Saturday, 6 February 2016

St Margaret, Fernhurst

When in 1881 Fernhurst church began to look a bit 'tired', as estate agents say, the vicar and churchwardens must have thanked their lucky stars that a prominent architect, famous for his new churches, was living in the parish.
Anthony Salvin had built up an enviable practice designing and restoring churches and country houses. He had made something of a specialty of castles, having designed Peckforton Castle in Cheshire for the Tollemache family and added extensive living and entertaining accomodation at the Duke of Northumberland's seat, Alnwick Castle. Even if you have never been to Alnwick it may be familiar - it was used in the Harry Potter films as the location for Hogwarts School. Salvin had built a house for himself in Fernhurst having spent time in the area designing a country mansion and rebuilding the church at Northchapel.
The original 12th century church had already been altered with the addition of a south aisle and a small tower. Salvin left the original north wall with its two small lancet windows alone but altered the rest to enlarge it and bring it up to date.
The main alteration was to add an extra bay to the nave and erect a substantial tower with a broach spire. The nave was restored, retaining the interesting 16th century roof with curved braces. Salvin also reconstructed the chancel arch and designed the wooden pulpit and reading desk.
The church is not, it has to be admitted, one of Salvin's greatest works. He was getting on, and in fact died before building was finished. But the vicar must have been pleased as punch - Salvin not only did the design but paid for the builders as well - a tidy sum of £3,000, something like a million pounds today.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Tuxlith Chapel and St Luke's Church, Milland

Two churches for the price of one. For six hundred years, Milland was a chapelry of Trotton known as Tuxlith, with a humble one-room building in the woods a mile northwest of the village.
It became a parish in 1863 and a grand new church was built, but instead of demolishing the chapel it was used as a Sunday School, preserving it for our delight.
Tuxlith Chapel was built in the 12th century, as the large cornerstones and herringbone walls testify.
Inside, however, it looks like a Georgian preaching house with plain whitewashed walls, commandment boards and a two-decker pulpit.
It all dates from 1835 when the church was extended with a large transept to the north, positioned so everybody could see and hear the preacher. It had a gallery for the school children. Fishbourne church was given a similar transept at about this time but this was later swept away when the north aisle was built (although you can still see its gable looming behind the vestry).
In the 1930s Tuxlith chapel fell into disrepair and was presented to the Friends of Friendless Churches who restored it and care for it to this day.
The new parish church was built in 1878 to the designs of Willliam Street, an architect better known for office buildings but who had the advantage of being the churchwarden's brother.
St Luke's is a highly spiced Victorian design, with strong colour contrasts between the rough stone walls and the smooth tracery of the windows. The interior is spacious and even elegant, with a tall nave with clerestory and a big chancel. It does not deserve Ian Nairn's dismissive comment: “A nasty, fussy job.”

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

St Luke, Linch

When the Domesday book was compiled, the parish and church of Linch was located south of Midhurst, between Didling and Bepton, but it possessed an 'outlier' 15 miles to the north near Milland, probably for keeping pigs. But the community declined and by 1428 there were just six parishioners. The church fell into ruin.
Meanwhile, the outlier had prospered. A chapel was built in Tudor times and about 1700 a larger building was erected by a churchwarden, Peter Bettesworth, in an unsophisticated Gothic style.
By this time the old parish of Linch had ceased to exist, remembered only by the names of Linch Farm and Linch Hill. In the leisurely way of the Church of England, however, it was not until the 1880s that the old parish was formally abolished and the new one established.
The parish decided to splash out by practically rebuilding St Luke's at a cost of £850, equivalent to over a million today. The Surveyor of Chichester Cathedral, Lacy Ridge, was brought in to design it.
Lacy reused a few elements of the old church including a stone lintel over the south door inscribed with Bettesworth's name, a couple of roof beams with their crown posts and a pair of lovely panels of stained glass, probably 15th century German.
Lacy's work is very Victorian Early English, with lancet windows and Jacobean details on the gable of the south porch. A little later, an organ chamber was added, separated from the chancel by an arcade with two polished granite columns, a surprisingly rich effect.
This sort of romantic revival of past styles went down very badly with later architectural critics, especially when international modernism was the orthodoxy of the moment. Sure enough, when in 1965 Ian Nairn described the work in his entry in Pevsner's Buildings of England, he called it 'very unpleasant'.
Times have changed and today Lacy Ridge's church gives pleasure even though it will probably never be regarded as a masterpiece.

Monday, 1 February 2016

St Nicholas, Arundel

Today we naturally assume that a church building is united, every part being owned by the parish, but in medieval times it could be shared by several organisations. The parish might own the nave, the chancel might be occupied by monks, and there might be private chantry chapels with their own priests.
Almost all these arrangements were swept away by Henry VIII in the dissolution, but some survived. The parishioners of St Peter in Chichester, for example, used the north transept of the cathedral as their church well into Victorian times, but the most extraordinary example of shared ownership is St Nicholas in Arundel.
The original church was crucifix in plan, with the nave and transepts used by the parish and the chancel by monks of the religious foundation next door, where the Victorian buildings known as The Priory now stand.
The priory languished and was abolished in 1379, when the 4th Earl of Arundel took it over as a mausoleum for his family. A college of secular priests was installed in the priory to say masses for the Fitzalan family dead.
At the same time, the church was rebuilt in the English Perpendicular style, with a lofty nave, a crossing tower, transepts and a lovely chancel, which was separated from the nave by an iron grille to keep the plebs out of the Earl's burial chamber.
At the reformation, the Fitzalan family was one of the few in England powerful enough to remain Catholic and keep their lands (and, indeed, their heads). Things did not come to a head until 1879 when the vicar became so angry at what he felt was Catholic triumphalism that he sued the Duke for possession of the chapel - and lost. The Duke retaliated by building a wall behind the iron grille to keep out the prying eyes of the vulgar.
In 1937 the guide-book writer Arthur Mee raged "it is pitiful to see the eastern wall of St Nicholas roughly faced up as no good bricklayer would leave it, though in front of it, almost touching it, is one of the finest iron screens in the country, the work of a 14th century smith."
He also complained that he had to pay sixpence to enter the castle grounds to see the chapel. Sixpence is about £1.50 in today's money, but entry to the castle and chapel now costs £9. What would Arthur say about that?
Happily, good sense and improving relations between the churches led to the removal of the wall in the 1970s and its replacement with glass, so visitors can once again see the chapel through the screen in the way the 14th century designers intended.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

St Mary and St Gabriel, Harting

Ancient churches rarely have their original roofs. Being at the top of the building, roofs are particularly vulnerable to rot, fire and over-zealous restorers.
Harting church lost its roof in a devastating fire of 1576, but luckily for us its replacement is a tour de force of Elizabethan carpentry.
The church itself was probably originally built just before the Norman conquest, as shown by the tall, thin walls of the nave. In the 14th century a central tower, transepts and aisles were added.
The fire destroyed the roofs and led to severe structural problems with the tower. To shore it up, supporting arches were inserted under the original arches of the crossing, and the first bay of the nave arcade was replaced with smaller, stronger arches.
The roofs of the transepts and aisles are simple and would not look out of place in a tithe barn of the period. The main element of the nave roof is a line of tie beams on which sit crown posts that help support the apex of the roof.
So far, so plain. In the chancel, however, the carpenters really let rip. The tie beams are supported on brackets with massive curved braces. Above, delicate turned struts like balusters hold up a second, lighter tie beam. Carved pendents and corbels create a rich effect.
If the other roofs are barn-like, this is ornate enough for a grand country house, perhaps the seat of the Cowper-Coles family whose tomb dominates the south transept. There they are in their heavy brocades, firs and stiff ruffs, looking thoroughly uncomfortable as they wait for the judgment day.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

St John, Patching

To a casual glance, Patching church looks fairly normal. It was built in the early 13th century, with a nave and chancel plus a tower attached to the north wall.
Look carefully, however, and you notice the nave is not in line with the chancel but shifted to the south, so the chancel arch is not in the middle of the east wall but to one side.
The tower is peculiar too. Inside, it has an arch leading to the nave, which is normal enough, but it also has arches to the east and west which lead into small Victorian rooms.
Nobody seems to know exactly why the church is the way it is. Was the tower originally a crossing tower, between an original nave and chancel now demolished? This seems unlikely as the east and west arches are too small and not aligned.
Was the nave widened at some point? This too seems unlikely as the roof is original and would obviously have had to be replaced when the widening was done.
The best explanation is that the original church builders intended to have an aisled nave with the north aisle ending in the tower. The east tower arch would have been the entrance to a chapel.
However, plans changed and the aisles were abandoned - but because the south wall had already been built it was used anyway, the roof being redesigned to span the whole aisle width.
Another little mystery of Patching church is the position of the south door, which is right at the west end rather than halfway along the south wall. This is probably explained by the nave being shortened at some point, presumably to save money
We will probably never know the full story of how Patching church came to have such an unusual floorplan, as most of the evidence was swept away in a heavy restoration of 1888. The height of the tower was increased and the attractive broach spire was added at that time.

St Mary, Clapham

Clapham church is hidden away at the top of a long unmetalled drive, a lovely position. It is a charming little church dating mainly from the 13th century, though the main accent outside is 15th century - two square-headed windows on either side of a doorway that gives an oddly domestic effect. But the monuments inside are the main attraction.

Many visitors go for the tombs of the Shelley family, ancestors of the poet.
The most impressive is a brass dating from 1526 in the floor of the chancel right in front of the communion rail - you have to lift the carpet to see it. The figures are of John Shelley and his wife Elizabeth. He wears armour with a coat of arms over and she sports an elegant robe with the arms of her husband and of her own family, the de Michelgroves, whose estate she brought to the Shelley family.
His son William became a judge and is commemorated by an ornate tomb recess carved in 1548 where he is portrayed kneeling in his judge's robes, with his seven sons behind him. Behind them kneels his wife, Alice with their seven daughters.
Another brass dated 1550 shows their eldest son John and his wife Mary with their twelve children. Those poor women must have spent most of their married lives pregnant.
Their son John, the first baronet, also has a brass.
The reredos behind the altar wall the altar is decorated with tiles supplied by William Morris in 1873. The brilliantly coloured tiles show the four archangels depicted in the classic Arts and Crafts manner, standing before a hedge of roses and vines with bunches of grapes.
This is very rare, the only other Morris reredos being in Findon church close by. That had been installed a few years before and had been widely admired, so when Clapham church was restored by Sir George G Scott they clearly decided they wanted one too.