English Church Architecture -
TEIGH, Holy Trinity (SK 885 160) (June 2008)
(Bedrock: Lower Jurassic, Marlstone Rock Formation)
This is an excellent building (shown left, from the southeast), constructed in 1782 by George Richardson (1737 or 8 - c.1813), a Scottish architect who worked for eighteen years with Robert Adam and who was later responsible for St. Mary Magdalene’s, Stapleford (1783) and St. Peter’s, Saxby (1789), both in Leicestershire. He was also the author of A Book of Ceilings, which he published in the hope that it would increase his commissions but which apparently had the opposite effect by enabling others to plagiarize his designs.
At Teigh, Richardson re-used the base of the former church’s thirteenth century tower, constructed of orange sandstone almost certainly from the Northampton sand formation at the base of the Middle Jurassic Series, but otherwise his church was entirely new-build. It is constructed externally in a remarkably faithful Gothic style for its date, several decades before the first systematic antiquarian studies of mediaeval architecture were carried out, most notably by Thomas Rickman in 1817, and while this building would not deceive any serious student of the Middle Ages today, the windows at least provide as good an imitation of the Decorated style as many Gothic Revival architects were to achieve some seventy or eighty years later. The eighteenth century vintage of the building is betrayed on approach, however, by the frieze below the battlements, which is without mediaeval precedent, and in particular, by the absence of a chancel, for the building consists in plan of just a nave and W. tower, an unpardonable offence no ecclesiologically-sound Gothic Revivalist would ever have committed. Nave windows are large and consist to north and south of two basic three-light designs, the first with tracery formed from the intersection of the ogee-pointed subarcuations of the lights in pairs, a typical early fourteenth century exemplar of which can be seen at St. Mary Magdalene’s church, Madingley (Cambridgeshire), and the second with a simpler tracery formed of two-centred lights and irregular sexfoils above. The E. window is four-light with a large encircled regular sexfoil in the head. The tower rises in four stages to battlements and pinnacles at the corners, supported by angle buttresses to the first three stages, and has been faced with ashlar from the second stage upwards, making it difficult to tell exactly how much of the mediaeval structure Richardson retained. The bell-stage is definitely his, however, notwithstanding its two-light reticulated bell-openings.
Nevertheless, as interesting as this may be, it is not the exterior of this church that makes it memorable, but its exquisite interior, which is indubitably of its time. This is light and airy, and arranged like the interior of an Oxbridge college chapel (see below), with three rows of tiered seating on each side, set out longitudinally so that the congregation could look with equal ease at the altar to the east or towards the readers’ desks and pulpit (shown right), most curiously arranged around the tower arch to the west. In fact, Richardson provided two readers’ desks here, presumably for reasons of symmetry, one each side of the arch and each approached up a short winding staircase that opens into a little box that looks out over the nave through an ogee-pointed arch from a height of several feet. However, as curious as this is, the pulpit is still more remarkable for this is approached up a taller staircase that gives access to another box above the very apex of the arch, which is covered by a wooden canopy. Together, in Pevsner’s words, these “three boxes give one an irresistible hope that at any moment preacher and readers might pop out like the little figures in a weather-house” and it is hardly surprising that they should thus provide the most striking internal perspective within the building for the perspective looking east is attractive but comparatively modest, with the altar recessed in an alcove below the E. window, below an altar painting of the Last Supper more commendable for colour than for composition, and between the inevitable side panels declaiming the Ten Commandments.
Finally, as might be expected, Richardson has not passed by the opportunity to construct one of his elegant plaster ceilings above the nave, and he has done so in a quiet and restful way that entirely accords with the rest of his interior. Painted the pale Wedgwood blue and white of many of Adam’s ceilings, this is coved to the north and south and decorated only with three coats of arms, including the Royal Coat of Arms of George III in the centre.