Wednesday, August 17, 2016
Gothic on speed
Set back from the main road from Gloucester to Ross, St John the Baptist, Huntley, is a church I’d been past many times before the Resident Wise Woman and I took the trouble to pull in and have a good look. And we were pleased we did. It’s one of the most interesting Victorian churches I’ve come across. Apart from the tower, which is 14th century, the whole church was rebuilt in 1862–3 by Samuel Sanders Teulon. There must have been a very generous budget (provided by the rector, Rev Daniel Capper) because this little building shows what Teulon could do when he threw everything he had at a church.
The style is a kind of Decorated Gothic, the style of the 14th century that is marked by flowing window tracery, much carving, and a rich approach to decoration generally. But here at Huntley, Teulon gave it many special twists and turns. He elaborated everything: the Decorated window tracery flows more curvaceously than ever, the carving is more profuse, the painted chancel ceiling glows jewel-like. The elaboration starts before we even get inside, with an extraordinary trefoil-headed window (above) that looks like the top of a conventional Gothic window, but with the lower part replaced with a row of five little blind arches filled with decorative carving. The reason for the lack of glazing lower down is that the organ is installed behind – it’s signalled, indeed by carvings of a couple of musical figures that adorn the window. And this is just a hint of what awaits us inside.
Here architectural sculpture breaks loose from its bounds. Profuse isn’t a strong enough word for this interior and its decoration. At the tops of some of the columns are not simply capitals, but what almost amount to pairs of capitals (above), one over the other, the two levels of carving separated by a band of masonry studded with polished stones. The nave roof is supported by carved stone corbels – but there are more carvings immediately below them, framed by banded masonry and picked out with gilding. Teulon was able to employ one of the best Victorian carvers, Thomas Earp, whose work on the reredos and pulpit was shown at the Great Exhibition of 1862.
This is just a sample from this rich and absorbing little building, a Gothic revival structure that’s so elaborated it’s like no medieval church. The architect and critic Harry Goodhart-Rendell wrote an essay, ‘Rogue Architects of the Victorian Era’, in which he included Teulon in a group of pushers of the architectural envelope, men who broke rules triumphantly, who trumpeted their innovations with noisy visual glee, who had, presumably, the kind of pachydermous skins that made them oblivious to the criticism of more conventional souls. How good that they did, and that they found patrons like Capper who gave them the resources to work in the way they wanted.