Sunday, December 23, 2012
Wyck Rissington, Gloucestershire
In the bleak midwinter, with rain on rain in this part of the world, here's a photograph to remind us of last summer's sun, warming up the Cotswold stone at Wyck Rissington, northeast of Bourton-on-the-Water. Aside from the obvious charm of this stone building in its tree-lined churchyard, I'm attracted to this building for various reasons. Here are three things that interest me about it; three ways of looking at a building, if you like.
First, the architecture. Although this is a small church, built by unknown masons and added to over the centuries in what looks like a haphazard way (look at the miscellaneous selection of window styles), it has had architectural pretensions, especially with regard to the chancel (in the foreground of the photograph). This small part of an obscure church represents a moment in English architectural history. It dates from the mid-13th century and the end wall, with its two pairs of lancet windows and small corner buttresses with pointed tops, is very much of its period. So is the surviving single lancet on the side wall (the larger windows are later; originally there would have been more lancets along this side). This was the period when English builders were beginning to group lancet windows together and add smaller openings (circles, trefoils, quatrefoils) above them to create windows with tracery – the window on the side wall next to the drain pipe is an example from a later phase of building. In the end wall, the two concave-sided lozenge-shaped openings above the pairs of lancets, and the plainer diamond opening above them, create a kind of proto-tracery, as if the masons were feeling their way towards this idea but not quite getting there yet: fascinating.
Next, what has happened to the building recently, for all old buildings need care and repair, and how this is done affects both their survival and their appearance. On my visit in the summer, the church architect happened to be there making an inspection, and we talked both about the 13th-century architecture of the chancel and about the recent work on the church roof. As you can see, the nave roof has been completely recovered in new Cotswold stone "slates". Some of the old slates were still in good enough condition to be recycled, as were quite a few on the chancel roof. So when the nave roof was finished, the chancel roof was redone with the best of the old slates. Both roofs are now good for many years, and the new slates on the naive roof will eventually darken in colour, attract lichen, and match the older ones on the chancel.
Finally, a historical association, because the people who use old buildings are frequently just as interesting as the buildings themselves. In the early 1890s, the 17-year-old Gustav Holst got his first job here, as church organist. He soon added a similar position at nearby Bourton-on-the-Water and this work helped to sustain the young composer until he got a scholarship to the Royal College of Music a couple of years later. Holst, who was born in Cheltenham, spent most of his adult life in London, but always loved the Cotswolds. One of his more ambitious works is his Cotswolds Symphony, the beautiful slow movement of which is subtitled "In memoriam William Morris". Perhaps his most familiar work, though, is one that many do not realise is by him, the tune called Cranham (named for another Cotswold village) which is the most popular music for the carol "In the Bleak Midwinter". Here it is, sung by that great British ensemble, The Sixteen. Season's Greetings to you all.