Monday, 4 May 2009

St Mary Magdalene and St Denys, Midhurst

The guidebooks are a bit dismissive about Midhurst's church. “A disappointment...there has been too much restoration” says Ian Nairn in Buildings of England. “Little left for us to see,” says Arthur Mee of The King's England.
The usual assumption is that Victorian architects (and their clients: the rectors, PCCs and benefactors) exercised their own egos by gratuitously altering and rebuilding ancient churches. But often they were presented with the same problems we find today.
In 1880, Midhurst church was in a bad state. The hodge-podge of additions over the centuries had created a space that was unusable for modern worship. It was too small for the growing congregation and the massive nave roof was forcing the walls out, threatening collapse.
The diocesan Surveyor of Ecclesiastical Dilapidations, Lacy W Ridge, was brought in to restore and update the church. Ridge had just restored the exterior of St Mary Appledram and went on to design several new churches in Sussex including ones at Burgess Hill and Brighton.
He enlarged the 16th century nave, lengthening it to the west and added a clerestory so it would be higher and lighter. The most prominent features of the exterior of the church are his – the west wall with its chequerboard stonework and traceried window, and the oddly-shaped broach spire.
The Perpendicular style chancel arcades and south aisle are original, as are the lower parts of the tower and the Southampton Chapel. Ridge cannot be blamed for the loss of the Southampton Chapel's glory: the Cowdray monuments that were removed to Easebourne in 1851.
But Ridge created a church that works. The western entrance was recently re-ordered so the main entrance is not directly off the traffic-infested street, but his changes have mostly stood the test of time.