(« back to home page)

English Church Architecture -



BRETTENHAM, St. Mary (TL 932 834)     (July 2010)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


This is essentially a building by S.S. Teulon (1812 - 73), an architect of French descent whose St. Stephen’s, Hampstead, was described at the time of its construction as “surpassing in ugliness even the worst native French examples” - a remark that was quoted by Basil F.L. Clarke in Church Builders of the Nineteenth Century (pub. SPCK, 1938), who went on, in similarly unflattering terms, to write of the same architect's church at Huntley, Gloucestershire, "It has striped walls, marble shafts, capitals carved with every possible variety of naturalistic  foliage, medallions of the four evangelists in the spandrels of the arches, [an] alabaster pulpit, and many other expensive and unbeautiful things". 


Teulon's work could indeed, by turns, be lumpy and heavy at one instant and over-elaborate at the next, yet neither is really true here. The windows, admittedly, do go to exceptional lengths to differ from one another, even to the extent that the various two-light reticulated windows all attempt to present a differently-shaped quatrefoil above the lights.  However, the effect which this creates is not ostentatious but actually both light and attractive, albeit not inside, where the impenetrable stained glass by A.L. Moore (1849-1939, and who should not to be confused with his namesake, the illustrator of pin-up girls for "Esquire", who died in 1991) casts the building in deep gloom, even on a bright summer's day. 


Teulon chose for his style the early fourteenth century Decorated, so favoured by the Ecclesiologists, and was true to it throughout, though scarcely one of his windows could be mistaken for mediaeval work. (A possible exception is the chancel E. window, illustrated below right.   The photographs to the left show the N. transept N. window [below centre] and the westernmost S. window in the chancel [below left].)  His new church, constructed in 1852 (Pevsner), comprised a chancel with N. vestry, a nave with transepts and a half-timbered S. porch, and an unbuttressed W. tower rising in two stages to flint flushwork battlements.  The most interesting of these components is the octagonal N. vestry, which faces the road and thus forms part of the principal façade (See the photograph at the foot of the page on the left.)  It has a trefoil-cusped one-light window above a string course in each wall, and a "reverse mansard" roof (i.e. a double-pitched roof with the upper slope steeper). Teulon's use of materials contributes much to his success for the walls of uncut flint contrast well with the yellow stone of the windows and the orange ironstone(?) tumbled in around their heads.  Except, of course, for the tower, the roofs of the church are entirely of red tile, about half the courses of which are shaped. The only fragments of the mediaeval building incorporated within this structure appear to be some of the lower masonry of the tower and the re-set, round-headed S. doorway to the nave (inside the porch).  The later is clearly Norman (see the photograph at the foot of the page on the right) and displays two rows of chevron and cable moulding round the arch, above a pair of shafts with volute capitals, decorated left and right with zigzag and cable moulding respectively.  However, it is also in the porch that signs of dereliction first appear, for at the time of this visit, the floor had sow-thistles growing through it.  Even so, after the relative neatness of the exterior, the interior is still a shock, with its broken floorboards, benches set at random, and a thick covering everywhere of lime-plaster flakes and bat droppings. 


Fortunately, perhaps, there is little of interest inside anyway.  The tower arch is formed of two orders, each bearing a sunk quadrant that dies into the jambs, the transept arches are double-flat-chamfered with the inner order springing from corbels, and the chancel arch consists of an inner order bearing a pair of wave mouldings above semicircular responds with large leaf capitals and an outer order with a sunk quadrant moulding that continues all around.  The church furnishings, which may or may not be Teulon's, include a simple octagonal font, carved with quatrefoils on the bowl.  The  rood screen stands on a dado of pink and white alabaster, and the reredos is a large oppressive wooden structure which successfully blocks out the majority of the light from the E. window behind.