Friday, 30 December 2011

St Alphege, Greenwich

The historic parish church of Greenwich sits imposingly in its town centre. Although unfortunately hemmed in on the east by the main road, both the green at the west end and the interior are oases of calm.

History

The church is built on the alleged site of St Alphege’s martyrdom at the hands of Viking pirates in 1012. Alphege, then Archbishop of Canterbury, had been taken hostage but refused to be ransomed, and so was (by tradition) killed by being pelted with animal bones, before one Viking struck him with an axe to the head to spare his suffering. He was canonized in 1078.

Details of the first church erected on the site after the martyrdom are scanty, but it was an important shrine. A new church was built to replace it in the 13th century, and was witness to many Royal visitors up to the 17th century due to its proximity to the royal palace at Greenwich. Thomas Tallis, the composer, was one of the notable people buried there.

The church roof collapsed in a storm in 1710, and the present church was built to replace it, as the first of the 50 churches sanctioned under the New Churches in London and Westminster Act of 1711. Designed in the Baroque style by Nicholas Hawksmoor, it was completed in 1714 and consecrated in 1718. The intended tower was never built: instead, in 1730, the remains of the old tower were encased to match the rest of the church to designs by John James. Much of the interior woodwork was by Grinling Gibbons.

The church was gutted by incendiary bombs in 1941. Restoration began in 1946 and was completed in 1953. The interior is largely new, but incorporates remnants from the original fabric and is largely faithful to the Hawksmoor's design.

The church

The exterior – particularly the splendid east front (oddly, the original entrance) with its bold Doric portico - is a beautifully balanced example of Baroque architecture, although the proportions of James's tower are unfortunately not a match for the rest.

The interior has galleries on three sides, with delicately carved wooden columns, and the ceiling consists of a huge plaster disc suspended on corbels on the exterior walls. At the west end, the organ is mounted a fine portico of a gallery. Fittings of note include two original benefactor boards on the east wall, impressive ironwork in the east galleries, memorials to James Wolfe and Thomas Tallis, and stained glass depicting other (mostly royal) associations with the church.

The church today is the centre of a bustling parish life, and is the venue for regular concerts.

Greenwich Church Street, London SE10 9LZ

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Blessed Virgin Mary, Penmark

Pretty without being chocolate-boxy, Penmark is a small village near Cardiff, with a good local pub and an interesting mediaeval church. Its peace is only disturbed by the aircraft taking off from nearby Cardiff-Wales airport, but its character could not be more different.

History

The village was the site of a 12th century Norman castle, overlooking a natural ravine carved by the Waycock River. Originally built in wood by Gilbert de Umfraville, it was rebuilt in stone in the 13th century. A good review of the castle (now in ruins) can be found at www.castlewales.com.

The church was probably built around the same time, and its generous proportions may reflect the patronage of the local lord: the oldest part is the chancel arch, dating from around 1200. The tower arch dates from 1400 and most of the windows (some restored) date from the 15th century. All the main elements of the fabric (including the South Porch) are mediaeval. Charles Wesley preached here on 26th July 1777,after breakfasting in near Fonmon Castle. In 1811 the church is recorded as being dedicated to St Mark. Repairs to the roof and walls were undertaken and new seating was installed in 1893-5. The Preaching Cross in the churchyard was restored in 1888, on the original mediaeval steps. The nearby Yew Trees are said to be 300-400 years old.

The church

The church has a south porch, nave, chancel and tower. The most notable interior feature is the peculiar chancel arch, comprising a simple and very crude pointed arch with similarly crude zig-zag carving, dating to around 1200. More impressive is a tall and beautifully proportioned late Gothic tower arch dating from around 1400. The nave has a well preserved staircase for a long-vanished Rood Screen. Most of the windows are perpendicular in style, dating from the later 15th century, some restored.

The church has some interesting fittings and furnishings: pride of place goes to the Jacobean pulpit, from which Charles Wesley preached in 1777. The nave side altar opposite dates from 1709, and above are memorials to Jones family of Fonmon Castle. In the chancel are late 17th century alabaster memorials to the Lewis Family of Penmark Place, with coats of arms and skulls. The nave has a plain turned Norman tub font, presumably dating from the founding of the church.

The church is an integral part of village life - details of special services can be found in the newsletter at www.penmark.org. Regular services are part of the joint benefice of Benefice of Penmark with Llancarfan with Llantrithyd.

Penmark, Barry, Vale of Glamorgan CF62 3BP

Monday, 19 December 2011

St Peter & St Paul, Greenwich Naval College

The College’s Chapel of St Peter and St Paul was built as an integral part of the sublime Baroque edifice that is the Royal Naval College at Greenwich. Its dome mirrors that of the Painted Hall opposite, and it has a truly magnificent interior.

History

The Chapel was completed in 1751, and was the last element of the college to be finished. As designed, it had a rather plain interior with a flat, coffered ceiling, an apse at the east end and plain galleries. Destroyed in a fire in 1779, it was rebuilt but the architect James Stuart designed a new interior in the “Greek Revival” style, for which he was famous. It was reopened in 1789. It is unusual for the fact that the interior is almost entirely unaltered since its rebuilding.

The Chapel

The exterior is part of Wren’s fine Baroque scheme, with the imposing dome rising from a large broken pediment, itself surmounting the long arcade of paired columns which front the old college buildings.

The interior is essentially an oblong box, with narrow galleries supported on brackets which spring from the outer walls. But most striking is Stuart’s Greek revival decorative scheme, executed in plaster in white, pale blue and gold. A mix of classic Greek and Naval motifs decorate the walls, with extensive use of trompe d’oeil painting to add architectural details and statuary. But the most amazing element is the ceiling, which has a perfect neo-classical design of squares and octagons, with wonderfully ornate central ornaments. Its gentle curve gives the chapel excellent acoustics.

Fittings of note include the altarpiece painting by American painter Benjamin West, unusually depicting the wreck of St Paul on Malta; the neo-classical west gallery, which features the extensive use of artificial Coade stone in its decoration; and the memorial in the vestibule to Sir John Franklin and the crews of the ships Erebus and Terror who lost their lives in search of the North West Passage in Canadian waters.

The chapel is open to the public every day and remains an active place of prayer and worship, with a friendly and growing congregation.

Greenwich, London SE10 9LW

Sunday, 30 October 2011

St Mary's, Berkeley

Berkeley’s church is historic rather than pretty, but amply rewards a visit. It sits close to the famous castle, scene of the famously gruesome murder of Edward II in 1327. Most of the present church was constructed at that time, so he would probably have known it, and it would have borne witness to events...

History

There are records of a Saxon Abbey from the 8th to the 10th centuries, and it continued to be an important site in the early Norman period – Henry II visited in 1121. The remains of the Saxon church may lie where the bell tower is now.

There was a certainly a church on the present site in the Norman period, as the current building contains Norman features: most of the present fabric was, however, erected in 1225-50, including the present nave and west end of the chancel. The chancel was extended around 1300. The aisles were rebuilt in the 14th century, as were the lower stages of the porch and vestry, and the nave roof corbels date from this period too. The 15th century added the Priest’s room above the porch, the fine stone screen, the present nave roof and the Berkeley Memorial chapel.

The church played a role as part of the Castle’s defences in the English Civil war, and the tower was rebuilt on its 15th century base in 1753. The detached position to the north of the church is thought to have prevented it from being used to attack the castle.

An unusual Victorian restoration included repainting the original medieval decoration, found during repairs. This includes a very fragmentary Doom over the chancel arch. They were restored again in 1938.

The church

The church itself is a rather robust building; from the outside, only the detached tower, the porch (with a very fine ogee arch) and west front are what one could call attractive. However, before entering, wander around the graveyard: it has an unusually rich collection of tombs and memorials, in a dizzying variety of styles.

Inside, the only obviously Romanesque feature is the south door: pride of place architecturally goes to the fine west window of five stepped lancets. The nave arcades have clustered piers and capitals of stiff-leaf carving of the Early English Gothic style. An attractive Decorated Gothic Easter Sepulchre and the Perpendicular Berkeley Chapel are both found in the Chancel.

The remains of the stairway to the rood loft can clearly be seen, and a strange staircase high up on the west end has three heads as corbels. It is thought this may have been part of a pulpit. Indeed, corbels abound all around the church, a gallery of late mediaeval physiognomy.

The church is packed with furnishings of interest: the floor is covered in 17th and 18th century stones, but it is the Berkeley tombs which steal the show. In the nave lies the magnificent and beautifully preserved tomb to the 8th Lord Berkeley (1292-1361) and his wife Katherine (d. 1385). He fought at Crecy in 1346, and it was during his ownership that Edward II was murdered in the castle. Their effigies are exquisitely executed in alabaster, he in full armour.

The 11th Lord (d. 1463) is buried in under the arch from the Chancel into the Berkeley Chapel, alongside his younger son, who died on campaign in France. Both are in full armour. Through the window can be seen tombs to later Berkeleys (though the chapel is not open to visitors).

Another memorial worth a look is that to Edward Jenner, the pioneer vaccination (1749-1823), whose house nearby is now a museum. His family are recorded in a floor memorial next to the altar.

The fine stone screen is a rare 14th century survival, and now brilliantly coloured as it would have been originally. The reredos behind the High Altar is by Comper and installed in 1918. Back by the south door, is a large square Norman font, with 4 smaller columns around a central round pier and scalloped lower edge.

The church is the focus of a busy parish life. A visit here can easily be combined with one to the adjacent castle and the Jenner museum.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Romsey Abbey, Romsey

Romsey Abbey is one of England’s outstanding Norman churches, with some fascinating survivals from the Saxon and mediaeval periods. It is dedicated to St Mary and St Ethelflæda, one of its early abbesses.

History

The first community on the site was founded in 907AD, by King Edward, son of Alfred the Great, under his daughter Elflaeda. The abbey was refounded as a Benedictine house by King Edgar in 960AD, with St Ethelflæda as the second abbess.

The first stone church was built around 1000AD, but after the Norman conquest the abbey as rebuilt on a much larger scale, starting around 1120. By 1140 the Choir, Transepts, a Lady Chapel at the East end and first three bays of the Nave had been completed. A fourth bay was added in 1150-80. The nave took its present form in 1230-40, when the last three arches and the present west end were added in the Early English style. The upper tiers of the clerestory must also have been completed at this time, as they are also in the Gothic style.

Although the abbey declined during the time of the Black Death, by the Dissolution a second aisle had been added to the north to accommodate the townspeople, who used the north aisle and transept as their parish church. After the Dissolution, the townspeople purchased the church for £100 for use as their parish church, removing the second north aisle. The late 13th century Lady Chapel was also demolished in 1539, and over subsequent years the cloisters and other abbey buildings were demolished.

Although the Abbey was restored in the 19th century, the Victorians sensibly left most of the fabric well alone, and the church today is one of the best preserved large Norman churches in England.

The church

From the outside, the church retains its largely Norman (and rather severe) appearance. The decoration is relatively restrained, with rounded arches and some interesting decorated corbels, and a very squat central crossing tower. The best features are on the west wall of the south transept; first, is the famous Romsey Saxon Rood, showing Christ in majesty with the hand of God pointing down from above. Adjacent is a fine Romanesque doorway, which once opened from the nave into the cloister.

None of this prepares you for the magnificent interior, which is flooded with light from the clear west windows. The proportions are those of a cathedral, with the eye drawn to the tall, rounded crossing arches. At the west end, the three west bays of the nave and the clerestory have pointed arches in the Early English Gothic style, and the east windows are late 13th century Decorated Gothic work. But essentially, this is a Norman building. Nave, transepts and chancel all have tall rounded arcades surmounted by triforium and clerestory, and the aisles and chancel are vaulted. Most of the capitals are scalloped, but many have the kind of intricate designs of foliage and figures typical of Norman work: one depicts two kings fighting, one pulling the other’s beard; another has two scenes, one of two crowned men either side of an angel and a second of two seated men either side of a grotesque monster: banners proclaim the names Robertus and Robert.

The interior is also full of interesting fittings and furnishings. The south transept has an impressive 13th century effigy of a woman under a 14th Century Decorated Gothic canopy of ogee arches; a tall and colourful mid-17th Century memorial to the St Barbe family, and the simple floor tablet of Earl Mountbatten of Burma (1900-1979).

The south chancel aisle leads to an ambulatory with chapels; the first has a reredos formed of a Perpendicular screen framing a precious (and now partly gilded) Saxon carving of the crucifixion, dated to c. 960AD. This shows Christ with two angels and two soldiers, one offering Christ the sponge soaked in vinegar, the other piercing Christ with a spear. Next to this is St Ethelflaeda’s Chapel, with an ancient tomb of an abbess, and a painted kneeling figure of a monk on wood, from around the early 16th century. St Mary’s Chapel has a wall painting of the 12th century, with medallions featuring the life of a Saint.

Returning past the chancel in the north aisle is an opening in the floor, revealing part of the foundations of the apse from the 10th century Saxon church. The south transept has yet another treasure, this time a rare painted reredos, featuring Christ and saints, dated to c. 1525, with two rather flamboyant censing angels.

At the west end of the nave is a beautiful lead memorial to Alice Taylor, who died of scarlet fever in 1843, clutching a rose her father had picked for her. Nearby is another tomb chest of an abbess, and a case of curiosities, including a well preserved scalp of hair with a plait, all that remained of the corpse of a Saxon woman whose lead coffin was opened in 1849.

The church has a busy life of daily worship and regular concerts, and there is a bookstall selling gifts, crafts, music and souvenirs.

Romsey Abbey, Church Lane, Romsey, SO51 8EP

Sunday, 25 September 2011

St Margaret, Eartham

St Margaret’s is a delightful village church (although so small, it might almost be called a chapel) in a pretty village situated on a wide sweep of the Downs near Arundel. The church stands on a bank by a sharp bend in the lane, near the rather grand entrance of Eartham House next door (now a school).

Though not mentioned in the Domesday book, the church has Norman origins, as the nave and chancel were probably built around 1100. The chancel was rebuilt in 13th century, when the small south aisle was also added. A rather thorough restoration in 1869 renewed the exterior, replaced most of the windows, replaced a boarded bell turret with the present shingled one, and added the south porch.

The obvious Victorian exterior restoration doesn’t initially bode well, but inside there is much of interest. The west door (inside the porch), with its round arch and plain tympanum, is Norman; so is the lovely round-headed chancel arch, though its impact is now reduced by the (Victorian) openings either side.

Closer up, though, the chancel arch is even better: the volute capitals have delightful carvings. On the south there is a bearded man, and on the north a rather fierce looking rabbit (or hare), with tall, pointy ears. The small aisle is separated from the nave by just two bays of pointed arches, of early 13th century date, as is the tiny east lancet window.

There are some fittings of interest: the chancel has a pretty floor of Victorian encaustic tiles, and a rough 17th wall monument to two young daughters of the the then vicar. The attractive organ is actually modern (1945). Other monuments include one to Thomas (d. 1800), the son of the poet William Hayley; and (behind the organ) to William Huskisson (d. 1830), former MP for Liverpool and owner of Eartham House. He was famous as the first reported railway casualty, having been run over by the Rocket on the opening day of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830.

The church has a monthly morning service, and a monthly Evensong in summer.

off Britten's Lane, Eartham, near Chichester, West Sussex PO18 0LP

Sunday, 18 September 2011

St Mary, Barcombe

Barcombe is a small, scattered village, which in Victorian times had three mills on the river Ouse. It has an attractive church in a pretty churchyard, a short detour from the Ouse Valley Way long-distance path.

History

The Domesday book mentions three and a half mills, but no church in Barcombe. However, one must have been begun shortly after, as the nave dates from around 1100. To this were added, in the 13th century, the tower, chancel and a small south chapel. A small south aisle was added around 1400, and also from this time date the tower arch and west and north doorways.

The church was heavily restored in 1879, when the aisle and transept were replaced by the present, large south aisle and a vestry was added further to the east. Most of the windows were also replaced. More recently, a lovely parish room was added further to the south.

The church

From the exterior, the most notable feature is the tall broach spire, the base of which is actually lower than the nave roof. Inside, the wide arches of the arcade mean that the nave and south aisle work together to feel like a single, unified space. The two arches of the aisle are distinctively different from the smaller, third arch, which opened originally into the south transept.

The only windows of any age are one of the north wall lancets (13th century), and the two- and three-light windows, both of which are from the 15th century. One of these has interesting glass, dated 1657, from Goltho Church in Lincolnshire. There is some glass by Kempe in the south aisle. The font is from the 14th century, and has interesting incised decoration consisting of trefoil lancets and quatrefoils.

The church remains the centre of a vibrant worshipping community, with regular services, and a variety of groups for children.

Church Road, Barcombe, Lewes, East Sussex BN8 5TS

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

St Peter, Hamsey

Hamsey is a wonderful place: an inland island (the name is Anglo-Saxon for ‘settlement on the island’) formed by a loop of the River Ouse, north of Lewes, its isolated and unrestored church is hugely atmospheric.

History

The exact origins of Hamsey are obscured by time, but it was important enough in Saxon times for King Athelstan to hold his court there in 925AD, and there is mention of a church in the Domesday Book in 1086. However, the village declined in the late mediaeval period when the population moved west to the nearby village of Offham. Remains of a Manor House were visible near the church until 1777.

The nave and chancel of the present church date from the 12th century, although a number of windows were enlarged as lancets around 1300, when the east window of the chancel was inserted and a north chapel (demolished in the 17th century) was also built. A robust Perpendicular tower was added late in the 14th century, and a porch in the early 15th century.

Hamsey remained the parish church until the middle of the 19th century, by which time the local Vicar was complaining that it was poorly located for the parishioners, who lived mostly in Offham. A new church was built there in 1860, and Hamsey thereafter went into decline, though for a time it was used as a mortuary chapel for the graveyard.

However, plans to demolish it were never carried out, and some people still chose to have their memorials erected in the church. Repairs were undertaken in the 1920s.

The Church

The church is principally interesting for the isolated and atmospheric hilltop location, and its unrestored condition. This is how many churches must have felt around 1800, before Victorian restoration and the advent of electricity.

The chancel arch is a simple Norman feature, without ornament; there are small Norman windows in both nave and chancel. The early 14th century three-light east window is particularly attractive. There is a distinctive, low squint between the south side of the nave and chancel, and the 15th century south door was clearly inserted below a much taller 12th century one.

Furnishings of interest include a Perpendicular font; remnants of mediaeval glass in a south window; a fine tomb, to Edward Markwick (d. 1538) in the form of a recessed tomb-chest with cusped quatrefoil decoration, next to the High Altar; and a well preserved decorated piscina.

The walls are crowded with monuments, many dating from after the building of the new church in 1860; those on the chancel’s south wall commemorate the Shiffner family, who lived at nearby Coombe Place. Above the chancel arch are the Royal Arms of George III, and several funeral hatchments adorn the nave walls. The furniture includes some rustic, old pews, which add to the atmosphere.

It now forms part of the parish of Offham; monthly services are held in summer (there is no electricity), as well as occasional concerts, and a popular candlelit Carol service is held in winter.

Ivors Lane, Hamsey, Lewes, East Sussex BN8 5TD

Monday, 12 September 2011

St George's Bloomsbury, London

St George’s is regarded by many as one of London’s most elegant churches, and certainly has the most idiosyncratic spire.

History

The church was one of 12 established by the Act of 1711 which set out to build 50 new churches. The architect was Nicholas Hawksmoor, the leading exponent of the English Baroque, and the new church (and his last) was opened in 1730. Soon after, it was re-orientated north-south to accommodate more seating, and additional galleries were added.

For much of its life, it ministered to what was a relatively poor parish with many slum areas, but as the population of the area declined towards the end of the 20th century, it fell into neglect. A major restoration scheme part funded by the World Monuments Fund was completed in 2009, which restored the orientation and interior closer to its original condition.

The church

The church itself is based on a Greek Cross plan, fronted by an impressive Corinithian portico with a light and spacious interior. The steeple is extraordinary: the base has miniature porticoes on each side, and the steep sided roof is topped by a statue of George I in Roman dress, while at the base four lions - one on each corner - represent the ending of the Jacobite rebellion.

The interior has a square nave, with proscenium arches on each side except the east, which has an apsed sanctuary. There are north and south galleries according to Hawksmoor's original plan. The sanctuary contains the original, large classical reredps and altar of inlaid mahogany; other major item of interest is the vast 17th century Dutch chandelier, loaned from the Victoria and Albert museum, which hangs in the centre of the nave.

Little Russell Street, London WC1A 2HR

St Giles-in-the-Fields, London

St Giles is the parish church for a significant part of the area near Tottenham Court Road tube, but the church itself is tucked away, under the shadow of Centrepoint. There has been a church on the site for over 900 years and it has an interesting and complex history.

History

The church was originally founded in 1101 by Queen Matilda, wife of Henry I, as a monastic foundation to serve a leper hospital. At that time, St Giles was a small village outside London. At the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539, the hospital's chapel became the parish church. This building was replaced in 1630 by a new church, paid for by donations by Alicia, Duchess Dudley. The area soon became densely populated, and the great plague of London started in the parish in 1665. The graveyard is one of several in London particularly noted for being used for plague victims.

By the early 18th century, structural problems with the 'new' church necessitated its replacement, and the present church was erected 1730-4, designed in the Palladian style by Henry Flitcroft. Until 1783, the church was the last on the route to the Tyburn gallows, and by tradition the churchwardens paid for the condemned prisoners to have a last drink at the adjacent Angel pub. The church also has connections to Maryland in the USA, being the resting place of its founder, the 1st Lord Baltimore.

Since then, the parish has had a varied history, much of the time being known as a byword for slums, although now it includes some of the most expensive property in the UK, and the resident population is outnumbered by the number of people who work and visit the parish. The church was renovated in 1896, and again in 1952.

The church

The broad design of an elegant 'Classical Box' is similar to many London churches built around this time: the dominant external feature is the west tower, which has an octagonal lantern topped with a spire. The large upper windows are all round-headed. The rectangular plan incorporates a large nave of five bays, with galleries above the aisles, looking onto a shallow but impressively tall sanctuary. The tunnel-vault roof is supported on elegant Ionic columns, and the whitewashed plaster is picked out in a decorative scheme of gold and pale blue.

There are some interesting furnishings, many of which pre-date the present building. These include the pulpit (in the north aisle) from the West Street chapel, from which John and Charles Wesley preached regularly during the years 1743-1791. The organ, from the previous church, dates from 1671 and was rebuilt in the present case in 1734. The pulpit, of inlaid mahogany, dates from 1676. Of the many monuments, that of George Chapman (translator of Homer), dated 1634, was probably designed by Inigo Jones. The nave has some splendid 18th century style chandeliers and there is a wooden model of the church in the north aisle.

The church today ministers to a very varied parish, with services daily except Saturday, and is a venue for regular concerts and music recitals.

St Giles High Street, London, WC2H 8LG

Metropolitan Cathedral of St David, Cardiff

St David's the newer and smaller of Cardiff's two cathedrals but, unlike the ancient foundation of Llandaff, several miles to the north-west, St David's is at the heart of the modern city.

History

The growth of Cardiff during the industrial revolution saw a growing mission by the Roman Catholic Church to the population of this burgeoning city. From 1839 a support fund for a new church was developed, augmented by fund-raising in Ireland, and the first church was consecrated on a site in David Street in 1842. It was named after the Principality's patron saint at the request of Lady Catherine Eyre of Bath, a major benefactress.

By the end of the century, however, it was becoming too small for the growing congregation, and the present building was erected in Charles Street. It was opened in 1887 to designs by the architectural firm Pugin & Pugin. It contained elaborate furnishings in the Neo-Gothic style, with the High Altar and Reredos alone costing the then substantial sum of £1,000. In 1915, Cardiff was designated an Archdiocese and in 1920 St David's was designated the cathedral.

However, the cathedral was destroyed during an enemy air-raid on 3rd March 1941. Rebuilding began in 1953, and St David's reopened in 1959, albeit with furnishings in a more modern style.

The Church

The church is designed in a restrained, Decorated Gothic style. The exterior is executed in rock-faced Pennant stone with red sandstone ashlar dressings. The interior consists of a single large nave, with a large chancel arch leading into a small sanctuary, and a large stone west gallery supported on two substantial piers. The walls have arches to each bay, some housing confessional boxes, others small chapels. The most interesting decoration is the stained glass, some of which was saved from the original building.

Charles Street, Cardiff, Wales CF10 2SF

Sunday, 11 September 2011

St Grwst, Llanrwst

Llanwrst is a small but historic town in the Conwy Valley, perhaps known best for its attractive 17th century bridge. It has an interesting church, which includes the Gwydir Chapel, containing a remarkable set of funeral monuments to the Wynne family, former owners of nearby Gwydir Castle.

History

The first church was built nearby by the 6th century Celtic Saint Grwst, but the present site was donated in the 12th century by local lord Rhun ap Nefydd Hardd, to atone for his father’s sin of murdering Prince Idwal, son of Owain, King of Gwynedd. The church , begun around 1170, suffered during the turbulent history of the area; it was partly destroyed in the early 1400s during Owain Glyndwr’s uprising, and burned to the ground in 1468 during the Wars of the Roses by the men of the Yorkist Earl of Pembroke. The present church is the replacement built in 1470. It was restored in 1884, when the present tower was added.

The adjacent Gwydir Chapel was built by Sir Robert Wynne in 1633-4, Treasurer to Queen Henrietta Maria and owner of Gwydir Castle, who also helped finance the town’s bridge. It served as both family chapel and mausoleum until the building of Gwydir Uchaf chapel, nearer the castle in 1673. Ironically, Sir Robert himself is buried in Wimbledon.

The Church

The church consists of a nave and large north aisle, separated by an arcade, all executed in the perpendicular Gothic style. There is no chancel arch, but in the North Aisle is the stone staircase leading up to the Rood Loft. The main attraction is the Rood Screen, a magnificent survival. Although its niches of the musicians’ gallery lack the statues of the saints they were intended to house, the carving of the screen below is superlative. It includes images of both Tudor Roses and Pomegranates, symbol of Catherine of Aragon.

The screen’s panels each contain swirling filigree carving of a different designs: one depicts vines and bunches of grapes, another pigs eating acorns. The depiction of the symbols of Christ’s Passion, including a ladder, spear, nails and crown of thorns, and of a cock crowing (from the betrayal of St Peter), are particularly rare.

The Chapel

Executed in the Gothic style, this single room is a veritable treasure trove. The walls are lined with the stalls behind which the family would have sat, elaborately carved in the Jacobean style, the ends of the stalls adorned with peculiarly primitive heads. All around are the memorials of the Wynnes, with marble tablets and a set of rare engraved memorial brasses depicting the deceased in portrait form. On the south wall is the incredibly elaborate monument to Sir Robert’s father, Sir John (d. 1627).

On the floor are two earlier memorials: an empty and lidless stone coffin, decorated with quatrefoils, and said to the be the tomb of Llewellyn the Great (d. 1240), who was buried at nearby Maenen Abbey. Next to this is a very impressive 15th century stone effigy of a knight, said to be that of Hywel Coetmor (above), who fought for the Black Prince at Poitiers and later took part in the rebellion of Owain Glyndwr. The effigy is incredibly detailed and retains its sword.

St Grwst, Church Street, Llanrwst LL26 0LE

Friday, 9 September 2011

Streat Parish Church

Streat has a small but delightful parish church next to the impressive and historic house of Streat Place.

There has probably been a church on this site since Saxon times, but the core of the present nave (north and west walls) is Norman, probably from the late 12th century. The chancel was added in the 13th century, but extended around 1840-50. The east and south windows also date from this time. A more thorough restoration in 1854 added the south aisle (including the nave arcade) and replaced most of the windows. The porch and vestry were added in 1882. The age of the pretty bell turret is not known, although the church had a bell dated 1520, replaced by three new bells in 1900 when it was found to be cracked.

The interior of the church now has a very Victorian feel, but is delightful nevertheless. Most of the stained glass was added in the 19th century, but the north wall has an interesting depiction of St Francis dating from the 1960s.

There are a number of attractive memorials on the walls, but the most interesting fittings are the two early 18th century iron floor memorial slabs. The larger one, to the Gott family, is reputed to be the largest in England, weighing a ton. There is a also a hatchment with the coats of arms of Charles II, dated 1660, above the chancel arch.

The church is part of a joint parish with Ditchling and Westmeston. All three churches have regular services and are well worth a visit.

Streat Lane, Streat, Hassocks, East Sussex BN6 8RU

Thursday, 8 September 2011

St Mary and All Saints, Conwy

The North Wales town of Conwy is famous for its castle and mediaeval walls, which are among the most complete in the UK. But this World Heritage Site also has a large town church well worth a look, parts of which pre-date Edward I’s castle and walled town.

History

The church began life as a Cistercian Abbey, founded in 1172 and endowed by the Welsh Prince Llewellyn Fawr (Llewellyn the Great) in 1198. It was plundered by English forces of Henry III in 1245, but after the English conquest of this part of Wales in the 1280s, Edward I moved the abbey to Maenan a few miles away. St Mary’s therefore became the parish church of the new walled town built next to the castle as part of Edward’s conquest strategy. Parts of the walls survive from the 12th century abbey church in the present building.

The tower and chancel were rebuilt around 1300, with the south transept and south aisle following in the early to mid 14th century. The tower was completed in the late 15th century, and the rood screen and font installed around 1500. Some of the windows also date from the 15th-17th centuries. Extensive but relatively sensitive restoration in the late 19th century saw the nave roof and chancel floors both raised, the clerestory windows reset and the south transept window reconstructed.

The church

The church has a west tower, with an aisled nave and south transept. The north aisle is now a memorial chapel. From the outside, the three lancets in the tower and the west doorway, of c. 1235, are of particular interest. The interior is spacious, as befits the town’s importance, with a tall arcade of c. 1300, with carved heads at the join of each arch.

The most impressive feature is the rood screen, one of the best preserved in north Wales, and the adjoining choir stalls, both of around 1500. The stalls are vigorously carved, with figures and decoration resembling pinions and elaborate poppy-heads. The chancel also has some mediaeval floor tiles, now set in a wall next to the impressive arched tomb of Robert Wynne (d. 1598, builder of Plas Mawr house).

Other tombs and memorials include those to John Wynne (d. 1637) and Mary (d. 1585), mother of John Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury in Charles I’s reign (Williams was baptised in the early Tudor Perpendicular font at the west end). A fascinating tomb is that of Nicholas Hookes (d. 1637), who was the 41st child of his father William Hookes, and himself went on to have 27 children. Other items worth looking out for include a window by Burne-Jones in the south aisle, a reproduction of Andrea del Sarto’s ‘Christ’, and a bust of the sculptor John Gibson, who was baptised here in 1790.

The church holds regular services in English and Welsh.

St Mary & All Saints, Church Street, Conwy, Wales LL32 8LD

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

St Dyfnog, Llanrhaeadr-yng-Nghinmeirch

With a name all but impossible for the average English speaker to pronounce, this village church is one of the Vale of Clwyd’s greatest treasures: it has what is widely regarded as the best surviving mediaeval stained glass in Wales, a stunning carved roof, and other items of historical interest.

A short walk away is the holy spring which gives its name to the village (Llanrhaeadr means ‘church enclosure by the waterfall’) and which was regarded in mediaeval times as having healing properties endowed by its founding Saint.

History

The church was founded by St Dyfnog in the Sixth century, deliberately located close to the healing well. Not much is known about Dyfnog himself except, in common with many other Celtic saints, he is said to have bathed in its freezing waters in just a hair shirt with a chain for a belt, by way of penance and prayer. One of the mediaeval Welsh poets mentioned the well ‘which gives grace to all nations and cures all ills’. The water was said to cure scabs and ‘the itch’, smallpox and even those who were deaf and dumb. In the 18th century it was described as being enclosed in an elaborate building, though only the pool itself now remains.

There is nothing left of the first church, which was probably made of wood, but a church was mentioned in records of 1254 and 1291. The oldest part of the building we see now is the robust tower, which dates from the 13th century, with the double-naved church – common in this part of Wales – erected in the 14th century. Both the surviving mediaeval windows were taken down and hidden from the iconoclasts and reinstalled after the Civil War. The porch is harder to date, but the carved sides may be formed from the original rood screen, from around 1530. The church was restored in 1879-80 and again in 1986-9.

The church

The interior is spacious, with the two naves separated by a handsome arcade or broad arches in blood-red sandstone. The walls have unfortunately been scraped of their plaster, though this does give it a rustic feel.

The famous east window is in the north nave: this is complete, and can be dated to 1533. It was the gift of the priest, Robert Jones, and depicts a simplified tree of Jesse, which illustrates the family tree of Christ from Jesse, through Kings David and Solomon, to Christ, shown with the Virgin. The figures are bold and expressive, and the local County guide-book points out that they rather resemble the form of playing cards, which achieved their traditional form around this period. In one or two places, the reinsertion has gone a little awry, but for the most part the scheme is as it would been originally. The colours – red, green, blue, gold and white predominate – are astonishingly vivid.

At the other end of the nave, the west window has glass dated to 1508, but this is more fragmentary, and the original images are mostly jumbled. The glass was discovered in a cottage in the 19th century.

The church’s other great treasure is its roof, contemporaneous with the windows, and carved and decorated with angels on the hammer-beams and corbels: the south nave over the sanctuary is particularly finely decorated, forming a ‘canopy of honour’.

Other items of interest include a golden pelican from 1762, feeding its young from its own blood; a huge ancient hewn chest beneath the Jesse window; and tucked away in the south east corner is the splendid classical monument to Maurice Jones, the local squire, who died in his early 30s in 1702. He reclines, resplendent in a huge periwig beneath a curtained archway, flanked with cherubs weeping into handkerchiefs.

The church is open every day, with an active congregation and choir, with the main Sunday service at 11.15.

St Dyfnog’s well is a short walk north of the churchyard; the various springs flow into a large stone-lined pool, sadly in need of restoration.

Llanrhaeadr-yng-Nghinmeirch, Denbigh, Wales LL16 4NL

Saturday, 3 September 2011

The Collegiate and Parochial Church of St Peter, Ruthin

The pretty and historic town of Ruthin has a fine church, part of which dates from the 14th century. It has many interesting memorials dating from the 16th century onwards, and a particularly fine decorated roof from the early 16th century.

History

The church was built by John de Grey (of Ruthin Castle) in 1310, and founded as a collegiate church with a small community of 7 priests overseen by a Warden (a title still held by the Vicar). After the dissolution, the College was refounded as a grammar school, with the addition of almshouses.

The earliest part of the church is the north aisle (the tower room - now a vestry - was the original choir). The original chancel (demolished in 1663) originally stood east of this, and the cloisters to the north now form part of the old college buildings. The south nave was constructed in the late 14th century, which included the insertion of the fine arcade, with its carved corbels.

The magnificent roofs over the two naves was inserted around 1500-1540, and extensive restorations were carried out in the 18th and 19th centuries, the spire being erected in the 1850s.

The church

On entering, the scale of the double-naved church is immediately apparent. The arcade has interesting carved corbels, one of which may depict a bearded Negro. Apart from the arcade, 14th century details are hidden behind the organ, and outside on the north wall, where the remains of the cloister and priests' dwellings are now part of the Masonic Hall and music rooms.

Back inside, look up, and let you eyes adjust to the gloom; the Tudor roofs over the naves are simply magnificent, containing over 408 carved panels and dozens of painted bosses.

The church also includes some fine memorials: there are rare early Welsh brasses to Edward Goodman (d. 1560), and unusually a separate one for his wife and family on which he appears again. One of their sons, Gabriel Goodman, became Dean of Westminster and chaplain to William Cecil, Elizabeth I's Chief Minister, and founded the grammar school and almshouses. His splendid memorial, complete with life-sized painted bust, overlooks the High Altar. There are a number of other elegant 17th, 18th and 19th century memorials.

The current congregation has an active church life and strong tradition of church music.

School Road, Ruthin, Wales LL15 1BL

Friday, 2 September 2011

Old and new St Peter, Llanbedr Dyffryn Clwyd

St Peter’s is a tale of two churches: one up the hill, towards the old Llanbedr Hall; and a Victorian replacement in the centre of the village.

History

The original church on the site of the original village, dates back to at least 1254, when it was mentioned in the Norwich Taxation. A simple, unaisled building, it became a ruin when the new church was erected in 1862-3 in the centre of the new village. The new church was designed by the Shrewsbury architectural firm of Poundley and Walker and was paid for by the Lord of the Manor.

More recently, access to the old church was the subject of a local dispute, resolved only in 2009 when a planning inspector designated the part of the driveway to Llanbedr Hall (from the main road as far as the church) a public right of way.

The old church

This is now a roofless ruin, but it was a simple, single-celled building with a bell-cote, which is well preserved. Aside from some Gothic doorways, little else is discernible, as the red sandstone has weathered badly. There are, however, a number of memorial tablets in the church, and the graveyard has many tombs and superb views over the Vale of Clwyd.

The new church

This is closer to the centre of the present village and has a large porch, single unaisled nave and chancel. The exterior is boldly decorated with bands of coloured stone and coloured roof tiles, some strong carving and it has a particularly vigorous spiked turret.

Inside, the nave is plainer, but has some interesting and attractive Victorian stained glass, and the chancel has good encaustic tiles. There are some wall tablets brought from the old church, as well as an interesting fragment of a 14th carved tomb from the old church, showing a man with curled hair. Recently restored to their rightful place behind the altar are tablets of illuminated-style script with the Creed, Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments in Welsh.

The church is open during daylight hours for prayer and visits, and has regular services in both traditional and modern styles.

Llanbedr Dyffryn Clwyd, Ruthin, Wales LL15 1UP

St Tyrnog, Llandyrnog

The parish church at Llandyrnog is typical of those in the Vale of Clwyd with a double nave, and has some magnificent mediaeval stained glass.

The church is an ancient foundation, first established by St Tyrnog in the 6th century. He was one of what must have been a formidable family of saints in the area: his brother Deifor established a church at Bodfari and his sister Marchell (Marcella) founded a hermitage and gave rise to the church in Denbigh that bears her name.

The present building dates largely from the 15th century, but was substantially restored in 1876-8 by William Eden Nesfield. It has the typical double-nave plan of the Vale of Clwyd, but the charming timbered porch and pale pink render are Nesfield's. The interior is well maintained and has a number of furnishings of note. The most outstanding of these is the East Window, which dates from about 1490. Re-assembled from fragments which had been hidden (presumably from iconoclasts), it depicts the Crucifixion and the seven sacraments of the church, with saints in the smaller lights above.

Although much of it is missing, the poignant, central figure of the crucified Christ, with streams of blood leading to the scenes of the sacraments, is beautifully preserved. The panels depicting ordination and marriage are also well preserved, whereas those of the last rites (extreme unction) and penance are more fragmentary. The panels depicting the mass, baptism and confirmation have unfortunately been lost.

Other items of interest include an Annunciation window by Kempe; the Coat of Arms of George II, a poor box dated 1687; some lovely Victorian encaustic tiling by Minton; and a stone carving of the head of a monk, rescued from the churchyard, and possibly depicting St Tyrnog himself.

If you wish to visit, a key is available from the nearby Post Office, for private prayer or simply a look around this lovely village church. Service details are on the parish website.

Opposite Church Square, Llandyrnog, Denbigh, Wales LL16 4HG

Monday, 29 August 2011

St Margaret, Bodelwyddan

St Margaret’s is one of Wales’s outstanding Victorian churches, known locally as ‘The Marble Church’ because of the profusion of marble used in its interior decoration.

History

The church was built to designs by John Gibson, pupil of Sir Charles Barry, and paid for by Lady Margaret Willoughby de Broke in memory of her husband, Henry Lord Willoughby de Broke. Lady Margaret was the daughter of Sir John Williams, Baronet of Bodelwyddan, and returned to Bodelwyddan after the death of her husband, determined to create a separate parish for Bodelwyddan from neighbouring St Asaph. The cost was the then phenomenal sum of £60,000. The foundation stone was laid on the 24th July 1856; and the new church was consecrated by the Bishop of St. Asaph on the 23rd August 1860.

The church

Executed in a florid Decorated Gothic style, the church is dominated by the spire, which rises over 200ft. The exterior is dazzling white, thanks to the use of the local limestone, and is a familiar landmark alongside the A55, which unfortunately runs all too close by.

Inside, the plan is an aisled nave with a large chancel, the arcade columns composed of the deep red marble which give the church its name. More marble decorates the chancel, which is lined with stalls, as in a cathedral, with heavily decorated canopies with ogee arches. Capital, corbels and arches throughout are elaborately carved, as are the tall oak roofs. The guide book states that fourteen varieties of marble are used in the church.

The furnishings are similarly lavish; the rather intimidating eagle lectern is supported on a thick and heavily carved column, intended to represent a crag; similarly, the pulpit is heavily carved, with images of Christ and the four Gospel Saints. The font in Carrara marble depicts two young sisters holding a shell, and is rather sentimental to modern eyes. The stained glass is by O’Connor and T F Curtis, with a single window attributed to Burne-Jones.

off Rhuddlan Road, Bodelwyddan, Denbighshire, LL18 5UR

St Michael, Caerwys

The ancient village of Caerwys has an attractive church, hidden from the main road, in a large and expansive churchyard. It has some interesting and historic furnishings.

History

Caerwys was laid out as a planned town by Edward I as part of his policy of embedding his conquest of Wales, receiving a charter in 1290. However, it is evident that there was a church here before then: in 1244 it was nominated as a meeting place between Henry III and Prince David of Gwynedd.

The oldest part of the church is the tower, dating from the late 13th century. Dating the rest of the church is difficult, but the south nave has 14th century elements and the north nave features from the 15th, although it may date from an earlier period. The porch is a 19th century addition. Many of the features were restored in the 19th century.

The church

The church is dominated by its robust west tower, but also has the curious feature of a double nave, a speciality of the Vale of Clwyd area. Inside, the windows date from the 14th to 15th centuries, with some Victorian renewal. There is a two-bay arcade in the chancel leading through into the north nave, now effectively used as an aisle and separate chapel.

The oldest furnishing is a wall tomb in the south chancel wall, with a 14th century cusped arch containing an effigy of earlier date. This is reputed to be of Elizabeth Ferrers (1250-c. 1300), wife of Dafydd, the last independent Prince of Wales. A window above has a small quantity of mostly jumbled late mediaeval glass, although the top light has two angels or saints carrying heads of wheat, surrounded by various floral emblems, including a Tudor rose.

The chancel is screened off with some attractive woodwork panels, dating from the 17th century, and more, and possibly earlier woodwork forms a dado in the north nave. This includes two splendid facing dragons. Panelling from the box pews also lines the walls, one recording that it was the pew of Sir Thomas Mostyn, Baronet.

The font is dated 1661 and is framed by some broken sepulchral panels of 14th century date, and some later tomb slabs. The door into the tower from the north nave is the original ancient main door.

Pen y Cefn Road, Caerwys, Flintshire, Wales CH7 5BH

Thursday, 18 August 2011

St Mary the Virgin, Bletchingley

Bletchingly is a small village on the A25 with an impressively large church, with an unusually rich collection of furnishings.

History

Bletchingley was one of the original ‘Rotten Boroughs’, and a prominent manor that belonged at various times to the de Clares and later the family of Lord Howard of Effingham, commander of the fleet that defeated the Spanish Armada, who was married in Bletchingley in 1539.

The present church is the result of almost six centuries of continuous building; the east wall of the chancel and the robust west tower with its small round-headed windows are Norman, erected around 1090 and heightened around 1160, with a tower arch added around 1175; the south aisle was added in the 13th century, along with the Lady Chapel (now St Catherine’s chapel); a north transept, known as the Ham Chapel, was added in the 14th century; the 15th added the huge porch, rood stair, and new windows in St Catherine’s Chapel. Somewhat later, the Victorians added a north aisle and rebuilt the East wall of the chancel, and added the present reredos, by G E Street.

The church

From the village, the robust tower, along with the south porch and battlemented south aisle lend the church the appearance of a stately home. Inside, the interior is spacious and the variety of internal detail is immediately apparent: tombs, mediaeval corbels, a rood stair, and a wide variety of furnishings compete with each other for attention.

Of these, pride of place goes to the huge Clayton memorial, which completely dominates St Catherine’s Chapel. Sir Robert Clayton (1629-1707) and his wife. Clayton was a banker, MP and one-time Lord Mayor of London, and the confident and sumptuous baroque memorial has life-size statues of him and his wife in their finery (Clayton himself with gilded badges and chains of office) under a huge pediment supported on Corinthian columns. More poignantly, it also includes a figure of their only child, who died in infancy.

A table tomb between the chapel and chancel is that of Sir Thomas Carwarden (d. 1559), Master of revels to Henry VIII, Edward IV and Queen Mary. A number of unnamed brasses are contained in the Ham Chapel, although the most interesting and impressive is that of Thomas Warde (d. 1541) and his wife, in the floor of the tower. The style suggests the figures may have been pirated from an earlier brass. On the floor of the north side of the altar is brass which may represent Hugh Hextall (d. 1476), the Rector who oversaw the 15th century works.

Other items of interest include the pulpit from 1630, the font from 1450, and the south aisle corbels, two of which depicts green men. The window at the west end of the south aisle is by Kemp, with the other two by Comper in matching style.

St Mary the Virgin, Church Lane, Bletchingley, Redhill, Surrey RH1 4LP

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

St Peter & St Paul, Nutfield

Just a short distance east of Redhill on the A25 is the small village of Nutfield. The village along the A25 is, unsurprisingly, rather busy with traffic, but just a short distance away is as pretty a church as you'll find anywhere, with a delightful churchyard.

Although there was a church here in Saxon times, the present church dates largely from rebuilding in the 13th and 14th centuries: the North aisle was inserted around 1230, and the chancel rebuilt at the same time, and extended early in the 14th century. The south transept and splendid tower are later 15th century work. The south aisle was erected in 1882, to match the north aisle. The interior is whitewashed, but the Victorians scrubbed the chancel back to the stonework: here the 13th century lancets and simple decorated windows with trefoiled heads have survived best.

The furnishings are of interest: the font, although bearing a date of 1665, but the bowl is actually a classic 15th century perpendicular Gothic design, and was rescued and brought back into the church around this time after being thrown out earlier by the Puritans. The chancel screen is particularly fine, with a series of perpendicular arches decorated with trefoils and quaterfoils, and is largely 15th century; also from this century is the piscina in the chancel. Fragments of 15th century glass remain in the north aisle window, including a fine St George killing the dragon. The pulpit incorporates some fine Tudor linen-fold panels.

The south aisle has a number of relocated tomb niches, and in the chancel is the tomb of Sire Thomas de Fulham, the rector who undertook the 14th century expansion. Adjacent is a charming and well preserved 15th century brass to William Grafton and his wife, Joan, in clerical dress, dated 1465. On the north wall of the chancel is a chalk panelled tablet to Charles Gillman, son of Anthony Gillman of Reigate, (d. 13th April 1631), with a shield bearing a leg, booted and spurred.

Finally, the Pre-raphaelite glass in the East Window is worth a special mention: showing the angelic host at worship in Heaven, it was designed by Edward Burne Jones. The dark pink wings of the angels caused a huge furore amongst some of the Victorian congregation, who left in disgust and founded a new church nearby.

St Peter & St Paul, Church Hill, Nutfield, Redhill, Surrey RH1 4JA

Monday, 8 August 2011

St Andrew & St Mary the Virgin, Fletching

Fletching is a pretty village, a few miles north of the A272 between Hayward's Heath and Uckfield. The impressive church dominates the centre of the village and has many historically and interesting fittings.

History

Although not mentioned in the Domesday book, the details of the tower indicate a date on the cusp of the Saxon-Norman overlap, probably late in the 11th century. The church was enlarged in in the Early English style 1230, but substantially rebuilt in 1340, when it acquired its present dimensions, leaving the tower as the only significant Norman remnant. It was restored by John Oldrid Scott in 1880, who remodelled the chancel into its present form.

It was witness to an important event in English history, when in 1264 Simon de Montfort prayed and attended mass here the night before the Battle of Lewes, where he defeated the forces of Henry III.

The church

The church sits in an expansive churchyard on a mound in the middle of the village, surrounded by mature trees. The most notable feature is the tower with its shingled spire. The bell openings in the tower are early Norman, as is the slim buttress on the north east side. The spire and deep corner buttresses date from around 1340. Entry into the church is via the south porch, built in the 15th century, and through the original 15th century door, which has Perpendicular Gothic decoration.

Inside, the church is dark thanks to the extensive scheme of Victorian stained glass. The plan is cruciform, with an aisled nave and a long chancel, making the church over 140ft long. The nave arcades, transepts and chancel date from the early 13th century. The arcade arches rise as they get nearer to the crossing, and there is a squint from the north transept into the chancel. On the south arcade can be seen remains of early Norman windows; the clerestory windows date from the 1340 rebuilding. The tower door is of Saxon dimensions, but renewed by the Victorians. The East window, although restored in the 19th century, is said to be based on the original late 13th century design.

The fittings are unusually rich, particularly the monuments in the south transept. Pride of place goes to the tomb chest, inlaid with a magnificent and well preserved brass, presumed to be of Sir Walter Dalyngrygge and his wife, c. 1380. He is shown in full armour, his wife in a long mantle, beneath elaborate Gothic canopies. The tomb originally had a vaulted canopy, but this was lost after 1820.

Close by is a humble but unique brass, consisting of a name plate above a pair of gloves, to Peter Denot, a glover. It has been dated to the 1450s. He took part in Jack Cade's Rebellion of 1450 but was pardoned

The largest tomb is that of Richard Leche (d. 1596), High Sheriff of Sussex and Surrey, and his wife Charitye. This is a splendid affair in alabaster, with the effigies of excellent quality (and in a remarkable state of preservation). The charity he established for the poor of the parish is still in operation today. His wife married again, but the second marriage was said to be unhappy, and she chose - unusually - to be included in her first husband's memorial, while she was still alive.

Other items of interest include the Jacobean pulpit; four funeral hatchments to different members of the Sheffield family; funeral armour (helmet, gauntlets, swords and spurs) of members of the Nevill family, the Earls of Abergavenny, dating from around 1720. The East and south transept windows have Victorian glass by Kempe.

An unusual feature is the mausoleum added on to the north side of the north transept for the Earls of Sheffield (who lived at nearby Sheffield Park) in the late 18th century. The mausoleum was also the burial place of Edward Gibbon, author of _The Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire_ and a close friend of the first Earl.

St Andrew & St Mary the Virgin, Church Street, Fletching, near Uckfield, East Sussex TN22 3SS

Saturday, 6 August 2011

St Stephen's, Bristol

This is a large and well preserved 15th century town church, filled with monuments, with an impressive tower, quiet churchyard and a small modern cafe.

History

Although there has been a church on the site since the 11th century, the present structure dates from a comprehensive rebuilding in the late 15th century. The tower and East window were the gift of John Shipward, Mayor of Bristol (d. 1473). The clerestory was repaired after a storm in 1703, and the aisle and east window repaired in 1873. It now has an active ministry to the City Centre, with innovative, modern forms of worship.

The church

The most impressive external feature is the tower. This is 152ft high, of an elaborate Perpendicular Somerset design, but with a lavish Gloucester style crown with complex open tracery, decorated with pinnacles and gargoyles. The main church has aisles to the nave of seven bays, but no crossing, with large Perpendicular windows in both aisles and clerestory.

The church has many impressive monuments: on the north wall is a tomb chest with effigies and statuettes in ogee niches, to Edmund Blanket (d. 1371), a clothier and wool merchant. Also on the north wall is one to Martin Pring (d. 1627), who explored the coast of what is now Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire. This is an elaborate and colourful affair, decorated with allegorical figures, urns, a mermaid and merman, an hour-glass, scythes and anchors.

There is a large collection of monuments and memorials by the door to the cafe at the east end of the south aisle. Two are of particular note: the huge and colourful tomb of Sir George Snygge (d. 1617), complete with life-sized semi-reclining effigy beneath a large strap-work cartouche with columns either side. On the south wall is the rather humbler but attractive memorial to Robert Kitchin (d. 1594) and his wife; in the form of an engraved brass plaque, it shows them facing each other in prayer, attended by their three sons and three daughters, with a delightful poem below:

Robert Kitchin, Alderman, and his wife,
Lieth neere this place, closed in earth and clay,

Their charities alike in death and life,

Who to the poor gave all their goodes away,

Leaving in trust such men to act the same,

Who might with truth perfor(m) their good intent,

So that the poore indeed and (m)eke in name,
To lasting ages in this Citie meant,

And other places of this Kingdom faire,

As Kendall towne and Stuckland Field both have,

With Bathe the native place of her first ayre,

The bountie of their guyftes they to them gave.

St Stephen's, 21 St Stephen's Street, Bristol BS1 1EQ

St Thomas the Martyr, Bristol

Now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, St Thomas the Martyr has a particularly attractive 18th century interior and fittings regarded by some as worthy of a London Wren church.

History

Founded at the end of the 12th century, the church served the population of a new district of Bristol, south of the main bridge. Originally dedicated to St Thomas a Becket, the dedication was changed after the Reformation on orders of Henry VIII (who forbade the veneration of the saint who defied his king).

The church was rebuilt at the same time as St Mary Redcliffe in the 14th and 15th centuries, and was reputedly one of the grandest of Bristol's churches, filled with altars and chantry chapels. However, by the 1780s, the fabric was in such dangerous condition it was decided to build a new church. The architect chosen was James Allen, and the building was built 1789-1796. Allen had intended to alter the west tower to match, but a lack of funds meant that the handsome Perpendicular Gothic tower from the 15th century survives.

The church

Allen's design has a plain classical exterior: only the east end is rendered in stone, as the sides were originally hemmed in by buildings. This has a pretty Venetian motif, with a small circular window of 1879, under a pedimented arch decorated with garlands, and a handsome classical door. At the west end, the handsome 15th century tower dominates the rather soulless modern square.

Inside, the nave has five bays resting on square pillars, with a tunnel vault and clerestory. The aisles have tall arched windows. Allen retained many of the furnishings from the previous church. The reredos of 1716 has fine Corinthian columns and pilasters, decorated with carvings of wheat, vines and flowers of the highest quality. The original panels containing the Lord's Commandment were replaced in 1907 by paintings by Fritz von Kampf of Clifton, depicting biblical scenes. The Communion rails are 18th century, and the carved oak pulpit dates from 1740.

The organ case is by John Harris and dates from 1730, and again has excellent carvings of foliage and cherubs' heads. At the west end, again surviving from the earlier church, is the original organ gallery, with Roman Doric columns. Beneath this are two sculptures of saints taken from the former Long Row almshouses. On the north wall are the Royal Coat of Arms of Charles I, (1637) and on one of the nave columns an elaborate early 17th century sword rest. The late 18th century mahogany font was converted into a lectern in 1878, replaced by a rather cumbersome stone design.

St Thomas the Martyr, St Thomas Street, Bristol BS1 6QR

St John the Baptist, Bristol

Framing the end of Bristol's Broad Street, St John's is a rare surviving mediaeval church gate, complete with an extensive crypt and interesting furnishings. It is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT). Such church gates were used by travellers to pray for safe passage before travelling, and afterwards for thanksgiving for returning safely home.

History

St John's is the only survivor of the five gate churches that once lined Bristol's inner Saxon town walls. Built originally in the 12th century, there was once another church, dedicated to St Lawrence, on the other side of the tower (which it shared). St Lawrence was deconsecrated and sold in 1580, and demolished by 1824.

The crypt dates from two building phases in the 14th century, and had a separate dedication to the Holy Cross. The second phase, as well as the nave, which also dates from this period, was paid for by William Frampton, (d. 1388). The two-bay chancel was built c. 1480. The church was used for worship until 1984 and was passed to the care of the CCT in 1985.

The church also had an outlet of the St John's Conduit, built in 1267 to supply water to a Carmelite Priory on the site of the present Colston Hall. This originally came to a conduit house inside the gate, but was moved to its present position on the Quay Street side in 1827 and restored in 1866.

The church and crypt

The exterior is dominated by the tower and the gate. The central gateway and tower dates to the 14th century and on the Broad Street side incorporates statues of Brennus and Bellinus, legendary founders of Bristol. The two outer walkways and the present church entrance on Nelson Street are Victorian alterations. The gateway is vaulted and the groove of the portcullis are clearly visible in the main arch. To the East, the tall Perpendicular Gothic windows of the nave characterise the nave and chancel.

The crypt entrance is in Quay Street. The crypt is low, with vaulted ceilings, and the division between the earlier eastern part and the later western part. In the eastern part is a rather defaced but still impressive merchant's tomb with alabaster effigies of him and his wife, with ten kneeling children in panels below. Next, under an ogee arched and crocketed canopy, is the tomb with an incised cross of Thomas White (d. 1542), Mayor of Bristol in 1530, and his wife. A tomb chest in the western part has incised figures of a man and his two wives, next to a damaged piscina.

The church is now entered by a door in Nelson Street, through the Victorian narthex. The nave is a great surprise after the crypt: the six regular tall bays and windows fill the church with light, giving it an unexpectedly spacious feel. The last bay is higher and has two clerestory windows, presumably to light an elaborate rood screen. A tall, sweeping chancel arch leads to the two-bay chancel, which has a peculiar battlemented Tudor screen on the east wall, behind where the reredos once stood. This wall was formed in 1570 to form a vestry behind.

The furnishings are particularly rich. At the West End is a gallery dating from the late 17th century, with square fluted pillars, and paintings of saints in the Dutch style. The screen incorporates two fine 16th century carved doors. Next to this is the elaborate font, dating from 1624, with no fewer than 24 panelled faces, decorated with 16 cherubs and 8 rosettes, standing on four clawed lions' feet. The nave pews date from 1621, but were remodelled by the Victorians. The tall nave windows are clear except for fragments of mediaeval stained glass.

In the chancel are two impressive monuments: that of the donor Walter Frampton (d. 1388) has an excellent life-like effigy with angels and a long-tailed dog. On the opposite wall are well preserved brasses to Thomas Rowley (d. 1478) and his wife. Other items include the fine Communion table (1635), Communion rails (late 17th century), lectern (c. 1690) and an 18th century sword rest.

Before you leave, look down - the chancel has a particularly fine decorated floor of colourful Minton tiles.

St John the Baptist, Broad Street, Bristol, BS1 2EZ

St Mary the Virgin, Isle Abbotts

If ever there was a gem of a parish church, St Mary the Virgin in Isle Abbotts has a strong claim. Set in a small and relatively inaccessible village on the edge of the Somerset Levels, St Mary’s demonstrates the ability of an isolated rural community to furnish us with truly glorious architecture. Its tower is regarded as one of the finest in Somerset, but the interior is also full of fascinating details.

History

The existence of an earlier church is testified by the well-preserved and unusually decorated Norman font. The present church dates from around 1300, when the nave, chancel and the main structure of the south porch were built. The tower was built between 1510 and 1520, and the splendid north aisle and porch fan vault were also added in the 16th century, although the details of the squint imply an earlier north aisle on the same position. Both the aisle and the vaulting are associated with Lady Margaret Beaufort (1441-1509), mother of Henry VII.

Subsequent periods left the fabric relatively untouched, and Victorian repairs have been thankfully sensitive; although it has lost its original rood screen, the tower niches have retained their statuary. The roofs and bench ends have also survived from the mediaeval period.

The church

The tower faces Church Street and makes an immediate impact: although only 81ft high, the proportions and balance of its decoration are near-perfect. The tower is built of blue lias limestone, balanced by golden Ham stone for the decorative detail. The west side has a large, transomed four light window, with a transomed two-light window above, and twin transomed bell-openings above that, all flanked with pinnacles and niches. More pinnacles adorn the set-back buttresses, and the crown of traceried battlements.

The other sides are simpler, but still with niches and pinnacles, and above ground level the niches retain their original statues – a great rarity in a parish church. These include depictions of Christ steeping from his sarcophagus, St George mounted on his horse, St Clement of Rome and other saints. The crown is adorned with ‘hunky punks’ – Somerset gargoyles, crouching on their haunches. My favourite is that on the north west corner, a man playing a rare double-barrelled bagpipe. Also worth a look is the exterior of the north aisle, again with a traceried pinnacle parapet, with more hunky punks and traditional gargoyles.

Entry is via a lovely porch: the stoup has 14th century detailing, so the splendid fan vault was added later. On my visit, the central pendant provided a home to a nest of martins. Inside, the clear glass makes the most of the architecture, and particularly the beautiful north aisle, with its elegant late Perpendicular arcade, executed in honey-coloured stone, with its panelled Tudor roof.

A large, pillared squint from the north aisle gives a view into the chancel, through the surviving rood staircase – another great rarity. The font has a mixture of Norman motifs of birds and dragons with later motifs of heraldic shields with fleur-de-lis decoration (upside down, so it may have been reversed at some point).

The chancel retains its 14th century windows, with the East window of five stepped lights, the north and south of three stepped lancets with quatrefoils above. These contain fragments of mediaeval stained glass. Below, the large and elaborately panelled piscina is surely worthy of a cathedral, as are the elegantly flowing sedilia of three seats. To the left of the altar are the remains of a large, crude and ancient sarcophagus, found in the churchyard. In contrast, the mediaeval rood screen is rather simple, and may have been moved here from elsewhere in the church.

Finally, the nave has its original mediaeval bench ends, with simple but elegant tracery panel decoration, a Jacobean pulpit, and the original 14th century roof. The west (tower) arch is a suitably grand finish, rising two storeys in height, with a screen made from a Jacobean communion rail. The church is still used every week for services, albeit on a rather irregular pattern.

St Mary the Virgin, Church Street, Isle Abbotts, near Ilminster TA3 6RH