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English Church Architecture -



HARTLEBURY, St. James (SO 841 708)     (March 2014)

(Bedrock:  Triassic Sherwood Sandstone Group, Bromsgrove Sandstone Formation)


The aisled nave of this church (seen left, from the northwest) was reconstructed in 1836-7 to the designs of Thomas Rickman (1776 - 1841)), who had earlier restored the chancel (in 1825) and would go on to add the tall W. porch to the otherwise unremarkable, late sixteenth century W. tower.  The arcades from the chancel to the vestries and organ chamber to the north, and to the Lady Chapel to the south, are still largely mediaeval, but the Lady Chapel and much of the chancel south side were rebuilt in 1877 (Pevsner) by an architect unknown.  These disparate parts are united by the construction material, which is bright red Triassic sandstone throughout.  However, the interest of the building lies almost entirely in the work by Rickman, who turned St. James's into a "hall church" with aisles as high as the nave, and since it was his research, more than anyone else's, that first laid out a modern understanding of mediaeval Gothic architecture, it is the extent to which his designs reflect this growing knowledge which is the natural focus of our attention. Surprisingly, perhaps, they reflect it very little. 


Rickman's aisles are lit by tall three-light windows which alternate authentic-looking reticulated tracery with a slightly less convincing geometrical form, but the game is given away at the west end of each by the ugly and curious pair of pink-painted, lancet-pointed doorways set in an encompassing arch with an order of shafts, and the large wheel windows high above, composed of quatrefoils to the south aisle and trefoils to the north.  Nevertheless, it is the building's interior that is the most strangely "unarchaeological" in view both of its author and its comparatively late date, for here the affinity is still with Strawberry Hill and such confections as Francis Hiorne's St Mary's, Tetbury (Gloucestershire) of 1776-81, with all the appearance of being constructed of cardboard and icing sugar.  (See the interior views, right, looking west towards the tower, and below left, looking into the west end of the S. aisle.)  The exceptionally tall, thin piers are composed of four major and four minor shafts rising from tall bases, and support the most delicate of four-bay arcades and attractive but insubstantial octopartite vaults above the nave and aisles, attractively painted in brown, cream and Wedgewood blue, and seemingly weighing nothing at all. As at Tetbury, it certainly creates an interior that is wonderfully light and airy, in contrast to the gloomy chancel.  Wooden galleries supported on metal columns run the length of the aisles from the east to west, with the rather unfortunate effect of appearing to slice the aisle windows into two.  The chancel arch has a complex profile above responds formed of two major orders of shafts separated by minor shafts.  The stone pulpit (below right) is probably also by Rickman and, if so, an attractive foretaste of Gothic Revivalist work to come:  the drum is decorated with quatrefoils enclosing carvings and inlaid patterns in coloured marbles.  Finally, the W. porch or galilee is prominently angle-buttressed and has a W. doorway with traceried spandrels and a tall window above, with a transom above a row of blank quatrefoils and supermullioned tracery in white stone.  So Rickman does not appear to have decided whether his church would be Decorated or Perpendicular in style. A lozenge in the gable is occupied by a shield.  If it commemorates the donor, that is probably Dean Peel of Worcester, the brother of Sir Robert.