Friday, 24 February 2012

Great Witley, Worcestershire

St Michael and All Angels Church
The church website says ‘The church, now almost fully restored, displays a splendour which is unique amongst country churches in Britain’. This is not an understatement – the church is magnificent.

Thomas Foley of Stourbridge in Worcestershire bought the Witley estate in 1655. At that time a sandstone medieval church stood to the west of the current site. His grandson Thomas III decided to build a new church but died in 1732 before work started. It was left to his widow Mary and son Thomas IV, the second Baron Foley, to pay for the new church, which was built closer to the court, was of similar size and had access to the court through a door in the east transept. The church was completed in 2 years probably to designs of James Gibbs. It was plain with a brick exterior and stone dressings matching the facade of the court at that time. The outside of the court and church were later covered in Bath stone.

The Georgian church was transformed in 1747 when the second baron Foley acquired at auction the windows, ceiling paintings and organ from the chapel of the great house of Canons, Little Stanmore, near Edgeware, Middlesex. The owner James Brydges 1st Duke of Chandos, had lost most of his money in the South Sea Bubble in 1720.

The mosaic panels of the reredos were brought from Venice by Rachel 2nd Countess of Dudley in 1913 to replace the original panels. The wooden tresses between the panels are original and are in the style of Grinling Gibbons the 17th C wood carver.

The font is of white marble set on a black base. The marble was carved by James Forsyth (1826-1910) who, with his brother, carved the fountains in Witly Court.

The feature most people remember is the ceiling paintings by the Italian artist Antonio Bellucci (1654 -1726). They are oil on canvas and depict the Descent from the Cross, The Ascension and The Nativity.

The Foley Monument dates from 1735, and is one of the tallest funerary monuments in the country. The Monument was designed and carved by Michael Rysbrack, who was born in Antwerp in 1694. It depicts the first Lord Foley and his wife with five of their children.

There are ten painted glass windows depicting scenes from the New Testament. Nine of these follow the life of Christ in a chronological sequence. All were executed by Joshua Price in 1719 and 1721 from designs by an Italian artist. These windows are considered to be the finest example in Britain of combined stained glass and enamel painting.

The view back down the Nave towards the west entrance and the organ.

Aynho in Northamptonshire

St Michael’s Church – I had read somewhere that it was unusual and so it was. I was greeted by a man coming out of the church with a mouse in a mouse trap. He said the church was normally shut but he let me have a quick look inside.


The church is Grade 1 listed and is unusual because it comes from two completely different periods. The tower is all that remains of the original church from Edward III’s time. The tower is in the Decorated style with an embattled top. During the civil war the church was severly damaged and all but the tower was demolished in 1723.

The Nave was then rebuilt in the Classical style with pediments and high arched windows to match the architecture of the adjacent Aynho House. The name Aynho comes from a Saxon name meaning Spring on the Hill. Inside you are transported into a typical city church comprising a large nave with no separate chancel. There are box pews set in four blocks and a small gallery at the west end.

A feature of the church is the east window and a pair on the south wall. Originally the windows would have been clear glass but in 1857 the window above the altar was installed. It is the work of Thomas Willement who was at the forefront of promoting a Gothic revival in stained glass. He was heraldic artist to George IV. The roundels depict ‘The Last Supper’, ‘The Crucifixion’, and ‘The Resurrection’. In the bottom right side of the picture you can also see the Mouse Catcher.

On the south side of the nave are two windows (circa 1900) by Charles Kemp whose most famous work can be found in Winchester Cathedral. He was inspired by 15th century stained glass. The two windows are ‘St Michael spearing a red dragon’............. 
......and ‘The Annunciation’.
Kemp included small sheaves of corn as a symbol of his work in windows after 1895 – can you see them?

Bolney, Sussex

St Mary Magdalene Church in Bolney.

The nave and chancel are built in the Early English style and date from about the middle of the 12th century. View down the nave towards the chancel. The north aisle was added in 1853\54.
The chancel has been altered many times but some 13th century features can be seen. The high round window in the east wall is one of the oldest features.
The tower was added in 1536 by John Bolney. It contains a peel of eight bells- until 1720 they were the only peel of eight in Sussex.

The round headed window in both side walls of the chancel are late 13th century and the piscine in the south wall is also 13th century.

On the south east exterior wall of the nave is a ‘scratch dial or ‘mass dial’ The purpose of the dials is unclear according to the guide book. They may have been used to time the ringing of the church bells to mark the canonical hours.
In the graveyard are some unusual ‘barrel graves’ from the early 1600’s and are unique to Bolney churchyard.

The lychgate is quite impressive and dates from 1905.

Wood carvers also seem to have been at work in the churchyard.