Friday, December 1, 2023

Birlingham, Worcestershire



Many English churches were built in the Victorian period. Lots of these served new parishes, created to serve a population that was growing faster than ever before. But some were replacements of older buildings, churches that had deteriorated structurally, or were too small for current needs, or just had the misfortune to have been built in a way that offended Victorian sensibilities. When this was the case, one cannot help but wonder what the original building was like, and whether it was really necessary to knock it down.

Sometimes there are clues in old watercolours or engravings, or written accounts by antiquarians. Occasionally, there are architectural fragments of the old building sill to be seen. This is the case in the village of Birlingham, where the Norman chancel arch of the old church (rebuilt in 1871–72 by Benjamin Ferrey with the exception of the tower) was reused as the gateway to the churchyard. So what could have become a heap of rubble has been turned into a rather grand ceremonial entrance. It does, of course, contain much 19th-century workmanship (‘much renewed by Ferrey’ is Pevsner’s comment), but it gives us an idea of the old arch, and forms a pleasant focal point (not to mention a talking-point) in the centre of the village. Here’s to recycling.

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