Friday, 31 August 2012

I've been Brass Rubbing at Hathersage Church

I remember on primary school trips to old churches taking brass rubbings with purple blue and red crayons. Or taking the textures of tree bark and bricks. Oh the simple pleasures.

This primitive art seems to be in terminal decline. I, for one, have only rubbed brass once in the past decade to my knowledge. It was at Hathersage church in Derbyshire.

Hathersage is a beautiful little Peak District village just outside Sheffield. The three main claims to fame are a particularly beautiful lido with views of the surrounding hills; David Mellor's round cutlery factory; and "Little John's Grave" (supposedly the resting place of Robin Hood's mate). The church's spire punctuates the top of the village surrounded by lush green hills with moorland plateaus above.

After wandering round the cool dark church interior on a glorious July afternoon some years ago, we did some brass rubbings of their mediaeval Eyre family brasses. And then, for the grand sum of 20p I bought a badge that proclaimed "I'VE BEEN BRASS RUBBING AT HATHERSAGE CHURCH".

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Crouch End Church Recording Studio

A decision is soon to be made regarding the future of a Victorian church which is now a recording studio in Crouch End, North London. The Eurythmics and Bob Dylan are amongst those who have recorded in the space. It's conversion is part of the ongoing issue of rising property prices and lack of housing in London which threatens many other creative and historic spaces as their financial value for high-end housing far outweighs their financial value as a cultural amenity. At least if the permission is granted it is for conversion. So many unlisted buildings are demolished on the grounds of economic viability, and this argument appears likely to hold more weight in the future as the government makes more reforms to relax the planning system in favour of developers.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

St Joan of Arc, Highbury

Yesterday, as I was walking through north London I saw a rather unusual looking Catholic church. It's toblerone-like form seemed very 1960s, yet its West window was of a strangely rational gothic style. A bit of research and I discovered St Joan of Arc, in Highbury Grove, was built in 1961 by Stanley Kerr Bate who wanted to build 'a happy church'.

If only more architects tried to make happy buildings.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Maastricht Dominican Church Bookshop

One of my favourite conversions has to be Maastricht's Dominican Church which is now a bookshop. The great gothic nave was neglected for much of the 20th century, at times being used as a bike shed (a certain Pevsner quote comes to mind). In 2008 it was converted into a book shop, in a striking way with black shelves lining the nave and aisles.

The new additions do not attempt to blend into the background, and therefore it is immediately obvious what has been added. it is reversible, and the mew use reflects both the serenity of church interiors, and the way in which churches were historically vital for education, getting information, and socialising.

The Guardian newspaper even named it the best bookshop in the world!

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Christ Church & Upton Chapel, Lambeth

Across the road from Lambeth North tube station stands an isolated Victorian Gothic church spire, with a 1960s office building behind. This originally belonged to Christ Church, the body of which was destroyed in WWII. At the bottom of the replacement building there is a curious concrete facade of interlocking naturalistic forms, and behind is the now combined Christ Church & Upton Chapel. It serves both the United Reformed and Baptist communities. The doors open directly onto the chapel, and one is immediately struck by the stained glass window featuring people from throughout the ages.

The remaining Victorian tower is today a memorial to Abraham Lincoln. The juxtaposition of old and new is striking and shows how old elements can be preserved as monuments to the past. It also highlights how not all 1960s architects were as thoughtless as is often felt today.  The spire is still a landmark for this major junction.

Who wants to buy a church?

If you have a bit of cash, a love of old churches, and a desire to do something interesting, creative and hopefully beneficial to a community, why not buy a church?! Sounds ridiculous, I know, but the Church of England publish a list of redundant churches they are selling on their website. The currently available churches range from a rather uninspiring 1960s church, a few Victorian urban churches, right through to Grade I listed mediaeval beauties.

If you are tempted, please be considerate. Too many churches have been poorly converted into second rate executive homes. An ancient church belongs to its community, and should remain available to the people of that community to use, enjoy and appreciate.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

St Vincent Street Church, Glasgow

St Vincent Street Church by Alexander "Greek" Thompson stands majestically on a hillside in central Glasgow.

Glasgow city centre is shaped by steep, wavy hills which allow great views along its grid-like streets to such monuments as the university, the necropolis, or the many churches which fill the city.

St Vincent Street was designed in the 1850s by Alexander "Greek" Thompson who, despite his name, incorporated many Egyptian features into his buildings.

The church makes the most of its hilltop setting, with the body of the church raised up above the streets in the form of a classical temple. The landmark tower, of an idiosyncratic and complex design, is almost detached. There are complex bands of details, all in stone and beautifully discoloured by decades of Glasgow's polluted air. Unfortunately, recent developments of office buildings have started to overshadow the church.

The church is not in great condition and has plants pushing through it, but its survival is all the more important because of the ruinous state of Thompson's other great church, Caledonia Road in the Gorbals.