Sunday, 14 December 2014

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

St George's Minster, Doncaster

The great tower of St George's makes for a memorable view from trains passing through Doncaster, but, once in the town, this magnificent neo-Gothic Victorian building is surprisingly hard to find, not helped by the fact it is now cut off from the centre by an unpleasantly busy dual-carriageway.

The church was rebuilt after the mediaeval predecessor was burned down in 1853. It was rebuilt to designs by George Gilbert Scott - it is his largest town church. The tower is supposedly a replica of that lost in the fire, which dated from 1430; for the remainder Scott chose a robust Decorated style.

The impressively spacious interior has a cruciform layout, with big transepts, and aisles and clerestories to both nave and chancel. It is notable for excellent Victorian glass and a spectacular 5 manual organ by the renowned German organ builder Edmund Schulze (1824-1877). Other features of note include expansive encaustic tiled pavements in the chancel, an impressive marble font, and a huge stone pulpit with coloured marble columns.

St George's today fulfils the role of the town's civic church, and hosts concerts and other events. It is open every day for visits and private prayer, and has daily services and a Choral Eucharist on Sunday.

St George, Church Street, Doncaster DN1 1RD

Monday, 3 November 2014

Friday, 4 July 2014

St Mary Magdalene, Cobham

St Mary the Virgin, Fryerning

Fryerning's pretty parish church is notable for its late mediaeval brick tower and the memorial to the politician, Airey Neave MP.

The nave and chancel date from the 11th century, although heavy 19th restoration means the signs are limited; five round-headed windows in the nave, and a scattering of Roman bricks, used as quoins on the corners of the chancel and nave walls, and as voussoirs over the windows. The main event is really the tower, 15th century Tudor, and an early example of the use of brick in a parish church. That said, the bricklayers were already confident enough with their rediscovered building material to incorporate diamond patterns in the English bond.

The fittings include a robust, square font from c.1200, decorated with quatrefoils, crosses, stars and a crescent, embellished with foliage designs. Opposite the door in the north wall is a memorial window to Airey Neave MP, killed by the IRA in 1979, designed by his cousin.

St Mary the Virgin, Blackmore Road, Fryerning, Essex, CM4 0NW

St Mary's, Buttsbury

Buttsbury is a quiet spot, isolated from modern settlement and situated on a junction of two minor roads. It's amazing that it is still there.

The exterior presents an attractive jumble of roofs, a white weather-boarded porch and a grey wooden belfry, with expanse of roofs, flint walls and plain render. Dating mostly from the 14th century, the interior is whitewashed with a brick floor, with Perpendicular nave arcades. The chancel dates from the 18th century, and has a Gothick East window of interlacing 'Y' tracery.

The north door of the nave has mediaeval ironwork and has been dated to the 12th century. It's a lovely thought that in the late mediaeval period, they modernised and enlarged their church but kept the old door. The main fitting of interest is a painted wooden board, a fragment of a mediaeval Doom painting, now on the south wall.

The church has a regular Sunday service, though times vary each week - check the website for details.
Ingatestone Road, Buttsbury, Essex, CM4 9PA

St Margaret's, Margaretting

St Margaret's is picture-postcard pretty, surrounded by trees and alongside a lovely Georgian Rectory. Both are reached across a level crossing on the busy London to Norwich railway line, and its visibility from passing trains makes the church a popular choice for weddings.

The church dates from around the 12th century, but reached its current form in the 15th century, when the south aisle, porch and (later in the century) the wonderful wooden bell tower were added. The nave roof also dates from this period. The interior is spacious, and includes charming details such as the nave corbels, which represent the symbols of the four Gospel Evangelists, angels and demons. The principal architectural feature of interest is the bell tower: this rests on 10 posts with complex cross-bracing, and contains an original peals of bells dated from between 1392 and 1538.

The other great treasure is the east window. Surrounded by somewhat distracting decorative plasterwork (installed, according to the guidebook, in 1918), the window takes the form of a Tree of Jesse, depicting the familial line from David to Christ. The window dates from around 1460 and is an exceptionally complete example of stained glass from the period.

Other items of interest include the chancel screen, which includes elements of the mediaeval original, and the 17th century Tanfield Memorial, commemorating John Tanfield (1547-1625), his wife, three sons and four daughters.

St Margaret's Church, Church Road, Margaretting, Ingatestone CM4 0ED

Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral needs no introduction: the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury has overseen the history of Christianity in England since St Augustine arrived here in 597AD and baptised the Ethelbert, King of Kent, and remains the "mother church" of the Anglican Communion.

Since then, it has seen the martydom of Thomas a Becket in 1107, the canonisation of whom (and subsequent development of his shrine) led to the cathedral becoming a major centre of pilgrimage - gloriously captured in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. The pilgrims' offerings also helped to finance major rebuilding, resulting in the glorious building we see today - now part of the Canterbury UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A Saxon cathedral was established here after the enthronement of August as first Archbishop of Canterbury, but of this nothing remains: a fire in 1067 resulted in the Normans rebuilding the cathedral in the Romanesque style under Bishop Lanfranc, 1070-77. The choir was soon enlarged by Prior Ernulf and, of this, the crypt (1096) survives. The choir itself was destroyed by fire in 1174. This was rebuilt 1174-1200, and demonstrates the transition from the Romansque to the newer Gothic style. Most of the remainder of the cathedral was rebuilt in the Perpendicular Gothic style, starting with the nave and transepts (1379-1405), cloisters (1397-1414), and the central tower (1493-1497).

The cathedral contains suitably opulent furnishings, most notably its stained glass: over 1,200 square metres of stained glass includes one of the largest collections of mediaeval glass in Europe. It is also the burial place of a long list of notable people, besides Becket: these include St Alphege and St Anselm, both former Archbishops; Edward, the Black Prince (1330-1376); Henry IV (1367-1413) and his wife Joan of Navarre (1370-1437); Archbishop Stephen Langton (1151-1228), one of the key figures in the development of the Magna Carta; Orlando Gibbons, organist and musician (1583-1625); and the author Somerset Maugham (1874-1965). Sadly, the magnificent shrine of Becket was destroyed at the reformation, but those of Henry IV and Edwards the Black Prince survive.

Today, the cathedral and its precinct remain a place of pilgrimage and continue to play host to a constant programme of services, musical and other events. There is a charge for entering for a tourist visit.

Canterbury Cathedral, Christ Church Gate, Canterbury, Kent, CT1 2EH

All Saints, Blackheath

Blackheath is perhaps best known for its broad, flat expanse of common land, of which All Saints church is a prominent landmark.

There has been a hamlet here since Saxon times, but there was no church, the area being served by neighbouring parishes. Nevertheless, it occupied a strategic location on Watling Street, the former Roman road which formed the main route from Kent to London. As such, the heath was a famous rallying point for all sorts of causes, most notably for the Peasant's Revolt of Wat Tyler in 1381 and later of Jack Cade's kentish Rebellion in 1450. In the era of the stagecoach, the area became notorious for its highwaymen.

Growth of the little hamlet began in earnest in the 18th century, with the development beginning with the Blackheath Park estate. Although churches were established on the estates in 1830 (St Michael's) and 1853 (St John the Evangelist), they were inadequate for the growing population. A petition by the local populace led to the founding of All Saints in 1857. The architect was Benjamin Ferrey, who chose a mixture of the Early English and Decorated Gothic styles, executed in Kentish ragstone with freestone dressings. The church was consecrated in 1858.

The church has a five-bay nave with chamfered columns and square, stiff leaf capitals, and generous aisles, but it is most notable externally for its prominent spire. The interior is bright and fiercely whitewashed, enlivened by a painted and gilded chancel screen, decorated ceilings and late 19th century Murano mosaics in the chancel. There is also some stained glass by Martin Travers (1886-1948).

Morning and Evening Prayer are said daily through the week and there are normally three services on Sunday in the church, which has a strong choral tradition.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Worcester Cathedral

Worcester is one of England's most ancient cathedral sites, having been founded as a Priory in 680AD. It occupies an attractive position on the banks of the River Severn and embodies the full range of mediaeval architectural styles, and retains its crypt and cloisters.

The oldest part of the cathedral is the crypt, built in 1084 by the Saxon Bishop St Wulstan. This has 'cushion' capitals in the Norman style, and is now used as a chapel. Also from the Norman period is the fine chapter house (1120) and the west bays of the nave (1170). The cathedral was rebuilt into its present form from the early 13th century onwards, with the fine Early English Gothic Lady Chapel (1224) followed by the Choir (1269). The Nave, along with the eastern range of the cloister and tower were rebuilt 1317-1395; the Perpendicular tower is often regarded as one of the most finely proportioned in England. The remaining ranges of the cloister were completed in 1404-1438.

The floor of the cathedral is tiled throughout, although the plaster has been stripped from much of the vaulting in the nave and aisles. In contrast, the Choir and Lady Chapel both have exquisitely decorated ceiling vaults. The cathedral contains some notable tombs, including that of King John (d. 1216), who is buried in the choir in front of the altar, and Prince Arthur, Prince of Wales and eldest son of Henry VII (the first husband of Katherine of Aragon, who later married Arthur's brother, Henry VIII). Arthur's tomb is contained in a magnificent chantry chapel on the south side of the choir, erected 1502-04. Other tombs include that of Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin (d. 1947) and a memorial to Sir Edward Elgar (d. 1934 and buried in nearby Great Malvern). The choir stalls also contain a notable set of 14th century misericords.

The Cathedral provides daily services and is noted for its choirs. Along with Hereford and Gloucester, Worcester Cathedral hosts the notable Three Choirs Festival. Dating from the 18th century, it is one of the world's oldest music festivals, and closely associated with the works of both Elgar and Ralph Vaughan-Williams.

Worcester Cathedral, College Yard, Worcester, WR1 2LA

Friday, 11 April 2014

Chelmsford Cathedral

Chelmsford has England’s second-smallest cathedral, set in an attractive square tucked away from the bustle of the city centre. Originally the main town parish church, it was elevated to Cathedral status in 1914 when the diocese was created to cater for the burgeoning population of Essex and the east of London. The Cathedral is dedicated to St Mary, St Peter and St Cedd.


A church was originally erected on the site around 1200, but the present building is largely the work of the early 15th century. This church comprised an aisled nave, a chancel with chapels, a west tower and the magnificent south porch. The spire was rebuilt in 1749.

The church has been extensively restored and extended. The nave collapsed in 1800 following excavation in the vaults, and was rebuilt by John Johnson. Frederic Chancellor restored the chancel and south chapel in 1862, and also added the current north transept and outer north aisle in 1873. The east window and chancel clerestory is the work of the famous church architect A W Blomfield, dating from 1877-8. After elevation to a Cathedral, two east bays were added to the chancel to create more space in 1926-8 to designs by A K Nicholson.

The Church

The exterior is a mix of rubble and flint with brick and stone dressings. The style is largely late Perpendicular Gothic: the best features are the tower and the especially fine 15th century south porch, with its fine patterned flush-work.

The spacious  interior largely reflects the various restorations, especially that of Johnson, whose fabulous Tudor Gothic nave ceiling was painted and gilded in 1961. The 3-bay chancel arcades and tower arch are original 15th century work. 

The cathedral has many interesting works of art from the 20th century, and good Victorian and 20th century glass by Clayton & Bell, and Nicholson. There are some outstanding memorials: the large, brightly coloured wall monument in the north aisle to Thomas (d. 1566) and Avice Mildmay (d. 1557) has a dramatic ogee head, with excellent Jacobean strapwork, and panels depicting the husband and wife with their large family in procession in two panels. Also in the Mildmay chapel, the Earl Fitzwalter (Benjamin Mildmay), (d.1756) is commemorated by a striking monument with a large urn, flanked by cherubs and a pediment supported by Corinthian columns of Siena marble, signed by James Lovell.

The cathedral is open daily for services and visitors, and has a reputation for excellent music.

Chelmsford Cathedral, New Street, Chelmsford CM1 1TY

Monday, 24 February 2014

St George-in-the-East, London

St George in the East is one of six churches in London by the architect Nicholas Hawksmoor, and its distinctive tower is a prominent landmark in this part of Stepney.

St George's was built as one of the twelve churches commissioned under the Act of Parliament 1711, originally intended to build 50 new churches in London. Known as Queen Anne's Churches, they were intended to cater for the rapidly growing population and to counter competition from non-conformist churches.

For St George's, Hawksmoor designed a conventional neo-classical 'box' with rounded windows and an apsidal east end, but with a distinctive, crenellated lantern tower and four, smaller 'pepper pot' towers on each corner. Gutted by bombs in May 1941, in 1964 a new church was built inside the remaining structure, utilising the north south and east walls but with a new glazed west end, providing an interior courtyard at the west end of the old church.

The graveyard provides a pleasant oasis of green in the this part of London. The church has regular Sunday and weekday services, and hosts local groups, concerts and other arts events.

St George-in-the-East Church, Cannon Street Road, London E1 0BH

Sunday, 16 February 2014

St Andrew, West Tarring

West Tarring is surrounded on all sides by the suburban sprawl of modern Worthing, but it much the older and, originally, more important settlement.

The village still retains its attractive original High Street, on which are several old pubs and a lovely 15th century half-timbered house, with a distinctive overhang (now the Parsonage Restaurant, and a grade II* listed building). It also contains the remains of an old palace belonging to the Archbishops of Canterbury (see separate review), now the Parish Hall. The origins of the town date back at least to 941AD, when King Athelstan gave the Manor of Terringes to the Church of Christ at Canterbury.

Domesday mentions two churches, although nothing of these buildings survives. Today, the skyline is dominated by the fine tower and spire of St Andrews, one of only a handful of Grade 1 Listed buildings in Worthing. Reflecting its status as a peculiar of Canterbury, it is a huge church for such a small village. Saint Richard, Bishop of Chichester, took refuge here in 1245-1247, when he was temporarily banished from his See by Henry III.

Although heavily restored by the Victorians, the five-bay Nave and aisles are essentially Early English Gothic from the 13th century, with lancet windows in both aisles and the clerestory. In the south aisle is a fine trefoil-headed piscina, preserved in fine condition by being plastered over in the Reformation rather than destroyed. In the 15th century, the present tower and chancel were built, both with fine Perpendicular windows. The spire  covered in wooden shingles - was added in the 16th century.

But the church's real glory lies in its woodwork: a fine 15th century chancel screen, complete with an impressive (and rather intimidating) row of spikes along the top, and a set of six misericords, with fine carvings underneath, including two bearded heads with flowing locks, and floral compositions. The Victorians continued the panelling around the chancel wall, but the very fine carved Communion Rail - described by Nairn and Pevsner in 'The Buildings of England' as 'perky'  is Jacobean.

Unfortunately, the original font was taken to New Zealand by the principal landowners in the 19th century, and the present one is a copy. However, the interior of nave is decorated by a complex mosaic decorative scheme of 1885, designed by the church architect William Butterfield. On my visit, I was made very welcome by the Rector and Churchwarden, very proud of their historic church.

Outside, the attractive churchyard is full of 18th and 19th century tombs, many of high quality. The oldest and most poignant is a table tomb to one John Parson, dated 1633. A listed monument in its own right, it carries a short but painfully evocative verse:

Young was his age
Virginity his state
Learning his love
Consumption his fate

It's a perfect antidote to some of the more sentimental Victorian epitaphs.

Church Road, West Tarring, Worthing BN13 1HF