Sunday, March 30, 2014

Redundant churches

click photo to enlarge
What should happen to a church when it is no longer required for the purpose for which it was built? In general people like to see a community use for the building continuing. If it is of particular historic or architectural significance, or simply very old, then The Churches Conservation Trust can sometimes step in and keep the fabric in reasonable condition and ensure it remains open to visitors. In rural areas where alternate uses are unlikely this is a favoured option. But in towns and cities, especially with less distinguished churches, often of the Victorian era, a range of options become available. I've seen churches turned into community centres, cafes for charities, public museums, art galleries and concert venues. Local people feel fairly comfortable with a church being used for this kind of purpose. However, I've also seen them used commercially as antique shops, recording studios, carpet showrooms, and the premises of an electrical contractor. Such uses generally find less favour though are often deemed better than demolition.

The church of St Michael in Stamford, Lincolnshire, was declared redundant in 1974. Because of its prime location on the High Street, the town's main shopping street, in 1982 it suffered the indignity of having a row of shops inserted in the street-facing elevation. Large, plate glass windows and doors were punched in the walls between the buttresses, each leading into boxes that were created filling the width of the church. Pevsner describes it as "an unsympathetic use and an appalling conversion" but recognises that it "has preserved the shell of the building almost intact." And there is the dichotomy. If the main shell remains and the building continues to look, more or less, like a church, a commercial use, with its obvious drawbacks, is often the only solution.

All that being said, you will understand why my photograph doesn't show the side of the church but concentrates on the east elevation and the west tower. St Michael is very typical of its date, 1835-6. The architect chose the Early English style of English Gothic but uses the details in a quite unhistorical way. Ten years later, after Pugin's influence had spread, this building would have looked much more authentic. As it is, the tower pinnacles are typically too tall, the blank arcades, trefoils and lancets are used slightly differently from what was common in the thirteenth century, and the ashlar is too smooth. However, that latter inconsistency does make for razor-sharp shadows on a clear spring day and it was that feature that prompted my photograph.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 45mm (67mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/500 sec
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On