English Church Architecture -
WELL, St. Margaret (TF 444 734) (August 2009)
(Bedrock: Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)
This is a remarkable little church (shown above, from the east [sic]) standing in deep countryside on an eminence at the southern edge of the Wolds, away from any road, yet less than two miles from Alford in the Lincolnshire plain. That alone would probably be sufficient to make a visit here memorable, but the surprising fact is that this a Palladian building, constructed of English-bonded brick and clearly based on Inigo Jones’s church of St. Paul, Covent Garden, erected in 1631. That the present church dates from the reign of George II (1727-60) is shown by a royal coat of arms hanging inside from the gallery (illustrated at the foot of the page, on the right), but, more specifically, the church guide declares it to be of 1733, though James Bateman, who it describes as the builder, was not the architect but rather the benefactor and owner of Well House to the east.
St. Margaret’s consists of a single cell with a tetrastyle portico approached up three steps at the front, composed of large Tuscan columns supporting a triangular pediment described by the deeply projecting eaves to the roof and a corresponding horizontal member below. However, another extraordinary fact, surprisingly missed by Pevsner, is that this portico faces east, and hence also, Well House across the park, while the church inside, is laid out to face the west, an exceptional state of affairs that arose, allegedly, from Bateman’s desire that when the minister stood in front of the altar and blessed the congregation before him, he might simultaneously look out through the east door to Well House and bless the family there also. This doorway, beneath the portico, is a tall plain rectangle with a detached projecting lintel, while on either side, between four Tuscan pilasters in shallow relief, sunk rectangular panels provide a minimum of decoration. The W. wall (liturgical east) is distinguished by a Palladian window (seen in the view of the church below, taken from the southwest), and the north and south walls are pierced by two wooden windows each, set in round brick arches with stone abaci and keystones. The eaves project approximately 2’ 6” (0.75 m.) on every side, and surmounting the tiled roof towards the east (liturgical west), there is a domed hexagonal bell cupola, supported on six short Tuscan columns, erected to replace a Victorian brick bell-cote in 1971. It is not unattractive but at such a recent date, perhaps one might have expected it to have been thought more appropriate for a church of this period to be left without. One final point to notice outside is that since the knoll on which the church stands, drops away so rapidly to the north, it proved necessary to build the N. wall to almost twice the height of the other three, to provide foundations on the falling ground.
Inside the church, as is to be expected, the furnishings are laid out Oxbridge-chapel style, with box pews running laterally east/west, two rows deep to the north and three deep to the south. There is a large three-decker pulpit in the centre of the N. wall (liturgical south), with a very deep tester above, similar to that at nearby Langton-by-Spilsby, erected only a decade or so earlier. There is a gallery above the E. end (liturgical west) (from which the photographs below were taken, looking west and northwest respectively), a straight (as opposed to three-sided) altar rail supported on turned balusters at the W. end (liturgical east), running into two large box pews now serving as little vestries in the northwest and southwest corners, and a wooden reredos behind, with a frieze of triglyphs
The attractive plaster, Adam-style ceiling must be the work of some three or four decades later. White with gold trimmings, it is decorated within the panels with patterns of feathers and leaves, and angels in the corners, and along the cornice with a festoon of flowers. (See the detail around the cornice above the W. window, illustrated below left.) The windows have moulded plaster surrounds.