Saturday, August 10, 2013
Guiting Power, Gloucestershire
It's not just about the architecture
I live just a few miles away from this small Baptist chapel in the Gloucestershire village of Guiting Power, and pass it quite often. For me, it's one of those landmark buildings – the ones that provoke a nod of recognition as we travel around on our regular routes, buildings that remind us that we're nearly home, or ones that are just reassuring because they're still there.
This is a simple building, but the first few times I passed it, I seemed to notice something different about it each time – the coursed rubble masonry, the large quoins, the neat bands of stone around the windows, and so on. Stopping and looking more closely, I saw at once that this is hardly great architecture. The large side windows certainly do their job – their clear glass must make for an interior with plenty of natural light, perfect for reading Bible and hymn book. The masonry bands that surround these windows might be a bit shallow and narrow, their keystones rather small and overshadowed by the roof overhang, but this is the kind of architectural restraint that's appropriate, I'd say, for a nonconformist chapel.
The entrance front, though, looks odd. The usual pattern here would be to have two further large, round-headed windows, one on either side of the doorway. Instead, there's a rather small and mean-looking Venetian window above the door. The reason for this curious arrangement is that the chapel contains an upper seating gallery at this end, with its floor just above the arch of the doorway. Tall windows would not work, as the gallery floor would bisect them. Hence the smaller window placed above the doorway.
A building like this, then, is a collection of compromises. On one level it shows a Cotswold builder of the early-19th century wrestling with the architectural conventions of the time and not always winning. On another, it reveals a happy set of answers to the question of how to produce a well-lit building with enough accommodation for the worshippers in a restrained style that respects the local villagescape. The date stone above the Venetian window reads '1835' and the chapel has been little altered since then. The design seems to have worked.