Monday, 26 August 2013

All Saints, Ockham

Ockham is chiefly famous for William of Ockham (c. 1287-1347), the philosopher whose maxim that hypotheses must be reduced to their constituent parts, is known as "Ockham's Razor". The other razor is the church's magnificent 13th century 7-stepped lancet window, one of only two in England.

The church sits away from the main road, and dates back to the around 1220. In fact the famous window (dated to around 1250) is framed by the remains of a slightly earlier 3-light window and a later Tudor one, giving rise to the theory that the present window was rescued from nearby Newark Priory at the Dissolution and inserted here in the 16th century. Either way, the window, with its internal array of shafts with stiff-leaf capitals, is a magnificent composition. The nave and chancel windows were renewed around 1350, and the tower erected around 1400. The ceiling was renewed in Tudor times.

As well as the famous window, the church has some notable monuments, including a small collection of brasses, the best of which commemorates John (d. 1483) and Margaret (d. 1475) Weston. In the King Chapel is the vast and magnificent monument by the celebrated sculptor Rysbrach to Peter King, 1st Baron King of Ockham, who was Lord Chancellor 1725-33.

The church has an extensive collection of mediaeval glass, some of it original, from the 14th century onwards, and some 18th century Flemish armorial brass.

All Saints Church: Ockham Road North, Ockham, GU23 6NL

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

St Cadoc's, Cadoxton, Barry

St Cadoc's is a pretty little church and a surprising discovery, in what is now effectively a suburb of Barry. It nestles in a little green enclave in the midst of Victorian terraces and modern estates.

The origins of the church are obscure, and made harder to read because of a very thorough rebuilding in 1885. It is said to have been founded by Cadoc himself (who lived in the 5th-6th centuries), but another version suggests a founding in 800AD. Either way, the present structure is based on a later Norman stone-built church, and a couple of round-headed windows (one rest by the Victorians in the nave and one in the tower) suggest a 12th century rebuilding.

The tower, porch and chancel are largely 15th century, but the nave is largely Victorian. The nave has the remains of a 15th century rood loft staircase, as well as mediaeval water stoups and font. The aisle-less interior has a countrified feel, enhanced by the pretty 17th century altar railings.

During the Victorian renovations, fragmentary remains of wall paintings were discovered, as well as a Lord's Prayer and Ten Commandments, presumably dating from the 16th-17th centuries. The church has regular services in the Anglo-Catholic tradition.

Coldbrook Road West, Cadoxton, Barry CF63 1 LF

St Mary, Brownsea Island

St Mary's is a picture-postcard church on the island of Brownsea in Poole Harbour, famed for being the site where the Scouting movement started and for its red squirrel colony.

For a Victorian church, it has had a complex history. It was built in 1853 by Colonel Waugh, one of a series of owners during the 19th century. A retired Colonel from India, he tried to establish a porcelain industry on the island, but the clay turned out to be suitable only for heavy earthenware such as pipes and tiles, and the business venture failed. One of the later owners was the Dutch tobacco magnate Charles van Raalte, who was buried in a fine mausoleum in the church, and whose wife established an early daffodil industry on the island.

The church fell into disrepair under the subsequent owner, Mary Bonham-Christie, who lived as a recluse and expelled most of the population from the island on its purchase in 1925. On her death in 1961, the island was made over to the National Trust in lieu of death duties. The church, along with the rest of island, was restored, although it is the only building on the island not in National Trust ownership.

The church is in the Decorated Gothic style and consist of an aisleless nave, chancel, porch, tower, mausoleum and vestry. The church has neither water nor electricity, and its chief interest lies in it being almost unaltered, and for containing a range of interesting imported furnishings. These include extensive 16th century linenfold panelling brought from Crosby Hall in London, a grand 17th century imported fireplace under the tower with carved figures and a canopy, further 17th century panels on the nave walls, and a carved marble effigy of Charles van Raalte in the mausoleum.

The church has regular services in the summer months, attendance varying according to the number of visitors on the island (during scout camps there can be hundreds).

Brownsea Island, Poole Harbour, BH13 7EE

Lady St Mary, Wareham

St Martin's-on-the-Wall, Wareham

St Stephen, Bournemouth

St Stephen's is one of the masterpieces of Gothic revival architecture in England, and is one of two major Victorian churches in Bournemouth. It was a favourite of poet John Betjeman.

The church was commissioned in memory of the first Vicar of Bournemouth, Alexander Morden Bennett, who was a leading exponent of the high church Tractarian movement. The architect chosen was J L Pearson. The foundation stone was laid in 1881 and the tower finally completed in 1907.

The church has a double-aisled nave with transepts, and an apsed chancel with a narrow ambulatory behind. Pearson chose a restrained Early Gothic style, but the astonishing interior is achieved through a clever use of space: the aisles and arcades are relatively low, but are surmounted by a very tall clerestory with large paired lancet windows; the final bay before the chancel arch tapers inwards, giving the impression of greater length; the low springing of the nave vault creates an impression of height; and the double aisles and ambulatory means that almost every vista presents a forest of columns.

Although austere, the choice of high quality materials and the fact it is vaulted throughout lends the church a serene beauty, enhanced by spare but high quality furnishings. The delicate wrought iron chancel screens and gates were designed by Pearson, and the floors are inlaid with imported coloured marbles. But the highlight (almost literally, as it is deliberately floodlit) is the gilded reredos by Nathaniel Hitch, with panels of saints upon background of rich blues and reds.

The church still retains its Anglo-Catholic tradition of worship and a renowned choir.

St Stephen's Way, Bournemouth, Dorset BH2 6JZ

St Peter, Bournemouth

St Peter's stands on the east side of Bournemouth centre, half way up a hill. The splendid Gothic revival exterior contains within some of the richest Victorian Gothic interiors in the country.

Built from 1854 onwards to replace an earlier church, the architect was George  Edmund Street (1824-1881). The west tower with its spire is something of a landmark, and leads to a nave with north and south aisles (the latter surviving from the earlier church). These have tiled murals and extensive wall decoration, an hors d'ouvres to the feast to come.

The chancel arch is surmounted by a mural by Clayton & Bell, but it is the choir and south transept which steal the show. These are richly decorated with murals, tiling, carved marble and alabaster, with every surface, from floor to ceiling, a riot of pattern and colour.

The nave houses a cafe during the week, providing employment for people with learning difficulties. In the steeply sloping churchyard is the tomb of the author of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (1797-1851), the heart of Shelley buried beside her.

Hinton Rd, Bournemouth, Dorset BH1 2EE

St Peter, Dorchester

St Peter's is a classic mediaeval town church, containing some interesting memorials, although today is rather hemmed in by traffic.

Although there has been a church on the site since Norman times, the present building dates from 1454, after a bequest for a new church was left in 1420. It was restored in 1856, the architect's assistant being one Thomas Hardy, the novelist. One of its rectors, John White (1606-1648) was instrumental in the establishment of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, forerunner of the American State.

The church is essentially Perpendicular Gothic throughout, and has a fine west tower, porch, and an aisled nave and a chancel flanked by chapels. The main doorway in the porch has zig-zag decoration and was probably re-used from the earlier church. The pulpit is an attractive 17th century example, but the main interest lies in the memorials.

In the south chapel are the effigies of two knights, probably dating from the 14th century. The guide-book suggests they have come from a former monastery. Rather hidden behind the organ is the very fine memorial to Sir John Williams (d. 1617) and his wife, erected in 1628, and a good example of its type. Sir John and his wife face each other kneeling, under a large arched canopy, decorated with strapwork. It deserves to be better placed.

In the north aisle is a splendid classical monument to Denzil, Lord Holles (d. 1680), who played a major role in trying to reconcile the parliamentary and royalist factions after the English Civil War. Finally, the reredos depicts the Last Supper, and commemorates the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, known for his campaigning for the abolition of child labour.

The church is part of the united benefice of Dorchester.

High West Street, Dorchester DT1 1UG

Christchurch Priory

Christchurch Priory has a magnificent setting, in a moated precinct adjacent to Christchurch Harbour, at the end of the old town's main street. It is the longest parish church in England (over 311ft) and its cathedral-scale interior and its monuments have survived remarkably well down the centuries.


A Saxon Minster dedicated to the Holy Trinity was built in the 7th century, but was torn down and replaced by the current building, begun in 1094. Much of this Norman church survives in the nave and the transepts. the Choir (here called the Quire) and Lady chapel being rebuilt in the Perpendicular style in the 15th century, along with the west tower, built to replace a central tower which collapsed.

The Church

From the outside, the Norman work can seem rather forbidding, and the two-storey Early Gothic porch would be worthy of a castle fortification. The contrast with the later Quire and Lady Chapel, with their flying butresses and great windows, is startling. There is one gem to be noted on its exterior from the Norman period, however: the celebrated north transept stair turret, a perfect composition of vigorous blind arcading and trellis patterns.

Inside, the impressive nave of 7 bays is classic Norman work, with rounded arches in the arcade and triforium, giving way to early pointed arches in the clerestory and arcade windows. Heading east, the Quire screen dates from 1320 and leads to the Great Quire, and the magnificent High Altar screen of 1360, depicting a Tree of Jesse.

High above the Lady Chapel ambulatory is a cut-off beam; it was said the carpenters found the original too short when it was hoisted into place. Vexed at what to do, the next day they returned to find the beam now fitted, and was in place. The only explanation was a carpenter who had worked and eaten alone, but was not seen after the beam was inserted. The legend grew up that it was Christ himself, as carpenter, who had performed the miraculous deed.

The church abounds with monuments of high quality. Of particular note are the four beautifully preserved chantries, that of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury (built in 1529) being the most magnificent, with suberb fan vaulting. The Quire has an outstanding set of choir stalls and misercords, depicting themes as varied as King Richard III, a salmon, a Fox in a pulpit, and scenes from a fair. My favourites include a man sword fighting with geese, and two contortionists - one of whose feet is being bitten by a dog.

Finally, under the tower is a memorial to the poet Shelley (1792-1822), placed here, it is said, because his own parish church in Bournemouth refused to house a memorial to someone of such notorious character.

Christchurch Priory, Quay Road, Christchurch BH23 1BU

Wimborne Minster

Wimborne Minster is a fascinating church, occupying pride of pace in the historic market town. It contains architecture from all the major mediaeval styles from Norman Romanesque to Perpendicular Gothic.

The church was founded around 705AD as a nunnery by St Cuthberga, sister of King Ina of the west Saxons. It was visited by St Boniface, the evangelist of Germany, and Alfred the Great buried his brother Ethelred (837-871) here. But the monastery was destroyed in a Danish raid in 1013. Edward the Confessor refounded the church as a college of secular canons in 1043, and it prospered as a royal peculiar during the Middle Ages.

The oldest part of the church is the crossing under the central tower, and the huge arches date from around 1120. The upper part of the toweris later, and the nave later still, with wonderful arcades of transitional arches - pointed in the gothic style, yet with Norman decoration of chevrons and dogtooth, and some wonderful corbels of animals and human heads. The original Norman clerestorey now sits below a later one in the Perpendicular style.

The north transept contains a Saxon remnant (a stair turret) within a Decorated Gothic space, rebuilt in 1350. The walls have fragments of wall paintings from the 13th-15th centuries. The south transept was extended around 1220. The chancel has a mixture of styles and sits above a crypt built in 1340. Finally, the west tower was added in the Perpendicular style in 1464 to house a peal of bells: this allowed the later opening up of the central tower space.

The church has many fittings of interest. In the west tower is a 14th century astronomical clock, adjacent to the early Decorated font. there are some very fine and fascinating tombs: a fine coloured Jacobean monument to Sir Edmund Uvedale (d. 1606), apparently with two left feet; a magnificent tomb chest with effigies to John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset (d. 1444) and his wife Margaret. the arch above has a wonderful corbel figure of Moses with a plaited beard. Also in the chancel is a brass to King Ethelred, dating from 1440, and the only brass to an English King. the adjacent choir stalls have Jacobean misericords carved in 1610.

In the Holy Trinity chapel is the tomb of Anthony Erricke, a barrister who asked to buried in the wall so je would be neither inside nor outside the church. predicting his own death in 1693, he died ten years later, so the dates were rather crudely changed on his coffin.

The church has a regular cycle of services during the weekand is a popular visitor attraction, with a small shop.

High Street, Wimborne, BH21 1HT

Friday, 2 August 2013

Gloucester Cathedral

Gloucester's is one of the major cathedrals of England, and the resting place of Edward II.

The cathedral started life as an abbey in 678AD, although little is known about it before the Norman conquest. William the Conqueror appointed Serlo as Abbott in 1072, who set about the task of rebuilding, and creating the building we see today. Henry III was crowned here in 1272, and the 13th Century saw a number of building projects, including a new tower, tower and refectory. But the turning point came in 1327, when the deposed King Edward II died at nearby Berkeley castle (by tradition, in particularly grisly fashion), and was brought here for burial.

His son, Edward III, had a magnificent tomb erected in honour of his dead father, and it soon became a place of pilgrimage. This provided the funds for a major programme of rebuilding in the Perpendicular Gothic style, including the famous cloisters, south porch, west front, the tower, Lady Chapel and new vaults over the choir. The abbey survived the dissolution of the monasteries through its elevation to cathedral in 1541 - the presence of a royal tomb may have helped ensure its survival - a role it has performed ever since.

The interior reflects the contrast between the robust Romanesque architecture of the Norman period and the soaring fan vaults of the Perpendicular. The cloisters in particular - among the earliest examples of fan vaulting - are celebrated for their beauty. Its fittings are a match for the architecture: the great east window is partly filled with glass dating from 1350, and more 15th century glass is found in the Lady Chapel.

Notable tombs include the magnificent tomb of Edward II, with its extraordinary clusters of pinnacles; and the lovely wooden wooden effigy of Robert Curthose (1054-1134). he was the eldest son of William the Conqueror, was Duke of Normandy (1087-1106), and the unsuccessful claimant to the English throne. It is a perfect depiction of early Norman military dress, though it dates from a hundred years after his death.

Today, the cathedral is famous as one of the homes of the three choirs festival, one of the oldest classical festivals and dating from the early 18th century. It also has the usual cycle of services, festivals and events that characterise modern cathedral life.

College Green, Gloucester, GL1 2LX

All Saints, Hereford

This interesting mediaeval city-centre church is a short walk from the city's cathedral, and well worth a visit in its own right.

The first church on the site was probably erected around 1200, but rebuilt later in the 13th and in the 14th centuries, possibly because of earthquake damage. Most of the present structure was in place by 1330. The church underwent a major restoration in 1997, which included major work to the tower and spire which both twists and leans.

The church has a spacious nave with north and south aisles and a west tower. The nave arcades are classic Early English gothic, and are complemented by Decorated and Perpendicular Gothic windows and the very high ceilings. The south aisle chapel has 17th century fittings, but the 14th century choir stalls in the chancel and north aisle chapel steal the show: they are very fine, and have misericords with classic decorative themes. There is also a Jacobean pulpit (c. 1621) and a 16th century font in which David Garrick, the actor and theatre manager, was baptised in 1717. A beam in the south gallery has an interesting 'rude' carving, and adjacent is a 19th century window depicting Christmas, complete with a little boy opening his new GWR railway locomotive.

The western end of the nave and south gallery now form part of a very popular cafe. On my visit there was also an art fair in the south chapel, ensuring this church is busy throughout the week.

High Street, Hereford, HR4 9AA