Monday, 4 June 2007

St Mary, Chidham

Chidham church looks as though it has remained more or less unchanged since it was built in the 13th century, but a fascinating collection of old prints and photographs in the church shows that all is not what it seems.
The walls are punctuated with simple lancet windows. The east end has a group of three, typical of the 1220s. A plain bellcote rises from the west end.

But the pictures show the church before its restoration in 1864. They show that until the Victorians got to work, several of the windows were late medieval, with tracery, and the bells were hung in a weatherboarded spire.
The restorer clearly felt the need to take the church back to its Early English simplicity, and he generally succeeded by resisting the temptation to overdo it and go for the lavish carving the Victorians loved so much. The only duff note is the bellcote, which is ever so slightly too big.
Inside, the narrow chancel arch was left instead of being enlarged as so many were. The chancel wall has two heavy monuments of the type known as a cartouche, an oval shape originally used for the arms of women and clergymen, to avoid the military implications of a shield.
Cartouches became popular for everyone in the Baroque era because they could be pulled out into extravagant shapes, and the Chidham monuments are particularly lavish with weeping cherubs above and skulls below, all draped with funerary folds of crepe. They date from 1707 and 1708.
Chidham’s real charm lies in its surroundings, however. The village is as isolated on its peninsula as if it were deep in the Downs. The jumble of houses is completely unplanned and as lovely as any formal composition.