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English Church Architecture -



WEST WYCOMBE, St. Lawrence (SU 827 949) (September 2019)

(Bedrock: Upper Cretaceous, Lewes Nodular Chalk from the Upper Chalk)



This late Palladian church (shown above from the southeast) dating from the mid-eighteenth century, was built around its medieval predecessor, of which just the lower two-thirds of the tower and the basic masonry of the chancel now remain to provide evidence.  Both appear to have been rough unsophisticated work, perhaps of fourteenth century date, though none of the windows retain their original tracery.  The tower is supported by diagonal buttresses reaching halfway up, but its striking features are, first, the massive, eighteenth century upper stage, with a large, plain round-headed arch in each wall, filled with a metal balcony to protect adventurous sight-seers, and secondly, its curious spire topped by a large, golden ball containing ten seats, used as a drinking den by Lord Dashwood and his friends of Hellfire Club notoriety, who met twice-yearly in West Wycombe House for drunken revels and more.  The church is entered through the tower W. door.


The nave is notable for its size and for consisting of a single cell.  Lit on either side by five round-headed windows with brick surrounds, it creates an austere impression, relieved to an extent by the light-grey knapped flint of the walls and the three brick string courses running round (i) a little above the base, (ii) at the level of the window sills, and (iii) about four feet below the eaves.  The last divides to form roundels above the central windows, which, though now blank, may once have framed pargetted designs.  The chancel  is undistinguished and seemingly devoid of any design feature at all.

















Inside the building, the nave side-walls are decorated between the windows by shafts with Corinthian capitals supporting a carved entablature, and by festoons of naturalistic carving between.  (See the photograph above left, showing the N. wall.)  The ceiling is flat but elaborately painted (as illustrated  above right), forming a design composed of a large, central floral motif set in a double circle set in a square, surrounded by small floral motifs in octagons.  The round-headed chancel arch has relief pargetting around the soffit and the nave E. wall above is decorated with the royal coat-of-arms and two allegorical female figures in basso-relief.  The ceiling here has central painting depicting The Last Supper, set inside an octfoil with alternately rounded and pointed lobes.


This feature notwithstanding, however, the chancel is not well lit, and the dark-wood reredos, altar rail and side panelling create a gloomy impression even on a bright day. Heavy baroque monuments looking across from either side of the sanctuary commemorate Hugh Darrell (d. 1667) and Sir Francis Dashwood (d, 1624), and, according to The Buildings of England, are by Francis Bird, but a more famous sculptor the visitor will probably recognise is Joseph Nollekins (1737-1823), who signed the monument on the N. wall, dedicated to George Dashwood (d. 1801), featuring a putto and an urn.