Saturday, June 13, 2015
I visited Altarnun primarily to see the parish church (which is late-medieval, beautiful, and packed with interest, including an outstanding set of 16th-century bench ends that I'll post about soon), but also found this simple but interesting building. It’s a former chapel, and is small, with just two sash windows (6 x 6 panes) lighting the front wall of what was the main chapel and a low bottom storey that was originally given over to storage and stables. The most striking feature is a bust of John Wesley above the door.
This bust is interesting for several reasons. It gives us a date, 1836, which is apparently the date of an extension to the building, not the year of its original construction: one should always beware of datestones. That date also caught my eye because of the lettering. The 3 and 6 take a rather odd form but the overall impression is emphatic and impactful.
More memorable is the carving of the founder of Methodism, shown in profile and sticking well out, so that it’s not so much a relief as three-quarters of a bust. The sculptor was Neville Northey Burnard, who was born in one of the adjoining houses, carved the bust when he was 16, and went on to work widely in London as well as in his home county. The carving has a vigour that helps to explain how Burnard became a successful portrait sculptor – although the success didn’t last because he turned to drink after the death of his daughter, and went into a decline, living for years as a tramp. It’s good so see his early portrait of Wesley, remaining in place even after the chapel it adorns has been converted for residential use.