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CHEVENING, St. Botolph  (TQ 489 577),

KENT. 

(Bedrock:  Lower Cretaceous, Upper Grensand Formation.)

 

A church notable especially for its spectcular monument by

Sir Francis Chantrey (1781 - 1841).

 

 

This web-site is not much concerned with church monuments but an exception is made of some important late seventeenth to early nineteenth century examples that serve to illustrate wider trends in the art and architectural history of these years.  Although any attempt to divide a complex series of changes into discrete stages is susceptible to the charge of over-simplification, as a basic introduction to the subject, four principal phases in its evolution can be identified:

1.  the age of heraldry and ostentation, which is essentially the late Stuart period, c.1660 - c.1714, in which the aristocracy sought to depict their departed relations, bewigged and dressed in all their finery, with coats of arms to display their long pedigree, and 'symbols of mortality' (most notably skulls) to advertise their piety;

2.  the Age of Politeness, corresponding roughly to the period of the Whig Supremacy and the ascendancy of Palladian architecture, c. 1714-60 (that is, the reigns of the first two Georges), in which the new ruling class actively rejected the old Tory memes and mores and sought to present themselves as the new člite, and their deceased relatives dressed in the timeless apparel (usually Roman togas, suggesting they themselves were like Roman senators)  that eschewed vulgarity and ostentation (skulls again, heraldic devices - not least because their pedigree often offered little to shout about) in favour of the appearance of effortless superiority;

3. the period of the 'Gothick' style, which overlapped periods 2 & 4 but which was particularly prevalent around the third quarter of the eighteenth century and was in turn a reaction to the Age of Politeness in favour of something more theatrical and exciting, frequently characterised by monsters or Death personified as a skeleton, on the one hand, and a damsel in distress on the other or some other form of female imagery calculated to add some sexual frisson;

and 4. the Age of Sensibility, in which it suddenly became not only fashionable for gentlemen to show display their emotions, but de rigueur.

These themes between them, fashioned many of the monuments of these years to a greater or lesser degree, as will appear further on the page below.  

 

 

St. Michael's is attractively situated on the narrow upper greensand outcrop beneath the scarp of the North Downs.  Both its plan and its origins raise possible questions as the original church may have been on the site of the S. aisle and chapel, which together extend from the second bay from the west of the present nave to a few feet short of the east wall of the present chancel (as illustrated in the photograph above).  They are independently-gabled, yet externally there is little evidence of any different stages in the building's development since most features are renewed and only the late Perpendicular (Tudor) W. tower is of significant architectural value, rising in three stages to battlements, supported by diagonal buttresses and given dignity by an octagonal stair turret to the northeast, ascending in diminishing stages to project above the tower itself.

 

The interior is of much greater interest.  The three-bay aisle arcade is composed of double-flat-chamfered arches and circular piers with circular capitals (as shown above left), compatible with a date in the early thirteenth century, and yet the two-bay arcade between the chancel and fourteenth century chapel is similar.  Equally intriguing is the discovery that the nave N. windows (which not only begin one bay west of the aisle arcade arches opposite but are entirely out of synchoronization with them) are set in large blocked arches bearing two narrow flat chamfers (see the easternmost arch,  above right), whose original function is difficult to conceive.  Quite clearly, they never constituted a 'proper' arcade, but rather three individual arches separated by wall pieces.  Were they simply intended to enhance the internal appearance of the windows, in which case then surely the latter were once of more impressive design, or could they have led to cross-gabled bays in the manner to be seen at Burrough Green, Cambridgeshire, perhaps serving as chapels?  That may seem unlikely, yet there was a chapel further to the east, where a mediaeval arch now leads into the modern vestry, and recessed in the S. wall of the S. aisle opposite, there are two pairs of tomb canopies each followed by an ogee-pointed piscina (see the photograph of the western group, below)  which certainly indicates there were north and south chapels here at one time, presumably divided from the rest of the church by screens or other forms of partition. 

 

These speculations aside, however, most visitors to the church will long since have gravitated to the monuments in the chancel and Stanhope chapel, one of which clearly rises above the rest.  The oldest commemorates Sir John Lennard (d. 1591) and his wife Elizabeth, who lie straight-legged on a tomb-chest, Sir John in full armour. Pevsner believed his head was probably a portrait - a grand conceit at this date if it really is true.  Larger than this but somewhat less competent is the monument to Samson Lennard (d. 1615) and his wife Margaret , squashed in the northeast corner of the chapel, depicting the couple in effigy beneath a round coffered arch, with an achievement above and black obelisks at the corners.  The supporters on the tomb chest represent the couple's five daughters (S. side) and three sons (N. side), although a fourth son may be missing.  Self-evidently the monument was not intended to be backed against a screen.

 

These monuments are unsigned, but in a class of its own is another in the chapel (above and below), signed on the back of the pillow by Sir Francis Chantrey (1781 - 1841), and  reputedly the work of which he was most proud (Rupert Gunnis, Dictionary of British Sculptors 1660- 1851, London, The Abbey Library, 1951, p. 92.)  Dedicated to the memory of Lady Frederica Stanhope, who died in childbirth, aged twenty-two in 1823, it vividly evokes a subject considered too delicate for portrayal until the cult of sensibility had rendered it respectable.    Eventually, by the early nineteenth century, it had actually become quite common (see also the monument to Princess Bariatinsky by John Bacon the Younger at Sherborne, Gloucestershire), but this is a particularly touching portrayal, depicting Lady Frederica sleeping peacefully with her baby at her breast.

For other churches on this web-site that discuss other important church monuments see Gosfield in Essex, Sherborne in Gloucestershire (in particular), Coleshill  in Oxfordshire,  and Condover in Shropshire.]