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English Church Architecture.


BRIGHTWALTON, All Saints  (SU 427 793),


(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk.)


A fairly modest church by one of the foremost Victorian ecclesiastical architects,

George Edmund Street (1824-81).




Famous, above all today, for the Law Courts in The Strand, George Edmund Street was rivalled in his lifetime only by William Butterfield as the architect of choice by the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England, and, indeed, in his personal attachment to High Church ritual, he surpassed his rival and was for many years churchwarden at Butterfield's 'model' church of All Saints', Margaret Street (Westminster), after Butterfield had left, opposed to the use of incense and lights, and to the Elevation of the Host.  Yet for all his ardent religionism, it would be entirely misleading to present Street as a humourless killjoy, for entirely to the contrary, his two major publications, Brick & Marble in the Middle Ages: Notes on a Tour of the North of Italy (London, John Murray, 1855) and Some Account of Gothic Architecture in Spain (in two volumes) (London, John Murray, 1865) are peppered with anecdotes about bad hotels and the sheer awfulness of other English tourists encountered on the way, much to the aggravation of The Ecclesiologist in its long review of the former in October 1855 (vol. XVI, issue CX, p. 299):  'We cannot but think that the ordinary reader of books of travel will be as much disturbed by Mr. Street's purely professional descriptions and speculations as the architectural student will be annoyed by the details of uncomfortable beds and ill-cooked dinners'.


Street's earnestness was sufficient for most men, however, and his patrons, almost to a man and woman, were wealthy and generous ones.  Street was also an inveterate traveller, and a close reading of Arthur Edmund Street's biography of his father (Memoir of George Edmund Street, 1824-1881, London, John Murray, 1888) reveals that between 1850 and 1874, he made no less than twenty-two separate visits to the Continent, including two such trips in 1872 and 1874 and only missing out on his working vocations in 1855. 1864, 1865 and 1870, during the last of which, however, he made a tour round Scotland.  It is hardly surprising, in consequence, that Street's architecture is the most eclectic among all his more important confrères, and this is particularly striking in some of his village churches, which in the most extreme cases, stand out from their settings as if they had landed from the moon.



That is not the case at Brightwalton, however, which is conspicuously English by Street's usual standards.  A building from Street's middle years, it can scarcely be termed 'vernacular' nevertheless, for the external masonry, which presents rock-faced Bisley Common Stone from the Middle Jurassic Series (Great Oolite Group) of Gloucestershire, dressed with Bath Stone (Geoffrey Tyack and Simon Bradley, The Buildings of England: Berkshire, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, p. 208), is scarcely in harmony with the West Berkshire Downs, and it is a singular object lesson to observe how building materials that are the source of so much delight in their immediate locality, can flatter so little a mere thirty miles down the road.


The church consists of a chancel with a tall N. organ chamber and an adjoining lean-to vestry, and a nave with a southwest tower, S. aisle and S. porch.  The tower rises in two stages to a surmounting splay-footed spire and communicates eastwards with the three-bay S. aisle.  In true Ruskinian fashion, the wall base all round the church projects slightly from the wall veil (Ruskin's term) above, and the windows, though various, are all firmly First Pointed, with trefoil- and cinquefoil-cusped lancet lights and frequently an arrangement of trefoils and quatrefoils above, set either vertically or diagonally.  The string course below the windows steps up from the nave to the choir and again from the choir to the sanctuary in Street's typical manner (cf., for example, the churches at Helperthorpe and West Lutton, both in North Yorkshire).  The porch outer doorway is cinquefoil-cusped and the inner doorway is decorated with a frieze of blank quatrefoils between the two orders and a dripstone with fleurons.  However, the porch vault is more striking, with its stone ribs and exposed red brickwork between.  Surprisingly for Street, it is one of only two significant examples of the use of constructional colouring in the building.


The other is to be found inside, where the arcade is composed of three double-flat-chamfered arches springing from quatrefoil piers of very dark, polished, Lower Jurassic blue lias (Tyack & Bradley) with large stiff-leaf capitals and wide bases.  However, the responds are merely irregular semi-octagons, like those supporting the triple-flat-chamfered arch between the nave and the tower, while the narrower arch between the aisle and the tower is even simpler, and bears a single flat chamfer that dies southwards into its jamb.  The ground stage of the tower serves as a baptistery and contains the authentic but unusual Early English font (illustrated below left), composed only of a tall cylindrical basin rising directly from the ground, decorated around the circumference with blank intersecting round arches.


The chancel arch is supported on short semi-quatrefoil corbel shafts with leaf carving on the corbels and deep capitals that differ on the two sides.  The easternmost S. window has a dropped sill to act as a sedilia and is decorated by a frieze of blank quatrefoils beneath the lights.  The reredos (seen below right) is constructed of carved alabaster looking rather like soapstone, and features Christ in Majesty in the centre, surrounded by four angels with censors and, to the left and right, the Symbols of Evangelists.















Carpentry is only of interest in the nave and chancel roofs, the former with purlins at the halfway stage, connected to collar beams and strengthened by wind bracing below. The little chancel roof (shown below) is framed by two pairs of purlins, surely more for reasons of effect than out of constructional necessity, approximately one fifth and three fifths of the way up the pitch.  Thus there are two tiers of wind bracing beneath their respective purlins and arched braces run in single continuous arcs from the wall plates to the collars.


[Other churches by Street featured on this web-site are Fimber and Wansford in the East Riding of Yorkshire, Toddington in Gloucestershire, East Heslerton, Helperthorpe, Howsham, Robin Hood's Bay, Thixendale, West Lutton and Whitwell-on-the-Hill in North Yorkshire, Denstone in Staffordshire, Torquay in Torbay, Eastbury in West Berkshire, and St. Mary Magdalene's Rowington Close and St. James's Thorndike Street in the City of Westminster.]