( back to home page)

English Church Architecture.

 

AYOT ST. PETER, St. Peter  (TL 150 219),

HERTFORDSHIRE. 

(Bedrock:  Palaeocene Series, Lambeth Group.)

 

 

A church by the Victorian architect, John Pollard Seddon (1827-1906),

notable for its structural colour.

This little building, standing in a rural corner of central Hertfordshire, is the work of the late Victorian architect, John Pollard Seddon, an artist of real ability and sustained invention even if - as must be admitted - he adhered to no fixed style, for his buildings comprise an eclectic assortment, ranging from Byzantine Romanesque at Hoarwithy, Herefordshire, to French neo-Gothic for the university buildings along the seafront at Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, and a vaguely Early English/ Decorated transitional style for much of his later ecclesiastical work, as may be seen here.  Seddon's strength, however, lay in the level of personal supervision he gave to his commissions, and in the way he envisaged the decoration and furnishings of his buildings as being integral to their design.  Apart from those buildings themselves, he was, therefore, a 'prolific designer of furniture, metalwork, stained glass, tiles and ceramics' (Wikipedia), which was a direction in which his family background doubtless led him:  his father was a cabinet maker and his brother, a landscape painter.  His articled pupil, Charles F. A. Voysey, would become as famous for his fabrics and furnishings as for his very distinctive country houses.

 

St. Peter's was built in 1874-5 and consists of a nave, chancel and apse, with adjoining southeast tower, a polygonal organ chamber in the re-entrant between the tower and chancel, and a cross-gabled vestry, butted up against the tower S. wall in 1897.   The exterior is distinguished on all sides by the employment of coloured brick, but seen at its most flamboyant around the apse and in the upper stages of the tower (as illustrated above and right).  The spire rises between four large broaches which manage he transition to its octagonal base from the square section of the tower below, and features an acutely-pointed gable on each of its cardinal sides, of which that to the east contains a decorative clock-face designed by Seddon and executed in mosaic by Jesse Rust of Rust's Vitreous Mosaic Company (fl. 1860-90), in blue, red, white and black mosaic (James Nall-Cain, Ayot St. Peter's Church: an Illustrated Guide, 2013, p.4).  The church is lit mostly by cusped lancets, grouped in twos or threes as around the apse, or put together in a more complicated arrangement in the nave W. wall, where two, two-light windows sandwich a single cusped lancet, set beneath a well-proportioned sexfoil in a double-chamfered, moulded brick surround.

 

Inside the church, everything is neat and in keeping.  The nave roof is noteworthy for its trefoiled profile, executed in unstained pine, although a drawing among Seddon's papers in the Victoria & Albert Museum (Ayot St. Peter's Church: an Illustrated Guide, p.9) shows it was originally intended that it should be painted. The wagon roof above the chancel is decorated with clouds and stars over the main body, on a background colour closer to sea green than sky blue, and the apse features Christ in Majesty, positioned rather oddly between the four Evangelists.  The paintwork was carried out by Gage & Thompson, again to Seddon's designs, at a cost of 74.5s.0d (Ayot St. Peter's Church: an Illustrated Guide, p.11).  Other furnishings and decorative work that Nall-Cain has identified as part of Seddon's original conception includes the children's pews beneath the westernmost nave S. window, the wooden lectern, the pulpit carved from Caen stone (albeit Seddon originally intended that the saints in the cusped blank lancets round the drum should be seated rather than standing), the nave pews, the choir stalls, the chancel floor tiles (manufactured by the prestigious Godwin's of Hereford), most of the window glass, and the excellent font (shown left), featuring more of Jesse Rust's mosaic work around a bowl of Bath stone, above a stem formed of one major and six minor shafts of Irish Green and Ipplepen 'marble', the first of which was obtained from Connemara and is known to have been traded since the Neolithic period, and the second of which was dug from Edgelands Lane Quarry just outside Ipplepen in southeast Devon, and which comprises a spangled pink limestone that takes a high polish.   The cost of the font, including materials and labour, was 20.1s.6d.