Saturday, October 4, 2008

Brockhampton-by-Ross, Herefordshire

Hidden among the green hills and evergreens of rural Herefordshire is All Saints, Brockhampton, the perfect Arts and Crafts church, built in the first years of the 20th century to the designs of W. R. Lethaby, the architect about whom I enthused in the previous post. Although it’s constructed mainly of local sandstone and looks perfectly at home in its quiet corner of Herefordshire, this church is quite unlike anything else you’ll find locally – or anywhere else.

It’s outstanding in several ways – the resourceful use of materials (timber and thatch as well as stone), the pleasing balance of masses (the two towers, the porch and transept), the careful fit of building and site. More than this, there’s an artful combination of simplicity (the pointed entrance arch, the rectangular window openings on either side of it, the plain thatch of the nave roof) with decoration (the more ornate windows of the tower, transept and chancel, and the decorated chancel thatch). The decoration, in other words, emphasizes the eastern end of the church, the most sacred space where the high altar is placed. Inside, once we’ve got over the pleasant surprise of the sweeping vault (concrete with stone ribs), there’s a similar effect. Looking down the simple nave, one sees the choir beyond, flooded with light from the tower windows above, and beyond it the chancel. This is a holy of holies, but it’s made special not by being screened off from the rest of the building, as a medieval church would have been, but by being beautifully furnished with tapestries, altar hangings, and carvings. It’s lit by a lovely three-light window with a charming Star-of-David-shaped opening above.

The story of the Arts and Crafts movement is a two-fold one. On the one hand there’s the traditionalism – the respect for craftsmanship, the interest in ancient forms, the love of the imagery of nature. On the other hand, there’s the sense in which Lethaby and his peers were pioneering modern design, with bold forms like this church’s vault, and touches like the light fittings that hang from the ceiling. These two sides of the Arts and Crafts movement sometimes seem at odds, but at Brockhampton they fit beautifully together to make a building that’s both fascinating and moving.Detail, font, Brockhampton

7 comments:

Peter Ashley said...

Ooh yes, this is the one. A stunning mix of sophisticated arts and crafts and agricultural vernacular. Just love it.

Thud said...

Outstanding!...again I tip my hat to you...well I would if I wore one.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thanks for the appreciative comments. I arrived at this place having had driven through a gale and the heavens opened again a few seconds after I took the photograph. The place looks even better in warm sunshine, as Mr Ashley knows. All of which is a spur to revisit and photograph other delights, such as the thatched lychgate.

Ron Combo said...

Utterly wonderful!

cbnewham said...

Yes, this is a memorable place. The church interior is effective and amongst the oddest I have seen.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Yes, it's odd but it works. The coming together of old and new, stone and concrete, is one of the unexpected joys of this building.

Duncan Toms said...

Thank you for this post. I came across Lethaby on reading an article about the building in which I live and work, the Krishnamurti Centre in Hampshire, by Keith Critchlow. The article stated that Lethaby was an influence of Critchlow's design.