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English Church Architecture -



TETBURY, St. Saviour (ST 888 933)   (November 2013)

(Bedrock: Middle Jurassic, Taynton Limestone Formation)

This is one of two churches in Tetbury (seen above from the southwest and southeast), 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).  Half a mile away, the parish church of St. Mary, erected 1776-81 to the designs of Francis Hiorne (1744-89), is a fine example of the Rococo Gothick style made popular by Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill in the third quarter of the eighteenth century.  The present building, in contrast, by Samuel Whitfield Daukes (1811-80), is a model Tractarian church of the kind approved by the Oxford Movement, albeit that Daukes was never to prove capable of securing a place on the Ecclesiologists' list of most favoured architects, due in part to his incorrigible attachment to the "incorrect" Norman and Perpendicular styles (see Wikipedia).  At St. Saviour's, it will be most helpful to point up those aspects of his design that demonstrate the revolution in church planning and use that had occurred since St. Mary's had been constructed, seven decades before.


Perhaps the most obvious of these, whether outside or in, is that St. Saviour's, unlike St. Mary's, is a building very much of parts:  the lean-to aisles are separated from the nave by heavy four-bay arcades (see the photograph below left), such as would be familiar to any regular church visitor today, and the chancel is long and clearly separated from the nave, not only by its reduced height and width, but by the physical barrier of a rood screen.  The S. porch is constructed of wood above a stone base, the vestry and organ chamber are cross-gabled against the chancel N. wall, and a little open bell-cote sits over the W. end of the nave.

The interior is laid out for High Anglican worship although one's first impression on entering is of the "dim religious light":  windows are of modest size, mostly filled with stained glass, and have Decorated window traceries which, while as yet unconfined to Ruskin's commended, pre-ogee geometric forms, are firm and substantial. The eye is drawn down the nave towards the sanctuary by the light from the comparatively generous E. window.  Fine details are to be found in all parts of the building but they must be searched out in the gloom.  The well-proportioned but relatively simple arcades are composed of double-flat-chamfered arches supported on alternately circular and octagonal piers, but the hood-moulds rise from carefully sculpted demi-angels, and a few feet above, small carved heads and deeply undercut foliage patterns form attractive corbels beneath the wall posts of the nave roof.  (See the photograph, above right, showing the spandrels above the westernmost N. pier.)  The stone pulpit (below left), set modestly in the angle between the chancel arch and N. arcade, deserves close examination for its ingenious entrance arrangement, through an arch in the chancel N. wall and along a short semicircular passageway, covered by a vault.  The large, deeply carved font (below right) at the west end of the S. aisle, appropriately close to be church's principal entrance, commands the space around it, as befits its important function:  the cardinal sides are carved with the symbols of the Evangelists (an angel for St. Matthew, a lion for St. Mark, a bull for St. Luke and an eagle for St. John), and the ordinal faces between, with the Agnus Dei, the Sacred Monogram, a cross and a dove.

The chancel has two enclosed spaces set against it to the north, in addition to the passage to the pulpit - a little vestry to the east, replete with a fireplace which makes its presence felt outside by a chimney prophetic of Butterfield, and what was originally an organ chamber to the west, opening to the chancel through an attractive stone screen (shown below left) formed of open trefoil-cusped lights beneath a row of quatrefoils and a castellated transom.  The reredos and panelled chancel roof with gilded ribs and bosses (illustrated below right) were designed by Pugin and Hardman (church guide by Valerie Roseblade).  The central passage up the chancel, the sanctuary, and the area around the font, are paved with Minton tiles patterned in red, yellow and black, and among the many lesser features to notice in the building are the metal gasolier, the stone alms box left of the S. door, and the simple but well-designed nave benches, with poppyheads and open quatrefoils in the backs.

St. Saviour's, built at a total cost of 3,400 (Roseblade), was described as "a little church for the poor" when it opened, meaning it was free of the rented pews that accounted for most of the seating at St. Mary's.  "The poor", as can be seen, were very well provided for here, in this fine little building with real artistic pretensions, but they received a very different experience of Christian worship from the neighbours half a mile away.