English Church Architecture.
HILDERSHAM, Holy Trinity (TL 545 488),
(Bedrock: Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk.)
A church notable for its astonishing Victorian decoration.
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 late Victorian 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 was executed some forty years earlier. At Hildersham, rather surprisingly in view of the quality of the work, there seems to be no connection with any famous name and the decoration is merely ascribed to 'Italian craftsmen' on the britishlistedbuildings website, carried out under the direction of the Rev. James Goodwin and his son, c. 1880.
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 cross-gabled S. chapel 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 (The Buildings of England: Cambridgeshire, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1970, p. 406), 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 in the two photographs at the top of the page, and the S. side is illustrated above 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 in a green background. The Rev. James Goodwin and his son Charles, who succeeded him as rector, paid for this work, as well as the elaborate metalwork and floor tiles, while most of the heavy stained glass, partly or all by Clayton & Bell, appears to have been inserted later at the expense of others. This is of precisely the type of glass that has ruined so many mediaeval church interiors, as well as some Victorian ones, but it fits harmoniously with the other here, and on this occasion at least, it is possible to appreciate it.