Wednesday, 25 July 2012

A Few Friends Houses

Quakers have long been known for their unpretentious, simple attitude to religion, life and design. Their meeting houses reflect this. Rather than erecting grand chapels, most Quaker places of worship live up to their name, being more similar to houses.

Many old Quaker meeting houses are converted or adapted cottages, barns, farmhouses, reflecting their origins simply as meetings in a convenient location. Purpose built ones usually have far more in common with local house design than contemporary churches which were more influenced by fashion and prestige. They often stand in gardens, and usually have very simple interiors. Vernacular materials, simple woodwork, white walls and plain glass. As with many church groups, attendances are falling and meeting houses are closing. Some of the oldest meetings are in tiny villages whose small congregations cannot support an old building anymore.

The lack of ornamentation, and often diminutive size, make them incredibly powerful places. And incredibly friendly. They tend to be overlooked in favour of grander or more historic Anglican or sometime Catholic churches, but are very rewarding buildings to visit. Below is a selection of interesting meeting houses.

For many hundreds of great photos of Quaker Meeting Houses can be seen at

Coldhouse, Cumbria

Come-To-Good, Cornwall

 Disley, Cheshire

 Hertford, Hertforshire

 Jordans, Buckinghamshire

 Lewes, Sussex

 Wellingborough, Northamptonshire

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Geffrye Memorial, London

Memorial to Sir Robert Geffrye, located in the chapel of the almshouses he founded in Shoreditch, East London in 1714. Today the almshouses are the location of the famous Geffrye Museum of domestic interiors.

The marble memorial features the usual selection of swags, urns, fruit, flowers, cherubs and skulls.

Almshouses were, especially from the 16th to 18th centuries, a way of securing one's place in heaven, in much the same way as chantry chapels were in the Middle Ages. They also provided, and many still do, accommodation and basic charity for the elderly poor.

A challenge for many working almshouses today is the balance between preserving historic buildings, but also providing accessible modern accommodation. Many almshouses also have a small chapel, often quite basic, which offered space for both religious services, and also secular communality.

The museum's website can be found here:

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Bucolic vs. Chaotic. Tottenham is not what you expect.

For years Tottenham in North London has suffered with an image problem. Urban decay, Broadwater Farm, deprivation, social isolation, poor transport, decaying buildings. Since last summer's riots have undone twenty years of slow and often non-existent progress to improve the area's reputation.

Few people visit Tottenham, other than to go to Ikea (where there was a riot when it opened) or to White Hart Lane, home to Spurs.

Tottenham has a rich history dating back to Roman times, located on the famous Ermine Street heading north out of London. Like neighbouring Hackney and Enfield, Tottenham became a popular area for hunting and rural retreats from the 16th to the early 19th Centuries. The most venerable secular building of this era is "Bruce Castle", once home to the Kings of Scotland and the Earls of Northumberland. Today it is open as a museum. It is approached from Bruce Grove which contains some of Tottenham's grandest Georgian houses. The High Road, too, is blessed with once grand mansions that housed those wealthy enough to afford a home in the Middlesex countryside away from the dirty crowded city. Today many of these houses are neglected, hidden behind later shops, or restored but under appreciated.

Behind Bruce Castle, and well away from the traffic of the A10, stands the most idyllic corner of Tottenham. The ancient All Hallows Church. It was begun in the 12th Century, and the original tower still stands (with later haphazard alterations). The 15th century brick porch is particularly fine.

All Hallows was even painted by Constable, and the original is at the Met in New York.

Next to the church, behind a high brick wall is the Georgian Rectory. The iron gates are beautiful, and the garden behind, on a sunny day, could be mistaken for a small town in the Chilterns.

The church is surrounded by a graveyard with a selection of interesting and not so interesting graves dating back to the 17th century. But as the railway arrived and Tottenham became part of the growing sprawl of 19th century London, the graveyard quickly became full. An adjacent cemetery was opened. As one moves further from the church, we shift through a hundred and fifty years of cemetery and grave design. There is perceptible shift from rural to urban to suburban not only in Tottenham's houses, but also in its graves.

The earliest part is lined by limes and filled with gothic slabs in closely packed rows.  Continue along and the WWI memorial and portland graves have their own enclosure. They are, as with all CWGC graves, immaculate. Their pristine whiteness only highlight the decay in the rest of the cemetary. Scarcely a single grave is either upright or clean.

Furthest from the church, and closest to the 1920s LCC estate are mid-20th century graves, with green glass chips and plastic flowers. At the centre of this is a picturesque lake with weeping willows, rose garden and crazy paving. The final corner has the most recent graves, invariably timber crosses or black marble with gold lettering.  The space has almost run out. How will Tottenham commemorate its dead now? Or has Tottenham already been killed by the media? Must 2000 years of history be erased and the Estate Agent's rebranding begin?

"Welcome to North Hackney/ East Wood Green/South Enfield"

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Blog about Churches in the North East

If I had more time and a car my blog would probably (hopefully) be more like this....

It is a blog dedicated to the history and architecture of churches in the North East of England. Northumberland and County Durham are something of a forgotten land in the UK. Their landscapes, their history, their culture are unique and surprisingly well preserved. The region's idiosyncrasies and remote corners are well worth exploring.

This blog covers well known masterpieces, such as Segefield or Durham, but also lesser known little churches like Dilston Chapel and Hart church.

The Most Enigmatic Church In England? Fairfield, Kent

Isolated on a marsh in southern Kent

Thoroughly vernacular. Oak timber frame internally, cased in black and red flemish bond brickwork. Weatherboarded tower. Red tiled roof with a steep pitch and overhanging eaves.

Open to the roof. Timbers exposed like a mediaeval Great Hall. All mellow and silver. Low beams. The chancel is almost entirely separated from the nave.

Georgian box pews and a three decker pulpit, so beloved by architectural historians. All painted white. Simple black boards with gold painted religious texts.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Campaign to Save Seven Kings Methodist Church

A campaign has been started in East London after Redbridge Council received a planning application to demolish an Edwardian Gothic Methodist Church in Seven Kings.It was designed by Architect George Baines and opened in 1905. It is built in Perpendicular Gothic meets Late Arts & Crafts style, in red brick and stone details so beloved by Edwardian architects.

The lovely, landmark building could be reopened for community use. With a bit of careful design, it could provide space for a library, or for community groups. Farmers markets? Even become a sports hall, or concert venue. Or how about a sculpture gallery, or kids play area (with a sand pit in the chancel, swings hanging from the roof timbers and slides curling round columns?!) This building has stood for over a century. Its replacement would probably last not more than thirty years.

With shrinking congregations, and increasing risk of redundancy, we need to think creatively about how we reuse of ecclesiastical built heritage. Even a supermarket would be a preferable option to total demolition. If this building is demolished, it will never be rebuilt. Redbridge Council have to think carefully about their decision.

The campaign to save the church is at

Sunday, 15 July 2012

St Dunstan In The East

The church was repaired after the Great Fire in 1666. Wren constructed a new tower. The church was largely rebuilt between 1817 and 1821. It was bombed during WWII and the ruins were preserved as a public garden. Today it is incredibly serene, and the vine covered tracery make it a gothic fantasy in a sea of late 20th Century office buildings.

The Hereford Screen, V&A Museum

Yesterday I went down the the V&A in South Kensington to explore their endless galleries of statues, paintings, dresses, chairs, alarm clocks, columns end so on. Endless hoards too this weekend. As London gears up for the Olympics, its cultural institutions (and shopping streets) seem busy than ever with people seeking a little bit of Britain.

I pass under the white traffic cones on the Cromwell Road entrance, an installation by Heatherwick Studio who are the subject of a current exhibition. Through the mahogany doors, passing the statues of Wren and of Shakespeare and of Morris. Facing me, high up behind an arch of pale grey marble is the magnificent George Gilbert Scott Hereford Screen.

It is the most magnificent display of High Victorian Gothic Revivalism. It combines craftsmanship with showiness. Devout religiosity with exuberance. Colourful wrought iron flowers and swirls and columns and leaves and swags topped off by angels and Jesus.

It was designed as the chancel screen for Hereford's pink sandstone cathedral in 1862, and spent a century dominating the view from the nave. Scott's reinstatement of mediaeval screens (which often completely cut the chancel off from the nave) is not merely and aesthetic choice. It also represent the liturgical shift from protestant Georgian preaching boxes to the Oxford Movement and the renewed interest in Catholic liturgy. Scott designed new iron screens for Salisbury and Lichfield. The use of iron for such an item was unknown in mediaeval England. Like a plastic pulpit or a fibreglass reredos.

But tastes change. Victoriana gave way for modernity. Lichfield kept it's screen, but Salisbury and Hereford both considered them unwanted recent additions. It was sold to a museum in Coventry, and then in 1983 the rusting remains were donated to the V&A who carefully restored it. today it sits on the first floor, adjacent to one of the lesser visited galleries, ironwork. Centuries of metalwork development and stylistic change, with Scott's Hereford screen the crescendo. A fitting tribute to the work of generations of metalworkers.

I was particularly struck by the beautiful shadows cast by the many spotlights. The arches and leaves and scrolls layered by light.

(images to follow)

Friday, 13 July 2012

The Original Shard

The Original Shard- Old St Paul's, London.


I got myself a twitter account. Please follow me... @oldchurchescool. Lots of opinions and news stories about old churches, buildings, etc.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

360 Degree View of Liverpool Roman Catholic Cathedral

This morning I found a fantastic 360 interior view of Frederick Gibberd's much celebrated Roman Catholic Cathedral in Liverpool. It captures some of the beauty of the stained glass, and the sense of drama it creates. The forceful concrete exterior contrasts beautifully with the interior, whose design was strongly influenced by the decisions of the Second Vatican Council.

Compared to the other great Mid-20th Century British cathedral, Coventry, it is interesting to see how different and dramatic the treatment of the fenestration has brought to the building, with Coventry's clear glass 'West' End (actually South) arguably making it dominate the interior, rather than focusing one on the alter. Also interesting is the different ways in which pre-mediaeval elements of ecclesiastical buildings, such as chapels, choirs and fonts are incorporated into modern liturgy.

The radical decisions of Vatican II mark the greatest difference between the form and progression through these buildings, and each is beautifully juxtaposed by a more senior neighbour. In Coventry, this is the ruined St Michael with its magnificent steeple, and of Liverpool it is Giles Gilbert Scott's Anglican Cathedral which, despite being Victorian in origin wasn't completed until eleven years after its "newer" catholic neighbour.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Some Old Photos of St Mary Woolnoth

Here are some lovely old photos I found of St Mary Woolnoth.

St Mary Woolnoth is one is one of my favourite City Churches. A miniature masterpiece. Hawksmoor buildings always seem so striking and original, and the tower of St Mary's could easily be mistaken for having been built two centuries later. It always seems so forgotten, for such a prominently located church, unlike many of Wren's churches which lurk down mediaeval passages. These photos appear to date from the 1960s, judging by the cars. Please note the effect of cleaning. I know dirt is bad for stone, and I know we all like to see bright shiny white buildings, but I still think the grime adds so much. It makes the whole composition stand out, and seem like a grand old lady that has looked down on Lombard Street since the days of hansom cabs.

It's been a while...

I haven;t posted anything in ages. I seem to have a lot less free time these days, but I have decided that there are just too many amazing churches out there. I need to spread the word! I may even join twitter.