Saturday, 10 November 2012

St John the Baptist, Wimbledon

St John's lies between Wimbledon and Raynes Park, just below the Ridgeway, and is a good example of a late Victorian neo-Gothic church.

The church was built to service the growing commuter population brought to Wimbledon by the London and South-Western Railway. A plot of land was bought in 1867, but a lack of funds meant that the first building was a temporary prefabricated ‘iron church’. Made of corrugated iron, it came, according to the church’s website, “complete with altar and font, illuminated texts all over the windows and two seraphs to each entrance”.

The present church was begun in 1873 to designs by Thomas Jackson (1835-1924) and consecrated in 1875. Jackson delivered a classic red-brick neo-Gothic church, with a nave, chancel and a large north aisle. From the outside, it is not particularly distinguished, save for the large east window and an impressive north porch, which has Decorated Gothic detailing.

The interior space is dominated by the tall single arcade between the nave and north aisle, but the main  interest is provided by the fittings and furnishings: there is some lovely stained glass, including a window from the William Morris factory (the figure of Martha is by Edward Burne-Jones, that of Christ by Henry Dearle); a delicate chancel screen; and a reredos in the Lady Chapel (north aisle) by Martin Travers. The organ, installed in 1904 by Hill, Morgan and Beard, is a particularly fine example.

The church has an vibrant worship life and is a very popular venue for music, thanks to an excellent acoustic.

St John the Baptist,  Spencer Hill, Wimbledon, London SW19 4NZ

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

St Chad's Cathedral (RC), Birmingham

St Chad’s is the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Birmingham. Located prominently (and slightly unfortunately) on the city’s inner ring road, the striking Germanic twin towers of its façade are matched by an impressive interior.

The building was designed by Augustus Pugin (1812-1852), most famous for his decorative work on the Houses of Parliament. The church was built to replace a chapel erected in 1808, and provide more accommodation to service Birmingham’s burgeoning Roman Catholic population. Construction began in 1839 and it was substantially complete by 1841. It became a Cathedral in 1850, making it the first Catholic Cathedral erected since the Reformation in England.

The church is designed in a north German 13th century style, executed in red brick with Bath stone dressings. The most prominent features are the two slender towers which frame the main façade, topped with tall broach spires. The interior is a revelation: although the plan is conventional, with transepts and an apsed sanctuary, Pugin created a ‘Hall church’, with very tall arcades and aisles of similar height to the nave. This delivers scale and spaciousness on an otherwise restricted site. The ceilings are beautifully decorated throughout, illuminated by wide expanses of plain glass.

The principal interest of its furnishings is the reliquary behind the High Altar, which houses some of the bones of St Chad, rescued from the cathedral in Lichfield after the Reformation. Recent archaeological investigation has confirmed their likely authenticity (several date from the 7th century). In the ‘north’ aisle is the impressive tomb chest to the first Bishop and instigator of the Cathedral, Bishop Thomas Walsh, executed in the Decorated Gothic style.

The Cathedral has a reputation for excellent music in its worship. It is open every day for services, visitors, and private prayer.

St Chad's Cathedral, St Chad's Queensway, Birmingham B4 6HY

Saturday, 20 October 2012

St George, Beckington

The attractive village of Beckington is, according to Pevsner’s Buildings of England, ‘uncommonly rich in worth-while stone houses’. It also has an impressive church, tucked away along a short lane from the village crossroads.

The village has a substantial entry in the Domesday Book, although there is no mention of a church. But during the Norman period a substantial church was built, with the impressive tower that we see today. The chancel was rebuilt in the 13th century and the nave rebuilt, and much of the fabric renewed, in the 15th century.

On entering the churchyard, the tower impresses by both its size and the quality of decoration on its bell openings, with paired round-headed arches within a wider arch with zig-zag decoration and blank arcading either side. Inside the tower there is a Perpendicular fan vault. The rest of the interior is rather scraped, although whitewash has been applied to the bare stonework in the chancel. Apart from a Decorated window in the chancel, most of the internal detail, including the elegant but low arcades and the clerestory, are Perpendicular Gothic.

At the east end of the north aisle is some stone panelling and a niche, doubtless once flanking a side chapel altar. The church abounds in interesting corbels, mostly in the form of human heads, but the north aisle has two in the form of seated beasts (one clearly a sheep). The nave roof has an interesting Queen post roof, with cusped struts.

The church has some excellent fixtures and fittings. The chancel has two tombs dating from around 1370: the larger has a knight and lady in a recess, decorated on the outside with vigorous blank arcading. Adjacent is a similar effigy, this time of a lady, under a simpler arched recess. On the chancel floor, a pair of remarkably well preserved brasses depict John St Maur (d. 1485) and his wife. An early 16th Century brass in the south chapel to the Compton family was inaccessible on my visit.

A further brass on the south aisle wall commemorates Thomas Webb (d. 1585), a local cloth merchant. Above is a separate brass with his merchant’s mark. Above the south door that is a real rarity - the Royal Arms of Elizabeth I, dated 1574, carved in stone and brightly painted. The font beneath is octagonal, with a plain circular stem ringed by eight further shafts. The adjacent south chapel has an attractive Jacobean screen. Back to the north aisle, the wall monument to Samuel Daniel (1562-1619), the poet laureate who was a contemporary of Shakespeare, is an accomplished early example of the then new Classical style.

The church has a very active parish, hosting both traditional and modern family worship, and on my visit the walls were screened with lovely examples of the children’s art work.

St George, Church Street, Beckington, Frome, Somerset BA11 6TG

St Philip and St James, Norton St Philip

The village of Norton St Philip, just south of Bath, is probably best known for its mediaeval George Inn, and its associations with the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685. But it has a charming mediaeval church with much to interest the visitor.


Although the village is mentioned in Domesday, the first reference to the church is in 1292, and the list if priests begins (unbroken to the present day) in 1331. Most of the existing church belongs to the 14th and 15th centuries. It was, however, much altered in the 17th century by a local man, Jeffrey Flower (d. 1644), and heavily restored by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1847, so dating much of it is difficult – not helped by the fact that Flower is said to have brought ‘odds and ends’ from Hinton Priory.

The oldest parts are the south porch and south aisle which, with the south nave arcade, date from the late 13th or early 14th century. Most of the rest of the church is 15th or 16th Century Perpendicular, although the tower is said to have been altered to the designs of Jeffrey Flower and the north aisle probably dates from the 17th century.

The church

The most striking external feature is the tower, which is broadly of the local Somerset design, but with an unorthodox arrangement of niches, windows and bell openings. It has a west doorway with a shallow porch (said to be one of Flower’s additions) with niches inside and out, and a ribbed roof supported on two large beasts. The south porch has 13th century features and a nice later wagon roof with carvings, and two doors with a staircase on the east wall, indicating that at one time it had an upper room.

Inside, the south arcade has square piers and is of early 14th century style: the north arcade has two panelled arches flanking a central arch with odd responds – possibly part of the 17th Century work. There is a tall and imposing Perpendicular west tower arch, but the tower vault is ascribed to the 17th Century. The nave’s magnificent (but Victorian) hammer-beam roof has large carved angels on the ends of each beam. The chancel arch and windows are all Perpendicular. Part of the north aisle has been tastefully developed to provide a modern meeting area in glass, wood and steel.

Fittings include a wonderful effigy of a civilian dated c. 1460, and thought to be that of a lawyer; a Perpendicular font; simple stone sedilia in the chancel; three surviving screens; some mediaeval glass fragments in the top lights of the north aisle windows; and a Royal coat of arms of Charles II. In the tower are two ancient stone heads, and beneath an inscription based on Pepys’ diaries of 1668 referring to the ‘Fair Maids of Foscott’.

The church is clearly well loved: on my visit it was bedecked with flowers in almost every corner.

St Philip & St James, Church Street, Norton St. Philip, Bath BA2 7LT

Friday, 19 October 2012

St Mary the Virgin, Bruton

The picturesque village of Bruton has a magnificent late mediaeval church, with an impressive ‘Somerset type’ tower and an unusual Georgian chancel.


There has been a church on the site since Saxon times, replaced by a stone curch in the mediaeval period. This parish church was replaced with a mediaeval stone church, and the crypt and the tower over the north porch date from around 1350. In the mid-15th century a comprehensive rebuilding scheme was begun, beginning with the impressive west tower, which was built 1449-56. The nave was rebuilt a little later, and given a tall clerestory as well as being extended eastwards.

The chancel was rebuilt by Sir Charles Berkeley in 1743 and provides a bright but sympathetic contrast to the mediaeval church. The registers record visits by both Charles I and Charles II.

The church

The west tower is a tour de force, particularly on the path leading up from the town. Of the ‘Wells’ group of towers, which have a strong vertical emphasis, the arrangement of the west window, niches and bell openings delivers a particularly attractive composition.

Inside, the nave has an elegant arcade of Perpendicular arches, with a particularly tall clerestory rising to a magnificent wooden king-post roof, richly decorated with angels, tracery and bosses. The interior is sadly scraped of its plaster and therefore rather gloomy, but details such as stairs to long-vanished roods provide interest. The chancel is a complete contrast; whitewashed throughout with gilded ribs and corbels decorated with cherubs, there is a large classical reredos in place of an east window.

The church has almost an embarrassment of riches in its fittings: Pews with Jacobean bench ends and a Jacobean pulpit; a richly-carved Jacobean west screen dated 1620; 16th and 17th century heraldic glass in the apex of the chancel windows; a fine west window by Clayton and Bell; the colourfully panted Royal Arms of Charles II in the north aisle; the finely preserved tomb chest of Sir Maurice Berkeley (d. 1581) in the chapel, his armoured effigy flanked by his two wives (d. 1559 and 1585) and, opposite, the notable bronze memorial bust of William Godolphin (d. 1636), attributed to Le Seuer (sculptor of the mounted statue of Charles I in Trafalgar Square).

The church has a busy parish life as well as serving the schools of Kings School and Sexey’s Church of England school, and strong links with parish of Bruton in Williamsburg, Virginia.

St Mary the Virgin, The Plox, Bruton, Somerset BA10 0QL

Christ Church, Frome

Christ Church lies just a short walk south west of the town's mediaeval parish church of St John the Baptist, set attractively in the centre of an extensive churchyard on Christchurch Street West.


The church was built largely to provide additional capacity at a time when the St John's was no longer large enough to cater for its congregation, and particularly to provide more free pews (as opposed to those which were rented, as was the custom at the time).

The church is an early and rather heavy essay in neo-Gothic, built in 1817-18 to designs by the local architect George Allen Underwood (1793-1829). It was much altered subsequently, most notably with new window tracery by Manners & Gill around the 1840s onwards, supposedly based on those of the church at Yatton, near Weston-super-Mare. The churchyard was originally shared with St John's, but is closed for burials. It has a fine long stone wall on Christchurch Street - which, alas, has lost its railings.

The church

The style is broadly Neo-Gothic (Perpendicular) and cruciform in plan, with a tall clerestory, low crossing tower and substantial aisles to the nave. An unusual feature is that the altar is under the crossing, with a later projecting Lady Chapel (now the Sacristy) added in 1929.

Furnishings are decent Victorian work, including a substantial carved reredos and a later Rood erected in 1910, and some brightly coloured stained glass. The church has had an Anglo-catholic tradition since the mid 1850s, and provides for a friendly welcome.

8 Christchurch Street West, Frome, Somerset BA11 1EH

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Holy Trinity, Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol

The site of Holy Trinity in Westbury-on-Trym has an eventful history dating back to Saxon times, and has been closely associated with various Bishops of Worcester. The largely mediaeval parish church is well worth a look today.


Westbury was the site of an early Benedictine monastery in the 9th and possibly even the 8th century. Under St Oswald, Bishop of Worcester, it became England’s earliest reformed house in 963AD, although the community of monks moved to East Anglia when offered more fertile lands there. The monastery was re-established in 1093 under bishop Wulfstan, and became a collegiate church in 1194 under Bishop Celestine.

In the mid-15th century Bishop John Carpenter made Westbury a joint cathedral with Worcester, to serve the needs of an expanding Bristol. He rebuilt the chancel and the north chapel. The south chapel was built by William Canynge, a famous Bristol merchant who was dean of Westbury 1444-76.

The Church

The exterior is dominated by Carpenter’s tower; his seated effigy sits in a niche above the West Door. Inside, the earliest parts of the church date to the 13th century, and include the arcades of circular piers with simple pointed arches, the south aisle itself and the chancel arch. The west window in the south aisle has 3 stepped Early English lancets, and there is a 3-arch Sedilia and Piscina, also from the 13th century, further along the south wall.

The chancel itself and the flanking chapels date from the 15th century, along with the clerestory and most of the remaining windows. The north chapel is of two bays and the south has three bays of tall, delicate Perpendicular arches. Remains of rood stairs can be found in both aisles.

Monuments include the cadaver of Bishop Carpenter himself: the original tomb was desecrated in the time of the Commonwealth, but now lies under a Victorian monument between the south chapel and chancel. In the north aisle is a painted memorial with a skull to Miles Wilson (d. 1567) and his daughter, Elizabeth Revell (d. 1581). In the south aisle on the east wall is a charming memorial to Rose Large (d. 1610), shown kneeling at prayer, erected by her son.

The church is the centre of a busy parish life and hosts daily worship.

Holy Trinity, Church Road, Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol BS9 3EQ

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Priory Church of St James, Bristol (RC)

St James's Priory claims to be the oldest building in Bristol. Recently restored, it has well preserved Norman arcades and an early rose window. It is now part of a charitable project offering support to  people struggling with addiction. The church has regular services led by a priest from the nearby Roman Catholic church of St Mary on the Quay.


The Priory was founded as a Benedictine house by Robert, Earl of Gloucester (1100-1147), in 1129. Robert was the illegitimate son of Henry I and a key player in the conflict between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda. He is buried in the church. The church was made parochial in 1374 and the bell tower was erected in 1375, paid for by the parishioners.

The priory continued until the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII, after which the west end of the Priory Church became the parish church. Alterations included the rebuilding of the south aisle in 1698 and the north aisle in 1864. The church was declared redundant and closed in 1984. In 1993 it was reopened by the Little Brothers of Nazareth, and a project for people in need established. The church was substantially restored in 2009-11.

The church

The west front is in many ways the most interesting: above a rubble wall (now rendered), are a row of Norman interlaced rounded blind arches, surmounted with an unusual (and very early) example of an oculus, or rose window. This consists of a circle surrounded by eight outer circles, with inter-twined rope decoration. At te east end, the rather plain tower forms a prominent landmark from the Haymarket. The south porch (towards the west) has a short tower and is an 18th century addition.

Inside, the nave has arcades of five bays of rounded arches on round columns with attached shafts and cushion capitals, dating from the 12th century, albeit much restored. The roof corbels are in the form of mediaeval heads, brightly painted. The neo-Norman west wall is 19th century as is the inner north aisle of polished pink granite columns (the outer aisle has been separated off to provide exhibition and seminar rooms). The south aisle is more interesting and contains most of the monuments, beneath a row of large 4-light windows and more colourful corbels.

The church has some interesting monuments: pride of place goes to that of Sir Charles Somerset (d. 1598), found through a modern door at the west end of the north aisle. There is a late 12th or early 13th century mediaeval effigy on the south wall under a large moulded arch: well preserved, it is not clear whether this is in fact the tomb of its founder, as claimed on a wall plaque: his tomb of polished jasper was at the east end, which makes it unlikely. Among the numerous 18th and 19th century wall memorials, there is an interesting earlier brass, surrounded by strap-work, commemorating Henry Gibbes (d. 1636) and his family on the east wall.

The church is open during weekdays for private prayer, and there are regular masses.

St James's Priory and Project, Whitson Street, Bristol BS1 3NZ

Monday, 15 October 2012

St Michael's Without, Bath

St Michael's Without is one of Bath’s most prominent city centre churches, dominating the view along Northgate Street. Recently re-ordered, it also houses a busy café, just one aspect of an equally vibrant parish life.


There has been a church on the site since at least 1180, the original being outside the city walls. This was rebuilt between 1370 and 1400, although we know little of its design. By the 1730s this was both too small and dilapidated for the existing congregation, but an offer of a design by the architect John Wood was turned down and the third church was built in 1742 to plans devised by its churchwarden John Harvey. Wood inevitably criticised the design, and it was said that that it was so ugly that a horse would refuse to be taken past it unless blind-folded!

It was not long, however, before this church followed the fate of its predecessor (being both too small and structurally unsound). It was demolished in 1835, and the present church built to designs by G P Manners, and completed in 1837. To make better use of the site, the new church was orientated north-south, with ritual east to the north.

The church

The church is an early essay in neo-Gothic, but the style is somewhat eclectic: Pevsner calls the tall, slender tower ‘crazy’, with its spire perched atop an octagonal lantern, with extraordinarily tall stepped lancet windows. The interior has similar windows, but is more conventional, with an aisled nave leading to a polygonal apse and plaster rib-vaulting. This is picked out in cream and is perhaps the church’s most attractive feature. The interior is light and airy, though there are few fittings of note.

The interior has been re-ordered with chairs and the tower room and rear of the nave are now used for a café and bookshop. The church has a strong emphasis on mission, described in displays at the back of the church.

St Michael Without, Broad Street, Bath BA1 5LJ

St John the Evangelist, Bath (RC)

St John’s tall steeple and spire is one of the landmarks visible from the train as you go through Bath: at 222ft high, it is the tallest in the city. This large church is a confident statement of faith, and an equally emphatic lesson in the Gothic Revival in this otherwise large Georgian city.

The church was commissioned by the Benedictines and built in 1861-63 to the designs of Charles Francis Hansom (1817-1888) and his son Edward Joseph Hansom (1842-1900). They adopted a flamboyant Decorated Gothic design, almost French in character – exemplified particularly by the rose windows in the transepts - yet the spire owes more to English precedents.

The church is built of rough-faced Bath stone, and has a large aisled nave, with clerestory, transepts, an apsed chancel and side chapels. The interior has pink Devon Granite piers with foliated capitals. The decoration throughout is of high quality, with extensive use of marble and alabaster. The glass and the impressive iron screen in front of the chancel are by Hardman. In the north-west apse is a eliquary, also designed by Charles Hansom, containing the relics of the martyr, St Justina, donated in 1871 after many years in the possession of the Borghesi family.

St John the Evangelist, South Parade, Bath BA2 4AF

Saturday, 6 October 2012

St Winefride's Well and Chapel, Holywell

St Winefride’s Well – often referred to as the ‘Welsh Lourdes’ - is reputed to be Britain’s oldest continuously visited pilgrimage site. The unique well-head and St Winefride’s Chapel above constitute some of Wales’s best 15th century architecture.


Shrouded in legend, the site is said to date from the 7thcentury, when Winefride, daughter of a local nobleman and a devout Christian, was decapitated by the local Chieftain Caradog for resisting his advances. Through the prayers of her Uncle, Saint Beuno, her head was restored with only a faint scar, and a spring flowed from the spot where her head had fallen. Whatever the legend, the historic Winefride became a nun and ultimately abbess of the foundation at Gwytherin, and died there in 660AD.

The well has since been a popular pilgrimage site, especially through the middle ages. Royal visitors have included Richard I, Henry V, Edward IV, and Richard III. James II and his second wife, Mary of Modena, visited in 1686 and it is said their prayers for a child were answered by the birth of their son, James Stuart.

The present well-head and chapel were built in the early 1500s, although the shrine of St Winefride was destroyed in the reformation. Despite the best efforts of the authorities, the well continued to be a popular place of pilgrimage and was associated with the Catholic recusancy. The well was rented by the Jesuits in 1873 and is now in the care of the Catholic Diocese of Wrexham. St Winefride’s Chapel is in the care of Cadw.

The well and chapel

The well complex includes a modern entrance building, museum and shop, with attractive lawns fronting the well-head. There is a large modern pool beside the well, where bathing is still permittedat certain times.

The well-head itself (effectively forming the crypt of the chapel above) is an intricate structure, the stone-lined pool covered with an elaborate octagonal late Perpendicular vault. A profusion of elaborately carved bosses include depictions of St Winefride’s legend, the likely patron of the building, Lady Margaret Beaufort, and scenes of healing. Nearby is a modern statue of St Winefride, complete with neck scar.
The Chapel above is a delightful example of Perpendicular architecture, with a fine wooden roof and wide windows filled with clear glass. Corbels and bosses abound with yet more carving, depicting saints and angels, heraldic devices, beasts, dragons, hunting scenes and grotesque faces. The Chapel hosts occasional festival services.
Plessington House, Greenfield Street, Holywell, Wales CH8 7PN

St Mary, Cilcain

Cilcain has one of Clwyd’s most interesting double-naved churches, best known for the astonishing hammer beam roof decorated with large carvings.


First mentioned in 1291, the church is probably of late 12th or 13th century origin. The oldest part is the north nave, now used as a meeting area. The tower and south nave were added in the 15th century, at which point the windows of the north nave were also renewed in Perpendicular style. The south nave probably replaced an earlier aisle.

The origin of the south nave’s roof is uncertain: the bays do not match those of the arcade, and the scale of the angels implies it was almost certainly intended for a loftier building, but there is little evidence for a local tradition that the roof came from Basingwerk abbey. The north nave was burned down in 1532, possibly during a service of plygain, a Welsh night-long carol service, traditionally lit with large numbers of candles brought by the congregation. It remained roofless until 1746 when it was rebuilt at the expense of the incumbent.

Restoration was carried out in 1786-7, 1845-5 and again in 1889, when the walls were scraped, the south porch rebuilt and the north nave screened off from the south nave. Brickwork at the top of the tower was also replaced with stone.

The church

The main part of the church is now the south nave: the north nave or aisle is not generally open to the public. Immediately the visitor is struck by the stark nature of the scraped walls, which render the interior dark: as one’s eyes grow accustomed to the gloom, the amazing ceiling reveals itself. It is carried alternately on hammer beams and braced arch trusses and moulded throughout.

The beams are decorated by angels each carrying shields depicting the instruments of the passion: roof bosses and the trusses have more carvings, including grotesque faces, animal heads, a pair of monkeys and a delightful pair of men in 15th century secular dress, possible the craftsmen who built it. They stare coyly from with side of a corbelled buttress, like a comedy duo.

To the north, the former Decorated arcade has been filled with wooden glazed panels. The East Window has 16th century glass panels depicting the Crucifixion. Other fittings of interest include a fragmentary Norman font, and a collection 14th century sepulchral panels at the West end, one of which depicts, rather crudely, a lady with an elaborate medieval headdress.

Cilcain, Mold, Wales CH7 5NH

Thursday, 4 October 2012

St Lawrence, North Hinksey

St Lawrence lies at the end of the village, next to the modern offices of the Diocese of Oxford. The largely 12th century church has a pretty wooded churchyard with a much-weathered 14th century cross.


The church guide claims that the oldest part of the church is chancel and suggests a possible pre-Conquest date: however, the earliest surviving details point to a foundation around 1100, with the tower added in in the 13th century and the porch in the 17th century.

A restoration by John Macduff Derick in the 19th century replaced a much earlier and very narrow chancel arch with the present arch with flanking squints in the Norman style, which complement the south door.

The Church

The church consists of nave, chancel, porch and tower, with exterior walls are of rubble with ashlar dressings. The tower has a simple pyramidal cap, and all is roofed with stone slates. The best architectural feature is the very fine 12th century south doorway, now inside the porch: this features elaborate zig-zag carving, scalloped capitals, red stone flanking columns and animal-head stops.

Inside, the interior has a peculiar pale coloured limewash, which emphasises the white-washed chancel arch. The nave and chancel have an interesting collection of windows, covering the 12th to 16th centuries, including simple round-headed arches, Early English lancets, a 15th century east window with cinquefoil tracery and an unusual late 13th century window with lozenge tracery. There is a staircase in the north wall of the nave to a long-vanished rood screen.

The furnishings include a lovely 15th century octagonal font, with different tracery designs on each face, and some nice monuments. The north-west nave window contains stained glass fragments brought from Ypres after the First World War.

The church is open during the day in summer and there is a regular Sunday morning service.

St Lawrence, North Hinksey Lane, North Hinksey, Oxford OX2 0LZ

Saturday, 15 September 2012

St Laurence, Telscombe

Telscombe is a hidden treasure. Although close to the dull suburban sprawl between Brighton and Newhaven, the little village and its ancient church nestle in a steep-sided valley, accessible only from the Ouse valley to the north.
Despite not being mentioned in Domesday, the church is recorded as being given to the monastery of Winchester  in the 10th century, a gift confirmed by King Edgar in 996 AD.
The basic form of the church is, however, 12th century: the nave and chancel date from the late 11th or early 12th century, and later in the 12th century the tower, north aisle and Lady Chapel were added. The 14th century provided the east window, and the 15th one of the south nave windows.
After that, the 19th century provided a modest restoration, which saw the north wall rebuilt, the chancel arch replaced, a porch added to the south and a matching vestry  to the north. The wall paintings were undertaken in 1905.
The Church
From the outside this is perfect, small village church. Sitting on a steep slope next to an old row of cottages (now the youth hostel), in summer, it is almost completely hidden by trees. The walls are flint, with simple stone dressings.
Inside, there are two sets of arcades, both with simple rounded arches. The nave arcade has simple round piers and plain capitals. The chancel arcade has been rebuilt, but again has round arches but this time the capitals have scallops and crocket leaf decoration. The east respond is clearly original.
The east chancel window is an early example of 14th century Decorated Gothic, as are the two lancets. The easternmost nave window dates from the 15th century, with a matching Victorian one further west. Possibly the only 12th century windows are in the west walls of the aisle and tower – two simple round-headed lancets.
Furnishings and fittings include a fine late 13th or 14th century font, decorated with pointed arches. The chancel has a kneeling desk incorporating 16th century bench ends, and above the south door is a fine 17th century Royal coat of arms. The chapel window contains coloured fragments of 14th century mediaeval glass.
The wall paintings on the chancel arch and east wall were undertaken in 1905; the church guide attributes their design to Clayton and Bell.
Although the parish has a population of just a couple of dozen, there is a regular Sunday service, attended mostly by people from Peacehaven.
Telscombe Village, East Sussex, BN7 3HY

Sunday, 12 August 2012

St Peter & St Mary, New Fishbourne

Fishbourne is best known for the remains of the impressive Roman palace which once stood in the village. But it is has a pretty little church with mediaeval origins, if rather heavily rebuilt in the 19th century.


The church was built between 1243 and 1254, but may initially have consisted only of the present chancel. The nave and bell-cote were added in the 14th century. Little changed until 1821 when a north transept was erected, with a stuccoed porch. In 1847 a south aisle was added, and the transept and nave were enlarged westwards to form the church we see today.

The church

The setting is a little surprising: although uncomfortably close to the A27, it is well screened by trees and can be approached from the village by a short, public footpath through woods and fields, which provides an altogether more sylvan setting.

The exterior walls are a mixture of ragstone and flint, all very neat and testifying to the Victorian rebuild. Inside, apart from a small section of the arcade wall at the west end, the nave and aisles are now basically of 19th century date. The aisles of three bays on either side are each as wide as the nave, and give it a bright and spacious feel.

The fabric of the chancel is 13th century, with one original lancet to the south east. (All the rest were renewed.) This space is altogether more intimate, and contains some ancient looking pews – possibly Jacobean? - used as choir stalls. In one of the lancets is a fragment of old glass – possibly 16th or early 17th century.

Other items of interest include two memorials at the west end, one in Latin to Anthony Wells (d. 1594) and  one to an unknown member of the Lane family, dated 1612 and carrying the crest of the family. Outside on the north east corner of the chancel are pilgrim crosses, possibly made by Continental visitors going to the shrine of St Richard of Chichester, from 1262 onwards.

The church has a lively and active congregation, currently raising funds to build a new parish hall.

 Fishbourne Road West, Fishbourne, Chichester, West Sussex PO19 3JW

Saturday, 21 July 2012

St Leonard, Aldrington, Hove

St Leonard's is an ancient foundation, now much rebuilt and in a firmly suburban setting, and effectively in Portslade. The main offices of the Diocese of Chichester sit alongside.


Originally an Anglo-Saxon settlement, Aldrington is mentioned in the Domesday Book as Eldretune but there is no mention of a church. The predecessor of the present building was erected in the 13th century, but a gradual decline of the settlement - hastened by severe storms in 1703 and 1705 - meant that by 1800 there were just two people in the parish and the church was largely ruinous (the roof having collapsed in 1738). 18th century drawings show it as a single celled building with lancets and a tower.

The arrival of the railway in nearby Portslade in 1840 stimulated a slow process of suburban development, and the church was rebuilt in 1876-8 by Richard Herbert Carpenter (1841-93). He largely followed the pattern of the original building, although the roundel above the two east lancets was replaced by a sexfoil.

Further suburban development necessitated another expansion, consisting of a nave and baptistery to the north (1931) with a new chancel (1936), both by Milburn Pett. This effectively relegated the original church to a south aisle, with an arcade of square piers inserted between. A planned north aisle was never built, and the 'temporary' brick facings on the exterior of the north wall contrast with the neat knapped flints elsewhere. The arcade has, in recent times, been partitioned so the nave and south aisle now form two separate spaces.

The church

The church sits in a pretty and overgrown churchyard (the noticeboard explains that this is intended to foster a wildlife reserve). The carefully knapped flint walls betray its relatively modern origins, but the shingled broach spire, lancets and pretty carved porch give it a pretty, rural feel.

The interior is something of a surprise after this introduction, as the nave and chancel are wide and bright and contrast sharply with the original church, although they are still nominally in the Gothic style. Pevsner didn't like Pett's work at all, describing it in the Sussex volume of the 'Buildings of England' as "very horrible".  The chancel has an elaborate sedilia and piscina in a Decorated style, with three lancets in the east. On the outside of the east wall of the chancel is a stone commemorating the extension in 1936 - surprisingly to modern sensibilities - laid with full masonic honours.

Furnishings are all modern, with some Clayton and Bell glass in the south aisle (the original church).

St Leonard's, New Church Road, Hove BN3 4ED

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

St Mary, Wimbledon, Greater London

Situated on the edge of Wimbledon village, St Mary’s is the original parish church and has a history dating back to Domesday.


Mentioned in the Domesday book, the original (and probably wooden) church was rebuilt in stone in the 13th century. An 18th century print shows it as a pleasingly rustic building, with a wooden bell turret and spire, but this little church was only 44ft long and 36ft wide.

In the 16th century, Wimbledon became the home of Sir William Cecil, later Lord Burghley, statesman and chief advisor to Elizabeth I. His son Thomas built a manor house adjacent, and in 1626-36 Thomas's third son, Sir Edward Cecil, built the Cecil Chapel as a mortuary chapel.

The church was enlarged in 1786, effectively being rebuilt west of the chancel arch, in a plain but handsome Georgian style. With the arrival of the railway in the 19th century, Wimbledon began to expand rapidly as a suburb and further enlargement of the church was required. Sir George Gilbert Scott was commissioned to undertake the work, which was completed in 1843. He extended the nave, erected the tower and spire, inserted new galleries and completed a new roof, all in the neo-Gothic style. He also encased the earlier Georgian brickwork in knapped flint with stone dressings.

The Church

Surrounded by trees, the church's picturesque setting evokes the country rather than the city, and the slender spire which surmounts the west tower is a landmark over Wimbledon Common.

Inside, the aisled nave of 5 bays leads to a two bay chancel. Now whitewashed throughout, it is hard to distinguish the various stages of the building. The oldest parts are the south and east walls of the chancel, which date from the 15th century; the Cecil Chapel survives intact beyond the Warrior Chapel, added in 1920 as a memorial to those who died in the First World War.

Most of the fittings date from the 19th and 20th centuries, but the Cecil Chapel has an intact 15th century stained glass window depicting St George as well as Sir Edward's tomb. A number of other memorials are of interest, one of which survives from 1537; another commemorates Sir Richard Wynn MP (d. 1649), treasurer to Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I. A modern brass in the chancel commemorates Sir William Wilberforce, the slave trade abolitionist. More interesting memorials crowd the surrounding graveyard.

The church has a busy parish life, with children’s and youth groups and services every day except Monday and Saturday.
30 St Mary's Road, London SW19 7BP

Sunday, 24 June 2012

St Mary, Walberton

Walberton is a prosperous village, mostly modern except for a leafy enclave around the church, and its wooded churchyard.

The Domesday Book records a priest and church, and the Nave of the current church may well date from the Saxon period. The nave arcades were cut through in the 12th century to link to the aisles. The chancel dates from the 13th, as does the substantial stone porch. The aisles were rebuilt in the 14th or 15th centuries and again in the 17th and 18th, when dormers were added and galleries inserted. There are a number of original lancets, but the rest of the windows date from more recent restorations.

The church is – slightly unfortunately – notorious for a severe restoration in 1903 by the architect Richard Creed. He rebuilt the aisles, roof and belfry (including the supporting frame), faced the walls in hard flint, scraped the interior and replaced the aisle windows in the 14th century  style and the west window in that of the 16th century. He removed a large amount of the archaeological detail, including some of the Saxon walling which incorporated red Roman bricks and tiles in the quoins. The protests led to the establishment of Diocesan Advisory Committees although, arguably, many Victorian restorations were just as drastic.

The setting is delightful and, like nearby Yapton, the roofs sweep low over the aisles. Inside, the most noticeable feature is the irregularity of the arcades: there are four bays to the south and three to the north, similar in style (very plain, round headed and unmoulded), but of varying widths and heights.
The chancel fared better under the restoration, and retains its lancets and 13th century feel.

Furnishings of note are limited to a tub font, from the late 11th century (restored in 1903 from a nearby farmyard), and the glass to Lord Woolton (d. 1964) in the south aisle, which lists his appointments rather like a CV.  The graveyard has a huge early 19th century vault for the Prime family, and a charmingly macabre one to Charles Cook (d. 1767), which graphically depicts his death by a falling tree.

 St Mary's Church, Church Lane, Walberton, Arundel, West Sussex BN18 0PQ

Saturday, 23 June 2012

St Mary, Yapton

Yapton has a delightful church set in a quiet corner of the village. For once, the lovely exterior leads to an equally charming interior, only lightly restored by the Victorians.

Although there was a church on the site in the Saxon period, all that remains of this is the lower part of the tower – the north tower wall is the south wall of the Saxon nave. Most of the structure dates from 1180-1220; the nave and tower date from 1180-1200 and the chancel from 1200-1220. The pretty porch was added some time after 1400, along with the west window. The additional buttressing of the tower, to counter the clear effects of subsidence, may also have been added in this period.

Dormer windows were inserted in the ceiling in the 17th century, and the present East Window inserted in 1902. This replaced an 18th century one which itself replaced the original lancets (the remains of which are clearly visible).

From the outside the church is picture-postcard pretty, with the leaning and heavily-buttressed tower flanking the nave and porch. From the sides, the roofs sweep low over the aisles to barely 5ft above the ground.

Inside, the nave has four bays of plain, barely pointed arches, resting on square capitals. The capitals are decorated with foliage, though those on the south aisle look unfinished – local legend has it that the masons were called away to repair Chichester Cathedral after the fire of 1187 before they could finish. The fine king-post roof with its tie-beams is probably original.

The south aisle has an old round-headed window to the east, and two small round windows indicate an early attempt to let in more light. The chancel arch rests on two fluted corbels, and the spacious chancel beyond has pairs of tall lancets to the north and south

Of its furnishings, the church claims its font to be Saxon, but others point to an early Norman date. Either way, it pre-dates the present church. It is decorated with chevron banding and arcades of arches enclosing Maltese crosses, all executed in low relief. The north aisle has indecipherable traces of mediaeval wall painting.

Outside, the south wall has a number of scratch mass-dials, the two clearest of which are on the jamb of the Priest’s door to the south chancel. Its churchyard is exquisite - neatly mowed lawns around more recent graves give way to grassy paths and wild flowers in older sections, all shaded by mature trees.

St Mary's has a regular morning Sunday service and a monthly contemporary-worship evening service

St Mary's Church, Church Lane, Yapton, Arundel, West Sussex BN18 0EE

Monday, 11 June 2012

St Mark's, Wimbledon, Greater London

St Mark’s is a friendly Anglican church in the liberal Catholic tradition, just a stone’s throw from Wimbledon rail and underground station.

The church itself is of modern design, built in brick around a concrete frame in 1968-9 to designs by Humphrys & Hurst in association with David Nye, replacing a late Victorian church. Very unusually for a church, it is pentagonal in layout, with five large concrete arches meeting at a central point to give a spacious tent-like interior, incorporating a roof-top lantern.

The walls are pierced by rectangular windows filled with vibrantly coloured modern glass, portraying elements of the creation: look carefully and there are planets, fish and whales. Although very much of its time, it works well as a worship space: worship is effectively in the round, with a large sanctuary (and the longest altar I’ve ever seen) surrounded by pews on three sides.

The church also has a small chapel, as well as a church hall and an attractive lawned area at the rear - a small green oasis (complete with a wooden play castle for children).

Worship is in a modern, liberal Catholic style (but no incense), and attracts a friendly mixed-age congregation. There is a creche and a Sunday School for children, and there is a youth group for those aged 13-18.

St Mark's Place, Wimbledon, London SW19 7ND

Sunday, 1 April 2012

St Stephen's, Rochester Row, London

St Stephen's is a lovely church only a few minutes' walk from the bustle of Victoria Street, with an active and diverse congregation.

Built in 1847-49 by Benjamin Ferrey, a pupil of Pugin, it is an accomplished example of Victorian Neo-Gothic in the 13th century Decorated style. The ragstone exterior encloses a cool, largely whitewashed interior. There is an aisled nave of 5 bays, and a long chancel. A small south chapel, dedicated in 1904, was erected in memory of Angela Tennant, daughter of the first Vicar. This has an elaborate decorated scheme of mosaics in the vaguely pre-Raphaelite style.

Other elements of interest include a stained glass window of the Good Shepherd by Morris & Co, designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1890), and an original window of 1850 by Wailes in the south aisle.

The spire was damaged by lightning in the 19th century and again during World War II, and shortened in the 1960s because of the resulting safety concerns. It was restored to its original height by the addition of a lightweight extension in 1994.

Rochester Row, London SW1P 4NJ

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

St Augustine, Brookland, Kent

Set in the flat and bleak landscape of Romney Marsh, Brookland church looks weirdly out of place. The distinctive belfry, with its three conical tiers of wooden shingles, might look more at home in the Balkans than in the Garden of England. According to legend, the belfry was originally located on the roof, but leapt from the church in surprise when an aged batchelor married an equally elderly spinster.

The adjacent church is a little more orthodox, although still interesting. The porch, with its wooden half-gates is charmingly rustic, and adjacent is a narrow, low tower with a clock. Dating from around 1250, the gothic nave is wide and spacious, and it has equally generous aisles. The scarily odd angles of the walls and arcade arches betray serious signs of subsidence, all adding to the charm (and betraying the real reason for not building the belfry on the church roof). It still retains its original box pews, some pretty 14th-century stained-glass windows, and a well preserved pre-reformation wall painting of the murder of Thomas a Becket.

The most notable furnishing is a Norman font, made of lead: reputedly stolen by a local raiding party from a church in France, it features the signs of the zodiac and pictures of rural life. Close by are other artifacts of rural life, including a set of weights and measures, an unusual portable porch (supposedly intended to keep the priest dry at funerals), and the clock mechanism, set at ground level for all to see.

But most poignant for me is the memorial erected to John and Mary Munn and ten of their children, all of whom predeceased them. It was erected by the only survivor, Henry. You can almost feel his plight.

High Street, Brookland, Romney Marsh, Kent TN29 9QR

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Cathedral Church of St Martin, Leicester

Leicester’s Cathedral was its parish church until the creation of the Diocese of Leicester in 1927. The church has mediaeval elements but was heavily restored in the 19th century.


Leicester was established as a diocese in 680AD by the Saxons, but after 200 years was abandoned as a diocese as the Danes invaded the East Midlands, and was ministered instead from Lincoln and then Peterborough.

The Normans built a church here to replace the Saxon one in the late 11th and early 12th centuries, which was progressively enlarged throughout the mediaeval period: the present nave and aisles date from the mid 13th century, and a large second south aisle (the “Great South Aisle”) was added in the 13th and 14th centuries. The nave was lengthened in the 15th century.

The building was heavily restored 1861-67 by Raphael Brandon, who replaced the original tower and spire with the present version, which rises 220ft. Further restorations were carried out by Street and Pearson, and the south porch added by Bodley in 1897.

The church was elevated to cathedral status in 1927 but, unlike many former parish churches, was not enlarged or rebuilt for the purpose.

The church

Most of the exterior dates from the Victorian rebuilding, but inside the church retains more of a mediaeval feel: the South Aisle in particular, with its large corbel statues depicting people’s ails and discontents, is well preserved. The only remains of the original Norman church of 1086 is a string of billet moulding in the north aisle.

Although not especially well endowed with notable furnishings, the church has a good collection of memorials, the oldest in the main church being that of John Whatton and his two wives, dating from 1656, in the north aisle. A defaced 14th century tombstone – said to be the oldest in Leicestershire – is hidden away in a corridor behind St Dunstan’s chapel. A modern memorial to Richard III lies in the chancel - and there are plans to reinter his recently discovered remains there. St Katherine’s Chapel, beyond the north aisle, has a large collection of memorials to the Herrick family.

The church has a cycle of daily services (details on the website), regular concerts and recitals, and is open daily for prayer and visitors. Guided tours can be arranged on request (advanced notice required).

Peacock Lane, Leicester, Leicestershire LE1 5PZ

Monday, 30 January 2012

Blackburn Cathedral

Blackburn has been a Christian site since the 5th century, yet it is home to one of England’s newest and smallest Cathedrals. This remarkable building is a mixture of Victorian and late 20th century architecture, and possesses an impressive array of modern religious art.


A church was recorded in Blackburn, possibly on the same site as the Cathedral, as early as 596AD. The parish church of St Mary the Virgin was erected in Norman times and enlarged throughout the mediaeval period, but the expansion of Blackburn in the 19th century resulted in a completely new church being erected on the site in 1820-26, designed by John Palmer.

In 1926 the Diocese of Blackburn was formed and the church became elevated to Cathedral status. Plans were put in place to enlarge it so that it could perform its new duties, and work began in 1938, but was not completed until the 1970s. The distinctive lantern tower, in the shape of a crown, was designed by Laurence King after the death of the original architect W A Forsyth.

The Church

The tower and nave survive from Palmer’s original church, and are in the Decorated Gothic style. For its date, these are remarkably faithful to the mediaeval form. The transepts, chapels and chancel are in a more spare 20th Century Gothic, but the lantern, with its slender aluminium spire, is unashamedly modernist.

Inside the church, the immediate impression is one of space and light: all the glass in the nave is clear, and the interior is whitewashed throughout. The rib vaults of Palmer’s elegant nave and aisles are picked out in gold and red, to stunning effect.

Furnishings are mostly modern: the high altar is situated beneath the lantern, surmounted by a corona (hanging crown) and on the west wall is the huge sculpture of Christ the Worker; both are by John Hayward, who also designed the striking stained glass of the lantern and south transept window. The only old furnishings are a set of 15th century misericords in the north transept, thought to have come from Whalley Abbey. The west window in the south transept also has some fragments of mediaeval glass. The church has a number of other modern religious sculptures and paintings.

Beneath the church is a crypt with a very popular café. The church is open to visitors every day, and has a cycle of daily services (see website).

Cathedral Close, Blackburn BB1 5AA

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Cathedral Church of St Peter, Bradford

Formerly the parish church, St Peter's became the Cathedral of the new dioceses of Bradford in 1919. The building has an intimate interior with a 15th core, striking 20th century extensions, and some interesting fittings and furnishings.


There has probably been a church on the site since 8th century: the remains of two Anglo-Saxon crosses have been found on the site, one of which is incorporated into the present fabric. Described as 'waste' in Domesday, there may nevertheless have been a manor chapel on the site, and a church was recorded here in 1281.

Rebuilding commenced in in the 14th century: the present nave arcades were completed by 1458, and a clerestory was added later in the same century. The church also had chantry chapels, and the tower was completed in 1508. The church was bombarded by Royalist forces in the Civil War, when wool-sacks were hung to protect it. The roof was rebuilt in the 18th century, and the exterior considerably tidied up in the 1830s.

The church was elevated to Cathedral status in 1919, and extensions to the Chancel and West end were added in the 1950s to designs by Sir Edward Maufe. The Cathedral was rededicated in its present form in 1963.

The church

From the outside, the modern extensions are in a reasonably sympathetic but very spare neo-Gothic style, and contrast strongly with the Victorian and mediaeval elements. The site is slightly unfortunate in that the east end now abuts a busy main road; the church is best appreciated from the green on the north side, from which viewpoint it reflects its origins as a substantial parish church.

The interior is dominated by the handsome nave, of eight bays of regular Gothic arches, supported on delicate quatrefoil piers. The walls of the nave and aisles are heavily scraped, and give it a rather rustic feel - in sharp contrast to the tall and clean chancel, which is plastered and whitewashed. There are chapels in the transepts, as well as three new chapels attached to the Chancel, dedicated to St Aidan, the Holy Spirit and St Mary.

The church has a very rich and extensive collection of 18th and 19th century memorials, and glass by Kempe and William Morris. In the north ambulatory are the remains of an Anglian preaching cross. The Bishop's Chair (the Cathedra) has a tall canopy and an interesting bench end, with an image of the old tower, above a rock containing a dragon. The most striking modern furnishing is the Celtic Cross behind the altar of St Aidan's chapel, by Chris Shawcross, depicting people on their pilgrimage, towards an image of Mary and the infant Jesus.

The Cathedral is open every day (limited access on Sundays, only to services) and has a regular cycle of daily services and special events (details on the website).

Stott Hill, Bradford, West Yorkshire BD1 4EH

Monday, 2 January 2012

St Michael, Camden

St Michael's is the parish church of Camden, and is located (though easily missed) next to Sainsbury's. It has a lively congregation and an active social outreach into the local community.


The nave was built in 1880-1 and the sanctuary in 1893-4 to plans by the prolific church architect George Frederick Bodley (1827-1907) and Thomas Garner, with whom he had a 28-year professional partnership. A planned tower was never built. St Michael's subsumed the parish of All Saints in the 1950s, and since 2003 has been part of a team ministry with St Pancras Old Church, St Mary's Somers Town and St Paul's Camden Square.

The church

The church is orientated north-south, with the liturgical west end facing the road. The church is built of yellow stock brick with stone dressings in the Decorated Gothic style. Both the west window and the clerestory windows over the aisles have delicate geometric tracery and have recently been restored.

Inside, the stone-lined interior consists of a nave of 5 bays, which draws the eye to the large sanctuary: Bodley did not include a chancel arch in the scheme, so the nave and sanctuary form a single, unified space. The height of the nave is emphasised by the fact that the floor is lower than the street outside. There is a small stone-vaulted chapel to the north of the sanctuary.

The interior has interesting decorative stencilling, but is generally in need of some restoration. Fittings and furnishings include the original altar of 1880, and a selection of statues, some in the pre-Raphaelite style (though that of St George dates from 1939); an attractive coloured pulpit; a marble altar and Easter Sepulchre in the north chapel; and a brass to Edward Bainbridge Reynolds, incumbent, who died in 1907.

The church has a flourishing congregation, with worship in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, and the adjacent centre provides a range of outreach services for the local community.

Camden Road, Camden, London NW1 9LQ