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English Church Architecture -



CLUMBER, All Saints (SK 627 746)     (June 2014)

(Bedrock:  Triassic Sherwood Sandstone Group, Bunter Pebble Beds)


This so-called chapel (for it was built as a private chapel for Clumber House) is, in reality, a soaring masterpiece of a church by George Frederick Bodley (1827 - 1907), erected in 1886-9 at a cost of 40,000 (George Frederick Bodley by Michael Hall, pub. The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2014). (See the photograph, left, taken from the southwest.)  "Bodley brought Gothic to a state of refinement that it had probably never reached before", wrote Basil F.L. Clarke (Church Builders of the Nineteenth Century, pub. SPCK, 1938), and we can recognise some of the artist's fingerprints here, by comparing this building with St. Mary's, Eccleston (Cheshire West & Chester):  both adopt a Second Pointed style throughout, modified by elements drawn from Perpendicular work;  both have their windows set very high up, giving the buildings a somewhat fortress-like appearance; both are fully vaulted within;  both employ stone figures in elaborate canopied niches as an important element of their decorative schemes.  However, another close relationship between these two particular churches concerns their use of New Red Sandstone from the Triassic Bunter Pebble Beds (to use a geologically obsolete name for the formation) as their principal building material - a situation not merely reflecting the architect's whim but also the remarkable fact that both of these buildings sit on outcrops of this stone on opposite sides of the Pennines, albeit that,  perversely, the red sandstone used at Clumber was actually brought across the Pennines from Runcorn, in a blatant case of "carrying coals to Newcastle".  It is used exclusively inside the building, while outside it is employed for the crossing tower from the bell-stage upwards and for dressings everwhere else, where it forms a striking contrast with a truly local stone - the white magnesian "Steetley stone" of Permian age from Whitwell, just across the Derbyshire border, which had been preserved from the former, demolished chapel, and which the patron, the 7th Duke of Newcastle, insisted should be re-used as far as possible (Hall).  Perhaps the most obvious differences between St. Mary's, Clumber and St. Mary's, Eccleston, lie in their plans and the forms of their towers, for the present church is cruciform and has an angle-buttressed tower crowned by a magnificent octagonal corona and spire (shown below left), the former supported by flying buttresses springing across from crocketed pinnacles at the tower corners, and the latter rising through the corona to a total height of 180' (55 m.) above the ground (ibid.), producing a building 30% taller than it is long.


It would be excessively tedious, therefore, after these opening remarks, to attempt a comprehensive description of so rich and elaborate a building, but the mere enumeration of its component parts will provide some impression of its complexities for the  chapel consists of a four-bay chancel with a three-bay chapel to the south and a balancing organ chamber and vestry to the north, the crossing tower and spire already mentioned, N. and S. transepts, a four-bay nave, and little annexes in the re-entrants between the nave and the transepts, more conspicuous inside than out, forming a baptistry to the north and another small chapel opposite. Windows to the building are mostly two-light in the nave and S. chapel, with cruciform lobing set vertically in the former and falchion tracery in the latter, and three-light with variant forms of reticulated tracery in the chancel clerestory.  The chancel is slightly longer and taller than the nave but the transepts are lower than either, yet still more than twice the height of the annexes.  There are niches containing statuettes either side of the five-light chancel E. window with its excellent curvilinear tracery, the three-light nave W. window, and the three-light S. transept S. window.  The nave is faced entirely with Steetley stone below the windows but banded with red sandstone above, while the position is reversed, east of the crossing, so that the S chapel walls are banded while the chancel clerestory walls are not.  The church has no porch and entry is gained through the nave W. doorway, composed of three orders bearing wave mouldings and a frieze of leaf carving around these.


Inside the building, it is chiefly the vaulting schemes that portray the approaching ecclesiastical climax as one passes from the nave with its sexpartite ribbed vault, beneath the crossing  with its octopartite vault with the usual central hole to allow the passage of the bell-ropes, finally to arrive in the chancel with its tierceron vault (left) or, even more especially, in the ornate S. chapel, with its lierne vault (below right)


The nave walls are faced along their three western bays with deeply-set blank arches carrying a wave moulding and a hollow filled at intervals with carved roses, above an order of engaged shafts, but the easternmost bays are cut through by the arches to the transept annexes, formed of a series of narrow mouldings either side of wide soffits decorated with vine leaf carving in relief.  Passageways at window level, pass east/west through the thickness of the nave walls, beneath depressed ogee arches, as they do also behind the chancel clerestory.  The nave vault rises from (though hardly appears to be resting on) groups of three narrow bowtells that run up between the bays, and  in like manner, the tall crossing arches towards the nave and chancel, also appear to rely on the same flimsy support.  The arches towards the transepts die into the jambs.


The most impressive parts of the church, however, are the chancel and S. chapel.  Three-bay arcades filled with stone screens run down each side of the chancel, with open tracery on the south side providing a view into the chapel, and blank tracery on the north side, providing privacy for the vestry.  The arcades are formed of a complex series of mouldings above three orders of shafts, with the the outer pair cut from "local" New Red sandstone, and the one between, from imported black marble. The screens fill the arches to the height of the springing and feature reticulated tracery above ogee-pointed lights  and plain dados.  The arch to the S. chapel from the transept is formed of three orders, springing from responds with two orders of shafts decorated with carved roses around the capitals.


Finally, furnishings to the building are almost inevitably eclipsed by all this excellent stonework and, besides, were mostly designed after Bodley was finally dismissed by  Newcastle for over-running his account by 400 (Hall).  The wooden screen between the crossing and the chancel is too big not to mention, however, and the rood above is also interesting for it was designed by the Reverend Ernest Geldhart, whose carpentry and decorative schemes are generally associated with Essex, most notably at Little Braxted.  Here, he was also responsible for the tall font cover and the delicately carved choir stalls of walnut and cedar wood.