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English Church Architecture -



BARKWAY, St. Mary Magdalene (TL 383 356)     (July 2010)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)

This is a big church, in almost entirely Perpendicular style.  (See the photograph above, taken from the southeast.)  Consisting of a W. tower, aisled nave with S. porch, and chancel with N. vestry, it is less rewarding outside than in, for most of the external features have been renewed by Benjamin Ferrey (1810 - 1880), who restored the building in 1861 (English Heritage) and in the process, largely rebuilt the tower (see the thumbnail, below left) and added the porch and vestry.  Ferrey "was well liked by everyone for his winning manners and even temper" but his churches, which "are numerous.., are all timid, orthodox and harmless" (Church Builders of the Nineteenth Century by Basil F.L. Clarke, pub. SPCK, 1938), and certainly he has done nothing here to offend, nor anything much to remember.  The predominant window design, formed of three cinquefoil-cusped lights and supermullioned tracery within a segmental-pointed arch, is, in fact, mediaeval, as proved by the interior stonework, and the chancel exhibits a lancet to the south and two blocked lancets to the north, showing this part of the building is thirteenth century in origin.  This apart, a circuit of the church reveals little in need of particularization and the visitor should then enter, to view the greater interest there.


The interior of the church is actually quite impressive, due in part to sheer scale - the product of a long, broad nave with wide and well-lit aisles - and in part to its fine arcades, formed of six well-constructed bays.   (See the photograph above, taken from beneath the tower.)   They are composed of arches of two orders, bearing a casement and a series of waves respectively and springing from piers formed of four semi-octagonal shafts with capitals, separated by hollows in the diagonals. The tower arch carries a wave moulding rising from semicircular shafts with capitals, and outside this, a casement, roll and wave, which continue uninterrupted down the jambs. The  chancel  arch  bears a complex series of mouldings consisting  essentially  of  waves, above  responds with further waves down the sides.  It all looks late fifteenth century in date, although the section of the arcade piers occurs in fourteenth century work too - for example, at Balsham in Cambridgeshire, in a building completed by 1401.  The arcade arches have hood-moulds rising from nicely carved label stops (see the two examples, illustrated below left) and though the nave and aisle roofs are now Victorian, there is another excellent display of mediaeval stone carving in the corbels supporting the wall posts (see the two examples, below right, taken from the S. wall of the S. aisle)  (Structurally they do not really do so for the forces on them are slight or non-existent as the counter-thrust to the downward and outward pressure from the roof, is provided by the nave walls pushing in against the wall pieces from the sides.)     









The church contains no furnishings of note but it houses a number of significant monuments, many of which were listed by Gunnis in his Dictionary of British Sculptors: 1660 - 1851 (pub. The Abbey Library, 1951).   Unfortunately, by far the most important of these now backs against the tower W. window, and at the time of this visit, the afternoon sun streaming through, ensured it was impossible to photograph it properly (but see the photograph below right, taken from an oblique angle to the north).  The monument commemorates Admiral Sir John Jennings (d. 1743), whose son was prosperous enough to commission the great John Rysbrack (1694 - 1770) to carry out the work, with the original intention of setting up a memorial to his father in Westminster Abbey.  When that proved impossible, he apparently settled for this monument here, but it lacks nothing in scale for all that, and features a bust of Sir John flanked by putti.  Rysbrack was "the acknowledged head of his profession [who] reigned unchallenged until [Peter] Scheemakers carved his statue of Shakespeare for Westminster Abbey" (in 1740) (ibid).  "[His] lowest fee for a bust was thirty-five guineas", which was roughly equivalent to 3,200 today. 


Other monuments listed by Gunnis are:

on the N. wall of the chancel -

  1. to Lady Chapman (d. 1800), a very large and indifferent wall monument by Joseph Smith (fl. 1792 - 1800), whose only known work this is;

on the S. wall of the chancel -

  1. to Judith Chester (d. 1702), a monument with barley-sugar columns and Corinthian capitals supporting a round open pediment, by William Stanton (1639 - 1705), father of Edward below and the greater of the two artists;

  2. to Mary Chester (d. 1703), by Edward Stanton (1681 - 1734), Mason to Westminster Abbey from 1720;

on the N. wall of the N. aisle-

  1. to James Andrew (d. 1796) by Peter Francis Chenu (1760 - ?);

  2. to Thomas Gorsuch (d. 1821), also by Chenu, where the "almost comic" relief on the tablet "shows Time... knocking down an obelisk, while he holds in one hand what appears to be a wine-jar bearing the words 'All sink to re-ascend' " (ibid);

and on the S. wall of the S. aisle - 

  1. to Lord Selsey (d. 1816), featuring a draped urn and signed by Josephus Kendrick (1791 - 1832), whose monument to Lord Henniker and his wife can be seen at Thornham Magna in Suffolk.