Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Brampton Bryan, Herefordshire


Tracing the lines, tracking the curves

I rather admired the tracery of this window when I first saw it – the large east window of a rather small church in Herefordshire – but part of me wished it wasn’t there. Allow me to explain. This church is one of the few that was built in the 1650s, in the Commonwealth period, this country’s brief go at being a republic. However, it was restored twice in the 19th century, at which time the originally rectangular windows were replaced with Gothic ones and most of the 17th century fittings were removed from the interior. Part of me thinks this is a shame, as such interiors are rare. And yet I don’t dislike this east window, attributed to J. S. Crowther of Manchester, the architect of the second restoration in 1887–8.

The tracery design of this window is interesting because it doesn’t seem to conform to one of the standard patters beloved of Victorian church restorers who wanted to bring a ‘correct’ form of Gothic to an earlier church. By this, they usually meant a fairly straight-laced version of one of the three main varieties of English Gothic – Early English with its lancet windows; Decorated typified either by repeating patterns of quatrefoils or by more flowing, curvilinear tracery; or Perpendicular, in which the vertical mullions extend right into the top of the window. In this window, there are some full-length mullions, but these are combined with four quatrefoils and a pair of sexfoils, the six-lobed relatives of quatrefoils. It’s a pleasant variation (tagged by Pevsner as ‘Dec-Perp’), and those sexfoils do give a sense of the decorative to the sometimes rather plain and repetitive patterns in medieval Perpendicular windows.

What I also like about this church is that the churchyard is partly bounded by the most curvaceous hedge I’ve ever seen. It goes on and on, marking the boundary of the nearby big house, for hundreds of yards, forming lumps here, bumps there, curving around a corner, periodically tucking in what looks like a monster’s rear end or poking out a snout and undulating away into the distance like a living abstract sculpture – which I suppose is what, in the hands of someone wielding hedge-trimmer and shears, it has become. I hope to return to this place when the church is open, look inside, and see if this living thing has evolved.


Sally Johnson said...

One of the Parliamentary heroines of the first Civil War was Lady Brilliana Harley.

When the Royalists stole "her" bells from the church tower during what should have been a cessation of arms, Lady Harley was quick to order a repulse. 'We sent some of his Majesty's good subjects to old Nick for their sacrilege,' she wrote.

Brampton Bryan Castle was ‘utterly ruined.' So was the church. The whole area around was laid waste, but the Harleys returned.

In time, the Church was rebuilt - one of the few 'Commonwealth' churches built during the Interregnum, to exist in England, as you pointed out.

Brampton Bryan Castle was deliberately left in ruin – and remains so today - but a Harley mansion was built next to it. It is still in Harley hands, but it is not generally open to the public.

I believe her grandson, the great Tory politician of Queen Anne’s reign, Sir Robert Harley, also lived in that house.

M&W Construction said...

Very nice place!!!

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

The hedge isn't architecture in the accepted sense, but it shows ongoing determination and creativity, and a good set of hedge-trimming equipment kept in good order. Despite the spoliation of the Cromwellian church, that window and that light cross on the top of the gable are very pleasing and creative too. Having unsuccessfully tried to DRAW tracery, I constantly admire how one could MAKE tracery. With some historic churches, I get overload, and stop looking at it in favour of other things. Perhaps I shouldn't. Guides to windows usually restrict themselves to what's in the glass: perhaps they should also try to tell me about the spaces the glass is put in? Thanks again for prompting thoughts like these.