Thursday, March 21, 2013
Donhead St Mary, Wiltshire
Even after years of looking at architecture, buildings are still surprising me and pulling me up short. This little eye-catcher of a church near the A30 east of Shaftesbury is a case in point. Seen through the eye corner, the towers and battlements suggest a castle, but as soon as you look closely, it's obvious that this is a church – and one built in a very specific way to imitate a Norman cathedral on a small scale.
The church was built in around 1839, when a neighbouring building proved too small for a growing population. The architect, William Walker, designed it in this neo-Norman style, with round-headed doorway and tall, narrow windows, which was rather unusual in this period. I've seen it suggested that a local bigwig, a Mr Graves of nearby Charlton House, contributed a lot of the money required for the building, and maybe he had a say in the design. Whoever's idea it was, it's unusual and arresting. Small parish churches don't have two towers, do they? This one does. They usually have the entrance on the south. But this one's main doorway is at the west end. They don't normally have a west front. This one does. Neither do they usually have the rather forbidding, military-looking aspect of this building, with its very narrow windows and battlements. Even now, some time after taking the photograph, the unusual effect of this church makes me pause.