Sunday, 28 June 2009

St Peter, Henfield

Henfield is one of those Sussex villages people drive through and admire, but seldom stop to explore. That’s a pity, because - traffic aside - it’s a very attractive place, with an impressive church tucked away from the main street on a narrow lane.

History records King Osmond giving permission to the local Count Warbold for a church as far back as 770AD, but the oldest parts of the present church date from around 1250. Rebuilding in the late 13th or early 14th centuries provided the present nave and clerestory, and the 15th century left the tower and Lady Chapel. Restoration in 1871 delivered the present wide aisles and two-bay outer aisles as transepts, as well as a new chancel.

From the outside, the impression is of an entirely Victorian church, save for the tower: Pevsner’s Buildings of England describes this as: “A Perp tower like a keep, as grim as it would be in Northumberland”, though it reminds me of the tower of the church in which I was christened, at Burnham-on-Sea in Somerset. But inside, the retention of the 13th century chancel arch and handsome 14th century arcade and nave roof, as well as the Lady Chapel, give it a more historic appearance, although it's hard not to be distracted by those those wide Victorian aisles.

Fittings are mostly Victorian, too, although the screen to the chapel – now known as the Parham Chapel - is 15th century, and there are old church chests – one Jacobean – dotted around. The piscina is also 14th century and was moved to the chancel in the Victorian restoration. Two 13th century lancet windows were also retained, now in the clergy vestry. The chapel windows are original, although the glass in modern (several of the windows are by Kempe). The most striking modern addition is the new stone floor, which still looks very new and one hopes will mellow a little with age.

Before you leave, the churchyard is worth exploring: there are some fine 18th century gravestones, and several avenues of clipped yews – 104 in all!

Church Lane, Henfield, West Sussex BN5 9NY

Friday, 26 June 2009

St Mary Magdalene, Paddington

Not to be confused with the nearby church of St Mary, Paddington, St Mary Magdalene hugs the banks of the Grand Union Canal west of Little Venice. Designed by George Street, it is one of the most remarkable neo-Gothic churches in London.

The church was built from 1867 onwards for the Rev Dr Richard Temple West, then curate at All Saints, Margaret Street, to bring the ‘high’ Tractarian style of worship to what was then a poor community living in overcrowded housing. The street plan severely constrained the site, for which Street’s solution was the long, tall narrow design we see today. It’s hard to appreciate now what it must have looked like originally, since the surrounding streets have long since been replaced by a modern housing estate, and the church is now mostly surrounded by green space.

The church is built in red brick, in Street’s preferred Decorated Gothic: the most striking exterior feature is its slender octagonal belfry, surmounted by an elegant spire, which emphasises the height of the nave and polygonal apse, and forms a distinctive local landmark.

Inside, more of Street’s ingenuity is apparent: the South aisle is generous, but with insufficient room for a north aisle, there is instead an arcade with just a narrow passage behind, and the two arcades are different: the south aisle has conventional arcade on clustered piers, the north with arches on octagonal piers, with a pair of arches within each bay on a slim colonnettes. Both arcades carry large statues of saints under elaborate canopies.

However, the glory of the church is its lavish decoration and furnishings – too extensive to describe in detail, but there are paintings, mosaics, memorial brasses, abundant statuary and wall tiling, and a complete scheme of stained glass by Henry Holiday, a friend of pre-Raphaelite Burne-Jones. The north and south windows are particularly attractive and depict Saints with British connections.

Even the ceiling is painted, with a scheme by Daniel Bell (1873) showing saints and Biblical characters connected with the months of the year. Other artists and artisans included Ninian Comper, Thomas Earp, Martin Travers and Salviati. The crypt (which I have not seen, and to which access is limited) contains the Chapel of St Sepulchre, created as a memorial to Father West in 1894, again by Comper.

Aside from services, the church is usually open on Thursdays, and is well worth the short walk alongside the Grand Union Canal from Little Venice.

Rowington Close, Paddington W2 5TF Nearest Underground: Warwick Avenue

Thursday, 25 June 2009

St Mary The Boltons, Kensington

Surrounded by some of the most expensive real estate in the world, St Mary’s nevertheless looks like a country church parachuted into central London, almost disappearing behind the dense trees and hedges of the central garden of the Boltons.

The church itself is the work of the architect George Godwin, and was constructed 1849-50 on the then developing Gunter Estate. It was largely financed by the first incumbent, Rev Hogarth Swale.

The church is largely in the Decorated Gothic style, with an aisleless cruciform plan. The exterior is very attractive, of Kentish ragstone and Bath stone dressings, with a short tower, octagonal lantern and spire (added in 1854). It sits in the middle of a lozenge-shaped garden, with park benches for visitors to admire the prettily kept gardens around the church.

After such a gentle introduction, the interior comes as rather a shock: it is severely whitewashed, and rather bright, as much of the stained glass was removed after War damage. The dark, heavy roof is supported on carved corbels showing the apostles, although these are hard to see through the whitewash. The altar was moved forward to the crossing in 1952, and the chancel turned into a Lady Chapel. I’m not convinced this presentation works: it feels, to me at least, in need of some colourful banners on the nave walls to liven it up.

Still, it retains its oak pews, and has an interesting and attractive bronze Pieta by Naomi Blake in St Luke’s Chapel (installed for the 150th anniversary celebrations), as well as Godwin’s original font. A few Victorian stained glass windows also survive, although the most notable is the bold, almost primitive-style East window by Margaret Kaye, inserted in 1955.

I had a very friendly welcome on my visit, and the church itself is the centre of a busy Parish, with services in 'the best liberal Anglican tradition’, according to its website.

The Boltons, Kensington, SW10 9TB. Nearest underground station: Earl's Court