Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Chadlington, Oxfordshire

Word and worship

This is the archetypal form of nonconformist chapel: a pair of round-headed windows on either side of a central door, a hipped roof, and, sometimes, quoins and window-surrounds picked out in dressed stone to make the building look more substantial and important. It’s a form that was created in the 18th century, but was still in use well into the Victorian period, by which time thousands of towns and villages had at least one chapel or meeting house belonging to the Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, or Quakers.

In rural areas, many of these places of worship never had large congregations, and thousands of them have fallen out of use to be demolished or, like this one, to benefit from sympathetic conversion. It’s good to see this example preserved because it’s a small local landmark and because, like so many of these small buildings, it is both typical and different. Typical because of the windows, hipped roof, and so on. Different because it’s built of local stone rather than the brick so often favoured for country chapels.

And also because of the inscription. Often on chapels there is a rectangular date stone above the door that gives the name and date of foundation. Here the builders inscribed the date over the door and the purpose of the building in elegant capitals along the string course. It’s nicely carved if slightly rustic work (look for the slight difference in the two Ps, for example). But it also has real vigour. I especially like the kicking angled serifs at the top of the S and C. In letter-cutting on inscriptions, date stones, and gravestones the Victorian nonconformist churches often employed craft workers of great skill and sensitivity. Their typography and printing – on items such as circuit preaching plans and the small tickets with Biblical texts handed out at Sunday schools – was often very good too. As ever for the dissenters, what mattered was the word.

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Thanks to Emma Bradford for telling me about this building.


Blue said...

When or, rather, IF I retire, I may come back home and search for one of these old chapels but somewhere on the Lancashire/Yorkshire moors.

I remember as a child often hearing, usually of one of the women int' shed "Oh no, she's not church, she's chapel."

Beautiful building and beautiful lettering, as you say. Got some life to it in a jam and jerusalem sort of way.

Another memory just surfaced - when I was a teenager we held a dance in I think what had been the first Quaker meeting house in a place called Brierfield near Burnley in Lancashire - near Pendle Hill. It was still a Friends Meeting House in those years and in my mind's eye reminds me very much of the Shaker interiors here.

Philip Wilkinson said...

"Oh, she's not church, she's chapel." That's very much what I heard in Lincolnshire years ago. Most of my relations were chapel. It didn't much matter whether you went to the Methodists or the Baptists or some independent Mission. The thing was, you were chapel.

Peter Ashley said...

I love chapels, me. On a Norfolk holiday we were frog-marched one Sunday morning into a Primitive Methodist chapel in the middle of nowhere by my father. Halfway through his sermon the pastor turned to his wife, perched up at the organ, and said "You can go and put the oven on now".

Philip Wilkinson said...

Peter: Going to chapel while on holiday always seemed to me like missing the point of what a holiday was supposed to be, but I was obliged to attend during vacation trips to visit my very religious maternal grandparents. And I can tell you that they would have been deeply shocked by mentions of matters of the kitchen during the sermon.

Bucks Retronaut said...

What would they all have made of oblique references to "Chapel Hat Pegs"then?
That's what I want to know !

Philip Wilkinson said...

Bucks: They would not have been amused, that much I can tell you. (Eyes - but not other bits of the anatomy - sticking out like organ stops, on the other hand, might have been permitted.)

Bucks Retronaut said...

Phew....That's all right then.
Sorry if I lowered the tone Philip,but it is Saturday night after all
Must dash...there's Something Nasty In The Woodshed to be dealt with.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Don't worry about the tone, Bucks.

Come to think of it, I've not done a (Flora) Post about a woodshed yet. It can only be a matter of time...