Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Churches of Exmoor #6

- A cautionary tale.......
Now where was I last time I wrote - ah yes - somewhere on the edge of Exmoor and it was still warm! Over the next few weeks I hope to play catch up, at a time of year that not many of us are out and about. That's all rather a rather feeble way of saying sorry the messages just stopped!

On the way back from Ilfracombe I decided to track down a very famous church, track down being the operative word. Forget Lullingstone and Upleatham, I was after England's smallest church without demolition of a nave....... and there it was a large pub on the A-road, The Culbone Inn, opposite a turning which I believed would get us towards the church. Off we sped down a road from the top of the moor towards the cliffs and the sea and yes we had an OS Map with us! This rather fine road finished at a co,plicated junction, a road straight on a road to the right and one then two roads to the left. The road to the left we needed got narrower and then dog-legged to the right with what was Culbone's vicarage on the road. A car park - looks good I thought - then a rather startled lady appeared who was staying at the vicarage-cum-holiday home who said that the church was accessed by a path further west again. We turned around and then drove on until the road itself seemed to stop at a farm. We turned around and discovered a small sign pointing down a track to Culbone Church, still a mile or so away. We parked badly because of other vehicles and in the end my friend decided to stay by the car and wait in case it had to be moved. Off I set, at a brisk pace, not wanting to keep my friend waiting any longer than necessary nor wanting to knock a chance to visit on the head either!

The track dropped gently down through another gate and turned left narrowed and increased in gradient. A couple o hundred yards later another choice - two signs Culbone Church 1 and Culbone church 0.5 (steep path). Yep I took the steep path entered the woods and it dropped -er- steeply down and was joined by a little stream. A house came into view, well it must have been a mill - and my path went around it, through a short tunnel under what may have been a road (where from?) and then there in front of me was England's Smallest Church.

is fabulous, architecturally nothing, set in a small grassed churchyard, with a large yew and seemingly surrounded by woodland. Beyond on a level with the west end was another house, usually hidden in photographs which suggest this church is in complete isolation. Nave, and proper chancel, south porch, no more than 35ft long (11m). Its slated spire is supposedly the top portion of the truncated shingled spire at nearby Porlock, transported here by the devil........... it's true! The face of the devil forms part of the Norman window on the north side of the chancel (externally). Inside equally charming, with medieval roof, pews and screen, and a later more grandiose (for Culbone that is) C17 or C18 family pew to the right hand side close to the screen. The font is half of one, built into the wall.

I could have stayed here ages - I had the place to myself but then there was my mate waiting by the car and the promise of a curry back in Williton. So I set back briskly the way I had come. Now here is the cautionary bit......... OK I am not the most fit guy, but neither am I someone who does not take exercise. I am a tad overweight, and have notched up a half century, but the thought of the return did not phase me. Things started well, but I was hurrying, but soon I could feel my heart beating, hear it beating, and my breath seemed to be difficult to get. Five times I rested, and to be honest, I think I started to panic. In the middle of nowhere, no phone, a friend waiting for me who did not know which way I had gone (who is less fit than me), and becoming increasingly worried as to whether I would make it back to the car. At the meeting of the two routes I threw myself to the ground and lay on this flatter bit of ground for a good five minutes until the thumping in my chest and the pounding in my head stopped and breathing became normal once more. I then set out to round the bend to have the car in sight at a much slower pace which remained fairly testing. As I rounded the bend my friend was there, he had a similar idea that things were not right and he had his phone with him - me of course just the camera!

Ha Ha HA! I laugh about it now, but this was the first time in my entire life that I had to face my own mortality! And as a nurse of course I qualify like most as a complete hyperchondriac. However in Williton I tell you that the pint of Cobra and the Curry tasted fabulous an hour later! Bugger the diet eh?

The next day (14th September) started off rather gloomy but got much better.

The only place to pull in and park near the church is a pub's car park where unfriendly signs warn people off from so doing. Sod that. I even jumped over the car park wall into the graveyard to take this picture. This church is again of the C15 norm but the impressive tower is in fact of 1870, replacing a feebler effort with a weatherboarded upper stage. The church is in fact all rather over-restored inside, and apart from a pretty C18 pulpit has little to detain you long apart from the medieval rood screen. The colouring is a recent recreation of the original colour scheme from medieval times, in start contrast to the dark stained plain wood that is most today.

Next we did Dunster Castle, using my National Trust membership for the first time in years! Having done the town before we then left for places new, and headed for the complete grockle-haunt chocolate box village west of Minehead, also NT property with a HUGE brown tourist sign directing you off the A39.

This NT village is Selworthy but the church itself is worth the detour but it was not looking its best although it will soon.

was almost completely surrounded by scaffolding. The National Lottery that is English Heritage funding is being spent here in excess - odd that this church must be one of the most visited in the area and generates much more income from the sale of the tat that was on display (keyrings, mugs, pens, plaques, colouring books etc etc) in a month than others get over several years. That said it is a beautiful building with some splendid medieval roofs and carving. Dark windows does not let it be seen as it should so maybe a revisit will be necessary. Odd Sedan Chair-like opening from the parvise room into the south aisle, probably Georgian. The openings were closed too on this day but maybe are not usually so. There is also a west gallery and some interesting monuments.

The National Trust Cottages are thatched and arranged around a green to the west of the church and easily missed if not on foot. I bet many tourists drive through without seeing these and question what was so special!

NB Like all other pictures on this blog these are enlargable by clicking on them.......

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Churches of Exmoor #5

The weather was warm enough to sit outside at Raleigh Cross. I cannot get enough of these new J2Os (Apple & Raspberry). The views towards the sea were stunning too, a pity that we were treated like aliens by the two ladies in the bar because we said "No thanks, we are not eating".
Travelling on we came to a fork in the road at Brendon Hill where there sits a bleak looking Methodist Chapel "Beulah" of 1861 seemingly (datestone). Yet the side walls look like Georgian Gothic. This is the highest place of worship on Exmoor, some 1250 feet above sea level. We quickly turned off and descended towards Treborough.

is an odd little building, its appearance dominated by the south tower with its Victorian top. The rest of the church has been thoroughly restored to the point of disinterest. There is not much in the way of fittings or memorials inside the church to detain you either, but the font is rather too ornate for the church with the usual panelled octagonal bowl resting on winged angels placed around the top of the panelled stem. It too is C19, but not the C15 pillar piscina in tthe chancel, which is almost certainly not in situ, as I cannot recall seeing one on the north side of the chancel, let alone outside of the sanctuary.
In the churchyard I was detained by two slate memorials, side by side and bizarrely commemorating the same person who died in his 20s in an accident at Treborough's slate quarry. The two dates of death are the same and both mention the slate quarry accident. I wondered which of the two plots he was actually in, unless the accident was so bad that he was in both................ooh, there's a horrible thought! Or is it evidence of a family feud? I'll get the headstone,.....No WE will get the headstone...... The one on the right has other family members added with a later addendum.

The road from Treborough drops steadily down towards Watchet and the sea, passing through Roadwater with both a Methodist and an Anglican church (St Luke) alongside the road, the former of 1815 but looking Victorian gothic, the other probably of the 1870s and looks like it may have been built as a school or hall originally. The next village reached was Washford, with the remains of Cleeve Abbey (don't worry - it comes later - wait for it!), and another mission church St Mary's which looks early C20 and on a bend in the main road from Bridgwater and Taunton to Minehead - I didn't stop.

is a very handsome C15 Perp church in the main, with a prominent tower. From the churchyard views sweep down to the sea at Minehead, with the hill which has the old village centre of Minehead as a backdrop. The white "sails" of Butlin's Holiday Camp are also clearly visible. It is difficult to leave this view and go inside but be assured it certainly repays a visit. Whitened walls and roofs contrast with the dark woodwork and ribs. The arches of the arcade almost seem to have ogee arches, strange! What does have an ogee arch is the tomb recess in the centre of the nave's north wall. Here lies the effigy of a Civilian, totally shrouded in plastic as English Heritage conserve the monument. Sadly I couldn't see the cat at his feet clearly and certainly missed the mouse which she has trapped by her paws. There are a couple of large handsome C17 and C18 wall memorials too. The roof of the south aisle has a very ornate wall plate with bands of foliage which I wondered if they came from former screens at Cleeve Abbey. There is also a very unusual brass lectern probably c1900?, a poor box dated 1634, and a good Perp font with Jacobean cover. All in all probably one of my favourite churches of the holiday.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Churches of Exmoor #4

is a CCT church, and one of their early vestings. It stands at an awkward bend in the road on a steeply sloping hillside. The edges of Exmoor open out towards the Quantock Hills, and the church is small quaint and irregular, quite in keeping with the surroundings. Much is of indeterminate date, including the plain tower which could be C13 or just as easily C18. The external stair on the south side is obviously later and oh so tempting to climb. The door into the tower was as expected locked. Not so the church itself, a simple nave and narrower lower chancel. Between the tow a lovely coloured screen with the year inscribed don the frieze - 1632. Pevsner suggests the tracery is reused but in this part of the world it may well be contemprary with the date. What he did miss was the C13 north lancet with its C15 glass of the St Johns, Evangelist above and Baptist below.

Quite a scattered village, the church itself to the NE high on a hill with views all around. Tall tower, the buttresses without a lot to do it seems as there is not much to them! The church itself heavily restored in 1881-2. The interior has what seems a Victorian arcade and aisle, but could be retooled. The font is quite elegant and not of a common design. Octagonal it has shallow incised decoration, largely floral/foliage motifs, in small panels around the bowl and underneath in a lower tier of decoration, yet the stem is completely plain yet slim. Pevsner says Perp, it could be early C17 in my view. The screen is supposed to contain old bits, if so they are cleverly disguised! The reredos is Jacobean, with three typical blank arches, not mentioned by the master, nor is the C18 pulpit, nor a rather handsome stained glass composition of Fortitude, Justice and Godliness. Fortitude looks quite sweet, Justice has odd things coming out of his forehead and a long beard, whilst Godliness I think is a woman but I could be wrong! The Master does mention the most tedious of wall memorials (a draped urn) because it is signed by King of Bath who churned out such pap in vast numbers yet can surprise with an elegant composition of which this is not one. The PCC had the decency to hide it in the vestry.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Churches of Exmoor #3

By comparison to the earlier road to Stogumber, the road to Monksilver was broad and wide - and even had a dotted centre line marked in places! As a consequence Monksilver itself is littered with 30mph and Camera signs, which is a bit of a surprise and it must be difficult to do 30 on the bendy road which has regular lorries which force you in towards the bank and make you grit your teeth for the scraping of paintwork.......... well when the car is five days old it does!

is a Jekyll & Hyde church, from the churchyard gate (NE) this appears to be a small plain church which snuggles into the hillside behind with the ground dropping away to the east, and evidence of age is provided by a Norman window in the chancel north wall. Round the corner via the path and the south front is completely different (and completely hidden as you approach), an exuberant C15 Perp work with pierced battlements and large windows, the one west of the rood stair turret (which also has battlements) turned into square headed by traceried spandrels, and the porch a seemless continuation of the aisle at its west end. Inside much of interest, but Pevsner does not mention let at all explain the odd chancel arch within chancel arch. Lovely roofs, a simple wagon roof to the nave and a more ornate panelled ceiling in the aisle. The pulpit screen and bench ends all of the local style, but restored in part. My favourite feature was however the lectern, an oddly shaped eagle (I assume), not on a pedestal but on a swivelly scrolly iron bracket attached to the roodscreen. A closer look reveals that it is also secured by two bicycle locks to the mullions of the screen!

A church very much open and alive, yet it is tucked away on the lawn of the "big house" well away from any other houses. The Court is now a Field Studies Centre, so be prepared to give way to coaches of teenagers on the narrow road to the church - well I did three times, including a long reverse back up the road on leaving.
The church as a consequence is picturesquely situated but of unusual plan, with two transverse (and vaulted) bays off the south aisle. For the area the church is also quite large. The Victorians certainly came here and by them the clerestory for sure. The NE chapel has some old glass with complete figures, I suspect brought here from elsewhere and possibly from abroad. There is a handsome C18 pulpit and some interesting memorials, including the disintegrating effigies of early members of the Raleigh family in the outer bays of the aisle. The other prized posession is a Seven Sacraments font, one of only two outside of East Anglia (the other is in Farningham, Kent). It has been defaced but much of the carving other remains. The folklore explanation for this font being in Somerset is that it was a present to the church by the Duchess of Suffolk, whose grandmother was Lady of the Manor here. It dates from c1465-70 but only the bowl comes from East Anglia, the base is of local Ham Stone.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Churches of Exmoor #2

Leaving Bicknoller for Stogumber is a real challenge in a car, especially one that was barely four days old! The road is particularly narrow and set the scene for many other routes on this short break as it climbed hills steeply, turned sharp corners and appeared to sink lower into the ground as the banks got higher and higher. Stogumber appears much more of a town in feel but definitely not one equipped for today's love affair with the car. The streets are very narrow and it was a challenge to park anywhere near the church thanks to a pub and shop opposite it.
is a church of contrasts and unusual features. The north side is regular and handsome, embattled and with beasts carved in stone around the parapets; large porch also of the same period. The tower however stands at the SW corner and the south front appears very disjointed with the tower, a large embattled porch, a plain aisle and taller larger wider south chancel chapel with fine detailing. Much is Perp, but with a Victorian embellished sanctuary and an oddly detailed north chancel arcade. The latter is like a double arcade, the piers joined and then pierced through with openings. The nave's north arcade is handsome with Devon foliage band capitals, one of which has a handsome green man. The south arcade in contrast is probably earlier work and of different periods as are the arches of different widths and heights. Then there is the handsome chancel with its Victorian decoration and rich reredos, but on the south side a big heavy-canopied tomb with two coffered arches above the effigies of Sir George Sydenham d1597 and his two wives - he lying centrally and comfortably whereas the wives are placed awkwardly on side shelves one step below him. Six pairs of fluted Corinthian columns support the entablature and superstructure. Other fittings also of good quality, font, a stone pulpit, some bench ends.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Churches of Exmoor #1

Back from a pleasant relaxing break on the edge of Exmoor, although you may not know I had gone! Over the next few days hopefully an account of my trip will unfold in words and pictures. I did not see as many churches as I would have liked - when you go with friends you have to compromise I guess - but hopefully you will get enough to whet your appetite for this western part of Somerset and a day trip to North Devon.

The idea for a break here came from our neighbours who have just bought a second home at Williton. In fact as a result we have spent more nights in their house than they have as contracts were not exchanged until the start of September. Speaking to them last night it seems they were a little jealous! We arrived on Sunday and began by just exploring the small rather featureless town, whose best buildings are the former workhouse, splendidly restored into apartments 2004-5, and the police station with a rather silly-looking centrally placed porch tower and flanking domestic looking wings left and right. People were queueing up to put fuel in their cars as threats of a fuel crisis loomed for later in the week thanks to Katrina (government) or Government taxes (protestors) as fuel soared to over GBP1 per litre.

The first church photographed was the Methodist church of 1883, on the Taunton Road leading away from the main street. It is a second pointed Gothic style complex, with a largish chapel and attached minister's house and schoolrooms. The front is divided into three by buttresses which continue up into spindly turrets. The sign proclaimed services at 1030 on Sunday but I thought I would try the door. It opened - and to my horror a service was in place although it was 3.30 in the afternoon! Luckily I did not interrupt the lady minister's flow and shut the door before heads could turn!

The church has to be signposted as it hides away along a quiet cul-de-sac along which is also situated The Bakelite Museum. It started as a chapel of ease to St Decuman's Church in Watchet, but at first glance appears to be entirely Victorian (1858 C E Giles). It has a west porch and a bellcote, as well as a rather rogueish (and ugly) north porch. The west porch in fact shelters a Tudor doorway and ancient door, and the windows of the south aisle were reused from the nave when the aisle was added in 1806. Inside the south arcade has roughly cut circular piers and pointed arches, the rest is of 1858, although the east wall of the chancel with its Perp. window is also said to be original. Not much to detain the visitor long inside but the odd font is dated 1666 and is made of local pinkish alabaster from the cliffs at Watchet. Giles apparently removed a medieval stone pulpit and a C15 rood screen, features which the church could use today to add some interest! [open]

Sometimes a church is visited which is architecturally nothing special, yet embeds itself into your senses so that you never forget it. For me this was one of those churches, a bit of an architectural oddity, a mucked about medieval cruciform church, which is almost as wide as it is long. The tower stands in the position of the south transept, and opposite is a deep north transept with big buttresses to the west. In fact these big buttresses with three set-offs seem to be a feature of the exterior - the chancel has them too - except for the tower which is unbuttressed! The interior preserves several interesting features but it is the embellishments of 1835 which makes the church so special. In fact the interior becomes something of a peice of confectionery, with ornate unexpected plasterwork decoration just like a wedding cake would have around the arches and windows. Yet the roof is C15 and rests on winged putti heads of 1835. The woodwork is classy, many of the bench ends are medieval, but one in particular is probably a little later and is situated at the west end where the pews are raised; it shows an exotic female figure flanked by two female pipers, reputedly recording the legend of Florence Wyndham who, having been placed in her coffin and buried only to then robbed of her rings by a graverobber, awoke from a coma during the robbery, and lived to a ripe old age having several children. (We were to see her monument later at St Decuman, Watchet). What happened to the graverobber goes unrecorded but he surely got a fright! [open]

Friday, July 08, 2005

Copenhagen's Wierd towers

Sadly I have been side-tracked today by events in London, so it seems a complete report will not be forthcoming on my trip for a while - maybe I will upload to the website only?

I did mention yesterday two of the oddest towers in my churchcrawling experience, so feel that this blog and a couple of pics may keep you all entertained. The Copenhagen towers concerned are that belonging to Trinity church, and the other to Our Saviour's church.

Trinity church's tower was built in 1636, in brick and is circular. You can ascend the tower for a fine view of the city which we did. The surprise is how you ascend the tower. A close look at the exterior hints at what is to come. Tall pilasters seperate tiers of seven or eight windows which are not in alignment with their neighbours. Inside a wide continuous brick floored ramp ascends clockwise to the top, towards the outer wall the ascent is fairly gentle, towards the centre steeper but a shorter distance. Peter the Great apparently road his horse to the top with Catherine I Empress of Russia driving a carriage up behind him (1716). Behind the parapet a further stage reached by a short flight of steps contains a telescope (C20 now) and an observatory. From here it was possible to view the sun and see the solar flares! The church itself is of a similar period rebuilt after a fire in 1728. It contains the largest wall mounted cabinet clock I have seen and was perhaps my favourite Copenhagen interior.

Vor Frelsers Kirke (Our Saviour) was the first tower I saw as we entered the central parts of the city in the taxi from the airport. However I did not visit the church or climb the tower until Tuesday, our last full day in the city. The church dates from 1682-96, but the steeple was not built until 1752. To get to the top was far more exhausting - 400 steps, first up a wide four sided staircase in the flanking bay of the tower, then up the tower's upper stages on a much narrower wooden stair among the bells, and finally a copper spiral staircase with a pretty balustrade on the OUTSIDE of the spire. At the top it just peters out into the ball finial. I am usually OK with heights but as I turned I realised how little there was to save me from falling and I had to descend a little to a wider stair as a touch of vertigo afflicted me - it was actually my holding up the camera to take the view to the north that started it, plus a pair of helicopters practising for Bush-escort duties roaring past on their way from the country palace north of the city to the airport.