Monday, December 11, 2017

Combrook, Warwickshire


Thoughts of St Augustine, Kilburn, were still in my mind recently when I visited Combrook, a village in Warwickshire, not far from the Fosse Way. Combrook was an estate village of Compton Verney and seems to have had a lot of attention paid to it in the mid-19th century, when a number of cottages were built or rebuilt, a school was erected, and the church given a new nave. The architect of the church was John Gibson, who was also at work making alterations to the great house of Compton Verney in the early 1860s. Gibson gave the church a striking west front, a visual highlight in the centre of the village.

The style of this front is Gibson’s very ornate version of what the Victorians often called ‘Middle Pointed’, that’s to say the phase of Gothic fashionable in the first half of the 14th century. Elaborate window tracery, naturalistic carving, and ogee arches are typical features. However, this frontage is hardly typical. It’s a Victorian throwing everything at a small church – very fancy tracery (‘overcusped’, says Pevsner), unusual shapes in the form of a rose window and a pair of ‘circular triangles’, a very ornately carved ogee doorway, the small overhanging turret with its spirelet, and outward-leaning angels flanking both the turret and the doorway.
This is all very impressive in a slightly gawky way, and the oddity continues with the treatment of the aisle roofs, which consist of multiple gables rather than a single lean-to, a design that produces an odd junction between the downward-sweeping angle of the west front and the gables that stick out behind it. Gibson’s work here is a little like that of the Victorian ‘rogue architects’ such as S S Teulon – inventive, ornamental, unafraid to be different from the accepted Gothic models – but without Teulon’s polychrome dazzle or his skill in handling three-dimensional forms.† For all this, the overall effect is pleasant, rather like a large garden ornament, and an admirable focal point for this attractive village. 

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* This is the phrase used by the architect and writer Harry Goodhart-Rendel to describe an adventurous and sometimes outré group of Victorian church architects. For my post on a church by Teulon, look here.

† Gibson’s best known church, the ‘marble church’ at Bodelwyddan, in the lower Vale of Clwyd, also has very elaborate tracery and carving, but is more conventionally roofed and massed. Gibson is most famous for designing banks, but was clearly much more versatile than this suggests.

1 comment:

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

Long live Rogue Gothic! The church at Woolaston in Gloucestershire is verging on the "rogue" inside - and effective too! And the details on the doorways at Bridgwater, Somerset, defy classification too, though I suspect they are pre-Gothic Revival.I like coming across these details on domestic buildings too - terraces of often run-down properties in the older quarters of towns, with a suddenly rather roguish porch or a terracotta dragon in the point of the roof. Sometimes a lot nearer the creativity and irresponsible exuberance of the medieval period than the textbook Middle Pointed of Victorian church rebuildings.