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English Church Architecture -



TETBURY, St. Mary (ST 891 930)   (November 2013)

(Bedrock: Middle Jurassic, Forest Marble Formation)


This is one of two churches in Tetbury (seen  left, from the northwest) which together illustrate to perfection the changes brought about in church building in England by the researches of Thomas Rickman (1776 - 1841) and the proselytizing of A.W.N. Pugin (1812-52) and the Cambridge Camden Society (established 1839).  (See also Tetbury, St. Saviour.)  The present building by Francis Hiorne (1744-89), constructed 1776-81, is an excellent example of the "pre-archaeological" Gothick style that true apostles of the Gothic Revival so railed against in the Victorian age.  Hiorne's delicate window traceries seem almost to be made of cardboard and the architectural details everywhere, to owe as little to mediaeval prototypes as papier-mâché or icing sugar do to stone.  Yet considered in its own lights, this is an interesting and attractive building which is not only capacious and well lit, but, in many respects, better suited for Christian worship in the twenty-first century than many a heavy, dark, ecclesiologically-correct one.


Hiorne designed his new church as essentially a plain rectangle from which the only projections were a slight eastward extension for the sanctuary and low side passages to north and south, covered by lean-to roofs at approximately two-fifths the height of the nave behind.  (See the photograph in close-up, below.)  He retained the original building's mediaeval tower with its tall surmounting spire, but when these were adjudged unsafe in the late nineteenth century, they were replaced by the firm Waller & Son (The Buildings of England) with what appears to have been a not particularly faithful copy.  Of minimal interest today, this may be described quickly.  It rises in four stages supported by diagonal buttresses and is lit to the west by a four-light, ungainly window with rudimentary Perpendicular tracery.  The stair turret is housed in a large semi-polygonal projection at the east end of the north wall, the bell-openings are two-light with reticulated tracery, and the spire is lit by a single tier of lucarnes, low down in the cardinal sides, with fancy tracery perhaps intended to be in keeping with Hiorne's great windows to the nave.



Hiorne's work created a "hall church", with aisles fully as high as the nave and no structural division between the nave and chancel  (although David Verey in The Buildings of England refers to the shallowly projecting sanctuary as the "chancel", which is surely a misnomer) and no attempt made to divide the aisles into nave aisles and chancel chapels.  (See the photographs below, showing, left, a general view looking westwards down the nave, and right, the vaults above the nave and N. aisle.)  The N. & S. side passages, lit by three trefoil-cusped lancets per bay, communicate with the nave through a series of discrete four-centred arches and create little visual impact within, leaving the internal appearance dominated by three things:  the huge aisle windows, with tracery of artificial Coade stone;  the extremely tall, thin piers; and the thin, sexpartite plaster vaults.  The aisle windows are four-light with intersecting cusped tracery and a complicated arrangement of subarcuation some two-thirds of the way up between the base and the springing, forming elaborate latticed transoms.  To the extent that these motifs can be likened to mediaeval ones, they might be considered late thirteenth century geometric, yet the windows otherwise are Perpendicular in form, for the arches are four-centred and encompassed by casement mouldings with bowtells at the sides.  (See the S. aisle window, viewed externally, above right.)  The piers, each composed of a central shaft surrounded by colonnettes, are actually made of wood, although one suspects them at first of being iron.  Clearly, they have little weight to bear, which makes one wish to know much more about the construction of the vault.  This is set as high or higher than the building is wide, and the airiness of the space beneath, together with the amount of light flooding in, make this an astonishing church interior on first entrance.  How different it is from St. Saviour's church, half a mile away to the north - an equally fine building if judged on very different terms.  There, the furnishings require careful examination.  Here they have a less important roll to play and one needs only really to attend to the wooden gallery, the box pews, and the many wall monuments, most specially those in the N. aisle.  The pulpit was removed, alas, in 1901 (David Verey).


The gallery runs across the W. wall of the nave, as one would expect, and returns along the N. & S. walls for distance of four bays (out of seven, excluding the sanctuary).  Decorated with blank arches above a frieze of encircled quatrefoils, and with a finely moulded top rail, it is an urbane piece of carpentry, more reminiscent of a domestic or theatrical setting than an ecclesiastical one.  (The photograph, below left, shows the gallery to the north.)  The wall monuments include a number of good quality, the best, perhaps, by Thomas King (the Elder) (1741 - 1804), who was responsible for the monument to John Paul (d. 1787) beneath the tower and for the re-set group on the E. wall of the N. aisle, with inscriptions too high to read (but see the example, below right).  Other monuments mentioned by Gunnis (Dictionary of British Sculptors, 1660-1851, The Abbey Library, 1951) include one by Parsons of Gloucestershire (fl. 1718-20) to Deborah Roche (d. 1720), another by William Paty of Bristol (1758 - 1800) to Henry Harvey (d. 1789), and two others by T. Webb (fl. 1776-86) to Sir William Romney (erected 1776 although Sir William had died more than a century and a half before) and Joseph Wickes (d. 1786).