Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Last week brought the news that the Churches Conservation Trust has taken on its 350th church. The Trust is an excellent charity that takes over and looks after church buildings that can no longer be maintained by their local parishes. The churches are all of outstanding architectural and/or historical interest and the Trust opens them to the public and sells guidebooks and provides other information about them – but the buildings are still churches and occasional services are still held in them. I’ve noticed, and praised, their work before on this blog and I am just one of a legion of enthusiasts and supporters.
The 350th church on the Trust’s list is St Kenelm’s, Sapperton, Gloucestershire.* It’s a beauty – for its exterior, with its lovely little spire (far from the norm in this county, where most churches have towers) and its lovely setting, and for its contents. It is a medieval church, but one much altered in the Georgian period with the addition of a number of large round-headed clear-glazed windows, which flood light into the nave.
Inside are two outstanding monuments – a 17th-century one to Sir Henry and Lady Poole and an 18th-century one to Sir Robert Atykyns, the first historian of the county of Gloucestershire. The place would be worth a visit for these two monuments alone, but what sets the church apart still more is the woodwork – the most extraordinary set of Jacobean pew-ends, together with a gallery front, a big wall of oak panelling, and other pieces. This rich 17th-century carpentry came from nearby Sapperton Manor and was given to the church by the 1st Earl Bathurst† when the house was demolished in 1730. It’s secular woodwork that has been repurposed, then, and the pew ends certainly look secular in origin – each one bears a vigorously carved supporter figure bearing on the head a capital: a sort of Jacobean version of a caryatid or Atlas figure. The males have satyric beards and the few females bare breasts and necklaces, so they might have been even more at home in the dinging room of the manor house. But these figures have plenty of character – the chiselled beards and almond eyes, the little locks of hair – so that, stylised as they are, they’re an asset to the place. The modest capitals don’t really conform to the standard classical orders: they could be Ionic with a bit of extra foliage, or cut-down Corinthian. But they’re fun too and the whole lot make the church very special. You’d have to go a long way to find any pew ends quite like these.
All credit to the CCT for taking on this memorable church. No doubt they have lifted a heavy financial burden from the small parish in so doing. As usual, we owe them our applause and whatever other support we can give.¶
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* Sapperton church’s page on the CCT website is here.
† The Bathurst who was the recipient of Pope’s famous poetical epistle, and who created the great park next to his house at Cirencester, a stone’s throw from Sapperton.
¶ I've posted about quite a few CCT churches over the years, but there are a couple of my particular favourites here and here.