Monday, 30 September 2013

Salisbury Cathedral, Wiltshire

Having been to school in Dorset and having friends and relatives who live in Wiltshire and Dorset I have often, over the years, visited Salisbury cathedral but never with 'churching' in mind.

This is without doubt a magnificent building but not, to my mind, as magnificent as Canterbury - although, to be fair, such a comparison is like comparing apples with pears.

River Avon (1)

Salisbury Cathedral (1)

West front (5)

Salisbury. Since the days of Chaucer’s pilgrimage to Canterbury pilgrims have been coming here, and Salisbury has not failed them. It cannot fail such pilgrims.

None of our cathedrals stands in a more beautiful Close. It is a tranquil scene unsurpassed in any of our medieval cities, and about it are gathered a group of houses forming a remarkable example of domestic architecture. Built from medieval to Georgian days, these houses are in perfect harmony with the wonderful church that rises in the midst of them. The King’s House (in which Richard the Third and James the First both stayed) is 14th century and Tudor, a glorious gabled building facing the west front of the cathedral, and now a teachers’ college. Wardrobe House explains by its name what it was in the days when it was linked with the King’s House. The gabled house on the north has parts almost as old as the cathedral itself. The bishop’s palace is behind a wall and is not seen from the Close, but one may have a glimpse of it through a doorway in the cloisters. The 13th century Deanery, now part of the Training College, is being restored and hidden beauties revealed.

One must go back for the beginning of it to the hill the Ancient Britons used and the Romans made into a fortress, to the fort the Saxons made and left deserted, to the cathedral the Normans set on that same hill where saints and bishops lie, the hilltop of Old Sarum, now waking from the sleep of centuries. Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age; Roman, Saxon, and Viking; Norman and medieval is this place.

It cannot be missed by anyone who goes from Salisbury to see Stonehenge, whichever road he takes. The Avon Valley road shows it arrestingly as a terraced hilltop, obviously an ancient stronghold dominating the neighbourhood where the river breaks away from the wide plateau of Salisbury Plain. The other road from Salisbury to Stonehenge, across the Plain by Amesbury, rises close to the fortress, so quietly that the nearness of the hilltop may not be guessed, but when it is reached it seems to spring up behind the traveller as the road sinks by it into the Plain. Then it challenges comparison with any earthwork in the British Isles.

Old Sarum has much that Stonehenge has not, for it has a history. It was known as an impressive hill by the Stonehenge men and has played a part in the life of long forgotten centuries. An overgrown ruin for ages, it was investigated in the middle of last century during a dry summer, when the cathedral foundations were so clear that a plan was made of them, and excavations during our own time are unearthing buried secrets and throwing light on the history of this hill for nearly a thousand years.

Nobody doubts that the hill-people who roamed the southern downlands, and are commonly called Ancient Britons, had one of their forts on this hilltop. It is quite clear, too, that this was an important centre of Roman Britain, for here four or five roads converged. Probably it was the station the Romans named Sorbiodunum; certainly after the Romans it was the Searisbyrig of the Saxons. Alfred fortified it and dug the outer ditch; King Edgar held a Parliament here; the Danes burned it; the Confessor gave it a mint. Then came the Norman Conquest, bringing changes which obliterated the older features of the town. The Conqueror made it a fortress and a bishopric. The summit of the hill was crowned with a castle and a central keep, fortified once more by earthworks with an inner and outer wall. Between the walls the new cathedral was built, and the bishop became the dominant personage in Sarisberie, as it was called in Domesday Book. Roman Sorbiodunum, Saxon Searisbyrig, Norman Sarisberie, and now Old Sarum, it has seen a marvellous procession of the pageantry of life. The town grew in size beyond its walls, and clustered round the base of the hill.

A hundred years more and Old Sarum was in sore straits. The military commanders of the castle were unfriendly; the cathedral was being damaged by the winds; the canons declared that water was scarce; the space was not enough for clerics and soldiers and townsmen. It was one of the clergy who put the case in a nutshell by asking:

What has the House of the Lord to do with castles? It is the Ark of the Covenant in a temple of Baalim. Let us in the name of God descend into the meads.

They were given leave and came down to the meads. The inhabitants of Old Sarum followed them, and the fortress on the hill became so deserted that it had not a single house, and soon the very sites of the castle and the old cathedral were forgotten. Old Sarum sent two members to Parliament till 1832, but there were no inhabitants, and the ten electors met for the election in a field still known as Election Field.

The day of its desolation is over. The Society of Antiquaries has excavated the summit of the hill and discovered the foundations of the buildings which lost their uses and began their fall into destruction 700 years ago. The ground plan of the Norman cathedral on the hillside has been marked out, and from the summit of the hill one can see where and imagine how the 12th century clergy and soldiers and townsmen lived. It is now in charge of the Office of Works.

Out of Old Sarum came the Salisbury to which all travellers come in time. Here are the very stones of Sarum, in the long wall and gateways of the new Cathedral Close. Every day the wind blows in Salisbury on Norman carvings in her streets, on stones consecrated to faith and prayer 800 years ago. On Easter Monday in 1219 they put up a wooden church, and in 1220 they laid the foundation stones of the new cathedral. The bishop laid one for the pope, one for Stephen Langton, and another for himself; and William Longespee laid one for himself and one for his wife the Countess Ela, who founded the abbey of Lacock.

Before the cathedral was half ready they buried Richard Poore at Tarrant Crawford 15 miles away, and in 38 years from the laying of the foundation-stones the cathedral was complete without the spire. Here are the stones the bishop touched when he consecrated it, 19 of them still left of 24, with patterns of flowers and stars cut in circles on them. Before the century was out they added the spire, raising it from the tower as a veritable triumph of design, so that it seems to grow out of the great mass as a flower grows out of its foliage.

From west to east the total length is 473 feet, from north to south 230, and it covers an area of 55,000 square feet. It rises tier above tier with porch, pediment, and pinnacles, its traceried tower springing from the centre and the spire soaring over all, 404 feet high.

In the capstone of this marvellous spire is a tiny lead box a child could hold on its hand, with a fragment of woven fabric in it put there in 1375, when people believed it to be a relic of the Virgin and that it would guard the spire from lightning and all harm. In the spire (of which the walls are two feet thick at the bottom and nine inches at the top), is the scaffolding on which the workmen stood to build it, still left inside to give it strength; but in spite of this it has listed a little, and a hundred years later they added one or two flying buttresses and noble stone screens which have saved it from listing more. It was Elias of Dereham, the Norfolk man who built this place, and Richard Farley, the Wiltshire man who crowned it with the lovely spire.

There has been much anxiety about the safety of the spire in our time. It has cracked and moved in a gale, and there has been too much reason to recall the fact that when Sir Christopher Wren surveyed the spire he found that it was leaning 23 inches out of straight. For the guidance of architects who should follow him he set a piece of metal in the floor below to show the extent of the leaning, and it was not until a few years ago, that the movement increased. Wren declared that the cathedral should not have been erected on the spongy bog on which it stands, and that the slender seven-foot-wide high piers could never have been intended to support the tons of masonry in the tower and spire. It has been the aim of the restorers to stabilise the spire and tower and redistribute the weight of 6000 tons which falls on the base. There has always been a weak spot at the top of the tower just above the ridge of the roof, where the weight is 4500 tons. The tower has four sides, and when the octagonal spire was set on it the tower was altered so as to give the spire an octagonal base. Brick corbels have been built at the base of the spire into the four corners at the top of the tower, and these will take the weight off the centre of the walls and transfer it to the corners. At each corner at the top of the tower is a spiral staircase, and all these have been filled in and made solid. Eight windows of the tower are filled in with brick, and the work is strengthened by a band of steel invisible from the outside. The effect of all this strengthening is to remove the dangerous outward thrust which has endangered the spire so long.

The west front is famous, but it is not so good as the rest of the cathedral. It has still its characteristic features of the 14th century, with the familiar ballflower ornament, but the tiers of bays and niches have lost nearly all their 120 ancient statues, and all but a few of those now there are 19th century. They are arranged in lines across the front as at Wells, on the plan known as that of the Te Deum, with Christ above, archangels, prophets, martyrs, and the church below, and local saints and notables at the bottom.

The interior height is 115 feet from floor to roof. It has been said that no building anywhere is more logical, more lucid in expression, more restful to the mind and eye. It was built with 12 doors into it, 365 windows giving light, and 8760 columns holding it up - that is to say, a door for every month in the year, a window for every day, and a column for every hour. It was Thomas Fuller who met a rustic centuries ago wondering at it all, saying he had never believed that there could be a church with as many columns as there are hours in the year, but now he could never believe there are as many hours in the year as there are columns here.

The clustered columns of the nave, surrounded with slender shafts, support ten great arches, which support the triforium, which supports the clerestory. The arches are pointed and graceful, with masses of carved foliage where they join. Stone benches run round the base of the pillars all the way along and on them rest impressive tombs, taken from all parts of the cathedral and from chantries that have vanished. Those on the right of the nave begin with a conventional figure of Hibernia by Rysbrack, the fashionable sculptor of the 18th century, but they end with the magnificently mailed figure of William Longespee, in armour as he stood at the sealing of Magna Carta; he may have handled the very copy of it kept upstairs; his name is mentioned in it. He lies here with six prancing lions on his shield, a stirring figure in stone resting on a base surrounded by an oak arcade. These arches carved in wood have been here about 700 years, and the diaper work has still its silver sheen on some of them. It is the finest tomb of its kind in England.

This king’s son (for he was the son of Henry the Second) became Earl of Salisbury on marrying the Countess Ela in 1198, and he lies here with their son the second earl. The father sailed out and destroyed a French armada prepared for invading England, and he was one of John’s supporters at Runnymede. The son witnessed the confirmation of Magna Carta as his father had witnessed its signing.

William Longespee was the first man buried here, but behind him in the south aisle lie the monuments of bishops from Old Sarum, older than he. The great coffin lid near the door is the cathedral’s oldest monument, and next to it are coffin lids with two Old Sarum bishops deeply engraved by the Normans. Lying in a fine suit of armour of the time of Agincourt, richly decorated with a girdle which has lost its jewels, is Robert Lord Hungerford, his dog still with him wearing its rich collar; the dog has lost its tail, but it is lying close by.

The shrine of St Osmund a little behind William Longespee has three oval openings on each side and no figure on it; the six openings are where cripples used to rest their limbs to be cured the quicker by being a little nearer the relics of the saint. On the wall facing this shrine is the black figure of Eleanor Sadler, who was buried in 1622 under the pew she sat in daily for almost half a century. She is kneeling at prayer, and on a shield above her clasped hands is one of the rare bits of heraldry seen only in two or three places now; it shows a tiger looking at his face in a mirror and the idea is that, the tiger imagining the reflection to be its cub, the hunters were enabled by the delay to carry off the cub to safety.

The north side of the nave has a giant lying facing William Longespee - a giant indeed, for his remains have been seen and his thigh measured 21 inches. He was Sir John Cheney, who saw the famous fight on Bosworth Field which ends in Shakespeare with the line, The day is done; the dog is dead. It was the end of the Plantagenets and the beginning of the Tudors, and Sir John Cheney had borne the victorious standard of Richmond. Here he lies richly apparelled, with a little angel still left at his head looking mournful. Lower down the aisle is William Longespee’s son in chain armour, with legs crossed and hands on his sword. Behind him is an extraordinary little figure described (wrongly, we believe) as a boy bishop of the 13th century; he has iron rails above him. Such bishops were elected by choir boys and wore vestments and performed service as real bishops once a year; the custom is still practised here in modified form on St Nicholas day.

Higher up the aisle lies an old warrior in mail and chain armour, his head on a helmet, a fine lion at his feet, and a belt with the handle of his sword hanging to it. His tomb has lovely arcading, his armour is wrapped about him, and we can only just see the face of Sir John de Montacute, whom they laid here in 1390.

Following the wall round to the north transept we come upon some famous names. There is a brass set up by British architects to John Britton, who was historian of this cathedral. There is a figure by Sir Francis Chantrey of the first Earl of Malmesbury, who is shown sitting, and close by is a figure of Benevolence by Flaxman, who shows her lifting a veil from a relief of the Good Samaritan. On a bust of Richard Jefferies we read that he enriched the literature of his country and won for himself a place among those who have made men happier and wiser.

A graceful figure of John Bacon suggests Moral Philosophy mourning over a medallion of James Harris, and there are two Flaxman wall sculptures in a transept chapel in memory of two brothers; Justice and Literature mourning one and Science and Benevolence the other. At the end wall of the transept lies a 15th century Bishop Blythe, and near the bishop’s canopied tomb sits Sir Richard Colt Hoare in white marble. He was a Wiltshire historian, and this statue by a native of Salisbury shows him writing with a quill. Near it is the rare old clock without a dial which dates from 1386 and is thought to be the oldest in England.

Set round the choir are graves and monuments of varying value and interest, including a fine effigy of Bishop Wordsworth, the poet’s nephew. It is by Sir George Frampton, and shows the bishop sleeping calmly with his hands clasped and his crozier tucked under his arm, a white figure on a black base at the side of the lady chapel. Near it is the tomb of a maid-of-honour to Queen Elizabeth the First: she is with her husband Sir Thomas Gorges, under a canopy resting on twisted pillars. In the north choir aisle are two of the skeleton figures which mark the curious fancy of the 16th century, and in a chapel close by is the brass of Bishop Edmund Guest, with a walking stick, who assisted Archbishop Parker in the drafting of the XXXIX Articles of Religion in the Prayer Book. He was Almoner to Elizabeth the First and “he must both be a wise and a good man”, says Fuller, “whom she would trust with her purse.”

Next to Bishop Guest’s brass is a most unusual one to the 14th century Bishop Wyville looking out of Sherborne Castle. Wyville was involved in a lawsuit concerning the possession of the Forest of Bere in Dorset and appealed to trial by battle. But as it was not proper for Bishops to take up arms he appeared by champion and the champion is shown on the brass standing at the door of the castle ready for the ordeal of battle.

At the end of the south choir aisle lie a son of Protector Somerset and a sister of Lady Jane Grey, both at prayer, with one of their sons at their head and another at their feet. A modern sculpture designed by Sir Arthur Blomfield shows Bishop Moberly in four scenes, teaching, preaching, blessing children, and opening the first Diocesan Conference which he started. The bishop’s wife is remembered in the south choir transept in a splendid wall relief of the Angel of Dawn with a trumpet, and by this white monument is a beautifully cut stone in memory of a friend of hers, the wife of Archdeacon Carpenter, who lived-all her married life in the Close and was buried here on her fiftieth wedding day.

A little way removed from these rare simplicities is a classical monument, with gold leaves twined round stone pillars, to Sir Richard Mompesson, who reclines a little higher than his wife, suggesting his higher rank. Round the choir are three beautiful chantries, the best of them, exquisitely lovely, that of Bishop Audley, with original blue paint in the fan-tracery of the 15th century roof. Facing it is the chantry of Walter Lord Hungerford, with its rich heraldry, and a little way off lies Bishop Giles of Bridport in a 13th century tomb with a chantry built in the style of the cloisters and the chapter house. It has scenes from his life in the spandrels and lilies running round the canopy.

The choir has stalls which incorporate a little medieval work, notably the carved misericord seats, but most of the work is Victorian and later. The removal of the incongruous metal screen and the reredos has greatly improved the general effect of the choir. The bishop’s throne is a lofty timber structure with two lions at the armrests, saints crowning the pillars, and medallion portraits round. The organ is one of the masterpieces of Henry Willis, and its case was designed by G. E. Street. The vaulted stone roof is painted with roundels showing 24 prophets and saints, with Christ and the Evangelists, and panels representing the twelve months - January warming at a fire, July reaping, November cutting wood; they are modern reproductions of the 13th century paintings which faded away.

The choir is the last resting-place of the Countess of Pembroke, Philip Sidney’s sister. When they brought her from her great house at Wilton and laid her here it was William Browne of Tavistock who wrote the memorable lines:

Underneath this sable hearse
Lies the subject of all verse:
Sidney’s sister, Pembroke’s mother.
Death, ere thou hast slain another
Fair and learned and good as she,
Time shall throw a dart at thee.

She lies under a tiny square brass before the altar.

Salisbury, famous for her matchless exterior and her superb natural setting, misses some of the glory that we find in other cathedrals, and it has little beautiful glass. But it has much glass that is interesting and some of it with a romantic story, and a few windows of our own time which are fit company for anything here. One of the best of them is the Powell window in the north choir transept showing the Heavenly Jerusalem. It is magnificent in red and gold, with over a hundred figures, many of them wrapped in wonder at this solemn scene, while little children, not knowing, are pulling flowers on the banks of a stream. In the south choir aisle are two windows designed by Henry Holiday, both fine, one with the four Marys and four other holy women in white and pale gold. Close by these is a Burne-Jones window with four angels high up in red, blue, green, and gold. It is considered one of his masterpieces; the chalk cartoons for it were sold for 50 guineas.

In the north aisle is a window to the fifth Earl Radnor, painted by his countess; it has saints and bishops against a background of vivid red wings. High above the high altar in the choir is an unusual painted window remarkably rich in colour showing Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness; it is 18th century and is given an unusual effect by being apparently unbroken into sections.

In Saint Michael’s Chapel, which has become the war memorial, and has a richly gilded reredos and a bronze relief of Bishop Ridgeway, are four modern windows ablaze with colour. In them are our four national saints, and in the next chapel to them a fine portrait of Alfred looks down among other national figures.

Most of Salisbury’s old glass was destroyed in the 18th century, but a window in the nave has a collection of fragments recovered by Dr Stanley Baker, who lived in a 13th century house in the Close. The best remaining glass is in the great west window, where are fragments from a 13th century Tree of Jesse and a throned bishop set between ovals of Christ and the Madonna. As we stand looking at this great west window we may turn to the south aisle of the nave and see what is perhaps a more important window still, for it has in it some of the best 13th century glass, forming a  Jesse Tree. Its colours are rich, though we can no longer see the vine springing from Jesse and covering the window, with the kings of Judah in its branches and Christ at the top.

The east windows of both choir aisles are old, the great south transept window is all old, and there is ancient glass in patches round the choir, most of it black and white made up in mosaic form.

We have yet to come to what most people believe to be the most remarkable interior in Salisbury, the Chapter House, reached from the cloisters.

The arch of the chapter house doorway has 14 small niches with sculptures showing the battle of the Virtues against the Vices, a noble entrance into a noble hall. On the floor are tiles copied from the old medieval pavement; on the roof the paintings have been done again after the originals. The central pillar from which this vaulted roof springs is 52 feet high, and the hall is 52 feet wide. The pillar has carving probably copied from books of fables in the Middle Ages. The roof bosses are elaborately carved with figures of armourers, musicians, apothecaries, and grotesques.

But it is the walls all round, the 49 niches of the canopied arcading, which attract every eye that looks on here. In the spandrels of this arcade, looking so fresh that it is difficult to believe it has been here about 600 years, is one of the most remarkable sculpture galleries in England, 60 scenes with about 200 figures, as well as about 60 carved heads on the slender columns of the arches. There are melancholy heads and merry ones, tender ones and pensive ones, heads whimsical and scowling, and three heads in one with three noses, three mouths, three beards, and four eyes. It is an odd collection.

But the captivating spectacle of the chapter house is in the 60 tiny sculptured groups which tell the Bible story from Creation to the Commandments. It is all marvellously wrought by the medieval artist, and now and then we smile at his wit, now and then we wonder at his exquisite skill, while all the time we are drawn to his work as one of the masterly legacies of the 13th century. There is the Creation of Adam and Eve and the animal kingdom, the Tree of Good and Evil and the expulsion from Eden; the story of Cain and Abel, the building of the Ark, the setting up of the Tower of Babel and the destruction of Sodom (in which one of its citizens is buried alive). There is the meeting of Jacob and Rachel, and the long and wonderfully pictured story of Joseph and his brethren, ending with Jacob’s journey to Egypt and leading on to the days of Moses with the passage of the Red Sea, the destruction of the Egyptians, and the Tables of Stone.

In the cathedral library is one of the original copies of Magna Carta. It may or may not have been made for William Longsword, but he is mentioned in it, and here he lies with it under the same roof, the man who saw it sealed and the copy of it neatly written on a single sheet of about 1000 words. It is one of only four copies known, one other being at Lincoln and two in London. It lies with many priceless documents.

One of the books was bound for Henry the Eighth by his own binder, and it was the king’s own copy of that book against Luther for which the Pope gave him the title of Defender of the Faith which is still on our coins. Another was a 9th century copy of the Psalms. Another was printed by Wynkyn de Worde from Caxton’s own type. Another has Isaak Walton’s handwriting in it with a couplet something like this:

To this blest man let this just praise be given:
Heaven was in him before he was in heaven.

Another volume has on its fly leaves a long list of all the dances of the day, written when they were no doubt short of paper. One of the charters here gives the cathedral a right to use the stones of Old Sarum for the building of the wall running round the Close in 1331. Altogether there are here over 8000 books, about twenty 15th century ones and about a hundred of the 16th century.


Sunday, 29 September 2013

Wilton, Wiltshire

On my way home on Sunday I visited Salisbury Cathedral and on my way passed St Peter and stopped on the off chance - locked no keyholder. Having Googled St Peter I realise that I should have visited SS Mary & Nicholas - which looks fascinating - rather than St Peter but the cathedral more than compensated.

St Peter (1)

Wilton. Once the capital of Wiltshire and of Wessex, it has lost that high distinction, and today, an hour’s walk from Salisbury, although it still has the carpet industry that has made its name famous, it is a quiet place with three things for the traveller to see. There is one of the very greatest treasure-houses in England, Wilton House, the home of the Pembrokes for many generations; there is the chancel of the old church, off the marketplace, which has been brightened and given a new lease of life after being long neglected and forlorn; and there is a modern church not like any other we have seen, a Byzantine structure a little over-splendid, a gorgeous example of the architecture of the Victorian Era, built regardless of cost.

For nearly seven centuries Wilton was the seat of one of the four most important nunneries in England - the other three were Barking, Shaftesbury, and Winchester - whose abbesses were peeresses of the realm though being women they had no seat in the House of Lords. It stood on the site of Wilton House but the only visible remains are to be found in some outbuildings nearby.

The old church has been restored and hallowed as a place of rest in memory of Robert Bingham, the American ambassador, and his ancestor Robert de Bingham, second Bishop of New Sarum, who was consecrated here 700 years ago.

The remarkable new church is raised above the street on steps 100 feet wide, with a tower 100 feet high linked with it by a cloister. Its west front (which is not really west, for the church is one of the very few not laid out east-to-west) has three deeply recessed round arches, the central one with four orders of moulding and pillars resting on lions. Inside everything is remarkably rich. There is much mosaic, rich carving on capitals, fine marble monuments, mosaic chancel steps, a sanctuary floor of agate and marble, an enamel chalice covered with scenes and figures by a 12th century craftsman, two massive monoliths brought from Italy, and two twisted marble pillars which were part of a shrine in Rome in the 13th century and in the 18th century in the collection of Horace Walpole.

The monuments, an interesting group, have often the high quality of genius. There is a lovely white figure of Lord Herbert on a black marble tomb sculptured with scenes from his life, and near him is a lovely sleeping figure of his mother. There are sculptures by Rossi and Westmacott, one of the Countess of Pembroke with a mourning woman over an urn, the other a big wall sculpture to George Augustus Herbert, showing a beggar with his dog, a woman with her child, and a man leaning on his staff, a symbol of charity and good works. Over the cloister door is a Jacobean monument of William Sharp kneeling with his wife, their three children below in tiny recesses. There is a marble bust of the ninth Earl of Pembroke and a brass of John Goffer three years older than the Spanish Armada.

Among much ancient glass the most extraordinary piece is a panel brought from Wilton House with the arms of Philip and Mary, a piece of heraldry rarely met with in a church window. In the same window is a portrait of the Earl of Pembroke and his countess with their two sons and a daughter kneeling. The east window has some pieces of glass among the oldest in England, 12th or 13th century; the picture of Stephen is supposed to be 1200. In this window is St Nicholas, the Flight into Egypt, the wedding feast at Cana, the driving-out from the Temple, and Gethsemane. Other glass is from St Chapelle in Paris. The east windows of both chancel aisles have also rich old glass, much of it 13th century, and many of the figures are quaint and charming. There is an old Venetian chest, a wheel window showing the Flight of Time, and a reading desk with old Flemish carving.

Over the gateway of Wilton House sits Marcus Aurelius on his horse, a copy of the famous bronze statue on the Capitol in Rome. The full tide of English history has flowed past this stately house and through these lovely gardens, leaving behind it noble works of art and glorious memorials. Here stood the nunnery in Alfred’s time, here the Confessor’s wife was educated, and when their habitation like themselves had passed away a new life was conferred on Wilton by the Earls of Pembroke, the first of whom received the site as a gift from Henry the Eighth, part of his ill-gotten gains from the destruction of the monasteries. Others of the line enriched it with every gift of architecture and art, and not least with the art of gardening, and the noble home they created has been the casket of noble memories. Statesmen and soldiers, men of chivalrous hearts, poets, painters, thinkers, left their footprints in these gardens, or found a home within these walls.

Sir Philip Sidney sat in the avenue bearing his name to write the first part of Arcadia, which he dedicated to his sister, the Countess of Pembroke, of whom Spenser, another visitor here, wrote:

The gentlest sheperdesse that lives this day
And most resembling both in shape and spright
Her brother deare.

Here, according to tradition, Shakespeare himself with his troupe played As You Like It for the first time, before James the First in the great hall, and here certainly was born William Herbert, son of the immortalised countess, to whom (with his brother) the Shakespeare Folio was dedicated. He was a great patron of arts and letters, and many think he is the mysterious W. H. of Shakespeare.

If Inigo Jones studied in Italy at his expense that supreme architect well repaid the debt, for the Wilton House that we see was refashioned from his designs. It is said that Holbein also had a hand in

Pembroke’s princely dome, where mimic Art
Decks with a dazzling hand the magic powers.

The Holbein Garden House, once part of the mansion, is named as a tribute to his association. But it is the boldness, sureness, and grace of the hand of Inigo Jones that gives Wilton House its beauty, though the garden front was enlarged by another hand, and the southern front was rebuilt by John Webb (his nephew by marriage) after his designs.

The gardens were laid out by Isaac de Caux, a nephew of the re-builder of the southern front, and they have a beauty no less renowned than that of the house. To them Nature gave a setting which Art could hardly fail to adorn. The river Wylye bounds the park, the Nadder flows through the pleasure gardens and is spanned by a fine Palladian covered bridge. There are 70 acres of lawn with stone-edged flower beds, stretching from the river to set out the stateliness of the southern front. There are Italian gardens with fountains, statues, terraces, and the rich foliage of the trees sets off the riot of colour in the flower beds. There is a noble group of ancient cedars of Lebanon, probably the earliest of these cedars planted in England, older even than the monarchs of Goodwood and Warwick. There are copper beeches, a noble ilex that Philip Sidney may have seen, a walk of lofty yews, and fine vistas everywhere. One of them commands at its end the spire of Salisbury cathedral, a view which Constable (we may be sure) would see.

Milton on Stour, Dorset

Mee doesn't cover Milton on Stour, which is unsurprising as this is more of a hamlet than village, so this is going to be a very brief entry. SS Simon & Jude was Locked, no keyholder, but this was the last church of the day and as it was 6pm I wasn't expecting to find it open. Built in 1865 it's rather dreary and having been to Mass here some time ago I know the interior is of little interest - not really worth stopping for.

SS Simon & Jude (2)

  Their entry on achurchnearyou reads:

A Parliamentary Commission of 1650 states there was "a chapel now decayed and not used a mile distant from Gillingham fit to be made a parish church for Milton and Preston." However, it was not until the mid nineteenth century that the Rev. Henry Deane, the longstanding Vicar of Gillingham, having redesigned and restored Gillingham Church was able to turn his attention to the lack of facilities in Milton. In 1865 he persuaded Mr Thomas Matthews of Milton Lodge to donate some land and a considerable sum of money in order to build the present church - which only officially attained the status of a separate parish from Gillingham in the early years of the twenty first century!

The Church is built of local Tisbury Stone in the style of the mid 13th Century. The total building cost was in excess of £2 500, over half of which was provided by the Matthews family, the remainder by public subscription.

As the visitor enters the church there are two main impressions to be gained - that of the loftiness of the building and also of the preponderance of stained glass windows. In fact all the windows with the exception of those in the organ vestry are of stained and painted glass. This gives subdued light on dull days but is well compensated for on sunny days when a myriad of colours dapple the church and congregation. The windows around the aisles depict saints and apostles in designs appropriate to the style of the building. Those in the apse show, in the centre, a scene of the crucifixion, on the right the Last Supper, and on the left Christ blessing the little children.

Other windows depict various biblical scenes and many are dedicated to various benefactors. Worthy of note is a window in the north west corner. The memorial is rather inaccessible and difficult to read. It is dedicated as follows:-
"To the Glory of God and in memory of John Phillips Esq., Late of Charnage Mere Wilts who entered rest 19th Dec 1881. Amongst other charitable bequests he left to the vicar and churchwardens of Milton in trust to be invested in consols £200 for the general purposes and benefit of the Sunday School attached to this church, and £300 for the purchase of blankets to be distributed amongst the poor inhabitants on St. Thomas' Day in each year."
The seats in the centre of the nave were supplied by Messrs. Slater and Carpenter of London, the carving, which on each is of a different design, was done by Mr Whitehead of London. The whole of the remainder of the building was completed by local craftsmen - Mr E. Churchill did the roofing, Mr A. Meade of Gillingham the general masonry and Mr C. Lydford provided the seats at the rear of the nave and the doors. The ironwork was crafted by the local blacksmith at Milton Forge.

Most ancient churches have been added to or altered during the years, and in this respect Milton although comparatively young is no exception. A quote from the Parish Magazine for 1887 is as follows:-
"The old pulpit was a very poor and ill designed one unworthy of the beautiful church and also falling into disrepair. In its place has been erected a very costly and handsome one after designs by the well known architect Mr. A. Blomfield, and much resembles that of the same architect at St. Georges Cannes the memorial church of the late Duke of Albany. The sides are formed by a series of small arches the pillars of which are of green Irish marble and contrast with the deep red panels of Perthshire stone."
Other additions and replacements include:
    1891 - the organ replacing one given by the Rev. Henry Deane, 1892 - the spire was added to the tower, 1908 - the church clock was installed in the tower, Victorian wall murals were unfortunately painted over during the first half of the twentieth century, 1887 and 1955 - the churchyard was dedicated and extended, 1988 - the lych gate was built in memory of Mrs. Ina Matthews.
I have outlined here some of the main features and characteristics of our church. It is by no means a comprehensive inventory of all fixtures and fittings. I will leave opportunity for the visitor to explore and discover whatever captures the attention.

by Sam Woodcock, Churchwarden 2002

Gillingham, Dorset

By the time I got to St Mary the Virgin it was quarter to six and locked but I suspect that's its normal status - unfair pre-judgement but probably true.

This is a shame because it sounds quite interesting inside, which it certainly isn't outside, being essentially a Victorian rebuild.

St Mary the Virgin (3)

GILLINGHAM. It is the most northern town in Dorset, two miles from Wiltshire and two from Somerset. It has two fine houses (Thorngrove in a park and Wyke Hall transformed from a Tudor house in our own time), and its old bridge over the River Shreen, close by the peace memorial, comes into a Constable picture.

The town has lost much of its ancient beauty, but it has a name from the history of a thousand years. It is Slaughter’s Gate, the place where  Edmund Ironside overtook the fleeing Danes after defeating Canute, and there is a proud memory of a day in 1042 when a Witenagemot was held at Gillingham at which the Confessor was elected King. Sir Walter Raleigh was ranger of the forest here, and our kings had a Gillingham Palace, but Gillingham used the last of its stones to mend the roads. So it used the stones of its old church to build its new one a hundred years ago.

Some things are left from the old church, however. There is the tomb of two Jessop brothers, their marble figures with pointed beards, ruffs, and academic gowns lying with clasped hands side by side. One was the vicar, the other was the town’s physician in Queen Elizabeth’s reign, and often their signatures appear in the register attached to licences for parishioners to eat meat in Lent or on Friday “because of infirmitie of bodye.” Near by is a marble monument reaching nearly to the roof and showing beautiful draped figures of three young women. We see Frances Dirdoe, who died at 33 in 1733, standing between her sisters Rebecca and Rachel. She was the youngest of 15 children, and was the last of her family.

Three of the vicars have a claim to remembrance: Henry Deane for ministering here for half of the 19th century; Richard Elys of the 15th century, “learned enough to calculate the eclipses from the Creation”; and John Craig, whose mathematics earned for him the esteem of Sir Isaac Newton. Two traceried windows from the church have been built into the school which faces it. The grammar school, founded in 1516, is now housed on a hill outside the town. We understand that one of its pupils was the famous Edward Hyde, Lord Clarendon, historian of the Civil War; and Robert Frampton, the Pimperne boy who became Bishop of Gloucester, was its headmaster. He was a stern Royalist, and in the days when he had 100 boys at this school he is said to have come to blows with a Parliamentary officer. Pepys liked his sermons, saying that one of them was the best he had ever heard, and adding: “The truth is he preaches the most like an apostle that ever I heard man, and it was much the best time that I ever spent in my life at church.”

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Fonthill Bishop, Wiltshire

All Saints was a stumbled upon church and almost certainly the oldest church of the day, it was locked (NKL) but I came across it at 5.20pm so was not surprised to find it so. This is a small cruciform church which Mee missed but British Listed Buildings says:

Anglican parish church. C13, C14, C15. Restorations of 1871 to chancel, complete restoration 1879 by T.H. Wyatt. Limestone rubble  stone, tiled roof. Cruciform church with crossing tower and south porch. Gabled porch with double chamfered pointed doorway, saddleback coping to verge with cross finial. Nave has no south windows. South transept has C19 two-light Perpendicular-style window to south, coped verge with block sundial, stone tablet on east wall to William Baker died 1799 with reeded surround and paterae. South side of chancel has pointed priest's door with hood-mould, C19 two-light square-headed window to left and two cusped lancets to right, east end has group of three C13 stepped lancets with continuous hood-mould, coped verge with cross finial. C19 north vestry has 2-light Y-tracery east window, pointed doorway to north and ashlar stack with offsets, pitched roof. North transept has C13 two-light window to north and pair of C19 lancets to west. North side of nave has blocked chamfered doorway. West end has 3-light C14 window, coped verge. Two-stage square crossing tower has offset bellstage, east and north sides have double chamfered louvred lancets with planked door to south side and Tudor-arched diamond-leaded window to south side, corbelled eaves to pyramidal lead roof.

Interior: C14 pointed moulded inner doorway with hood-mould with king and queen's heads terminals, C19 door. Nave has C19 three-bay crown post roof, tiled floor. Fine C13 crossing with triple-chamfered arches on moulded corbels, some with stiff-leaf or foliated capitals, remains of former rib-vaulted ceiling spring from moulded corbels. South transept has ogee-headed aumbry and cavetto-moulded niche on east wall, both transepts have collar-rafter roofs. Chancel has scissor rafter roof, polychrome tiled floor, pointed chamfered doorway to vestry, east window has cavetto-moulded rere-arch. Fittings: good unsigned glass in east window of 1890s. Two good C17 box pews with doors, rest of pews and choir stalls are C19, octagonal arcaded wooden pulpit on stone plinth. Unusual C12 stone font bowl on short cylindrical base. Two iron and brass C19 candelabras. Christopher Wren's father was rector here 1620-1628.

(N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England, Wiltshire, 1975)

All Saints appealed on a visceral level and is one of a few churches that I'm glad not to have gained entrance to - reading the above I think my expectations would have been let down. Having said that this has to be a top ten Wiltshire church (bear in mind I've only seen nine).

 All Saints (2)

Chilmark, Wiltshire

I should have liked St Margaret of Antioch - the village is a gem, the location is perfect and the exterior is of interest - but I didn't. The Victorians restoration here was so savage that the soul of the church has been utterly destroyed. It's so depressing inside that I missed the Jacobean pulpit - although I think Mee must be overcompensating.

Corbel (2)


W from Chilmark

Chilmark. One of its lanes leads us to the quarries that have supplied beautiful cream stone for many of the old houses, fine bridges, and vanished priories of Wiltshire, for its glorious cathedral at Salisbury, and for Chichester’s spire.

The fine church tower has a tapering spire and charming belfry windows; it is upheld by four arches and a vaulted roof. The doorway is 700 years old, and has at its sides two little men wearing pleated collars; one is crowned, and appears to be holding a stick and a drum. Through this doorway may have come for his christening little John de Chilmark, a mathematician and philosopher who in the 14th century was called the Archimedes of his age. In the church is a handsome Jacobean pulpit.

Fovant, Wiltshire

St George is curious - the nave, chancel, S aisle & chapel look and feel new build but the S chapel has a, restored, Norman door and the tower is plainly old. On the whole it's a pretty building (actually the tower is fantastic and the setting perfect) but the interior is dull.

But what really struck me here were the 60 CWGC headstones (59 WWI & 1 WWII) which number I rarely come across at home apart from churches/cemeteries near airbases. Salisbury Plain has always been a military training zone and in WWI Fovant was a staging post for many regiments about to be posted to the front and the number of Australian headstones was particularly poignant; logistically impossible to repatriate they're remembered here and are still lovingly maintained; this was a churchyard that made me stop and think.

Apparently the badges of the regiments based here have been carved into the chalk on a ridge overlooking the village but my route missed it.


Priest's door (2)

George Rede 1492 (1)

Fovant. It has a little river running by the village street and reflecting bright gardens, and cut on the downs above it is an inescapable reminder of World War I, the badges of the regiments encamped here.

The church is 15th century, and its splendid turreted tower has a beautiful pierced and embattled parapet, niches with canopies, angels with spread wings, stone lattice windows in the belfry, fierce looking gargoyles, a scratch-dial, and a pointed doorway with angels. A wall brass in the chancel records the building of the tower. It is in memory of George Rede who was rector at the time, and shows the Annunciation; the rector with his rosary over his arm is kneeling behind the Madonna, rays of light pouring down on her, the paraclete in a form of a bird (which looks astonishingly like a duck!) flying towards her. The angel is kneeling at her feet, and the background is patterned with flowers. There is a small and unusual Norman doorway in the chancel, with an arch decorated with interlaced strapwork. It has four pillars with carved capitals. Grotesques grin down from the old windows, and many of the roof brackets have deeply carved foliage.

On a gable at the east end of the church is a Norman cross with a horseshoe carved on it in relief; it was found during restoration.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Dinton, Wiltshire

One of my favourites of the day; St Mary, a cruciform gem set on a green overlooking the village, is another stunner even though it has been violently restored. Inside there's a good font, two interesting brass inscriptions, a majollica Madonna & Child and fragments of glass in the chancel but it's been thoroughly scrubbed and is a tad anodyne. It is, however, for the whole rather than the parts that I liked this church (plus I'm a sucker for a cruciform church).

The inscriptions read:

Here lies dear Jo: his parents love and joy
That most pretty and ingenuous boy
His matchless soul is not yet forgotten
Tho here the lovely body dead and rotten
Ages to come may wonder at his fame
And here his death by shameful malice came
How spightful some did use him and how rude
Grife will not let me write but now conclude
To God for ever all praise be given
Since we hope he is with him in Heaven
IA 23 December 1716


From Earth we came to Earth we must return
Witness this Earth that lies within this urn
Begot by Earth born also of Earth’s womb
74 years lived Earth now
Earth’s his tomb
But from this
Earth to Heaven Earth’s soul is gone
Roger Earth Armiger
Obit 3rd Die Aprilis 1634

Jo 1716 (2)


 Roger Earth 1634 (2)

Dinton. It has a dark little lane which brings us to Dinton Beeches, and an ancient British fort. It has a cottage in which a friend of Milton is said to have been born, and a house which was the home of a great historic figure. Its church, reached by a path arched over by tall yews, has been here 700 years, with a central tower and a pointed doorway with carved capitals. An old scratch-dial is on the walls. The doorway opens into a lofty nave linked with the chancel by an impressive group of tower arches, with a vaulted roof resting on corbels carved with the symbols of the Four Evangelists. The chancel has seven windows with beautiful 14th century tracery, and the square grey font with little arches round it is as old as the church.

The ancient house at one end of the village was the home of Edward Hyde, first Lord Clarendon, who was born here in 1609. The author of The History of the Great Rebellion, who became Lord Chancellor under Charles the Second and whose daughter Anne  married the Duke of York, afterwards James the Second, and was the mother of two queens, Mary the Second, wife of William of Orange, and Queen Anne.

Dinton was also the birthplace, in 1596, of the musician Henry Lawes who invited Milton to write the masque Camus, for which he himself composed the music, and in which he played the part of the Attendant Spirit when it was first performed at Ludlow Castle, and Milton honoured him with the lines:

Harry, whose tuneful and well measured song
First taught our English music how to span
Words with just note and accent - not to scan
With Midas ears, committing short and long.

Wylye, Wiltshire

Taking advantage of a friend's 50th party I left home early last Saturday intending to leave the A303 at Wylye and do a run of ten churches. However I failed to factor in near stationary traffic between the A404 and the M3 on the M25 and so only managed seven.

To the unaccustomed - i.e. those of us from East Anglia (of which I'm one) -  these SW stone built churches look decidedly odd; where's the flint and clunch? That is not to say they are without charm but that they are a decidedly different kettle of fish to what I am used to and the countryside is breathtaking.

St Mary the Virgin was open (in fact most of the churches were and the ones that were locked I didn't get until after five o'clock so I'll give them the benefit of doubt) and is lovely though, apart from a very good pulpit, not very interesting inside.

I don't have Pevsner for Dorset or Wiltshire so it's just Mee for the following entries.

St Mary the Virgin (2)

Pulipt (1)


Wylye. The church is mainly 15th century but the chancel is of 13th century origin and the tower arch 14th century. The rector, Thomas Dampier, who was here from 1759 to 1831, put the candelabra in the nave the year before Waterloo. The silver chalice is more than four centuries old, and the pulpit was carved in Shakespeare’s day. It has graceful stair-rails and is a wonderful piece of craftsmanship. In its top panels are four winged cherubs; in the middle panels are trees in arches, all but one burdened with fruit; in the bottom panels doves spread their wings and have olive branches in their beaks. The back is panelled, and has a dove, a tree, and at the top a gilded pelican in piety. The canopy is lavishly carved and in its centre is a golden sunflower. The lectern is the same age as the pulpit, and of the same rich design; and the sanctuary has three old armchairs with richly carved backs, one with two figures on it.

The 500-year-old tower is brave with battlements, pinnacles, gargoyles, and pierced windows, and over the porch is a carving of the Crucifixion now blurred by sun and wind and rain.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Colchester, Essex - St Helen's Chapel

One of the last two 'in area' churches St Helen is a bit of a surprise in that it is nowadays a Greek Orthodox church, filled with icons and redolent of incense.

The Chapel is built on the foundations of the Roman theatre, which can be seen just above ground level: probably the core of the lower part of the walls of the Chapel is Roman too. In 1076 it was restored but post reformation it became a house, a school, a library, a Quaker meeting-house, a warehouse or workshop. Doorways and windows were blocked, others opened, including a large garage-like door in the east wall. A floor was inserted, to make it a two-storey building.

But in the 1880s the Round family, who owned the Castle, generously bought the Chapel and restored it, employing the architect William Butterfield. He preserved all he could, and really did a good job - though, while the outside retains a definite charm, the inside feels very 'restored'. The Rounds presented it to the local Anglican diocese for use as a clergy meeting-room, but after a few years it became the parish hall for the local Anglican church. Such it remained until the 1950s, when it began to be used by the Castle museum as a storeroom, a situation lasting until 2000, with the interior of the Chapel entirely locked away from public view.

So we come to the last chapter of the story for the moment. The Orthodox Parish of St Helen had been established in 1996, and had been looking for its own premises ever since. The Borough Council, fully sympathizing with the Parish's need and perhaps rather shameful of keeping such a building from the public, agreed to release it to the Parish for a period of two years, which can be extended to four. This took effect in November 2000. The building remains in the ownership of the local Church of England diocese, which happily gave its consent to the arrangement.

Pevsner is rather dismissive: Less of note in MAIDENBURGH STREET. The former CHAPEL OF ST HELEN, stone with bands of Roman brick and some C13 lancet windows, and from there a nice view down to the N, with Nos 23 and 51-52, both timber-framed C17 with projecting upper storeys.

St Helen's Chapel (3)

Looking east

St Helen’s chapel is a chapel no more, for the poor little place was disused when we called, yet in the 12th century it was attached to the abbey and was endowed with 14 acres of land.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Family tree entries may continue here but for the moment my interest has switched to Essex Churches out of my catchment area and all new visits can be found there.