Friday, November 7, 2014

Didmarton, Gloucestershire

Two views

Thinking back to Ordinary Beauty, the Edwin Smith exhibition at the RIBA, and remembering Smith’s evocative 1961 black and white photograph of the church interior at St Lawrence, Didmarton, I recalled that I’d taken a photograph from a very similar viewpoint a couple of years ago. Perhaps the two images would make an interesting comparison – not in terms of photographic quality (Smith, of course, wins hands down on that front) but as an indication of how the building might have changed over the last half century.

Looking at the two images together, it’s clear that there have been some changes. Both the walls and the woodwork have been cleaned up and repaired. The walls are now white and smooth, in contrast to the rich, crumbly plasterwork of Smith’s time, and the beam in the ceiling looks healthier, if less picturesque. Both floor and stairs seem very similar. Sadly, the lovely curving candle brackets have gone, although the plates to which they were attached remain.

The furniture has changed too. The benches have disappeared, although the chair is still there and there is now a businesslike cupboard against the wall. On the extreme right, there’s an indication that the panelled box pews, a sliver of which is just visible, have been repainted – they’re now a fetching pale green (this goes for the box pews in the nave too).

All this suggests that the church has undergone some much needed repair and conservation work. In the process it has lost a little of its character – the character that comes from the unevenness in the worn walls and woodwork – although the pleasantly cracked and roughened floor, the window tracery, and details such as the hanging weights of the clock still speak of age, history, and use: this place still has plenty of atmosphere. Church-crawlers can be grateful that it has been cared for – but also grateful that the subtle and sympathetic scrutiny of Edwin Smith’s lens has put on record what it was like some 50 years ago.

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Top photograph: Edwin Smith, Didmarton, Gloucestershire
Smith's photographs are © Edwin Smith / RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Ordinary Beauty: The Photography of Edwin Smith is at the Architecture Gallery, RIBA, 66 Portland Place, London W1, until 6 December 2014.

RIBA's online archive of Edwin Smith's photographs is here.

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