Monday, 25 July 2011

St Julian's, Kingston Buci

St Julian’s is something of a surprise: set in the sea of suburban sprawl that stretches between Brighton and Shoreham, here is a reminder that some of the settlements, at least, have roots going back much further.


There was almost certainly a church here in Saxon times, but the present building dates back to the late 11th century, with the tower, chancel, north aisle and south porch being added (or renewed) in the 13th century, and the windows renewed in the 14th and 15th centuries. The proportions of the nave – narrow and tall - indicate that the Saxon plan may have been retained.

An interesting historic feature is the window in the north chancel wall, originally presumed to provide access to an anchorite’s cell, although some archaeologists have suggested that this window was a squint for a vestry or chapel.

Anchorites were religious people who withdrew from the world for prayer and contemplation, but could also pray for and offer advice to passing travellers. They were sealed into a small cell, with a small window to enable them to see (and participate in) the Mass, through which they were also fed and watered. Anchorites were meant to live and die in their cells, although many were let out and some could move more freely through larger openings (though not here judging by the size of the window).

The north aisle fell into disrepair in the 18th century and was rebuilt in the 19th century, but the church still retains fittings from the 15th-18th centuries.

The church

The building is unusual in being effectively divided by the squat but massive tower in its centre. The outside walls are of flint and rubble, all set in a small wooded churchyard.

Entering through the south porch, the interior is dominated by the handsome 13th century twin arched bay which separates the nave from the north aisle. The north aisle has a lancet, which contains fragments of 15th century glass, including a Tudor Rose and the shield of the Lewknor family. Above the west end is a gallery inserted in 1924, but the Perpendicular windows are of 15th century date. A new sanctuary has been placed against the south wall, incorporating the original 19th century altar rails.

A handsome 13th arch leads to the tower vault, in which are the 18th century pulpit (incorporating 16th century 'linenfold' panels) and 18th century box pews. Above the low round-headed doorway is a blocked opening that gave access to the now disappeared rood loft.

The original chancel, now used as a Lady Chapel, has fine (if restored) Decorated Gothic screen, dating to the 15th century. The East window is modern, but the side windows are 14th century Decorated Gothic designs. The principal items of interest here are the window to the anchorite’s cell on the north wall, and the large Lewknor tomb from around 1540, which takes the form of an Easter Sepulchre (ie a recessed tomb chest). The remains of statues can be seen, though much defaced during the Civil War, with the Resurrection in the centre flanked by the Virgin Mary with the body of Christ (West) and the Trinity (East). An unusual feature is that one of the rosettes on the roof of the tomb is actually a reverse image of the devil, poking his tongue out - helpfully painted in red!

St Julian's Church, St Julian's Lane, Kingston Buci, Shoreham-by-Sea BN43 6EB

Sunday, 24 July 2011

St Paul's, Birmingham

For those who think central Birmingham is an unredeemed sprawl of 70s concrete, the short walk to St Paul’s church will come as something of a revelation. Head towards the Jewellery Quarter from the Town Hall, and you will discover streets of gorgeous red brick Victorian buildings, which slowly give way to modest but handsome Georgian counterparts. In the midst of it all is St Paul’s Square, centred around the lovely and historic church of St Paul’s.


St Paul’s is a fascinating church. It was one of two provided for by an Act of Parliament of 1772, to cater for Birmingham’s burgeoning population. It was designed by a local Wolverhampton surveyor, Roger Eykyn, with Samuel Wyatt, a distinguished local architect, acting as an advisor. The design is based loosely on that of St Martins-in-the-Fields in London. The church was consecrated in 1779, although it was 1823 before the handsome steeple was completed, to designs by Francis Goodwin.

The timing and location of the church in one of the heartlands of the industrial revolution meant that early worshippers included the likes of James Watt (1736-1819), inventor of the steam engine, and Matthew Boulton (1728-1809), metal and coin manufacturer, and Watt’s business partner.

In the mid 19th century the church was the centre of efforts to educate the local workers, and by the 1860s they had 120 reading and writing classes a week catering for 2000 adults and 2000 children. During the 20th century, the area became less residential as jewellery manufacturing developed, and the church became a centre for industrial mission, a role it still performs today, alongside a lively Sunday congregation and a strong musical tradition with regular concerts and recitals. It has also been associated with Polish Lutherans for over 60 years.

The Church

The church is essentially a classical box, of ashlar with rusticated detailing, and two tiers of windows, with tall rounded arches over smaller, squat segmental arches below. The west end has no portico, but a modest pediment, surmounted by Goodwin’s elegant Grecian steeple, provides a fitting focus.

Inside the immediate impression is of a time warp: the church retains its galleries and a complete set of high box pews and other 18th century fittings. The galleries are supported on tall Ionic columns, which also frame the astonishing Venetian style East Window. This was painted in 1785-91 by Francis Eginton, and is based on a painting by Benjamin West, a court painter to George III. Showing scenes from the life of St Paul, it is a dark and dramatic piece, and completely dominates the modest sanctuary.

Also worth a look is the east window in the south aisle, designed as a memorial to William Hollins, sculptor and architect, and executed by his son Peter in 1843. There are labels showing the location of the box pews of Watts and Boulton, and look out for the monument to the Forrest family, on the west wall, a sad testament to the high rate of mortality in the early 19th century.

St Paul's, St Paul's Square, Birmingham B3 1QZ

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

St Mary le Strand, London

'Often said to be the loveliest Baroque church in England', is how the church guide proudly describes this beautiful building, one of London's most distinctive landmarks.


The original parish church was built to the south of the present building, but was demolished in 1549 when the Duke of Somerset built the first Somerset House. At that time, the Strand was the main road between London and the then separate settlement of Westminster, and its name reflects the fact it followed the original shoreline of the Thames.

The present church was designed by James Gibbs (1682-1754) and built between 1714 and 1723. Gibbs was trained as an architect in Rome, and many of the architectural elements are based on churches there. Unusually, it survived the Second World War almost intact and, although the exterior is in good condition - the spire was completely rebuilt in 1984 - the interior is in need of further restoration. It is also something of a traffic island, although the interior is remarkably quiet.

The church

The exterior is one of the grandest in London, despite its relatively small size: it has two storeys of superimposed orders, the lower storey Ionic, the upper Corinthian, with nave windows only in the upper storey. Carvings of fruit, garlands and cherubs adorn every side, but the dominant feature is the famous west tower, of three stages, each set back, above a grand pediment over a curved portico.

The interior is easily a match for the outside: Corinthian pilasters and columns abound, rising to a richly decorated coffered ceiling. The sanctuary is an equally lavishly decorated apse, framed by a dramatic double-height arch. Furnishings include paintings in the sanctuary by the American artist Mather Brown, completed in 1785, and a magnificent pulpit, said to be the work of Grinling Gibbons.

St Mary-le-Strand, London WC2R 1ES