Monday, November 20, 2006

A Victorian church

click photo to enlarge
Anyone with an interest in church architecture, asked to name the fifty best medieval parish churches in England, would undoubtedly come up with a list that would be similar to that of other enthusiasts. Patrington, Beverley, Long Melford, Fotheringhay, Boston, Louth and Heckington would certainly feature.

However, were you to ask those same people to name the fifty best Victorian churches the lists would, I suspect, show much greater variation. Pearson's South Dalton and Paddington buildings would surely be included by all, as would Pugin's St Giles at Cheadle. Butterfield's All Saints, Margaret Street, London, would probably be included for its significance rather than any affection it might inspire. But elsewhere individual preferences would prevail. This church - Holy Angels, at Hoar Cross in Staffordshire, built 1872-1876 by the architect G.F. Bodley -would feature in some lists, but probably not all. Many would favour his church at Pendlebury for its greater originality.

However, to my mind this is one of the finest Victorian churches that our country produced. I would go so far as to say that it is a church that stands comparison with the very best built in the medieval period. It draws its inspiration from the Decorated style of the fourteenth century, and re-works those motifs in an original way. The whole structure locks together in a very satisfying manner, and the external decoration - tracery, string courses, buttress niches, etc. - don't overpower the excellence of the smooth dressed stone. The crowning feature is the beautiful crossing tower with its recessed panels, a design that combines solidity with soaring elegance. Inside the church it is quite dark, but as the visitor's eyes become accustomed to the gloom, the magnificence of the High Victorian decoration - all screens, ballflowers, statuary, richly coloured glass and deeply polished wood - overwhelms with its richness, and invites exploration of every surface and feature. A visit to this building is a reminder of the best that Victorian church architecture could achieve, and a welcome antidote to the banal examples that so often litter our towns and cities.

I took this photograph in the late afternoon, and benefitted from the modelling that the low sun produced. However, the shadows were more extensive than I would have wished, and most of my post processing involved bringing out the necessary details. That and correcting the converging verticals produced by the 28mm lens (35mm equivalent).
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen