Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Farley, Wiltshire

Polite architecture

This charming classical church was the goal of my detour to Farley, where I also saw the village hall in my previous post. I’d read about this church and seen a picture of it in John Piper’s Wiltshire Shell Guide, but as the photographs in the Shell Guides are in black and white, I wasn’t prepared for the beautiful warm colour of the brickwork, which has mellowed in the 400-odd years since it was laid in English bond and is set off wonderfully by the surrounding greenery and the pale stone of the quoins and window surrounds.

If this looks rather a grand church for a small country village, there’s a reason. It was built in c. 1680–90 under the auspices of a wealthy and well connected local man, Sir Stephen Fox, who also founded a ‘hospital’ (actually a set of almshouses) opposite, a while after the previous village church had fallen into disrepair. Fox was a friend of Sir Christopher Wren, the greatest architect of the time, the two having worked together on the hospital for pensioners in Chelsea, and it is possible that Wren advised on the design of the church. The work was almost certainly undertaken by Alexander Fort, Wren’s surveyor; Fort may also have acted as the architect of the building.

Looking at the church, it’s clear that it’s a small but sophisticated building. Although it doesn’t look exactly like the ‘typical’ Wren church in the City of London (no white Portland stone walls, no elaborate steeple), it is quite a remarkable design. The layout of the separate parts of the building – tower, nave, chancel, and the projecting chapels provides visual interest as well as delineating different functions (the protruding chapel in the photograph acts as the entrance and vestry, the one opposite it on the north side of the building contains memorials to the Fox and Ilchester families, with a burial vault beneath). The architectural details – window surrounds, door cases, cornice – are very plain, but well made.* I especially like the round window above the doorway. and the way its curve echoes those of the semicircular-headed windows of the nave and chancel. It’s a polite building in a quiet country setting. The only sound I heard while I was there was that of leather on willow from the nearby cricket pitch. After the intrusion of corrugated iron in my previous post, civilization has been restored.

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*The interior is plain too, with white walls, round arches, and oak pews that have been lowered in height.


bazza said...

Ha ha! Hooray for the restoration of civilisation! 'Polite' is such a charming word for this building. It is certainly satisfying to view, even via the photo, and it looks like a building that would appear to be much more attractive in strong sunlight.
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Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

Can't help, as with some of the Wren churches in London, feeling it's a bit awkward. The circular window over the door placed exactly in the middle of its surface - it might have been better placed even from a practical point of view at a higher level, to avoid the effect of that over-large swathe of perfectly plain wall.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Bazza: Yes, it certainly improves in the sun – the brick colour warms up and one sees a variety of tones of red.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Joseph: Interesting comment. I'd not really seen it as awkward, but now I look at it again I see what you mean. Glancing at some pictures of Wren's City churches online, I see that he does sometimes exhibit a similar oddity in the positioning of windows and other exterior details.

Stephen Barker said...

Like Joseph i thought the position of the circular window was awkward and made me wonder how the vestry above the porch received daylight. I was also curious about the feature below the openings for the bells in the tower. Is it stonework or stonework it looks like it has a sundial is that correct?