Far from Neglected (CH3)

The chapel showed no ill-effects of its long neglect

Evelyn WaughBrideshead Revisited

Castle Howard may have struck film and TV production companies as the perfect proxy for Brideshead, but in at least one respect they are very different.

St Andrews, Roker, the church that was at the heart of my childhood and adolescence, is often referred to as “The Cathedral of the Arts & Crafts Movement“.  In a structure designed by Edward Schroeder Prior were tapestries and carpet by William Morris, painted ceilings designed by prior and complete by MacDonald Gill who elder brother Eric Gill carved the foundation stone.  There is woodwork by Ernest Gimson and Mouseman Thompson and the artist Henry Payne designed the stained glass, yet for all of this artistry I always felt the church to have a plain, artisanal aspect, probably resulting from the grey reinforced concrete of its construction.

So if that is the cathedral, how to describe the small chapel within Castle Howard?  How about dining room because that’s what the room was originally, but about 150 years ago the floor was lowered, presumably to create a more impressive space, and the decorators moved in.  Featuring designs from both William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones it has quite an impact with its Pre-Raphaelite styling._pw_9173

The windows are attention grabbers but there’s so much more. The coffered ceiling, the frieze work, the coloured pillars, decorated choir stalls, marble flooring.  I was staggered by the attention to detail (and by the expenditure it must have taken) for what was designed as a place of private family worship (though public services are held there now)

If St Andrew’s is the Cathedral of the Arts and Crafts Movement then this must be the movement’s Sistine Chapel.

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Not So Much A Temple

I said in my last post that Temple Row does not take it’s name from Birmingham’s Anglican Cathedral, though since the building’s churchyard adjoins the thoroughfare it would be a simple enough assumption to make.

_PW_1049That said this is no typical cathedral.  Like Bradford Cathedral it was originally a parish church and remained so for a couple of centuries until it achieved promotion early in the 20th Century, becoming St Philip’s Cathedral, Birmingham and the seat of the city’s bishop.

It’s unusual in that it is built in the Baroque style, something rarely seen in English Churches aside from those of Wren and Hawksmoor.  The style is more likely to be encountered in grand stately homes such as Vanbrugh’s Seaton Delaval Hall or Castle Howard.  All three of the architects worked on the Royal Naval College at Greenwich.

The only church I can think of that is vaguely similar to St Philip’s is the iconic Normanton Church on Rutland Water, a building that I’ve never visited but long to photograph, although that iconic status means it will be difficult to produce an original image!  It too shares the balustrade around the roofline that seems more appropriate to a sweeping external staircase or a courtyard boundary.

I wonder how many of those passers-by ever detour from their journeys to venture inside?  They certainly should for that is where the real beauty of the church can be appreciated, not so much in the architecture, which is flamboyant in its faux marbling and gilt details, but in the windows.

Each end of the structure features works by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones that were installed as the building was extended and refurbished prior to its elevation to cathedral status.  Burne-Jones designed The Adoration of the Magi, a tapestry produced by Morris & Co that became the most commercially successful of those produced by the company.  I was regularly exposed to it in my youth for one of the 10 copies produced hangs above the altar in St Andrew’s Roker where I was a chorister singing morning and evening every Sunday.  The amount of detail sustained my interest through many a long sermon!

Here in St Philip’s he turned his creativity to the design of stained glass, a medium that you might think had its limits in terms of artistry, and that might be true had his approach been to compose purely using blocks of colour, but no, a closer look reveals details on clothing that have been hand painted to resemble printed fabrics (maybe from the Morris & Co catalogue?).

Those passers-by in the bustling city outside don’t know what they’re missing.

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