Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Word and worship
This is the archetypal form of nonconformist chapel: a pair of round-headed windows on either side of a central door, a hipped roof, and, sometimes, quoins and window-surrounds picked out in dressed stone to make the building look more substantial and important. It’s a form that was created in the 18th century, but was still in use well into the Victorian period, by which time thousands of towns and villages had at least one chapel or meeting house belonging to the Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, or Quakers.
In rural areas, many of these places of worship never had large congregations, and thousands of them have fallen out of use to be demolished or, like this one, to benefit from sympathetic conversion. It’s good to see this example preserved because it’s a small local landmark and because, like so many of these small buildings, it is both typical and different. Typical because of the windows, hipped roof, and so on. Different because it’s built of local stone rather than the brick so often favoured for country chapels.
And also because of the inscription. Often on chapels there is a rectangular date stone above the door that gives the name and date of foundation. Here the builders inscribed the date over the door and the purpose of the building in elegant capitals along the string course. It’s nicely carved if slightly rustic work (look for the slight difference in the two Ps, for example). But it also has real vigour. I especially like the kicking angled serifs at the top of the S and C. In letter-cutting on inscriptions, date stones, and gravestones the Victorian nonconformist churches often employed craft workers of great skill and sensitivity. Their typography and printing – on items such as circuit preaching plans and the small tickets with Biblical texts handed out at Sunday schools – was often very good too. As ever for the dissenters, what mattered was the word.
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Thanks to Emma Bradford for telling me about this building.