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English Church Architecture -



AYOT ST. PETER, St. Peter (TL 150 219)     (March 2015)

(Bedrock:  Palaeocene Series, Lambeth Group)


This little building, standing in a rural corner of central Hertfordshire, is the work of the late Victorian architect, John Pollard Seddon (1827-1906), an artist of real ability and sustained invention even if - as it 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 integral to their design.  Apart from the 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 would have 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 distinctive country houses.


Originally built in 1874-5, St. Peter's consists of a nave, chancel and apse, with adjoining southeast tower, a polygonal organ chamber in the re-entrant between the tower and chancel (seen in the photograph of the church, above left, taken from the east-southeast), and a cross-gabled vestry, butted up against the tower S. wall in 1897.  (See the church guide by James Nall-Cain.)  The exterior is distinguished on all sides by Seddon's skilful use of coloured brick, but seen at its best round the apse and in the upper stages of the tower.  (See the photograph, right, taken from the west.) The surmounting spire rises between four large broaches where its octagonal base sits on the square section of the tower itself, and features an acutely-pointed gable on each of its cardinal sides, of which that to the east is filled with 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 (Nall-Cain).  The church is fenestrated mostly with 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, beneath a well-proportioned sexfoil in a double-flat-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 (Nall-Cain) 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.  Nall-Cain gives the cost of this paintwork as 74.5s.0d, which was carried out by Gage & Thompson, again to Seddon's designs.  Other furnishings and decorative work that Nall-Cain has definitely 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 (illustrated 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".  Irish Green "marble" comes chiefly from Connemara and is known to have been traded since the Neolithic period.  Ipplepen is a village in southeast Devon and the "marble" from the nearby Edgelands Lane Quarry is a spangled pink limestone that takes a high polish.   The cost of the font, including materials and labour, came to a total of 20.1s.6d.