Friday, October 16, 2020

Painswick, Gloucestershire


Varieties of architectural experience

How could a delightful building like this ever be controversial? It seems unlikely that this pretty structure, part vernacular building, part classical belfry and entrance, could excite disagreement in an apparently peaceful Cotswold village like Painswick, but the church of Our Lady and St Thérèse came in for criticism on two separate occasions. The original church, a very plain stone building with rectangular windows, partly visible on the lefthand side of my photograph, was converted from a slaughterhouse for use as a Catholic church in 1934. It’s said that the building was a decaying mess before its conversion and one would have thought the locals grateful to the Catholics for taking it in hand. There seems to have been, however, quite a bit of anti-Catholic feeling in the area in the 1930s. The vendor, a local butcher, was not at first keen to sell to a Catholic buyer and an account of the history of the building says that ‘Catholics at that time were virtually non-existent in the village and all were regarded with great suspicion’. In the end though the church’s founder, Alice Howard, got her way and the building was converted discreetly into a church.

In 1941, the church was damaged by a bomb. When rebuilding took place in 1954–56, architect Eric Hill (of Ellery Anderson, Roiser and Falconer) built the beautiful Classical entrance, with its circular window and cupola supported by eight rather dainty columns.* There was no trouble getting planning permission for this, but the Parish Council criticised the County Planning Committee for agreeing to the building, on the grounds that a structure in the classical style was ‘out of keeping’ with Painswick’s mostly traditional Cotswold architecture. Defenders of the church pointed out that two scheduled buildings in the town were in the classical style; they might have added that there were several others that had some classical features and that the building was in a Cotswold limestone that was and is very much in harmony with the rest of the village.

These controversies died down – as, one hopes, did the anti-Catholic sentiments that surrounded them – and I should think the little church looks as good now as it ever has, a visual as well as a religious asset to an unregarded back street in one of the most beautiful of Cotswold villages.

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* For information about this church, I am indebted to Brian Torode and Richard Barton (eds), Ursula Usher, The Story of the Catholic Church in Painswick, 1990, accessed here. However the second surname in this architectural partnership is Roiser, not Rosier as Usher’s history gives it.

1 comment:

bazza said...

Tolerance of change in general or other religions in particular has never been a human characteristic! Although we have visited the Cotswold many times we have usually been further east and I didn't know of Painswick. We love the Cotswold water park and all the more 'touristy' places - especially Broadway!
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