Project Canterbury

After the Tractarians
by Marcus Donovan
From the Recollections of Athelstan Riley

no place: Philip Allan, 1933.

IV. Church Building

ONE OF THE SIGNS of belief in a cause is the readiness of its promoters to embody it in lasting structures. Judged by this test, the Catholic Revival inspired genuine and enduring enthusiasm. Unlike the Romantic phase associated with the 'Young England' party and the Eglinton Tournament, the Church Revival was no passing fashion but a sacred cause which its advocates were not content to advance by words but were prepared to translate into bricks and mortar.

It would be interesting to know what was the first church to be opened definitely for 'Puseyite' worship. St. Saviour's, Leeds (1842), designed by Derick, a surprisingly dignified building for its date, is one of the pioneers, and some say that a country church in Gloucestershire, Highnam, built by Mr. Gambier Parry from the designs of Woodyer, should have second place. Its date is 1849 so it is only sixteen years after the trumpet call of the famous Assize sermon. Whether Tractarian or 'Puseyite,' it is a dignified building, in rather the style which came to be identified with Gilbert Scott. St. Paul's, Brighton, was begun in 1844. It was the first example of a large town church designed for Catholic worship, and it is a very good example considering its date. Its architect was R. C. Carpenter, the designer of Lancing Chapel and other works. Carpenter died in 1855 and deserves to be reckoned among the most successful designers of churches of his period. The graceful church of St. Stephen, Birmingham, was his earliest effort, while Lancing Chapel represents his later period when influenced by foreign models. It has been described as "the choir of a French cathedral without its ambulatory." At one time it was a dream of the 'Ritualists' to build a great church in London where the rites of the Church would be carried out with full splendour. This, providentially, never materialized, so that the movement spread to parish churches everywhere and avoided the snare of setting up a sort of sectarian cathedral.

St. Matthias', Stoke Newington, and St. Alban's, Hoi-born, both by Butterfield, were planned with a view to the exigencies of Catholic worship, but still earlier was the church of St. Mary Magdalene, Munster Square, which goes back to 1851. This church, designed by Richard Carpenter who also planned St. Mary's, Charing Cross Road, and who has already been mentioned, shows the influence of the German 'hall-churches,' possessing no clerestory but three 'naves.' The effect is dignified and spacious, though the building is somewhat dark owing to the heavy stained glass employed; the services have been in keeping with the building ever since the days of its first vicar, Edward Stuart. It is singular that so noble a church should have been built not more than ten years after St. Paul's, Knightsbridge, which, though beautified by sumptuous decoration, remains a featureless and totally uninteresting structure.

St. Andrew's, Wells Street, now (1932) threatened with demolition, gave great satisfaction to High Churchmen when opened in 1847, with its well-raised chancel and its properly arranged choir stalls, sedilia, etc. It was designed by Daukes, a scholarly architect, and has been enriched at intervals with many beautiful ornaments, the reredos being especially devotional. G. E. Street effected considerable improvements in the building, but the galleries have always remained a disfigurement. St. Andrew's was the scene of the labours by the Rev. Benjamin Webb, and its musical tradition stood very high. The large congregations of this church were maintained for many years, and enjoyed not only well-rendered music but careful teaching and reverent services.

St. Mary's, Soho, also designed by Carpenter, is a church with a remarkable history dating back to 1677, but it is with it as a building that we are now concerned. During the incumbency of that remarkable priest, the Rev. J. C. Chambers, the parish began to be a pioneer of Catholic practice. Mr. Chambers is said to have used the eucharistic vestments at his church at Harlow, Essex, as far back as 1856, and on his arrival at Crown Street set to work to raise the level of the services in the old and rather tumble-down building. In 1870 the new chancel was consecrated, but it was never found possible to complete the building on the grand scale designed, and a rather commonplace nave was added in 1905. It is now proposed to demolish the whole structure, which stands in the midst of a foreign population, but Catholics will deplore the disappearance of a church which is full of memories of the stalwarts of other days.

An architect whose work was worthy of the cause to which he devoted his talents was James Brooks, whose churches of St. Columba and St. Chad, Haggerston, were far in advance of most buildings erected in the 'sixties. He confined himself to the Early English style, though with traces of foreign influence, and his churches are without exception dignified and full of the sense of distance and mystery. His most sumptuous church is undoubtedly that of St. John Baptist, Kensington, which has been compared with the great abbey churches of the Middle Ages. But his East-end churches, depending on proportion rather than decoration, are eminently satisfying.

Butterfield was a staunch Churchman, and consequently high in favour with the church-builders of his generation. Much of his work is distressing in its garish decoration, but his proportions are always good, and he imported a marked originality into church design which had previously been wanting. The great tower of St. Matthias, Stoke Newington, is the first example of a 'saddle-back' tower in England (except on a small scale in one or two village churches). It dates back to 1851. Ten years later St. Alban's, Holborn, showed Butterfield at his best. If St. Alban's, like St. Matthias, stood out in a square instead of being surrounded by tall buildings, it would be seen to be one of the most impressive buildings of the century, with its minster-like West front, its great height and its notable tower. Internally it is much more satisfying than Butterfield's equally famous church of All Saints', Margaret Street, upon which, it is said, £70,000 was lavished. [Butterfield's decorative ideas were approved by those who came under the influence of Italian Gothic, with its bands of different coloured marble, and this method was defended by Ruskin on the ground that the variegated colour patterns on the skins of animals and the plumage of birds had little relation with the forms which they adorn--an argument which would be scarcely convincing to those who reflect that Nature provides great spaces of restful background, as well as flashing stabs of colour. Sir J. Wolfe Barry's masterpiece, the Houses of Parliament, has been criticized for the same fault, lack of repose, every inch of surface being plastered with carving.]

The name of Mr. Beresford Hope, one of the most munificent laymen of the century, is inseparably associated with All Saints'. He was a member of the Camden Society which had given such an impetus to the study of ecclesiology, and his first essay in translating theory into practice was his improvement of the village church of Kilndown, Kent, where the first stone altar of the period was set up. In 1845 he conceived the project of building a* sumptuous church in London, and secured the concurrence of Dr. Chandler, a sympathetic High Church divine, rector of All Souls', Langham Place, where W. J. E. Bennett had been curate. The district in which the old Margaret Chapel stood was assigned for the new parish, Mr. Butterfield selected as architect, while the ideals of the Camden Society were represented by Mr. Hope, who subsequently became its president. The congregation of the Margaret Chapel were attached to the original site, so the new church had to accommodate itself to an awkward piece of ground. Mr. H. Tritton gave £30,000, and Mr. Hope and other friends contributed very large sums. Dr. Pusey laid the foundation stone in May 1849.

Mr. Beresford Hope's other great work was his purchase of the site of St. Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury, which he presented to the Archbishop, and munificently aided the building and endowment of St. Augustine's Missionary College.

In the 'sixties another famous architect was called in to design churches for the enthusiastic builders whose energy showed itself in an outburst of architecture. This was George Edmund Street. His buildings at St. Margaret's, East Grinstead, are among the best of his efforts, the chapel of the convent resembling the work of his contemporary, Butterfield. Street's best known churches are St. John the Divine, Kennington; All Saints', Clifton; St. Saviour's, Eastbourne; St. Philip and St. James, Oxford; and St. Mary Magdalene, Paddington, The latter was begun in 1866 by Richard Temple West, then on the staff of All Saints', Margaret Street, to whom was assigned the neglected district between the Harrow Road and the Grand Junction Canal. On October 21, 1868, the church was opened, Canon Carter of Clewer preaching at the High Mass. Standing on a prominent but exceedingly awkward site, the church gave Mr. Street an opportunity to combine ingenuity with dignity, and he produced a building which is full of interest, and has an air of solemnity unusual in many Anglican churches of modern times. The great fire in 1872 which destroyed the roof, and nearly destroyed the church gave occasion to the enemies of the Faith to rejoice: 'No Mass for them to-morrow' cried the scorners, but Dr. West and his staff were equal to the occasion, and upon the walls, still hot to the touch, appeared placards announcing no less than ten services for the ensuing Sunday which were duly carried out! In those days the congregations were enormous, and the offerings substantial, so that the church has been adorned with many treasures, and presents one of the most notable examples in London of a building designed for Catholic worship.

The years 1870-1880 were the 'peak' years of church building. It is amazing to reflect what was accomplished. To mention briefly a very few outstanding instances, St. Bartholomew's, Brighton, dates from 1872 and Christ Church, St. Leonard's, from 1873. The Brighton church is known all over the world and its vast size and height give it an extraordinary impressiveness. Its humble beginnings date back to 1868 when 'little St. Bart's,' was opened. The great church was begun in 1872 and at first was known as 'Wagner's Folly.' It was an experiment in what may be described as the Lombardic style, from the design of Mr. Edmund Scott. Nothing was spent on adornment, but the interior is immensely solemn and grand, and affords an ideal setting for the Holy Mysteries, as well as a building in which great congregations can assemble to hear the message of the Faith. Departing from the conventional, St. Bartholomew's has its organ and choir in the West gallery, and in several unusual features, e.g. the baldachino, erected in 1906, and the substantial confessional boxes round the walls, was a challenging example of the kind of church deemed suitable for town surroundings.

Less unusual, but almost equally impressive, is Christ Church, St. Leonard's. In 1865 the Rev. Henry Vaughan, Vicar of St. Neot's, took charge of the district church and plans for a great church were drawn up by Sir Arthur Blomfield. The church was opened for worship in 1875 but not consecrated till ten years later, owing to a debt which remained to be discharged. Another ten years saw the addition of the great tower and spire which make the church the most prominent building in the town. Not many churches have needed to be enlarged in recent years, but Christ Church is one of them. From the first, Christ Church has been noted for its large congregations, and it has been exceptionally fortunate in its succession of rectors, all of whom have been men of outstanding mark. The Evangelical movement has tended to concentrate its strength on the watering-places inland--Bath, Cheltenham, Tunbridge Wells--while the High Churchmen of the nineteenth century seemed to make a special effort to establish themselves in the seaside towns, but the slums and the suburbs were not forgotten.

In 1874 a great London Mission was held, and as a result of it, a magnificent church was built in the slums of Southwark from the designs of George Gilbert Scott, eldest son of Sir Gilbert Scott, whose notable churches of St. Mary Abbots, St. Mary, Stoke Newington, and others were among the most successful attempts to recapture the Gothic of past ages. They were not, as a rule, churches of the Catholic Revival, but were homes of the cathedral type of worship which began to be transplanted to parish churches about the middle of last century. George Gilbert Scott, the designer of All Hallows', Southwark, was also responsible for the sumptuous church of St. Agnes, Kennington Park, built by the munificence of Canon T. B. Dover and his family and friends, and consecrated in 1877. With its massive screen and loft and its wealth of carving and stained glass, this church might be taken for one of the great East Anglican Perpendicular churches in days before the Reformation had despoiled them of their treasures.

John Loughborough Pearson was one of the first of the architects of the century to 'think in Gothic.' His early work is seen in the little church of Holy Trinity, Bess-borough Gardens, a stone church in the fourteenth century style, of no great pretensions to originality. His later style is seen in the arresting church of St. Peter, Vauxhall, a large and lofty building in the early English style but with some features characteristic of the French pointed: here 'the visitor might fancy himself in Dijon or Murano.' This church is due to the munificence of the Rev. George Herbert, and for its date (1864) is one of the most satisfactory buildings of its kind and period.

Pearson's greatest triumph is, of course, Truro Cathedral, but mention must be made of some of his earlier works, notably St. John's, Red Lion Square, where the architect had to wrestle with the difficulties of an almost impossible site. The great church of St. Augustine, Kilburn, combines size and elegance, massiveness and gracefulness. It was the scene of the labours of the Rev. R. G. Kirkpatrick, one of the most striking of the leaders of the Catholic Movement in London. In 1867 he was driven from his curacy at a Hampstead church by a new vicar unsympathetic with even the moderate ceremonial then in use. In a short time Mr. Kirkpatrick gathered round him a body of lay folk who shared his ideals, and beginning in a humble way with services conducted in a room over a greengrocer's shop, he soon secured a site for a permanent church, and called in Mr. Pearson to design it. The result is what we see, a church that will bear comparison with any ecclesiastical building in London. Here the large church has never been too large for the congregations accustomed to assemble in it, and the parish presents a model of what a Catholic parish ought to be.

The cathedral-like church of St. Stephen, Bournemouth, shows Pearson at his best, unhampered by financial considerations. In this church and in St. John's, Upper Norwood, he has introduced the device of double aisles which afford unusual and beautiful cross-views within the church. A model town church by Pearson is the lofty and graceful building of St. Michael, Croydon. His marked individuality stamped itself on all his edifices, and the visitor can always tell a 'Pearson' church. Northampton, Parkstone, Woking, Birmingham, Liverpool, display examples of his skill and of all his churches it may be said (in the phrase he himself used of Truro) that their aim is 'to bring the worshippers to their knees.'

The name of Bodley stands out among those who have given to the Catholic Revival a worthy expression in art and architecture. His church of Hoar Cross in Staffordshire has been described as a gem of exquisite and flawless beauty. It is graceful, yet substantial, of no great size but of cathedral-like design, with transepts and central tower. The lovely building is worthily adorned: everything in it is harmonious. The Stations of the Cross are certainly the most costly and probably the most beautiful in England, and the completeness of Catholic worship finds in it a fitting home.

There are not a great number of Mr. Bodley's churches in London: St. Michael's, Camden Town, the Eton Mission, Hackney Wick, and Holy Trinity, Kensington Gore, are good examples of his work. His monument in the last-named was unveiled by Lord Halifax in 1911. The church of the Fathers of S.S.J.E. at Oxford is perhaps the best known of Bodley's noble structures: larger buildings from the same master are St. Paul's, Burton-on-Trent, and Epping parish church, on both of which large sums have been expended. Bodley was not a 'cheap' architect: his churches, usually in the late Decorated style are de,-signed for adornment and when completed present a peculiarly rich and sumptuous appearance.

Originality manifests itself in the work of John Sedding. Two great London churches, set in very different surroundings, perpetuate his memory--Holy Trinity, Sloane Square and Holy Redeemer, Clerkenwell. The former is considered by many to be the most impressive modern church in London. It is in a free rendering of Perpendicular, unless, indeed, we should say that the architect struck out a new and independent style for himself. The impression produced by the vast size of the nave in proportion to the length of the chancel is rather that of a preaching house, and is a little lacking in 'atmosphere.' Such is not the case with the noble basilica of the Holy Redeemer, Clerkenwell. Here is shadow and mystery, yet the church is admirably designed for 'popular' worship and has never failed in its mission to the poorest and most destitute. Its mission is well proclaimed by the inscription which runs across the West front: 'Pro Christo Liberatore.'

Experiments in Lombardic or Byzantine have been more popular amongst Roman Catholics than with us, but one of the earliest churches erected under the influence of the revived interest in ecclesiology was the sumptuous church of Wilton near Salisbury, built in the Lombardic style at a cost of £20,000 by the Hon. Sidney Herbert in 1843. Its designers were T. Wyatt and Brandon, of whom the latter also designed the remarkably effective Catholic Apostolic church in Gordon Square.

This carries us up to the 'eighties, and since then the succession of architects who are also artists has been worthily maintained. Mr. Comper's wonderful church of St. Mary, Wellingborough, and those of St. Cyprian, Marylebone, St. Mary, Rochdale and others show the English tradition at its best. Sir E. Lutyens has given us a church of singular originality and power at St. Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead. Mr. Tapper's church of the Annunciation, Marble Arch, and Mr. Temple Moore's glorious building, St. Wilfrid's, Harrogate, show that the same devotion which raised the medieval sanctuaries still burns brightly. It is not a little remarkable that the Lamp of Sacrifice was kindled in days when the position of the movement was far from secure, when no one could be certain of the maintenance of Catholic traditions in a parish, or the sympathy of the authorities with its aims. Yet people poured out money for Church building on a scale which astonishes us to-day. And these wonderful new churches filled as fast as they were built. At Tedding-ton, a church on the grand scale was erected from the designs of a local architect, Mr. W. H. Niven. St. Alban's Church is an enormous building, somewhat resembling the cathedral of Clermont-Ferrand. It is in the French Pointed style, and in structure, adornment and surroundings is one of the most beautiful churches of modern days. It was carried to success on a wave of enthusiasm, under the inspiring leadership of Prebendary Boyd, and though the services were very florid, and of inordinate length, they were always thronged. "Is there any hour of the day or night when your people won't come to church?" asked Bishop Ridgway of the vicar. It is surprising that people, accustomed to the smug Victorian conventions of worship and the sedate, not to say stuffy traditions of churchgoing, should have been influenced as they were by the new standards of taste as well as of Churchmanship. But they were: and no small share of the credit is due to the architects and craftsmen whose labours adorned England with worthy shrines once more.

With the architects must be mentioned the artists, and notably among them Charles Earner Kempe. He had originally been intended for the priesthood, but a slight stammer prevented him from fulfilling his desire, and he found his true vocation as an artist. Like Pearson and Bodley, Kempe's own individuality marked all his work and a Kempe window is always recognizable. He worked a revolution in stained glass, as anyone can testify who recalls the heavy reds and dull purples of the glass of the early years of the last century. Not only in delicacy of colouring but in beauty of design, Kempe's windows are a joy to the beholder. Some of the early post-Tractarian churches, in their anxiety to get every window filled with coloured glass, indulged in monstrosities like the prophet in jewelled slippers directing an enamoured gaze towards a pink city which may, or may not, have been the New Jerusalem! Kempe's most complete series of windows may be seen in the church of St. Agnes, Kennington Park, where the large perpendicular windows gave scope for his genius. The great East window is considered his masterpiece, and the South transept window was erected in his memory.

Much of the work of church building was due to the zeal and generosity of private benefactors, like the late Duke of Newcastle, whose noble church of St. Mary, Clumber, stands in the exquisite setting afforded by Clumber Park. Others were due to men like Robert Brett and Richard Foster who planned for the future of poor districts. Richard Foster was a devout Churchman who made a practice of attending the daily offices at his parish church of St. Thomas, Stamford Hill, before going up to his business in the city. He did good by stealth and no one ever knew how many churches he built and helped to build: his friend, Dr. Linklater, said there were at least fifty. One of these was St. Matthias', Stoke Newington, already referred to: it was probably the first. St. Barnabas, Walthamstow, which he founded, built, and endowed, was the last of his benefactions: he laid the foundation stone on his eightieth birthday. The Haggerston churches owe much to him, as does the restored cathedral of St. Saviour, Southwark. It is said that when Mr. Foster called upon the then bishop, he remarked, "When people are shewn over a place, they usually give a tip"--and his 'tip,' enclosed in an envelope, was a cheque for £1000! When this munificent church-builder died, the secretary of one society said, "We are almost afraid to publish his benefactions, it would look like a subscription list. We know he has given over £100,000." Richard Foster was, in his way, a pioneer of social reform, being the founder and first chairman of the London Labourers' Dwellings Association, which aimed at providing better housing than was the rule in the 'fifties. He was a man of wide interests, the hospitals being among them, but it is as a princely benefactor to the Church that he will best be remembered.

With him will always be recalled Robert Brett, who, though not possessed of the wealth which enabled Foster to give on so munificent a scale, had immense energy and ability and devotion to God and His Church. Brett was the moving spirit in the founding of the Haggerston group of churches to which allusion has been made, as well as that of St. Matthias, Stoke Newington. A man of saintly life and indomitable energy, he must be reckoned as one of the great church-builders of his day. Mr. Douglas Horsfall and Alderman Bennett of Manchester were to the provinces what Richard Foster was to London, and their memory is enshrined in noble churches in Liverpool and Manchester.

The influence of revived Churchmanship was felt far beyond the actual channel of the Tractarian Movement. Churches and cathedrals began to show traces of the influence of better ideals, and among the foremost of the restorers and designers, Sir G. Gilbert Scott deserves mention. He was not always happy in his restorations, and most of his churches are somewhat cold and lifeless, but there is no doubt that they marked an enormous advance upon the feeble examples of Gothic erected before 1845. As far back as 1841, Scott designed the noble church of St. Giles', Camberwell, notable among other things for its great length of chancel, unique at that time when a chancel was little more than an 'alcove' to contain the Holy Table. Among his later works, St. Mary Abbots, Kensington, is usually considered the most successful. Its great size, its commanding position, and its tower and spire, reminiscent of St. Mary's, Oxford, are much admired, but perhaps even more effective was his church of St. Mary, Stoke Newington. This was a new parish church, built side by side with the quaint old building referred to by Edgar Allan Poe in his Tales of Mystery and Imagination. The spire of St. Mary's, seen amidst the trees of Clissold Park, is one of the most beautiful in London, and if the body of the church, with its remarkable gabled aisles, is scarcely equal to expectation, it is nevertheless a most dignified structure.

Gilbert Scott filled, in England, something of the same position as that of Viollet-le-Duc in France. The latter was apt to be ruthless in restoration, but he had a profound knowledge of his art, and his Dictionnaire Raisonné had immense influence on both sides of the channel. Its nine quarto volumes, enriched with illustrations of every feature of Church design, was partly accountable for the fashion which affected English architecture for a time. To see how foreign we could become, let anyone visit the small but perfectly proportioned church of St. James the Less, in the back streets of Westminster, where Street gave full play to the predilection for Continental forms. Of late years, architects have tended to return to English models and the works of Mr. Comper and Mr. Bodley have shown that architecture is by no means a lost art.

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