Sunday, 29 May 2016

Thre Worcestershire Churches

I visited three churches on Saturday but was only able to go inside one of them.

First was in the village of Rock. The church of St Peter and St Paul at Rock  is the largest Norman Parish Church in Worcestershire and has some of the finest examples of Northern Architecture in the West Midlands. The main body of the Church, including the very fine Norman Chancel Arch, was built around 1160 with further addition in the 15th and 16th centuries.Unfortunately a wedding party had just arrived so I have had to make do with a photo from 2010 from Geograph
(Thank you Philip Halling)

Rock Church

I then moved on to Bayton  - I had read on the web that the view when you stand beside the tower is superb, 'a sweeping, unspoilt panorama streaching down to the Rhea Valley and then up to the Clee Hills and the Welsh Hills beyond. The slender spire of Cleobury Church rises from a fold in the hills'
This, for once was not an exaggeration :

The church itself was also a beautiful example of a Worcestershire village church  - St Bartholomew‘s dates from the mid 12th Century. This original church was much smaller than the one we see today, the tower at the West end and the Chancel at the East being added later.

 The fine drum­shaped font with  rope­moulding, scrolls and long­ribbed leaves dates from the Norman era.

A heavy "restoration" was carried out in 1818 and again in 1905 when the chancel was entirely rebuilt but three massive oak tie­beams in the roof pre-date this work.

One unusual feature is the East window depicting the Risen Christ in Glory from whom rays of light fall upon the church itself .

After Bayton I went to Cleobury Mortimer and the church of  St Mary the Virgin.
The present church dates from c1160 with rebuilding and extensions during 14th and 15th centuries.  It was restored in 1874-5 by Sir Gilbert Scott and its prominent features are the leaning walls and twisted spire which forms a distinctive local landmark.

I was looking forward to going inside but once again, as can be seen by the people gathering in front of the church, i could not - sadly this time it was a funeral that was being held.

Close by the churchyard is The Wells, fed from a local spring and for centuries serving as a public water supply.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Four Churches - Surrey/Kent Border

A trip out last Saturday morning saw me visit four churches on the Surrey/Kent Border

The Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin, Westerham

It is thought that there has been a church on this site since the 7th century however the earliest parts of the present building date from the 13th century (the tower and center east wall).

In the tower can be found a late 14th century wooden staircase, one of only two spiral staircases from this era in England that twist to the left.

In the 14th century two chapels were added - St Katherine's to the south and the Resurrection Chapel to the north.

The Church registers record the baptism of General James Wolfe (who was born in the Old Vicarage) and three of Sir Winston Churchill’s grandchildren in this same font which dates from the 14th Century.

The church contains a memorial window dedicated to major General James Wolfe who was born in Westerham and won won victory over the french at the battle of Quebec in 1759. The window dates from 1909  and was constructed in the William Morris workshop after a design by Edward Burne-Jones.

Holy Trinity Church, Crockham Hill

According to its website the church was built in 1842 at the sole expense of Mr Charles Warde, of Squerryes Court in Westerham. Construction of the church was entirely of local stone quarried from Limpsfield, Chiddingstone and Crockham Hill itself, and the work undertaken by a Mr Thomas Horseman and his son who lived at Masons’ Cottages – now 2, Church Gates (at the entrance to the lane leading to the church) where all the stone was cut.

Octavia Hill was a great Christian housing reformer and co-founder of the National Trust who, in 1884, came to live at Larksfield, a cottage she and Harriot Yorke built on the edge of Crockham Hill Common. With a passion for the countryside, she argued eloquently for the preservation of open spaces, fought to keep footpaths open, and personally saved many vantage points along the Greensand Ridge where others could experience what she called ‘the healing gift of space’. When she died in 1912 Octavia Hill was buried alongside her sister Miranda under a yew tree near the top of the steps to the south of this church.

She is also commemorated with a marble effigy in the chancel to the left of the altar. This was partly executed by an American sculptress named Miss Abbott, who lived at nearby Jacob’s Ladder, but was completed by Edmund Burton, and installed in December 1928.

The Octavia Hill memorial window (to the right of the main door) was a gift of the Orpington and Chislehurst National Trust Centre in 1995 to mark the Trust’s centenary. Designed by Alfred Fisher of the Chapel Studio in Kings Langley, Hertfordshire, it represents the dark side of inner city life which Octavia worked to eradicate, and the brighter prospect of the countryside which she bequeathed to future generations via the National Trust. A portrait of Octavia Hill, and the oak leaf symbol of the Trust, are both evident in the window's design.

St Andrew's Church, Limpsfield Chart

The church dates from 1895 generally and was to the design of Reginald Blomfield; it was built by Messrs Durtnells of Brasted.  The whole building is of local warm buff-coloured Wealdstone Sandstone with white stone dressings. 

The tower was added in 1902 and the new vestries about 1960.The tower has diaper work of rubble and dressed stone above a stone string course.

A view inside the church towards the chancel

St Peter's,  Tandridge

The Church is sited on rising ground close to Tandridge Lane just north of the junction with Jackass Lane. It was originally built in the 12th century and  contains Norman and Medieval elements but the general outward appearance is Victorian. It was enlarged in 1844 by the addition of the south aisle, taking away the tower screening and moving and reincorporating the I4th Century doorway in the new position of the porch.

A much greater reconstruction was undertaken in 1874 by the famous Victorian architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott, then residing as a tenant of Rook's Nest, a major house in the parish, and the church was given its mainly Victorian Gothic appearance, together with the north aisle and the somewhat unusual dormer windows.

The most striking feature of the church is the timber tower which, with extra bracing added over the years consists of four massive oak pillars supporting the clock chamber, bell chamber and shingled spire. The nave roof built at the same time is of Early English coupled rafter construction, which dates them both around 1300 AD, but the trees that supplied the tower posts would already have been several centuries old.

Unfortunately it was the only one of the four churches I visited that was locked.
In the churchyard is a very old Yew tree - 

Wednesday, 9 March 2016


A spare half hour near Caterham last Saturday gave me the chance to visit the Church of St Peter and St Paul at Chaldon - famous for the twelfth-century doom mural on the west wall of the church. It was worth the visit despite the snow!

Much of the text about the church is taken from the History of Chaldon Church.

The present church was started in the late 10th or early 11th century, before the Normans came. It consisted originally of a rectangular nave, 27 feet long and just over 17 feet wide with high walls probably having an apse at the east end, characteristic of Saxon church building. The west wall is of traditional flint construction and is almost certainly original, and the wall containing the chancel arch may also be.

The chancel arch is  Early English, an enlargement of the original archway.  The east window of the chancel contains scenes of Christ's Nativity, Crucifixion and Ascension, by Powell, and dates from 1869

On the north side of the Chancel there is a renaissance tablet, with ornate pilasters and pediment, dated 1562, with a face resembling a flaming sun, bearing the easily readable inscription

I 1562 E
Good Redar warne all / Men and Woomen whil they / Be Here To be ever good to / The poore and nedy. The / Poore ever in thys / Worlde shall ye have. God / Grante vs sumwhat in / Stoore for to save. The Cry/ Of the Poore is Extreme and / Very sore. God graunte us / To be good evermore. In thys / Worlde we rune our rase / God Graute us to be with / Christ in tyme and space.

The south aisle extends into St. Kateryn's Chapel, built in the 14th century, now the Lady Chapel.  The south window contains some original, very old small glass panes.

The pulpit, made from lizard oak in Jacobean style bears the name Patience Lambert (of Tollsworth Manor) and the date 1657, making it one of very few specimens of pulpits of Cromwellian times.

The bowl of the font is square in shape, hollowed out into a hemisphere, standing on an octagonal shaft, and it is the only one of its type in Surrey. Like the Renaissance Tablet, it is made from Merstham stone from a local quarry.

On a column by the south door is a painted cross, over a 'T' monogram representing St Thomas Becket, probably left by a pilgrim.

The west wall contains a very high small (1ft x 4ft6in) window, cut straight through, very late Saxon or early Norman above the wall paintings.

The picture on the west wall is famous as the earliest known English wall painting - it dates from about 1200 and is without equal in any other part of Europe. It is thought to have been painted by a travelling artist-monk with an extensive knowledge of Greek ecclesiastical art. The picture depicts the 'Ladder of Salvation of the Human Soul' together with 'Purgatory and Hell' Wall paintings of this kind were intended as a visual aid to religious teaching and they provide a wide philosophical background to such studies.
The fresco, in dark red ochre and yellow ochre, measures 17ft3in x 11ft2in. At some stage, probably in the seventeenth century, during the 'Commonwealth', the painting was white-washed over. In 1869 when the Rector, Reverend Henry Shepherd, had decorators in to prepare the walls for re-limewashing, he noticed signs of colour and stopped the work. The workers had already reported having found some more figures on the north wall arch, which were unfortunately hacked off irretrievably, including a devil and two human figures. The Surrey Archaeological Society undertook the cleaning and preserving of the mural and Mr. J.G.Waller, an expert in these matters, undertook the restoration. A certain amount of addition of colour was made at that time. Later it was covered with a protective wax coating, which over the years caused it to lose colour owing to the growth of mould underneath. This was removed in August 1989 when the Mural was cleaned and conserved by Mr.Wolfgang Gartner, Conservator and Director of the Canterbury Wall Paintings Workshop (taken from Painted Church)

The whole picture is in the form of a cross, formed by the Ladder and the horizontal division between Heaven and Hell. Starting at the lower right, we have the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’, loaded with fruit, with Satan as a serpent in the branches. Two devils hold up a ‘bridge of spikes’ which dishonest tradesmen have to cross. First, the blacksmith making a horseshoe without his anvil, then a mason without a chisel, the spinners without a distaff, and a potter without a wheel. Below the bridge, the usurer is sitting in flames. He is blind, money pours from his mouth, and he has to count it all (avarice). On his right two figures represent envy, while on the left, two figures embrace – lust. The remaining deadly sins are scattered around in small scenes to the left of the ladder.
Above the ladder is a cloud containing the head and shoulders of Christ, with the sun on his right and the moon on his left.
One later addition to the painting is a consecration cross on the lower left edge.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

St John the Baptist, Saxmundham

Visited last week, this is not your typical Suffolk Church. Little evidence of the original  Norman or possibly Saxon church remains, much disappearing during major restoration and rebuilding in 1873 by  Diocesan architect Richard Phipson.  However the church  still contains some original items of an earlier date.

Much of the text that follows is taken from an excellent guide to the church.

The Western tower (14th century) has diagonal buttresses at its western angles. The two light belfry windows and the similar west window are in the Decorated style of the early 14th century. The restored west doorway is also of this date, although some of the masonry in the lower part of the tower is arranged differently from the rest and may have formed part of the 11th century church.

The Font c 1400 - This is a typical East Anglian design with octagonal panelled bowl carved with lions interspersed with angels holding shields on which are displayed the instruments of the Passion (East), the Cross (South), the emblem of the Trinity (West) and the three crowns of East Anglia (North). The bowl of the font is original.

The whole of the nave is crowned with a splendid 15th century single-hammerbeam arch braced roof, with castellated hammers and wooden demi-figures as corbels below the wall posts.

During the Georgian era, or perhaps before, the roof was covered in with a flat plaster ceiling. however the ceiling was removed in 1932 to reveal this splendid roof. It has been restored and the wall plates have been renewed, as have several of the other timbers. The ancient woodwork is less brown in appearance than the modern. The figures beneath the wall posts are mostly original.

The Chancel- One of the most distinctive features of St John's is its weeping chancel. (The Chancel is built at a pronounced angle to the nave.) This is fairly common in churches built in the shape of a cross (cruciform) but is very rare in a church of this type. The main feature is not the angle, which is much greater than usual, but that it is to the South.
Other churches with weeping chancels incline to the North, representing Jesus on the cross with his head towards the penitent thief on his right Here it is to his left, signifying that Jesus died for the impenitent as well as the penitent. Saxmundham church is one of the few in Europe to have this feature.

 This is believed to be part of the original Rood screen.

Perhaps the most interesting survival in the church, and a rare one, can be seen in the most easterly windows of each of the clerestories. These are the stone corbel ledges that once supported the canopy of honour over the rood. They are both carved elaborately, and the northern one is castellated.

 Sancta Johnannes, Ora Pro Nobis ('St John pray for us') is carved in a banner along that on the south side.

Outside again and one final feature of note can be found in the churchyard on the tombstone of John Noller (1725). The east and west faces of the tombstone are small, inclined oblong recesses which form a simple and imaginative sundial. Every sundial needs a pointer or gnomon projecting in front of the dial to cast a shadow on to a marked scale. Any such projection low down on a tombstone would certainly, sooner or later, be damaged. To prevent this happening, the designer of John Noller's headstone hit upon the ingenious idea of making the edge of the headstone's surface the gnomon and obtained the relative projection by recessing the dial.

As the stone faces east and west, he carved a morning dial on one side (east face) and an evening one on the other (west face). If you look in the recesses on both faces you will see the hour markings 1,2,3,4,5 on the west recess and 7,8,9,10,11 on the east recess. 12 o'clock is not marked because at the moment of noon each dial is completely in shadow.

It was  13:24 when I took the photograph.

The dials are not upright on the stone but at a slant. The upper edge which acts as the gnomon is so slanted as to point exactly to the north star, or in other words, be parallel with the earth's axis.