Saturday, February 26, 2011

Wolverton's Ecclesiastical History - VII A New Church

When Henry Quartley arrived at Wolverton in 1794 the church was considered to be in a very poor state. By this time the building and tower was over 400 years old. Thomas Harrison, the Trustee's agent, was asked to conduct a survey and estimate the cost of the work. However, Quartley's view was that the Rectory, by that time about 70 years old, needed more urgent attention and in 1796 the Trust contributed £200 towards the cost of rectory repairs.

The church stayed off the agenda until 1802 when Harrison presented a plan for repairs. There was no action as one of the trustees, the Earl of Aylesford, was interested in a grander design. The idea took flight in 1807 when Aylesford, who came with experience of church building, was asked to develop plans for a new church. He found a young architect, the 36 year-old Henry Hakewill and brought him to a meeting of the Trustees on 27th May 1808. At this meeting the Trustees made a decision to procure plans and estimates and a year later Hakewill's plan and estimated cost of £3,742 17s. was given the green light.

It is interesting that the new canal played a significant part in the building of the new church. Two quarries were used: one at Attleborough near Nuneaton and another at Bilston, near Northampton.  Although stone was transported considerable distances during the medieval building period, the new transportation system made the carriage so much easier and faster. This was also a new age of iron manufacture and the windows were made by a company in which Thomas Harrison had an interest and were delivered by canal to the Old Wolverton wharf.

The design of the church was quite distinctive, and proved to be even more distinctive in that few churches were built in this style after this. Hakewill settled on a neo-Norman style using rounded Romanesque arches, rather than the pointed gothic style which had dominated church building since the 13th century.  The style is also a deliberate reminder that this church is the oldest foundation on the Wolverton Manor and precedes by at least 200 years the development of Stony Stratford.

Hakewill's plan involved pulling down the old nave and chancel, but retaining the structure of the tower. the tower now became the western entrance for the new church and was faced and decorated in the new style. The drawing above, dating from the 1840s, shows the new church in pristine condition. Below, is a plan drawing to show the siting of the 14th century church.

Construction was completed in 1815 and the final bill, almost double the first estimate, came in at £7,792 18s 7 1/2d. Some final touches included the landscaping of the grounds around the churcha and rectory, which unfortunately led to the filling of the ancient castle moat.

The stonework carries some history of the building. Some of the older stone from the earlier church has been used in the foundations and rubble walling. This rather poor quality limestone has been identified as coming from the local quarry at Cosgrove. Some ashlar ironstone came from a quarry at Towcester. Other limestones of better quality may have come from quarries in Northamptonshire at Weldon, Clipsham and Helmdon. Again these materials have been re-cycled from the earlier church and thus provides some historical continuity.

The new building is brick-built but faced with stone from the midland quarries. The tower was preserved in its limestone form but faced with cut stone from the Attleborough quarry.

What follows is a very full description of the design and features of the church from a monograoh written by John Brushe.


It is important when looking at Holy Trinity to bear in mind that it is a pioneering church, probably the first complete church in Britain built in the revived Norman or Romanesque style. Quite a few neo- Norman churches were built in the 1840s but Wolverton church was designed and built by 1815, well before the reign of Queen Victoria. Very little had been published on the Norman style at that time and its architect, Henry Hakewill, would have had to base his deSigns on per­sonal research. In this light Holy Trinity is a remarkable achievement, and a building of national importance.
The architectural display is concentrated on the west front of the tower, the entrance elevation. The door is impressively treated in the Norman style with three orders of shafts and, to the round arch, chevron or zigzag moulding framed by roll mouldings. The shafts bear capitals which are scalloped in the Norman style but the ornament above the trumpet scallops of fleur­de-Iys and circles in relief has no Norman precedent and shows an unfamiliarity with the style which results in a certain originality.
Above the door is a run of blank arcading with inter­secting round -arched heads between the big pilaster buttresses, whose angles are treated as shafts. This dec­oration of intersecting arches is used on the tower of the Norman church of Stewkley, not far away, as well as in many other Norman buildings. Repeated again on the corners of the tower parapet, this motif anticipates the decoration of many of the fittings within the church.
On the south side of the tower is a clock face which is unusual in only having a single hand, a feature asso­ciated with early clocks. The clock mechanism isunsigned and may well pre-date the rebuilding of the church. The cast-iron clock face is framed by a hood mould with a carved head either end: a young man's head on the left and a rather comical old man's head on the right, with a curious sort of head-dress. The young man's head is framed by foliage and is clearly a version of the medieval carvings of the Green Man. There are more carved heads high up in the corbel table below the battlemented parapet of the tower.
Before it was wrapped in new stonework, the medieval tower had a projecting stair turret at the south -west cor­ner, rising above the original battlemented parapet as a polygonal turret. In the rebuilding the tower was height­ened and the stair turret hidden within the south-west buttress. Only the small round-headed windows light­ing the stairs signal its presence.
The windows lighting the nave and transepts, and the east window are all much larger in relation to the expanse of walling in which' they are set than in eleventh or early twelfth century churches. They are closer in proportion to the windows in classical Georgian churches or the City churches designed by Wren. Again they manifest the underlying classical spir­it of the building. Not that it is designed to deceive, but is rather a building of its time whose style deliberately evokes an important moment in history. The window frames are of cast-iron specially designed for this church with three circles alluding to the Trinity.
Over the corners of the projecting transepts and the chancel rise tall, octagonal lantern turrets. They are fea­tures more characteristic of the greater Norman churches rather than parish churches. Their inspiration is indeed said to be the Romanesque turrets on the transepts and east end of Peterborough cathedral. As one of the most important surviving Norman buildings, Peterborough would have been an obvious source for details when Hakewill was making his designs. They have conical stone caps with ribs which terminate in wolves' heads, a nice pun on Wolverton's name, though you will need binoculars to appreciate it!
The tall gables to the chancel and transepts are large­ly decorative, rising well above the actual roofs which are, as has already been noted, quite low-pitched.
The great round window filling the eastern wall is the architect's boldest stroke. Round windows were employed in Norman churches but never on so large a scale. Where a circular window appears in the East end it is high in the gable above a row of the more usual narrow round-headed Windows, as for instance at Barfreston, Kent. A closer parallel is with classical churches such as St Michael's Cornhill in the City, of 1670-77, and St Mary's Twickenham by John James, built 1714-15, which each have a single relatively large round East window. Holy Trinity's is larger still. Why? A comparison between the East ends of these churches and Holy Trinity's suggests the reason. At St Mary's and St Michael's the windows sit above large altar pieces. At Holy Trinity the round window is positioned almost directly above the altar, eliding an altar piece. As origi­nally completed the window held stained glass featuring the Sacred Monogram IHS in a sunburst, which often appears in 17th and 18th century altar pieces. In other words the round window at Holy Trinity is both window and altar piece.
The East end is best studied in winter when the trees around it have shed their leaves and the great east win­dow can be seen from the field beyond the churchyard boundary, startlingly large, the dominant feature of a building which is the masterpiece of its architect and perhaps the most powerful church of the early years of the nineteenth century before the Battle of Waterloo.


The Tower

            The lowest stage of the tower forms a porch to the -.l. church beyond. This was formerly the crossing of the medieval church. The floor was originally at least 3 feet lower than it is now. If you open one of the doors in the modern timber screens either side you will see the medieval stonework of the original central tower, hidden within the present west tower. The walls are of the local limestone rubble, framing the better quality stonework of a fourteenth century arch either side. These arches formerly led into the transept chapels which originally flanked the tower. They are the same either Side, of simple powerful design with a chamfered shouldered arch outermost framing two massive cham­fered arches which die into the piers.
            Low down on the right side of the arch in the north wall is a stone inscribed with an upside down cross within a lozenge partly cut offby the outer chamfer. This has been interpreted as a re-used stone bearing a pos­sible Saxon consecration cross. It could however refer to St Peter, who was crucified upside down.
            The medieval stonework was rediscovered under early nineteenth century plaster during the course of the 1907 repairs to the tower carried out under the supervision of Charles Harrison Townsend. Plaster still covers the east and west walls, hiding the stonework of the arches which originally opened into the nave on the west side, and the chancel to the east, instead of the present doorways. Part of one side of the chancel arch can be seen, however, inside the cupboard in the inner right hand corner hous­ing the clock weights. The arch was wider than the present doorway, but probably no higher. The door in the outer right hand corner by the entrance leads to the medieval stone spiral staircase up to the ringing cham­ber and the roof.
            The present floor of the tower is paved in Kingsthorpe stone, another of Northamptonshire's many limestones. The fine oak cross-beamed ceiling may conceivably pre­date the early nineteenth century rebuilding. It bears stencilled decoration.
            If you get a chance to go up the tower you will use the original steep medieval stone spiral stair. It has 55 stone steps. At intervals there are blocked doorways to roof levels of the medieval church. At its head, built into the wall, is a carved stone head which may be Norman.

The Bells

The ringing chamber is directly above the porch. Its upper half was originally the bell chamber and at the top of the medieval tower. The top stage, the present bell chamber, was added in the early nineteenth century rebuilding. It houses a fine ring of six bells hung from an oak bell frame. They were cast in 1820 by John Briant of Hertford, a notable early nineteenth century bell founder. They are unusual in being hung in a "left-hand" ring.

The Nave and the Transepts

Instead of the small, relatively short medieval chan­cel, the tower now opens into a spacious nave. Nave and transepts form a single T-shaped space for the congregation. The cross­ing in front of the chancel is defined by tall corner shafts with deeply undercut foliage capitals.
            Between 1870 and the end of the nineteenth century the interior of the church was transformed under the supervision of the architect Edward Swinfen Harris. Daniel Bell, of the firm of Bell and Almond designed a complete scheme of painted decoration informed by the knowledge that the interiors of medieval churches were originally brightly painted. The scheme was carried out from 1870 onwards by Bell and Almond. This consisted chiefly of stencilled decoration but on the west wall of the nave, around the chancel arch and the east window, figurative work painted by Daniel Bell "with his own hand".
            The walls of the nave and transepts were formerly entirely stencilled with diapered masonry patterns and decoration around the windows. This has unfortunately been largely painted over and now survives only round the transept windows.
            When looking at the west wall it should be borne in mind that the font originally stood nearby, to the left as you enter, on a square of decorative floor tiles which still exists below the present boarded floor. The prox­imity of the font explains the themes of the wall paintings which are related to baptism. Their source is the Order of Baptism in the Book of Common Prayer. The first prayer of that service alludes to the Flood and the Passage through the Red Sea, which prefigure the Christian rite of baptism. Noah is shown on the far left with his family giving thanks to God after the Flood, with the Ark in the background. On the far right are Moses and the Israelites at the Red Sea with the pillars of cloud which guided them out of Egypt. Either side of the tower arch the Old and New Testament practices are contrasted, with the scene on the left referring to the ancient Jewish rite of Circumcision, and on the right a Christian baptism. The priest carrying out the baptism may be a portrait of the Rev. John Wood, vicar from 1871 - 1895. Above the tower arch, stretching the full width of the nave, is a fine group showing Christ welcoming the children. The painted text below is taken from the Gospel according to Mark, Chapter 10, verse 14 the gospel reading in the Order of Baptism in the Book of Common Prayer. The wall painting repays close study. For instance, the architectural backgrounds to the scene in the Temple and the baptism show stencilled decoration of the kind Daniel Bell designed for the church. In the Red Sea a delightful fantastic fish can be seen. Moses and other figures have sumptuous patterned robes. This important Victorian wall painting awaits restoration when funds become available.
            The decoration of the east end of the nave, around the chancel arch, survives largely intact. Great angels in roundels flank the arch. The angel on the left holds a cross with a crown of thorns in one hand, and, sym­bolising the communion, a chalice with ears of wheat above it in the other. The angel on the right holds a palm branch of victory and the crown of glory.
            The beamed ceiling of the nave and transepts was probably deSigned by Edward SWinfen Harris. It retains its original painted decoration. A series of corbels supports the ceiling; the six over the chancel arch bear the coats of arms of the six Radcliffe Trustees in whose time the church was rebuilt. From the left, the arms are those of Sir William Dolben baronet, Wriothesley Digby esquire, the 4th Earl of Aylesford, Viscount Sidmouth, William Ralph Cartwright esquire and Sir Charles Mordaunt baronet. In the photograph of around 1900 a set of brass oil lamps can be seen hanging from the ceiling on long chains, from rings which are still there. The two fine brass chandeliers hanging in the centre of the nave at the east and west ends are Georgian, and may have come from the old church.
            The scheme of polychromatic decoration was comple­mented by a new set of stained glass windows. Those in the nave were probably designed by Daniel Bell and date from the 1870's. The central figurative roundels depict, from the left as you enter, the Nativity, Christ in the carpenter's shop, the Supper at Emmaus and the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. The second window was set up at Christmas 1876 in memory of Mary Wilkinson by her husband George, a tenant on the Radcliffe estate for 56 years. The third window com­memorates Henry Snaith Trower of Wolverton Park, who died in 1878. His wife is remembered on the brass plate below; she died a few years short of her centenary in 1920. The fourth window commemorates another ten­ant, George Brooks Wilkinson, who died in 1879.
            The north transept window is an early work by Henry Holiday made by Powells' and depicts Christ's baptism in the River Jordan. The heads are a bit grim but the colours are very vivid. It commemorates a retired cler­gyman, the Rev. John Miles, who was vicar of Holy Trinity Paddington, a Victorian church now alas demolished and replaced by a block of flats.
            The south transept window, earlier in style than any of the others is probably the first of the set and rather naive. It shows the Resurrection, and commemorates Richard Harrison, agent to the Radcliffe Trustees for 53 years, who died in 1858 at the age of 97.  The present church was rebuilt in his time as agent. He lived at Wolverton House, which he rebuilt around the same time.
            The organ originally stood in the chancel and was removed here as part of the re-ordering of 1974.
            The font is in the Gothic style. It is mid 19th century and of Bath stone. Faint stencil patterns can still be made out on the stonework which was damaged when it was moved to its present position at the re-ordering. The towering font canopy is later and designed by Edward Swinfen Harris. The body of the gilded dove from which it is suspended hides a rise­-and-fall mechanism.
            The pulpit is also probably mid-nineteenth century and of Bath stone. Its painted decoration is later and well preserved. In the arches of the intersecting blank arcading which decorate it are pots of lilies and roses alternating with four early saints known as Fathers of the Church: St Gregory with a dove on his shoulders, St Jerome carrying a model church, St Ambrose with mitre and holding a pastoral staff, and St Augustine of Hippo. There is more intersecting round-headed arcad­ing in the lectern and prayer desk, and to the front of the blocks of pews in the transepts.
            The banners which hang at each corner of the cross­ing were presented in 1888.

The Chancel

The chancel is raised three steps above the nave and transepts over a vault which was made to replace that under the medieval chancel. The bottom step has been obscured by the general raising of the nave floor to the level of the raised platforms on which the pews sit.
            The handsome chancel arch is in the Norman style. The opening has semi -circular responds with stylised leaf ornament to cushion capitals, framed by thin shafts with attenuated foliage capitals. The round arch has two orders of roll moulding, painted zig-zag or chevron ornament and an outer moulding known as billet, a characteristic Norman moulding like alternating chopped sections of roll moulding.
            The chancel is square in plan and has a quadripar­tite vault with a large boss in the centre where the ribs meet. It is of plaster imitating stonework. The vault springs from four vaulting shafts at each corner of the chancel with foliage capitals.
            The stone floor is late seventeenth century and came from the old chancel as did the black and white mar­ble chequer pavement within the communion rail. In the middle of the stone floor are set five grey marble memorial slabs. The oldest is to the right of the centre and commemorates the Rev. Alexander Featherston, vicar of Holy Trinity from 1673 until his death in 1686. It was in his memory that his widow Catherine laid the stone and marble pavement, as the inscription records. Catherine Featherston is commemorated on the right.  She died in 1712 leaving the parish a substantial sum to found a charity which is still in existence, intended to provide clothing and blankets for poor parishioners regularly attending church. Her commemorative inscription in lower case script in contrast to the Roman capitals used on her husband's memorial is rather beau­tiful and worth quoting:
Here Resteth the Body of Catherine Featherston Blessed with the Love of her Parents in the Time of Their short and vertuous Life A Longer Space happy in the Society of her dear Husband more joyfull in her hopes of Everlasting happiness by the memory of the holy Trinity.
To the left of centre the two memorial slabs com­memorate Rebecca Green, who died in 1750, and her husband Edmund Green, vicar of Holy Trinity for 34 years from 1720 until his death in 1754 aged 70. In the middle is the slab commemorating the Rev. Edmund Smith, the Rev. Green's successor, who died in 1785. The superb monument against the north wall of the chancel also came from the chancel of the old church. Sir Thomas was Lord of the Manor and patron of the living (he appointed Alexander Featherston). The mon­ument is composed of two types of Italian marble: a fine veined grey marble for the structure and a pure white marble from Carrara known as statuary marble for the life-size semi-reclining figure of Sir Thomas. The figure is mounted on a high pedestal with a big gadrooned cor­nice. On the tall panel behind the figure is a long commemorative inscription in Latin praising the deceased in rather conventional terms, and mentioning his first wife, Mary, daughter and co-heir of Sir William Fenwick, knight, of Northumberland, their only son Edward who succeeded him, and his second wife Catherine, second daughter and heir of Sir Thomas Peyton, baronet of Kent. They had only been married a few months at the time of her husband's death on June 25th 1685, aged 54. It was she who put up this fine monument to his memory. What the inscription does not say is that he was killed by a fall from his horse. His son, Edward, the third and last baronet, seems to have had a feckless and extravagant character. He sold his Wolverton estate to Dr. John Radcliffe in 1713. Curiously enough he died in the same way as his father, breaking his neck when he fell from his horse at Bicester races. The back panel of the memorial is sur­mounted by his father's coat of arms and an urn with a flame finial. The figure of Sir Thomas shows him in the garb of an ancient Roman knight, or equites, gazing heavenward, with hand on heart.
            In the old chancel the monument stood on the oppo­site side against the south wall so that the figure of Sir Thomas faced the east window. This explains his pose, for he would have originally been looking towards the light of the rising sun. The east window was glazed with clear glass. On a fine summer morning the light would have played dramatically on the white marble figure of Sir Thomas evoking his resurrection at the Last Judgement.
            This outstanding monument is not signed but it is certainly by a leading London sculptor. There is a monument by the same hand in Loddon church near Norwich to a Lady Williamson who died in 1684, which also figures a semi-reclining life size figure of the deceased, but in contemporary dress. The sculp­tor may have been Thomas Stayner. He Signed a similar monument to Richard Winwood who died in 1689 in Quainton church and another in Steeple Bumpstead church, Essex, to Sir Henry Bendyshe, baronet, who died in 1717. All feature finely carved life­size semi -reclining figures of people who belonged to the same level of society.
            Quite apart from its artistic merit, which is considerable, the Longueville monument is virtually our sole tangible reminder of the Longueville family, for generations lords of the manor of Wolverton and successors of the barons of Wolverton.
            On the east wall of the chancel is a wall painting by Daniel Bell of around 1870 depicting the Worship of the Lamb, inspired by the Book of Revelation. The adoring angels either side of the window bear instruments of the Passion. The painting was cleaned and conserved in July 1995 by Tobit Curteis Associates.
The figurative wall painting was originally complement­ed by stencilled decoration on the walls and the vault, recorded in the photograph of around 1900. The pre­sent decoration of the vault, of angels on a green ground with wave patterns at the springing of the vaults and large angels on the side walls, all holding texts, dates from around 1907 when the church was restored by Charles Harrison Townsend. This decoration is in a very different spirit to Bell's, with hints of Art Nouveau. The paintings are on canvas glued to the wall, a technique known as marouflage.
            The oak communion table with blank intersecting arcading to the front, is normally covered with one of a fine set of nineteenth century altar frontals. With the matching vestments they have been restored by Watts and Co. of Westminster.
            The brass altar cross is all that survives of the rere­dos designed by Edward Swinfen Harris. A detailed description of the new reredos was given in the contem­porary account of the work going on at Wolverton and Calverton churches in the Records of Buckinghamshire:

"This is divided by cusped arches into three compartments, with shafted pinnacles flanking the whole on either side. The central arch con tains a panel enriched with angels censing and adoring around the cross, which is of polished brass, raised upon a base of wood. The two side arches contain a representation of the AnnunCiation, St. Gabriel occupying the north panel, and the Blessed Virgin the south. These paintings are executed on slabs of very old mahogany on a ground of gold, which has been toned with a luminous brown colour, in the man ner of ancient work, and diapered down with appropriate patterns."

The chancel, indeed the whole church, is dominated by the spectacular circular east window with eight lobes round a large central circle. It holds outstanding stained glass by Nathanial Westlake of 1888.Westlake's signature, his initials, can be seen behind one of Eve's feet. The diagram provides a key to the subject of each panel. This stained glass was the final element of the scheme of decoration carried out under Edward Swinfen Harris' supervision from 1870 onwards. It forms a mag­nificent climax to the interior of Holy Trinity, unfailingly drawing the worshipper's and visitor's attention to the high altar above which it hovers like a great rising sun. 

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