Saturday, 10 May 2014

St Mary, Sennicotts

In 1829 the rich nabob Charles Baker of Sennicotts House fell out with the Rev George Bliss, perpetual curate of his local church, Funtington. But whereas you or I would have simply gone to services somewhere else, Baker decided to build his own church.
The result was lovely St Mary's, a church alone in a narrow lane surrounded by fields.
Like the chapel at Stansted House, Sennicotts was built at the time when the Gothic style was replacing the classical style of the Georgians, but before architects worried too much about reproducing authentic medieval designs. Sennicotts is a Georgian preaching box in Gothic fancy dress.
The outside is faced in stone, the mortar between the roughly-squared blocks being 'galletted', filled with shards of flint to create a charming prickly effect. Galletting was an expensive feature and appears on many houses on the Goodwood estate.
The church is a simple box with crow-stepped gables and a battlemented tower at the west end. Inside, the pointed windows with wooden tracery provide the main Gothic touches, as the wooden cusping that used to fill the areas between the wrought-iron tie-beams and the ceiling have been lost. However, the original 'pig's blood' colour of the walls returned in a recent refurbishment.
Otherwise, the Georgian style reigns inside. The box pews retain their doors and the west end has a gallery for the choir.
The architect is unknown, though it may have been George Draper, who later designed the church of St Bartholemew in Westgate, Chichester (now the chapel of Chichester College) and had also performed a sweeping rebuilding of Fishbourne parish church.
The reason for Baker's dispute with Bliss is not known though he may have disapproved of his evangelical views and campaigns against slavery. Baker had the last laugh, however. When Bliss finally resigned as curate of Funtington his replacement was the Rev Stair Douglas, who Baker had appointed as the first curate at St Mary's. The Douglas family were local landowners who had made their money in the plantations of Jamaica, owning considerable numbers of slaves. Perhaps it was the slavery issue that caused such dissension, but in due course St Mary's was absorbed into Funtington parish and the dispute passed into history.