Wednesday, 14 November 2012

All Souls Langham Place: Pray for the BBC

"Pray for the BBC: Corporation staff offered sanctuary in church next to New Broadcasting House"

All Souls, Langham Place is probably most famous as "The church next to the BBC". Designed by John Nash, and opened in 1824, its spire and rotunda-like base act as a knuckle, linking the disjointed axes of Regent Street and Langham Place, part of George IV's development of a grand route to his new Regent's Park. The body of the church therefore sits at a bit of an awkward angle to the tour-de-force. Spires are ultimately a gothic creation, but they remained popular throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries. Everyone from Wren and Hawksmoor to Soane and Dance tried collections of elements, such as colonnades, mini porticoes or massive columns, to produce the effect of a gothic spire but in the classical taste. At All Souls, Nash's solution was a cone surrounded with two tiers of columns arranged in rings.

The church's prominence at then s-shaped junction has over the past 190 years been challenged by increasing building heights, and the creation of Broadcasting House in the 1930s and New Broadcasting House in the 2000s.

Next time you are are at Oxford Circus, look North at its spire and columns.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

St Mary & All Saints, Fotheringhay

Fotheringhay's magnificent perpendicular parish church stands on the banks of the Nene, like a ship about to set sail from the hills of Northamptonshire through the fens, with its octagonal lantern and flying buttresses. It is in fact just a relic of the days when Fotheringhay was a royal manor. The mighty but long demolished castle was a stronghold of the Yorkists, birthplace of Richard III, and most famously the site of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. 

The church as we see it today is the surviving nave of a much larger collegiate foundation. It was built mostly in the 1430s by Edward III and is remarkably all as one piece, something rare in English ecclesiastical architecture. The bright and elegant perpendicular tracery abruptly ends in a flat wall where once the building continued to form the chancel. To the south were the associated buildings for the college of canons, and today this is visible from the blocked arches in the South East corner of the church. The entire ensemble was intended as a great monument to the House of York. Despite being constructed of beautiful local limestone, it was originally rendered and painted white which would have given it an even more striking appearance.

The church has a wonderful collection of gargoyles along the outside of the clerestory including one of a squatting man exposing his bum!

After the Dissolution, its college was closed and demolished. Eventually the chancel collapsed and Elizabeth I had memorials to her ancestors moved into the nave. The castle experienced a steady decline through the 17th Century and today only the mound exists. The village, which has other remains of mediaeval buildings, went from Royal Town to sleepy hamlet, with less than 200 inhabitants today.

The Fan Vault in the West Tower

Thursday, 8 November 2012

St Stephen Walbrook

St Stephen Walbrook, by Sir Christopher Wren is, from the outside, not the most beautiful of London's City Churches, but the interior is stunning. It has the largest dome of a City church, other than St Paul's. Its central altar was designed by Henry Moore. This Youtube video details its history...

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Radicalism Thwarted by Health & Safety? Newington Green Unitarian Chapel

Stoke Newington has a long history of religious dissent and radicalism. It has been noted as a centre for Congregationalism, Quakerism, Judaism, and more recently lesbianism! Abney Park Cemetery, for example, was designed as a model of an ecumenical burial ground. Newington Green is home to London's oldest surviving nonconformist place of worship, a Unitarian Church. Former attendees include early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and republican Dr Richard Price.

Political, as well as religious dissent have long been hallmarks of this simple stuccoed chapel, and its radicalism continues. The church applied to hold Civil partnerships, making it London's first religious building legally allowed to do so. But whilst religious marriage can be held in any religious building, venues for Civil partnerships must have a health and safety audit. The early 18th Century chapel has only one fire escape, so apparently cannot get a licence for Civil Partnerships.  Revd. Andy Pakula said of the decision “I guess gay people must generate more heat than straight ones. It’s a list of pretty trivial things to wait the best part of a year for”.

Once the church meets the requirements, it will potentially reach another landmark in its long and illustrious history.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

A Bell Ringer Gets in Trouble

A woman in Bathampton, Somerset had to be rescued after getting tangled in the bell ropes at St Nicholas' Church. See the link for the full story...

All Saints & St Peter, Aldwincle

The broach spire of St Peter's, Aldwincle

The small village of Aldwincle in North Northamptonshire, by some quirk of history, has two parishes and therefore two parish churches. One, St Peters, stands in the centre of the village and is noted for its broach spire, one of the "most perfect" examples. St Peters exhibits a range of gothic features from the 12th to the 15th century, and is very much the typical parish church. it is surrounded by a graveyard, overlooking cottages, with an interior dominated by its Victorian restoration. Think plush carpets and cross-stitch hassocks.

The nave and chancel

Mediaeval Stained Glass and a Green Man

The early C20th rood screen

At the East end of the village, as one heads to the broad valley of the Nene, is the second church, All Saints. The first features one notices is the great perpendicular tower, a stark contrast to St Peter's spire. The church was declared redundant in the 1970s, and since then has been preserved by the Churches Conservation Trust, seemingly in a state of partial decay. Fragments of wall paintings and old plasterwork against areas of exposed stone. The roof, dated to the 17th century, is raw and simple. An extravagant perpendicular chantry chapel sits to the South-East, facing the Manor House. To the North is the birthplace of the village's most famous former resident; the post John Dryden who's father was the rector of All Saints.

All Saints Church from the South

The Nave, showing remains of wall painting and the 17th century roof timbers

The Perpendicular South Chapel