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English Church Architecture -



HILDERSHAM, Holy Trinity (TL 545 488)     (August 2003)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


This church was so heavily restored in the nineteenth century that it is difficult now to make out the mediaeval building through the later alterations.  It is of interest today for the way in which it illustrates Victorian High Church art and, in this context, it has even been misleadingly compared with Henry Woodyer's model church at Highnam in Gloucestershire, where the work is some forty years earlier.  At Hildersham, besides, there seems no connection with any famous name.


Holy Trinity is constructed of pebble rubble with limestone dressings and consists of a short W. tower, a two-bay aisled nave with a S. porch, and a chancel with a S. organ chamber and N. vestry.  The tower is thirteenth century in origin, with just the top thirteen feet (4 m.) added in the nineteenth, but the lancet windows are all renewed, and although Pevsner considered the unusual pair of small tower arches leading to the nave to be old, they cannot really be said to look it, for at the very least, the stonework has been heavily scraped - a fate that has also befallen the nave arcades, which consequently appear Victorian even though they adopt the unremarkable Decorated form of double-flat-chamfered arches supported on quatrefoil piers.  Stylistically they may be considered to match the reticulated aisle windows (variously of two and three lights), but to the south, these have also been renewed, while to the north, they appear re-set in a subsequently widened aisle, to which the quality of the general masonry bears witness and, more tellingly, the position of the aisle W. window, off-centre towards the nave.


Be that as it may, however, Holy Trinity church is not today important for its structure but for the way in which it exemplifies High Church art at the end of the nineteenth century.  It is seen at its best in the elaborate stencilling and painting which cover the whole interior of the chancel, including the walls, roof, window splays and window tracery.   (The N. side is shown above and right, and the S. side is illustrated in the first thumbnail below left.)  The walls display an assortment of Biblical scenes linked by a rich floral patterning, while the roof is covered with white and gold stars, fleur-de-lys and other emblems, set on a green background.  The work was carried out under the direction of the Rev. James Goodwin, reputedly by a travelling company of Italian craftsmen, and the extent of Goodwin's artistic involvement seems impossible to discover. Nevertheless, it was he and his son Charles, who succeeded him as rector, who also paid for the elaborate metalwork and floor tiles, while most of the heavy stained glass appears to have been inserted later and/or at the expense of others.  This is of precisely the type that has ruined so many mediaeval church interiors, as well as some Victorian ones, butt it fits harmoniously with the rest of the decoration here, and on this occasion at least, it is possible to appreciate  it.  (A S. aisle window is shown in the second thumbnail, left.)