Friday 29 July 2016

St Richard of Chichester (RC), Chichester

It is easy to dismiss St Richard of Chichester Catholic church as trendy modernist building designed to put a roof over as many people as cheaply as possible.
It is true that the architects, Tomei and Maxwell, used industrial components such as concrete beams called portals to create a spacious nave and transepts at low cost. And it is also true that the elements of the design (exposed brick, canopies held up with spindly rods like scaffolding poles and a bell tower that looks like a fire station) were very fashionable in 1958 when the church was built.
But the materials are honest and the composition is attractive. And when you enter the church you discover a truly moving and internationally important work of art - the stained glass that fills the space with rich blues and reds.
It was created by French artist Gabriel Loire, the leading stained glass designer of the 20th century, who was based in Chichester's twin city of Chartres. It is the largest collection of his work in Britain.
Loire specialised in a technique called dalle de verre or 'slab glass' which is about an inch thick for deeper tones than regular stained glass. The pieces are shaped by cracking or sawing, and the edges are often chipped or bevelled to increase refraction and reflection effects. The window is held together by concrete or resin rather than lead.
The windows depict subjects such as Our Lady Queen of Heaven, the life of St Richard and many others.
They are not the only work of art in the church, however.
The characteristic painted altarpiece depicting the crucifixion and the stations of the cross are by local artist David O'Connell, a graphic designer who attended the church for many years.
And the fine bronze crucifix at the west end is by the Catholic sculptors Philip Lindsey Clark and his son Michael. Philip had fought in the First World War, gaining the DSO, and had created many war memorials and religious works subsequently. He eventually became a monk.

St Mary, Funtington

 Funtington's church has two unusual medieval survivals, chapels on either side of the chancel originally built in about 1300 to provide areas dedicated to particular saints or for prayers for the rich donors who paid for them.
The church was quite grand, with a long nave with four arches, and big overarching roof that covered both nave and aisles, sweeping down almost to the ground in the way still visible in churches such as Yapton. At the west end the composition was completed in the 15th century by a simple battlemented tower.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to tell exactly what the medieval church looked like because almost all the old work with the exception of the chancel chapels was swept away in a particularly comprehensive Victorian restoration of 1859.
The north and south aisles were complete rebuilt, being made considerably wider and having their own roofs so they were much taller. Big arches were punched through the walls of the chancel into the chapels.
The whole church was covered in lavish, indeed overpowering carved ornament. Outside, the new aisle windows have extraordinary recessed columns between the lancets, something never seen in medieval churches. The capitals on the columns have 'stiff leaf' ornament but about three times as large as any medieval original. The polished hardwood roof sits on corbels carved with flowers, religious beasts and a couple of heads one of which sports a stylish moustache.
What makes this outbreak of Victorian exuberance so strange is the architect was Benjamin Ferrey, a pupil of Pugin's who is known for solidly constructed but generally uninteresting designs. He was not known for this sort of thing at all.
Funtington church is noteworthy for the number of memorials to naval commanders, including Admiral of the Fleet Sir Provo Wallis, born in 1791. Wallis was enrolled in the navy at the age of four by his father, so when he actually boarded a ship for the first time in 1804 he had already built up nearly 10 years of seniority. He was promoted captain at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, which entitled him to remain on the active list, and therefore on full pay, for the rest of his life. In his late 90s the Admiralty tried to persuade him to retire, pointing out that he was liable to be sent to sea if he remained on the active list. He responded that as the most senior officer in the Navy he would have to be in command of any fleet he was in, and his last seagoing command was in the days of sail... The suggestion was quietly dropped and he was still on full pay when he died aged 100.

All Hallows, Tillington

The tower is the glory of All Hallows' church at Tillington. Set on the top of a hill overlooking the Rother valley it is visible for miles around, but it was especially visible from the terrace of Petworth House, the seat of the Earls of Egremont.
So in 1807 the Earl decided to rebuild the medieval tower taller and prettier as a point-de-vue, rising behind Capability Brown's famous landscape.
The striking feature of the new tower is the delicate spire supported on four flying buttresses, a design known as a Scots crown because the most famous example is on St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.
Sadly, Brown's trees soon grew so tall they obscured the tower from the Earl's house, but not before the view was captured by JMW Turner showing the spire standing out in front of his dramatic sunsets.
This gave rise to a local legend that Turner, who trained as an architect, actually designed the tower but sadly he did not visit Petworth until after it was built. The actual designer is unknown.
The tower was just part of a major rebuilding of the church. The original 12th century structure consisted of a chancel, nave and south aisle. The south arcade has columns carved from the local sandstone, a material that does not favour fine detail so the Norman mason went for big, vigorous palm leaf shapes instead of the more usual stiff leaf pattern.
When the Victorians altered churches they often rebuilt existing features to match the new work, but when the Earl decided to add a new north aisle he sensibly copied the old work to create a visually consistent whole.
The odd feature of the interior is the south transept. The original tower had been built on top of it, but the new tower needed new foundations so it sits within the transept leaving just a few feet round the edge. A buttress even protrudes into the chancel. Very peculiar.

St Mary, Petworth

The tower of Petworth's church is the signature of the town, right at the top of the hill. Approaching from any direction it is the first thing you see - from the west it even peaks up behind the grand facade of Petworth House, barging into its perfection as if to remind us that even the greatest lord is mortal.
Yet whereas the big house has remained more or less unaltered since it was built in the 17th century, the tower has had a more chequered history.
The original tower was built in the 14th century, probably replacing the south transept of the Norman church built by the Percy family of Northumberland. The stone base still survives, though a tall wooden spire covered in lead was removed in 1804 and replaced by battlements.
This was clearly not large or grand enough, however, and in 1827 Sir Charles Barry, later famous for the Houses of Parliament, added a tall plastered section with a clock and topped it off with a huge stone spire. It was octagonal with 'broaches', corner pieces that turned the octagonal base into a square to fit on top of the tower. The tower now looked just like the Victorian spires in any suburb.
It was not to last, however. After World War II it was removed and in 1953 the modernist architects Seely and Paget added a simple parapet and stripped off the plasterwork on the clock storey to reveal some rather lovely red bricks forming arch patterns. It was a strange way to create a beautiful and characteristic structure.
The rest of the church is interesting mainly for its monuments.
One of the oldest, dating from 1542, is the tomb of Sir John Dawtrey and his wife. In typical Tudor fashion they kneel facing each other under an ornate vaulted stone canopy. Sir John's helmet hangs above.
Two works by one of Britain's finest sculptors, John Flaxman, are rather oddly squeezed into corners. Under the tower is a little relief portraying the Madonna and Child, originally part of the reredos. The baby plays joyfully as his mother gazes on - nothing indicates their divine nature except they are sitting on a cloud.
In the chancel, Flaxman's memorial to John Wickens, rector for 40 years up to 1783, is a cherub carrying an open book, presumably the book recording all the good deeds that will get Wickens into heaven. He also stands on a cloud.
Also under the tower is a large allegorical female commemorating the Percy family, erected by their descendants in 1837. It is by John Carew, an artist who did much work for then Earl of Egremont, including memorials in the chancel to John Johnson (1831), Rear Admiral Richard Willis (1829) and others.
When the Earl died in 1837 he was commemorated by a life-size figure in the north aisle by one of Flaxman's pupils, Edward Baily, later famous as the sculptor of the figure of Nelson on top of his column.
The Earl's death brought a windfall for Baily but was disastrous for Carew, who was owed a considerable sum. Perhaps funds were low as the Earl had paid Charles Barry the enormous sum of £30,000 for the tower. Carew sued the noble lord's executors but lost and was declared bankrupt as a result.

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.