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Here & There Among the English Churches page 2


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By the latter part of the fourteenth century the art of glass-painting had greatly advanced, and more opportunity was demanded for its scope, so that windows became larger and larger. About the same time the tracery of windows in this country began to depart from geometrical and flowing forms and rigidity of line began to appear. This stiffness was at first only slightly apparent, but it gradually increased and prevailed until, in the case of windows, the tracery consisted almost entirely of parallel vertical lines intersected by horizontal ones, known as transoms. This character spread to the whole style of construction, and hence the third phase of Gothic architecture, peculiar to this country and commonly called Perpendicular. The style is marked by a general squareness of outline. The arch became flatter than in the preceding styles, forming in smaller windows a shallow segment of a circle as at Edington (Wilts), or taking the four-centred form so characteristic of Tudor times that it is often referred to as the Tudor arch. Doorways of the fifteenth century are commonly enclosed within a rectangular frame, and the typical rigid tracery of the windows is sometimes repeated in the form of panelling upon a whole wall-surface, as in the fine towers of Ludlow, Gloucester, Malvern, and Evesham Abbey.

This style, coming as it did after the other forms of pointed architecture, and lasting twice as long as either of them, predominates over them. Many churches were entirely built in it, and the majority of earlier churches were either enlarged, added to, or rebuilt while it was in vogue; hence it is the prevailing and characteristic English style, and comparatively few churches throughout Britain do not exhibit some feature belonging to it.

Down to the closing years of the fourteenth century the founders of churches had been kings, princes and barons, or highly placed ecclesiastics such as bishops and abbots of monastic houses. But a feature of the later part of the fifteenth century was the rise of a new commercial class, and this had an important effect upon architecture. After the French wars of Edward III traders were greatly enriched by foreign commerce, especially by traffic with Flanders in wool, and we find that in the fifteenth century wealthy lay parishioners came forward as church builders, or with benefactions to churches, as they had never done before.

Rich merchants founded chantries at Newark-on-Trent, Grantham and Boston, and later the ornate Greenway chapel was added to the church at Tiverton (Devon) in 1517. The wool trade brought great prosperity, especially to the Cotswold district and to the Eastern counties and it is in these localities that we find the most splendid examples of parochial churches of the Perpendicular style, due to the munificence of wool-staplers. Early in the style Chipping Campden (Glos.) was rebuilt by William Greville, who lies buried in the chancel. The piety and munificence of another wool-merchant named Fortey reared the beautiful church of Northleach (Glos.) a little later.

The great church of Cirencester is another fifteenth-century example, and early in the sixteenth century, another Cotswold wool-stapler, Jack Winchcombe, who became better known as Jack of Newbury, built the fine church in the Berkshire town. Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex abound in churches rebuilt on a munificent scale and transformed during the prevalence of this style by the liberality of the prosperous commercial class. Among the finest are Worstead (the name itself is significant!), Sail and S. Nicholas, King's Lynn (Norfolk), Long M e 1 f o r d, Lavenham, Blythburgh and Southwold (Suffolk), T h a x t e d, Saffron Walden and Dedham (Essex)- the last built by members of the Webbe family, who were engaged in the wool trade, and many of the old clothiers' houses still remain to testify to the once busy life of the now quiet village.

While we are thinking of the munificence of merchants and lay patrons of the church it is impossible to forget the outcome of Canynge's generosity in the splendid work of S. Mary Redcliffe, Bristol, referred to by Queen Elizabeth as the fairest parish church in all her realm, and whose beauty called forth in his marvellous boyhood the genius of Chatterton.

From what has been said above, it is easy to understand that the Perpendicular is especially the style of the town parish church, many of these having been rebuilt in their present form during its prevalence, so that the typical English town church belongs to it, as we may see in examples throughout the land, from Newcastle-upon-Tyrie and Lancaster in the North, to Astbury (Ches.), Holy Trinity Hull, Thirsk (Yorks), Woodbridge (Suffolk), Coventry and Aston-by-Birmingham, Ludlow (Salop), S. Mary Magdalen Taunton, Axbridge and Yeovil (Som.), to Tiverton and Totnes in the West Country, and Fowey in Cornwall.

The typical fifteenth-century church compels admiration by its spaciousness and lofty proportion, but in its development from the simpler forms of architecture it seems to have lost romance. About the churches of the style there is an air of ostentation as compared with the atmosphere of mystic devotion that lingers about those of the earlier styles. With and Fen, is the tallest of them, and the loftiest in the land. Norfolk has a long line of tall towers as the most striking feature of its coast, and amongst its best are those of Wymondham, Winterton and Sail: the first, like a good many East Anglian towers, unfinished owing to the diversion of interest from religion consequent upon the "Reformation." Suffolk has towers of great scale at Lavenham and Wood-bridge. But the towers of Somerset are of peculiar excellence. Most ornate of them is S. Mary Magdalen, Taunton (recently rebuilt), while Evercreech, S. Cuthbert's Wells, Ilminster and Huish Episcopi are outstanding examples of beauty in design. In other parts of the land Wrexham and Gresford (Denbighs), Holy Trinity Hull, Tickhill (Yorks), All Saints' Derby, Tiverton (Devon) and Potterne (Wilts) may be singled out as notable examples amongst the amazing number of fine towers of the period. The spire finish also occurs, though not so frequently as in the two preceding styles.

But Perpendicular spires are sometimes of great beauty, for to this period belongs the Queen of English spires at Louth (Lines.), with its scarcely inferior sister at Whittlesey (Cambs.), and these are rivalled in grace by the soaring spires of S. Michael's Coventry and Thaxted (Essex).

The Renaissance, which began to affect England in the Tudor period, was at first a literary revival, and in the religious sphere was one of the causes of the Reformation, while in art the revival of interest in ancient Greece and Rome brought with it a change of taste and an enthusiasm for classical architecture.

Queen Elizabeth's days to the Restoration of Charles II little church building was done, but some churches erected under the influence of the Laudian revival of churchmanship are worthy of notice. S. John's Leeds is late Perpendicular in general design, with details and splendid screenwork and other fittings showing marked classical influence. S. Katherine Cree, in London, is attributed to Inigo Jones (temp. Charles I), and similarly shows an outer shell of debased Perpendicular, redeemed by a classical arcade of graceful columns within, and a notable east window with a great wheel of tracery in its head, in allusion to the emblem of the patron saint. The nave and west tower of S. Mary's Warwick, probably by Sir Christopher Wren, is a still later example having the outlines of an imposing Perpendicular structure, and in which Renaissance detail strives to adapt itself to Gothic work. The City of London is full of examples of Wren's genius for design, for which the fire of 1666 gave ample scope, but there yet remain some earlier churches, of which the most imposing is the Norman Priory Church of S. Bartholomew, Smithfield, built by Rahere in Rufus' reign. Other old London churches are mostly of fifteenth-century Perpendicular, and are remarkable rather as survivals and for their associations than for architectural merit, such as All Hallows Barking, S. Andrew Undershaft, and S. Giles Cripplegate, where Milton lies.

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Pictures for Here & There Among the English Churches page 2

One of England's smallest Churches
One of England's smallest Churches >>>>
Christchurch Priory, Englands longest Parish Church: Old Shoreham Church
Christchurch Priory, Englands longest Parish Church: Old Shoreham Church >>>>
Boxgrove Priory, Which grew from a small Benedictine Cell to an Important Monastery
Boxgrove Priory, Which grew from a small Benedictine Cell to an Important Monastery >>>>
Wimborne Minister in Dorset County and the Norman Abbey Church at Shrewsbury
Wimborne Minister in Dorset County and the Norman Abbey Church at Shrewsbury >>>>
S. Andrew's Church at Hornchurch
S. Andrew's Church at Hornchurch >>>>
The Flint Church at South Ockenden: Mellor and its Pulpit
The Flint Church at South Ockenden: Mellor and its Pulpit >>>>
West front, S. Cuthbert's, Darlington
West front, S. Cuthbert's, Darlington >>>>
Church at Castor: Bakewell where the Vernons rest: and S. Nicholas King's Lynn
Church at Castor: Bakewell where the Vernons rest: and S. Nicholas King's Lynn >>>>
S. Wulfram's and S. Botolph's: two superb Lincolnshire Parish Churches
S. Wulfram's and S. Botolph's: two superb Lincolnshire Parish Churches >>>>
Felpham Parish Church, and its Associations
Felpham Parish Church, and its Associations >>>>
S. Michael's, Coventry
S. Michael's, Coventry >>>>
Lovely Beverley Minister and S. John Baptist at Tideswell, Derbyshire
Lovely Beverley Minister and S. John Baptist at Tideswell, Derbyshire >>>>
Wymondham's Market House, a fine relict of the Sixteenth century
Wymondham's Market House, a fine relict of the Sixteenth century >>>>

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