Sunday, 5 June 2011

Temple Normanton- The Fibreglass Wonder!

Close your eyes and imagine what you think The Church of St James The Apostle, Church Lane, Temple Normanton, Derbyshire might look like. It looks nothing like that.

England has thousands of brick and stone churches; hundreds of concrete churches; quite a few 'tin tabernacles', but as far as I am aware, only one orange fibreglass church.

St James the Apostle is a church I stumbled across a couple of times whilst driving in north Derbyshire. Not far from Chesterfield's iconic crooked spire, this village church is far more striking and eccentric. It sits strangely surrounded by a rather traditional looking graveyard, with a local stone wall, mature trees and victorian and edwardian era gravestones. It's even located on the rather bucolic sounding 'Church Lane'.  Yet this church seems more like the product of an outer-space oversized baked bean invasion than a little slice of heaven on earth. If this is what god's house really looks like then god must be a 1980s photocopier salesman that took a wrong turn on the A617 and accidentally ingested a Ginsters pasty laced with acid.

This is not the first church in Temple Normanton. Originally there stood an ancient little church, which the zealous victorians replaced by a larger and more imposing edifice. The local coal mining industry caused subsidence, a fate many fantastic buildings have suffered, and so it was demolished and replaced by a temporary timber structure which apparently blew away (unverified, but I like to think it's true).

The current church, built in 1986, is half buried, with a semi-circular roof of fibreglass. It's form is strangely reminiscent of primitive celtic churches such as Gallarus Oratory in Kerry, Ireland or a Hebridean black house with its deeply recessed door. But rather than hewn from the land, it seems to have landed from above. Like the landing craft of an alien invasion (all good churches should seem to be other worldly, of course). Like Ely Cathedral, the haunting behemoth of the misty fens, must have seemed to the mediaeval traveller. The uPVC double-glazed windows may not be particularly elegant, yet somehow they suit, just like Ely's oversized cast iron radiators, standing sentinel in the aisles. The stark cross in the graveyard surrounded by what looks to be a bin is the only vertical element, and the only obvious sign that this is in fact a church, and not a scout hut. Next to the main door sits a little potted leylandii. As suburban and domestic as one could ever hope to see. Superb juxtaposition. As if this little terracotta clad tree, two-foot tall, could soften and tame the alien spacecraft.

The whole composition is somewhere between sublime and ridiculous. Off-the-shelf B&Q fittings? The sea of block paving? Some kind of twisted joke by the architect, surely?

It's not ostentatious or overpriced. It probably won't last forever. Most parishioners probably wish they still had a nice little gothic stone box with a quaint little tower. Be grateful. Your church is amazing.

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