course of the River Adur took the trade downstream and today the church looks surprisingly imposing in the cluster of ordinary cottages that forms the village today.
The glory of the church is the crossing tower, built in about 1140. The bell-chamber is marked on the outside by a line of three round arches on each face, the central one framing a double light. Above, a pair of bullseye windows let the sound the bells emerge.
Inside, the arches that support the tower are copy-book examples of the Norman style, with round concentric arches - the inner, plain arch was built first so it became the formwork for the arch above and so on. The next arch is carved with 'cable' and the next with zig-zag, one of the most instantly recognisable Norman ornaments.
The outermost arch is decorated with rosettes and shells including limpets, symbol of fortitude.
On the nave arch, the keystone is carved with a lovely cat, ears pricked up. Inside the crossing vault, the ribs are supported by stone heads, curiously elongated in a way that suggests the mason may have been French.
The columns supporting the arches mostly have typically-Norman cushion capitals, simply carved in bulbous shapes. Two, however, have been given images of men being swallowed by snakes - all you can see is their heads, with the jaws of the serpent open wide beneath and its body curving away behind. The men look understandably peeved.
Despite this lavish decoration, the builder had an economical streak - the arches are plain on the back where only the clergy would see them.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

St George, Donnington

Donnington church feels remote, standing in the middle of the fields accessible only down a long track. But the spire of Chichester cathedral stands proud and clear just a couple of miles to the north.
The building is a standard aisled nave with an arch leading to a chancel. From the outside, it is typically 13th century - look at the narrow, pointed lancet windows in the chancel. As usual, the nave windows have been repeatedly enlaged over the centuries to let in more light.
The tower is later, dating from the 16th century, a time when many parishes decided to invest in a tower to hold the bells that were becoming available as a result of the dissolution of the monasteries.
When you step inside, however, the character of the building changes. The interior is plain, almost stark. Almost modern.
And indeed, the interior and roof of the nave was almost entirely destroyed by fire in 1939. Valiant efforts were made to rebuild, but church restoration had taken a back seat to more pressing matters.
The architect, Frederick Etchells, had to scrounge materials and wait for workmen to become available for the work, but eventually managed to create a space that is plain but moving.
The fire left the tower unscathed, which means that we can see a rare survival, a 16th century wooden staircase. It is perhaps the most basic staircase you can imagine - couple of timbers leaning against the wall with triangular-section timbers secured to them to form the treads.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

St Bartholomew Without, Chichester

Like the green hill far away, St Bartholomew is 'without a city wall', in this case 'without' Chichester's West Gate.
The original church was probably built in the 12th century and was circular with a circular apse over the altar, a shape associated with the Knights Templar so the church became known as the Temple even though it was never associated with those militant monks. New Fishbourne church was probably a chapelry to St Bartholomew at the time.
Sadly, this unusual church was destroyed in the Parliamentary siege of Chichester in 1642 and not a trace of it remains.
Although the parish of St Bartholomew continued to exist, the church was not rebuilt until 1824 when the architect George Draper was brought in, hot foot from his work adding a north transept to Fishbourne church.
Draper's design is a simple classical box with a stone-faced west end. The west door and window are emphasised by a small pediment, which used to be topped by a stone Grecian tower.
Inside, Draper created a plain box with tall arched windows that fill it with light. He was held back by limited funding, so although he designed galleries they were never installed.
In 1878 the parish finally found some money and a small but delicately-decorated chancel was added, and an organ loft inserted at the west end.
The last major changes came in 1929 when Macdonald Gill, brother of the famous sculptor Eric Gill, removed the tower on structural grounds and decorated the nave ceiling with a characteristic geometric pattern.
St Bartholomew was later taken over by Chichester Theological College and is now the Chaplaincy Centre of Chichester College.

Monday, 29 December 2014

St Peter the Great, West Street, Chichester

For nearly 900 years the parish church of St Peter the Great, Chichester, was inside the cathedral. This odd arrangement started in 1075 when the Council of London decreed that cathedrals should be in towns rather than villages.
Stigand, Bishop of Selsey, decided to move to Chichester and took over the old parish church as a temporary measure. The priest was made subdean and the parishioners used the nave, which became known as the subdeanery church.
In the 15th century the subdeanery church moved to the north transept, which was partitioned off and fitted with galleries, but the arrangement was never satisfactory with endless disputes over access and noise.
However, it was not until the Victorian age that something was finally done. In 1841 the dean, George Chandler (who was also, controversially, rector of All Souls, Langham Place in London) decided the subdeanery church had to go. An appeal raised enough to buy a site on the other side of West Street and employ the noted Victorian architect R.C. Carpenter to design a structure. Work started in 1848.
Carpenter produced a simple and elegant aisled church in an authentic Curvilinear style - look at the lovely flowing tracery in the windows and you will see exactly why it is called Curvilinear. The church is faced entirely in Caen stone and is covered in lovely carved heads, all different.
At the west end, Carpenter planned a tower but the money ran out and a porch was built instead.
Most of the glass was blown out by a wartime bomb, so the fine figure of a young, shaven St Peter stepping out of his fishing boat dates from 1947.
Dwindling population within the walls and competition from the cathedral made the church redundant and it closed in 1979. The parish was combined with St Paul's and the church itself became first an antiques market and then a bar.
Happily, the Grade I listing has protected it and you can still appreciate Carpenter's design over a drink.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Church of the English Martyrs, Goring-by-Sea

There is nothing on the outside that demands you visit the Catholic Church of the English Martyrs. It is a cheap concrete box built using the same system used for industrial sheds in the 1960s, located on an arterial road in a dull dormitory area.
So there is no preparation when you go in, raise your head and cast your eye over a complete reproduction of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It is quite astonishing.
It all started when a local signwriter and frustrated artist, Gary Bevans, went on pilgrimage to Rome in 1968 and was inspired to reproduce it at home. How he managed to persuade the priest, his fellow parishioners and the church authorities that it wasn't going to be a huge embarrassing mess is a mystery.
He spent all his evenings over the next five years lining the ceiling with plywood, laying out the designs and painting in acrylic in the colours revealed after the original was cleaned. The result is about two-thirds the scale of the original.
Happily, the result is not a mess. Bevans may not be Michelangelo but it is a good job and goes a long way to reproducing the awesome impact of the original.
And the ceiling is not the only worthwhile work of art in this humble building. A series of etched glass windows commemorate the English Martyrs and many of the other windows are filled with re-used stained glass from a demolished convent, reset by Jeremy Goodman to designs by his mother, Annie Goodman, an architectural designer.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

St Andrew, Ferring

Stuck in the middle of the depressing wastes of bungalowland on the coast is the remnant of the old village of Ferring, a few thatched cottages huddling round St Andrew's church.
From Saxon times it was a place of some consequence, an episcopal manor with a residence for the Bishop next to a minster church with resident clergy who lived communally and had an obligation to maintain the daily office of prayer. The priests also served parish churches in the area, which were mere chapelries of Ferring.
Today, St Andrew appears mostly as it would have in the mid 13th century, when it was rebuilt within the Norman walls. The chapel was rebuilt first, and one can still see the remains of the original trio of lancet east windows on either side of the later Perpendicular style east window. The slim marble columns of the original lancets hint that the masons may have come from Chichester, sent by the Bishop as it was his church.
The rebuilding continued with the addition of a line of columns and an aisle to the north. The masons started from the east and worked their way westward, as the style of the easternmost corbel is earlier than the corresponding one in the west.
The new structure clearly suffered from structural problems, shown by the addition of several sturdy buttresses at the west end and a cross-wall in the north aisle that was clearly installed to prop up the new arcade.
On this wall is one of those rustic monuments that add so much charm. Commissioned by a prominent local family, the Ollivers, the mason pulled out all the stops. Many of the classical frills are copied from pattern books of the latest Adam style, and he has added two 'mementi mori' reminding us that death takes all, a skeleton with an arrow and an angel with an hour glass standing.
The inscription is to "Tho.s, Son of Geo.e & Fran.s Olliver (of Kingftone Farm)" who died in 1782 age 30, "lamented by all his friends."
Below, an unsophisticated but heartfelt verse:

Young Men of ftrength behold and fee,
Juft in my prime Death conquer'd me;
Weep not my Friends for grieving is but vain:
I die with hopes to rife and live again.
With patience to the laft he did submit,
And murmured not at what ye Lord thought fit;
After a lingering illnefs grief and pain:
When Doctors fkill and Phyficians prov'd in vain.
He with a Chriftian courage did refign,
His Soul to God at his appointed time.

The monument is contemporary with the famous tomb of John Olliver, an eccentric miller who decided he wanted to be buried not in the churchyard but up on Highdown Hill close to his windmill. He had a big stone chest tomb built and a coffin made, which he kept under his bed. It was some 30 years before he died in 1793. It was, of course, rumoured that he was head of a local gang of smugglers and he hid the brandy in the tomb.
The windmill is long gone but the tomb remains to this day.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

St Mary, Barnham

Barnham church bears the marks of every alteration in its thousand year history in a particularly obvious way, so it is possible to trace its evolution over the centuries.
The simple single room containing both nave and aisle was built in about 1100, as shown by the two small round-headed Norman windows in the south wall.
In about 1180, an aisle was added on the north but instead of demolishing the north wall and building a line of columns and arches, three arched holes were punched through the wall and infilled with stone to create an arcade with bits of wall between.
In the 13th century the chancel was rebuilt, as shown by the three tall lancet windows at the east end and the broader pointed windows in the north and south walls. At this time, the roof was replaced and the boundary between the nave and the chancel marked by a tympanum, a filled-in triangular panel across the church, supported by massive timber braces.
The last medieval alteration was to rebuild the west wall, done in about 1400. The square drip-moulds round the door and the window above show the late date.
At the Reformation, the chapel at the eastern end of the north aisle was abolished and the aisle itself seems to have become redundant, although it may have suffered from the same structural problems that forced the parish to prop up the south wall with a series of buttresses. Whatever the cause, the aisle was demolished and the arches filled in, though the stones can still be seen both inside the church and out.
It is rather rare to find a church that shows every change so clearly. Also rare are the graffiti carved into the wall of the arch over the organ. They are mainly pilgrims stars, but a Latin inscription says "Pray for the soul of my father who died at Agincourt."