English Church Architecture -
BRIDGNORTH, St. Mary Magdalene (SO 717 928) (March 2014)
(Bedrock: Permian Zechstein Series, Bridgnorth Sandstone)
This is an exceptional building, designed by the engineer, Thomas Telford (1757-1834), who was living in East Castle Street while it was being erected in 1792-6. The main fabric survives more or less as first built, except for the addition of the apse in like style by Sir Arthur Blomfield (1829-99), but the furnishings are much altered, in particular by the removal of the box pews and the replacement of the three-decker pulpit by the conventional example to be found left of the large, semicircular sanctuary arch today. The final cost of construction was recorded by Telford in his autobiography as £6,827-11s-9d (church guide), which was a very large sum at the time.
Approached from the north, down East Castle Street (as shown on the left), St. Mary Magdalene's presents the visitor with what is, from a ritualistic perspective, the W. end of the church (sic), in as confusing a state of affairs as anyone might devise. The "W. front" forms a grand and rather forbidding façade, with its central doorway with fanlight and architrave above, set between massive Tuscan columns and square pilaster buttresses at the angles that reach high above to support a large, plain pediment. The tower rises above the centre of this elevation, formed of three stages - the first, short, square and rusticated, the second, tall, also square, and ornamented with Tuscan columns on either side of the bell-openings and square pilaster buttresses at the angles, and the third, short and octagonal, with clock faces on the cardinal sides and a surmounting lead dome.
The N. and S. fronts show the nave projecting slightly forward of the little enclosed spaces beside the tower, both sides lit by three very large round-headed windows, separated by pairs of tall pilaster buttresses matching those at the W. angles, and similarly tapering slightly towards the top. (See the photograph of the south front, below.) The sanctuary is recessed a little from the nave, in the same manner as the enclosed spaces to the west, and each has a doorway leading into it from the north or south, set beneath a tall, narrow, round-headed window, ensuring that - save only for the tower - the building is symmetrical from these sides also. Blomfield's apse, of course, rather upsets this plan, but otherwise, it is remarkably sympathetic for its date (1876), due, in particular, to Blomfield's preparedness to go so far as to employ "heathen" Tuscan columns to divide its three sections.
Today, the church is entered solely through the W. door, which leads into a circular lobby. The wide nave beyond is seven short bays in length, as defined by the tall Ionic columns that reach from floor to ceiling. The building is wonderfully light since the nave window glass is clear, the ceiling is flat, and the ceiling, walls and W. gallery are all painted white or the palest eggshell blue. The sanctuary (for, being only one bay long, it can hardly be called a chancel) is adjoined to the left, by the organ chamber, and to the right, by the vestry, and leads on to Blomfield's apse, which alone displays stained glass. Telford's original N. and S. galleries have been removed, but the W. gallery remains, albeit in an altered state. It is now pierced by round-headed openings above little square panels, however, so Blomfield, to his credit, has made no attempt to Gothicize Telford's work, either here or elsewhere, as many of his contemporaries would probably have done. (See the interior view below, looking west towards the gallery.)