Thursday, 11 July 2013

Christ Church, Forestside

The little church in Forestside is a bit of a mystery - nobody seems to know who designed it.
Christ Church was certainly built in 1852, and we know the name of the man who paid for it because it is written in stone - the foundation stone, to be exact. It was Charles Dixon, the philanthropic owner of nearby Stansted Park. 
But the architect remains unknown, and such is the power of the design there has been much speculation as to his identity.
In the Sussex edition of Buildings of England, Ian Nairn suggested the style was that of Samuel Sanders Teulon, a particularly virile and aggressive architect with the power to shock even today. The Sussex Parish Churches website points to the then vicar of Westbourne, an amateur architect called Sperling.
The church is part of a complex of buildings including a parish school and a house for the schoolmaster, both of which are now private homes.
The church is faced with knapped flint and Caen stone, a very expensive finish. The main accent is a bellcote in an unusual position on the east end of the nave roof, above the chancel, presumably to make a bigger impact from the road.
But it is inside where the building packs the biggest punch. The nave is filled with light pouring in through big traceried windows, but the chancel is lit only by small trefoil windows so it seems dark in comparison. This heightens the effect of the east window, which consists of an almond shape called a vesica piscis ("fish bladder" ) above two lancets - an unusual and striking composition.
The left hand lancet contains a vivid stained glass depiction of the Tree of Jesse with Old Testament kings, and prophets appear on the right. The Jesse window has Jesse at the bottom, naturally, but the Prophets window has a dragon. Nobody seems to know why - perhaps the artist had to fill in a counterpart to Jesse and just indulged his penchant for dragons.
And that is the last mystery of Christ Church - the designer of the stained glass is also unknown. 
No, wait...there is yet another little mystery...the identities of the corbel heads supporting the chancel arch. A notice in the church says they are Queen Victoria and the Bishop of Chichester, but she doesn't look at all like Victoria and the Bishop, Ashurst Gilbert, is always depicted clean-shaven.