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English Church Architecture -

Berkshire West (U. A.).


BRIGHTWALTON, All Saints (SU 427 793)     (March 2013)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


The 2010 edition of the Berkshire volume of The Buildings of England, by Geoffrey Tyack and Simon Bradley, is one of the best in the series and it is difficult to add anything to their entry for this church except photographs.  A building from the middle years of George Edmund Street (1824-81) - it was constructed in 1861-3 - it is certainly more English in feeling than many of his later village churches would be, especially externally.  However, the masonry of rock-faced Bisley Common Stone from the Middle Jurassic Series (Great Oolite Group) of Gloucestershire, with dressings of similarly aged Bath Stone (Tyack and Bradley), are 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 local environment, can flatter so little a mere thirty miles down the road.


The church (seen left, from the southeast) is formed of a chancel with a tall N. organ chamber and 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, 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, 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 (illustrated right, from the southwest) 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 (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 differing 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 (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 most notable in the nave and chancel roofs, the former with purlins at the halfway stage, connected to collar beams running across and strengthened by wind bracing below. The chancel roof (shown below) is framed by two pairs of purlins, surely more for reasons of effect than 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.