At quite a young age The Scribblaire thought it would be a great idea to tour Great Britain and create a record of each and every church that existed. In my 20’s I discovered that someone had got there first. This was probably a good thing, since a) at the time I knew nothing about the history of church architecture b) I couldn’t drive and c) I imagine it would have been a never ending journey!
Sir Nikolaus Pevsner’s Buildings of England records all significant buildings in England. In a 46 volume set of books produced between 1956 and 1974, he covered architectural history by region. This included all buildings of historical note, not just churches. The books continue to be developed under Pevsner’s name and now include Scotland, Wales and Ireland. When visiting a new county, city or town, I’d recommend taking a copy of the relevant Pevsner guide with you as it provides a lot of background to all the major historical buildings.
For this post, I only want to mention three English churches. My starting point is St Michael and All Angels in Garton on the Wolds, Yorkshire. I’ve chosen this since it generated the subject matter for my university dissertation on the subject of neo gothic church architecture. St Michael and All Angels is a lovely Norman church, standing stout and stocky in a Yorkshire village. What really attracted me to this church though was not the architecture (though it is a fine Norman example), but the nineteenth century frescoes which decorate the wall and the fabulous stained glass windows made by Clayton and Bell.
In the nineteenth century, many medieval churches were renovated by well-meaning but often over zealous benefactors. There was at the time a huge interest in medieval history and a lot of disposal income from the rise of industrialisaton to spent on romantic projects. Many parish churches were derelict or had fallen into disrepair and these were often the focus for enthusiastic gothic revival projects. At the same time there was a revival of Catholicism in England and this contributed strongly to the interest in church architecture.
There were very few medieval parish churches that were spared nineteenth century renovation. In many cases the changes that were made bore no resemblance to the original church. Some of the rebuilding work was done on a much grander scale than the original and there’s many an example of vast pulpits and screens in tiny little churches. There was no building regulation back then and this led to some over enthusiasm in designing to an ideal rather than a desire to recreate something in the original style. Sometimes though it led to beautiful work such as St Michael and All Angels.
The second of my examples is a parish church in Pendeen, Cornwall. Pendeen is a tin mining village which supported Geevor mine and before that the Levant mine, where my grandpa worked as a tin miner. The church of St John was built by the villagers in 1851 and is made to withstand the wild atlantic weather. It’s very Norman in design and sits beneath the Carn, a hill overlooking the village and the cliffs and from where the granite of the church was quarried. It is well worth a visit; the graveyard in particular is very atmospheric under the shadow of the Carn.
My final example for today is another Cornish church which the Scribblaire stumbled upon when visiting Tintagel last year. It’s another example of a stocky granite Norman church with a squat tower overlooking the sea. Built between 1080 and 1151, St Materiana’s has a wealth of hidden secrets, including a Roman stone, 15th century bell tower some fine 19th century glass and a beautifully preserved medieval altar screen.