Sunday, 22 May 2011

City of London (II)

St Mary- at-Hill Church and St Olave’s Church, Hart Street

Two very different churches seen whilst walking from Fenchurch Street Station to Monument.

John Betjeman described St Olave’s as “a country church in the world of Seething Lane’. The church is first recorded in the 13th century as St Olave-towards-the-Tower. It is dedicated to the patron saint of Norway, King Olaf II of Norway, who fought alongside the Anglo-Saxon King Ethelred the Unready against the Danes in the Battle of London Bridge in 1014. He was canonised after his death and the church of St Olave's was built apparently on the site of the battle.The Norwegian connection was reinforced during the Second World War when King Haakon VII of Norway worshipped there while in exile.

Saint Olave's was rebuilt in the 13th century and then again in the 15th century. The present building dates from around 1450. The church is a rare example of the mediaeval churches that existed before the Great Fire of London in 1666. The flames came within 100 metres or so of the building but then the wind changed direction, saving a number of churches on the eastern side of the City.

The church was severely damaged in the bombing of World War II, but enough of the fabric and original masonry was spared to permit the building to be restored in the 1954.

The exterior is in the Perpendicular Gothic style. with a squat square tower of stone and brick, the latter added in 1732.

It is famous for the macabre 1658 entrance arch to the churchyard, which is decorated with grinning skulls.

The interior of St Olave's only partially survived the wartime bombing; much of it dates from the restoration of the 1950s. It is nearly square, with three bays separated by columns of Purbeck limestone supporting pointed arches. The roof is a simple oak structure with bosses.

The view down the nave towards the altar and east window.

The east window. The two central lights represent Christ as Saviour and Christ as Victor. The left panel is of St Olave over the arms of King Haakon VII and the left is St George over the arms of Queen Elizabeth II. It was designed by A E Buss.

From left to right: The pulpit was acquired in 1857 from St Benet’s Gracechurch Street and is reputed to be by Grining Gibbons (1648-1721 whose work is also found in St Pauls cathedral and Hampton Court Palace. One of two restoration stones: This is the ‘Stone of History’ which records the dates of the successive churches on this site. (the other was laid by King Haakon VII). Above the stone is one of four Sword stands which date from the C18.

The door to the vestry is thought to be older than the present church, dating back to the original C13 stone building.

The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950. I think John Betjeman nearly got it right - 'a City of London version of country church in the world of Seething Lane’ might be better.

Between 1948 and 1954, when the restored St Olave's was reopened, a prefabricated church stood on the site of All Hallows Staining -- . This was known as St Olave Mark Lane. The tower of All Hallows Staining was used as the chancel of the temporary church.

After leaving St Olave’s I walked along Great Tower Street and glancing south, The Shard’s progress could be seen looking down the street called ‘St Mary at Hill’. Half way down the street is the east fa├žade of St Mary-at-Hill’ church.

A small sign then directs you through some iron gates to an open area by the north wall – but you could not get into the church from there.

A walk back around three sides of a square brings you to Lovat Lane and the west door under the tower. This was open but the church was being used for a rehearsal and I could not go in!

St Mary- at-Hill has existed for nearly a thousand years serving in the Parish of Billingsgate. The Great Fire of London (1666) started in Pudding Lane, a stone’s throw away from St Mary-at-Hill. The Fire had consumed the interior of the church leaving only parts of the walls and the brick work of the tower. It is thought that Robert Hooke may have supervised the rebuilding of St Mary’s although Christopher Wren rebuilt the interior.

Utilising the previous fabric as far as possible, the original north and south walls were reconstructed, but the building was extended a little to the east. An ornate main frontage of exposed stone was built on St Mary at Hill.

St Mary-at-Hill was one of the first churches rebuilt after the Fire, and was completed in 1677. The tower and steeple was replaced by George Gwilt’s square brick tower in 1787-9.

During the night of the 10th May, 1988 a fire broke out on the roof. This once again devastated the interior and although St. Mary-at-Hill ‘rose again’, the reredos, pulpit, box pews and organ sustained considerable damage.

Writing before the most recent fire Sir John Betjeman said of the church “This is the least spoiled and the most gorgeous interior in the City, all the more exciting by being hidden away among cobbled alleys, paved passages, brick walls, overhung by plane trees…”. Despite appearing as one of Simon Jenkins 1000Best - I will need to visit again to be convinced.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Stockton on Theme, Worcestershire

St Andrew’s Church

Not really visible from the main road this little gem of a church was a real find. It was built in the twelfth century on the site of an older Saxon church. The timber porch was added in the fourteenth century with buttresses to spread the load of the bell tower. In 1718 the chancel fell down and was re-built in brick. The church was restored in 1845 and 1898 but keeping its fourteenth century appearance.

The nave contains early Victorian box pews which have long disappeared from many churches.

The nave roof is open timbered dating from the fourteenth century.

To the right of the chancel arch by the pulpit is a ‘squint’ which allowed medieval worshippers to see the priest at the altar.

The Norman chancel arch.

Above the arch are two twelfth century carved panels. One represents the Angus Dei, the Lamb of God, with a banner of victory. The other is of an animal, either a wolf or a lion.

On the north side of the chancel is the canopied tomb of Thomas Walshe 1593. It is a painted wooden tomb (one of only two in Worcestershire). The tomb was restored to its original position in 1856 when it was found that the top was not painted but a thirteenth century tomb slab of the first priest of Stockton.

The font has a modern base but the octagonal bowl is Norman.

I was intending to visit the famous baroque church at Great Witley but did not have enough time and came across this church almost by accident. It was well worth stopping to explore - a really nice little country church.

Areley Kings, Worcestershire

St Bartholomew’s Church

Areley Kings is just over the River Severn from Stourport. The church, which is thought to date from the twelfth century, is sited on the top of a small hill with wonderful views across the surrounding countryside. The tower is fourteenth century.

The oldest part of the church is probably the chancel (according to the guide book). The present style of the interior is Georgian with a barrel vaulted ceiling and a clear glass east window from 1796 which is quite unusual.

This window in the south wall of the chancel is known as the Layamon Window. The style and thickness suggests the window is from a quite early Norman period. The glass and adjacent plaque commemorates Layamon, a priest at Areley in the late C12 or early C13. He is known to have written a book ‘The Brut’, which was an epic chronicle of English history, written in English rather than the French of the Normans. This is one of the few examples of writings in early English.

The font was made in the Norman style during extensive reconstruction work in 1885.

The nave was extended and the north aisle and vestry were added in 1885-6. The window at the west end of the north aisle is called the Grice Window. It depicts the Ascension which glows when the sun shines from the west.

To the north east of the church is a small build known as the Outstout and thought o have been erected in 1728 possibly as a refuge from the adjacent Church House. It was used as an external study and is now the Parish Office.

The Church House is a black and white building near the church gate. It was built in 1536 as a village hall where ‘Church Ales’ and fund raising parties were held until banned by the Puritans in the 1650’s. This is only one of two surviving church houses in Worcestershire.

A view of the church from the north east looking south west.

This is a church I have known of for many years and driven within half a mile of on countless occasions without visiting. I am glad I have now been - its setting is wonderful especially with the black and white Church House adjacent.

Stratford – upon – Avon

Holy Trinity Church

The church is impressive in its own right but world famous for being the final resting place of William Shakespeare.
There is mention of a place of worship at Stratford in 845 but the earliest parts of the current building are the transepts, crossing and tower which date from 1210. The arcades of the nave and the north and south aisles were built in the early fourteenth century. Rebuilding between 1480 and 1520 saw the north porch, chancel, west end of the nave and the clerestories take the form we see today. The church then saw much of its elaborate decoration removed during the Reformation followed by alteration and consolidation during the Victorian era.

The view down the nave towards the ‘weeping ‘chancel. The pillars of the nave are early C14 with the clerestories inserted in the late C15. There is a elongated angel at the apex of each pillar marking the newer construction.

The clerestories are in the perpendicular style – vertical lines clearly visible. The greenish plain glass is original to the late 15th century.

The chancel was re-built in the 1480’s – it is what is known as ‘weeping’ in other words it leans to the left away from the line of the rest of the church (The usual explanation for this is that it represents Christ’s head falling to the side as he hung on the cross – it is a not uncommon feature of medieval churches).

William Shakespeare’s grave and monument in the sanctuary at the east end of the chancel. The inscription on his grave (the so called ‘Curse’), reads


The original medieval font in which Shakespeare was baptised, now much damaged. According to the guide, it was removed from the church in 1747 and used as a water cistern and then restored to the church in 1861.

The sedilia have a hidden secret. These are the original medieval priest’s seats on the south side of the sanctuary. The two nearest the altar have a carved Tudor rose under their canopies but the third retains the face of Christ –unusual in a church where all other faces were chiselled away during the reformation. It is thought that it may be a ‘vernicle – a representation of Christ’s face as it was miraculously transposed on the cloth which St veronica (hence its name) wiped his face as he carried his cross to Calvery.

Within the chancel are a set of 26 carved misericord (choir)seats which date from the fifteenth century. The name comes from the Latin misericordia ‘an act of mercy’ in other words a clever seat to support celebrants during long services. All manner of things, both sacred and secular are represented, from angels and mythical beasts to a man and woman fighting.

The West window.

Looking back towards the church from the North West, the tall lancet windows in the north transept stand out. This dates to 1210. The lower part of the tower is also C13 with the upper storey added 100 years later. The tall spire was added in the middle of the eighteenth century.

Obviously famous because of Shakespeare but nevertheless impressive in its own right. It has an advantage over many churches because of its setting on the banks of the Avon and, despite it being a large town church (and full of tourists), I liked it.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Hampton Lucy, Warwickshire

St Peter ad Vincula

This is quite simply an astonishing church for so small a village. It was built with money bequeathed in 1778 by The Lucy family of the nearby Charlecote Park. The money remined unused but gathering interest until the first quarter of the nineteenth century when he Rector Rev’d John Lucy rebuilt the whole church. Birmingham based architect Thomas Rickman was chosen to design the church with his young partner, Henry Hutchinson (later famous for the Bridge of Sighs at St John’s College, Cambridge).

Work started in 1822. The church was based on Rickman’s church in Chipping Camden, with a short chancel and west gallery for village musicians. Rickman is often best remembered for first using the terms Norman, Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular to describe the classes of church architecture before the Reformation. He was also responsible for the church in Ombersley and Holy Trinity Bristol.
One of the outstanding features of the church is the soaring nave which may have been the responsibility of Hutchinson. He was to die in 1831 and is buried in the graveyard.

By the mid 19thcentury the chancel and box pews in the church were beginning to seem out of date and Sir George Gilbert Scott was invited to make changes. He was responsible for the new chancel and apse which the guide book quite rightly describes as ‘arguably the grandest piece of 19th century church architecture in Warwickshire'. It is similar to his work at Exeter College, Oxford. Externally the skyline is an array of gothic pinnacles. He also added the two storey north porch (now closed and used as the choir vestry). The church was re-opened on Christmas Day 1863.

Internally the aspe windows are most impressive and depicts the life of St Peter. The original stained glass was described as ‘magnificent’ but an explosion, caused by an American Flying Fortress crashing in 1944, blew out the east window glass. It was reassembled (as far as was possible) in 1950.

The view back down the church to the west tower again shows the amazing proportions of the nave.

One of Scott’s changes was to remove the musicians gallery as village musicians had been replaced by the more fashionable organ. The gallery and arch above was filled in and replaced by a circular rose window filled with stained glass (unusual as this is not an outside wall).

The alabaster font dates from the time of Scott’s alterations.

The church is justifiably included as one of Simon Jenkins 1000 best churches and does not disappoint.

Worth a quick look (especially to any engineers) is the cast iron bridge over the River Avon, built in 1829 at the Horsley Ironworks in Shropshire.