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English Church Architecture -

London: Kensington and Chelsea

 

Holy Trinity, Prince Consort Road (TQ 260 792)  (March 2014)

 

 

This building, consecrated in 1904 was designed by George Frederick Bodley (1827 - 1907) in his mature "English" style at the end of his long creative life when his early experiments with structural polychromy - seen, for example, at St. Michael's, Brighton, of c.1862, and St. John the Baptist's, Liverpool, of 1867-70 - was a youthful flirtation long forgotten. Holy Trinity, in contradistinction (as seen above from the west), is content to face Prince Consort Road, dressed only in the pale cream monochrome of Middle Jurassic Bath stone at the end of a line of magnificent Queen Anne blocks of flats in a strident combination of white stone and red brick. The style is the post-ogee Decorated of c. 1320-50 and the six-light "W. window" to the nave and three-light "W. windows" to the aisles, which actually face south,  present an elaborate variant of reticulated tracery, with inventive subreticulation, yet the façade overall is distinctly subdued, due to the height of the windows above the ground and the plainness of the wall below with its three comparatively small doorways.  It is this same impression of riches deliberately held back and punches slightly pulled that characterises the fine interior.

 

In bare essentials, the church consists of a four-bay aisled nave (illustrated below left, looking east) with a second and narrower, outer "N. aisle", and a chancel two bays deep flanked by a one-bay extension of the inner aisle to form a chapel and a similar extension of the "S. aisle" to provide an organ chamber.  The church has no tower and its confined site between buildings has precluded the insertion of windows to the liturgical south and forced Bodley to build upwards for the light to the "east", "west" and "north".  His most acute challenge arose at the "east" end of the chancel (which, of course, faces north), for which Bodley would design a magnificent seven-light stained glass window to be manufactured by Burlison and Grylls and which at no time of the day or season of the year could hope to be seen in the most favourable light.  Bodley overcame this difficulty as well as he might by placing a large three-light window filled with clear glass on either side of the sanctuary, to catch the morning and afternoon sun, and although this arrangement could never be as satisfactory as the provision of more back-light, it had the advantage of throwing light on the highly elaborate gilded reredos and altar, which together with the window, forms the absolutely dominant focal point in the interior of the church.

 

This is not simply a consequence of their size and centrality but has as much or more to do with the contrast between them and the cool reserve of the walls and nave arcades in Bath stone. The uncomplicated form of the arcades has its part to play too, comprising piers composed of four major and four minor shafts with fillets, rising to arches high above, bearing two simple waves.  Bodley's reredoses, according to Michael Hall (George Frederick Bodley and the Later Gothic Revival, Yale University Press, 2014) were "based on early sixteenth-century Flemish and German models" and may often be recognized by their height in relation to their width.  (Cf., for example, the otherwise much smaller reredos at St. Peter's, Sudbury, Suffolk.)  The reredos here (above right) - which, wherever it is not gilded is painted in Bodley's favourite browns, olives and murky North Sea blues - depicts the Nativity in the bottom centre with the Annunciation scene split left and right, and above, the Crucifixion with SS. Mary and John either side, all set beneath delicate openwork canopies. The side panels display censing angels above and angels playing musical instruments below, while the altar front shows the four Evangelists standing beside their diminutive symbols (respectively an angel, lion, ox and eagle for SS. Matthew, Mark, Luke & John), looking rather unfortunately like pet dogs (perhaps the only misjudgement in the design), while angels  in the centre hold forth the Crown of Thorns in the very process of its transformation into a Crown of Glory.

 

The other item of furniture guaranteed to draw the visitor's attention is the magnificent pulpit (below left) with its backboard and tester in the "northeast" corner of the nave, but Bodley might have regarded its present manifestation as contrary to his vision of largely confining colour in the church to the chancel and N. chapel for he left it in plain varnished wood, like to the organ case today. The present paintwork and gilding were applied in the 1950s but there is no disputing what an excellent job was then done, in colours entirely accordant with Bodley's colour scheme elsewhere. Attired in its new array, this is a pulpit that can bear comparison with Bodley's pulpit in Canterbury Cathedral, constructed by Farmer and Brindley in 1896-8, and there is no greater Gothic Revival pulpit than that.

 

In fact, Holy Trinity has been fortunate generally to have escaped the discordant additions and alterations that mar many Victorian churches and only the glass in the upper section of the W. window looks horribly out of place.  Bodley was always painstakingly careful to ensure his furnishings and decorative schemes were in keeping with his buildings as entireties, and never more so than in the matter of colour as may also be seen at St. Mary's, Eccleston  (Cheshire West & Chester) or All Saints', Clumber (Nottinghamshire).  St. Mary's, Eccleston, shares with Holy Trinity the same restrained, black and white paving, and it is likewise constructed of a single English stone (in that case, the local red-brown sandstone from the Triassic pebble beds).  Those churches are vaulted, however.  For a roof comparable to Bodley's painted roofs at Holy Trinity, one might look at his nave roof at St. Martin's, Womersley (North Yorkshire).

 

As it was, even without a stone vault or a tower, Holy Trinity church was a very expensive job.  Considered in the manner church building costs were generally calculated from the time of the formation of the Church Building Commission (in 1818) onwards, in which the total cost of construction was divided by the number of seats provided, it came out at £45 a sitting, a figure that might be compared, for example, with £6. 8s. 0d per sitting for George Gilbert Scott's St. Matthew's, Westminster, of 1849-50, which was itself considered expensive at the time, or at the extreme end of the range, with just £2. 7s. 6d per sitting for Thomas Healey's St. John the Baptist's, Clayton (Bradford) - a modest church admittedly, albeit with a tower.

 

Finally, it remains to point out one very notable feature in the outer N. aisle at Holy Trinity, which is the monument commemorating the architect by his former pupil, Edward Prioleau (sic) Warren (1856 - 1937), who, once established in his own practice, mostly favoured designs in an understated Baroque.  His neo-Jacobean memorial to Bodley (seen above right) seems a curious tribute to pay to a Gothic Revivalist architect, and especially so in a Gothic Revival church, even one as late as this, but considered on its own lights, it is a successful and attractive piece of work. The colour scheme at least is in keeping with its setting, the architrave is supported on pink marble columns with gilded Corinthian capitals, and the bust carved by Laurence Turner (ibid.), set inside a round arch with a keystone at the top, is nothing short of first-rate.