English Church Architecture -
ELVEDEN, St. Andrew & St. Patrick (TL 822 799) (September 2005)
(Bedrock: Upper Cretaceous, Middle Chalk)
Scarcely more than a century ago, this was a small mediaeval building dedicated to St. Andrew, consisting of a W. tower, a nave with a S. porch, and a chancel. These parts of the church exist still, but they are now overshadowed by the much larger additions by William Douglas Caröe (1857-1938), who was responsible for the new nave and chancel with vestry and organ chamber, constructed alongside the original building to the north but extending further east and independently dedicated to St. Patrick, and (yet more strikingly) for the great S. tower and long cloister connecting it with the old chancel. These were erected at the expense of the first Lord Iveagh, who bought the adjacent estate from the executors of Maharaja Duleep Singh in 1894, and who followed the maharajah’s example by continuing the extravagant enlargement of the hall in a vaguely Italianate manner. Once this project was complete, around 1903, it was probably inevitable there would seem a need for a church more in keeping with its flamboyant neighbour, and Caröe was, therefore, engaged to provide it, which he did by transforming the old church into an eccentric building in a style Pevsner termed “Art Nouveau Gothic”. Whether this is great architecture is a matter of opinion, but it is hard to deny that Caröe’s elaborate ornamentation frequently comes close to the line between the rich and original on the one hand, and the ostentatious and illogical on the other. Judged in that way, perhaps it is the tower and cloister of c. 1922 that come closest to the former and parts of the nave and chancel of 1904-6 that are most deserving of the latter description.
The earliest feature of the original church (seen from the east in the photograph above left) is a small blocked Norman window in the nave S. wall. This probably dates much of the basic masonry. It is followed by a Y-traceried window in the chancel S. wall, west of the cloister, and then by the W. tower of c. 1300, rising in three unbuttressed stages from a basal frieze of trefoil-cusped flushwork arches, to cinquefoiled Y-traceried bell-openings and deep surmounting battlements. Next comes the two-light chancel S. window, east of the cloister, with reticulated tracery, and the four-light E. window with internal side-shafts and attractive and unusual flowing tracery formed of mouchettes and a wheel of quatrefoils. The square-headed nave windows have all been renewed but the embattled S. porch has a four-centred outer doorway that looks genuinely Perpendicular.
Caröe’s commision falls outside the usual scope of these notes, which generally extend only to the end of the Victorian era, but a brief description of his work here is necessary. A former pupil of Pearson, his designs for the church show little of the unifying and restraining good taste that seems to keep even the latter’s most ornate buildings within bounds, but rather seek their effect by the piling up of one feature on another, whether connected or otherwise, until it appears as if nothing has been left out that can possibly be added in. Unsurprisingly, this is an approach that works better on some occasions than others. It is not conspicuously successful in the new nave’s W. front (illustrated right), where the W. porch with “eyebrow” mouldings above the doorway, competes for dominance with the ugly stair turret at the northwest angle, and where each element of the decoration gives the impression of having been conceived without reference to the others, although matters are not helped either by the uncomfortable way in which the W. window seems to struggle to be seen from its position above and behind the porch, and where the choice of supermullioned tracery seems positively perverse in view of Caröe’s adoption of convoluted forms of flowing tracery for his windows north and east, albeit forms no fourteenth century mason would have recognized. A similar lack of concern for precedent is shown inside the church, where the piers of Caröe’s arcade between the naves (shown left), in Pevsner’s phrase, “defeat description”. That is not necessarily an indictment, of course, and, indeed, Caröe’s “unexpected and unauthorized turns” actually work rather better here, assisted by the impressive carved reredos by Nathaniel Hitch of Vauxhall, featuring a central panel depicting Christ breaking bread before the two disciples at Emmaus. The chancels are separated by two arches with panelled soffits, and there are blank arches running along the N. wall of the new chancel, which also have deep soffits, above which the shortened windows open as if over balconies. The chancel roof has a wooden barrel vault with elaborately carved bosses, but the nave roof is more striking, being of double-hammerbeam construction, dominated - rather than decorated - with carved angels.
Were it not for the connecting cloister, the sumptuous but slightly more conventional S. tower (shown right, from the southeast) would be an entirely separate structure, for it stands well apart from the rest of the church towards the southeast - beyond, in fact, the churchyard boundary, where, appropriately, it is cared for by the Iveagh family, since it was erected in the first place as a memorial to Lady Iveagh (d. 1916). The cloister is seven bays long, with the addition of a further half bay at each end. Bays 1 and 5 from the north are open at the sides, creating east/west through-passages, while the cloister as a whole forms one long north/south passage, with four-light unglazed windows, blank arcading internally above and below, and a ribbed vault. It continues beneath the lower stage of the tower, which has a lierne vault. The tower is embattled and rises in three stages to a height of 72 feet (22 m.), supported by set-back buttresses and with a stair turret at the southwest angle that rises higher than the tower itself. The walls are entirely faced with flushwork and pierced in the bell-stage by two overly short, two-light openings per wall, below which to the south runs the motto “Sursum Corda” (“Lift up you hearts”).
Doubtless that was what Caröe's building was intended to help one do, but is his florid and extraordinary work an example of flamboyant exciting architecture or an ostentatious display of poor taste? The rather perplexing answer is that it is possible to view it as both.