St Edmund’s, Southwold. Revisiting Rood Screens – Suffolk II

St-Edmunds-Southwold1

At heart I am a visual culture purist. I say this to forewarn you about my comments regarding the rood screen and pulpit of St Edmund’s Church in Southwold.

St Edmund’s is a beautiful medieval church built in the Perpendicular style. It’s full name is ‘The Church of St Edmund, King and Martyr’. The building we see today (suggested date 1413 in the church’s guide, but circa 1430 in both Pevsner and Mortlock accounts) was built on the site of an earlier thirteen-century church, a smaller building that had been destroyed by fire. According to the church guide during 1758 the foundations of that original building were located underneath part of the present church.

St-Edmunds-Southwold-porch

The straight lines of the Perpendicular style have been emphasised at St Edmund’s by the luxury flushwork of flint and stone. The linear quality of the building is doubly emphasised by the striking effect of an inlaid chessboard decoration on the west tower that is repeated on the exterior walls of the south porch.

From the appearance of the grand, ornate exterior it is evident that St Edmund’s was built at a time when the parish of Southwold and its environs had generous wealthy donors. This is confirmed by the quality of the surviving medieval interior furnishings that include the rood screen, the pulpit and the font.

St-Edmunds-view-to-chancel

Of course, the splendid, painted and gilded rood screen alone is worth a visit to the church, but there is also a fine pre-Reformation pulpit and a beautifully decorated and adorned hammerbeam ceiling together with the original, though defaced font.

St-Edmunds-Victorian-ceiling

Now here is the issue. Between its glorious fifteenth-century heyday and today, St Edmund’s, along with many East Anglian medieval churches, has had some turbulent, destructive times, and equally, some impoverished, neglected and generally detrimental times. The visit of William Dowsing and the iconoclasts in 1643 brought the first and substantial destructive episode which included the defacing of the font.

SOUTHWOLD, APRIL the 8th. We break 
down 130 superstitious Pictures ; St. Andrew ; and 4 
Crosses on the four corners of the Vestry ; and gave 
order to take down 13 Cherubims; and take down 20 
Angels ; and to take down the Cover of the Font. 

Quote from 'The journal of William Dowsing of Stratford,
parliamentary visitor, appointed under a warrant from the
Earl of Manchester, for demolishing the superstitious 
pictures and ornaments of churches.' Journal commenced
1643, Sudbury, Suffolk.

Defaced-font-St-Edmunds

After this deliberate, seventeenth-century image smashing came the long period of straightened times for Church of England buildings as the eighteenth century saw the rise of the Nonconformists and the subsequent fall in C of E congregation numbers. A neglected St Edmund’s functioned with a series of temporary curates as the chancel roof and wood of the east window slowly rotted away.

However, with the rise of the Evangelical movement across the course of the nineteenth century it was all change again. A widening interest in re-examining the medieval past combined with the Victorian’s obsession for progress, resulted in large funds being provided for extensive renovation schemes at St Edmund’s.

The attractively painted ceiling of the hammerbeam roof adorned with painted angels we see today is one such renovation scheme. The replacement ceiling is a fine example of nineteenth-century carpentry and decorative painting skills as well as an insight into how a previous generation reinterpreted our shared medieval past. The Victorians aimed for reconstructing a perfectly finished past whilst our twenty-first-century sensibility is all about the delicately preserved, authentic original however dilapidated and tatty it looks.

St-Edmunds-Angels
Painted roof angels – a Victorian interpretation of the medieval aesthetic.

Apparently, the colourful blue and painted details are very near to sketched records of the original medieval ceiling, but how fair a facsimile it is difficult to judge. That situation is brought acutely into focus when we turn to consider the ‘restoration’ of the medieval pulpit during the 1920s.

Medieval-pulpit-over-restored
Original medieval trumpet-stemmed pulpit. Disappointingly over restored in 1928 under the guidance of F E Howard.

Along with providing designs for the reredos, the lectern and the font cover, an ‘inspired young church architect from Oxford’, F E Howard (1888-1934), oversaw the restoration and painting of the pulpit. Sadly, the once elegant original medieval trumpet-stemmed pulpit is almost obliterated beneath thick layers of overdone paintwork and gilding.

Part-of-rood-screen
Part of the rood screen depicting the twelve Apostles. From the left St Matthew, St James the Less and St Thomas. Disappointingly a heavy piece of church furniture and a large floral display were obstructing a clear view of the north side of the rood screen.  Oil on gesso on a wood panel with gilding. 1480

Curiously, the writer of the church’s own guidebook gives special credit to F E Howard for making St Edmund’s interior the delight it is today. However, even the guide’s sympathetic author informs us that any desires by Howard to renovate the rood screen were not permitted.

FEHoward-font-cover-and-lectern-detail
The font cover (left) and a detail of the lectern (right) as envisioned by F E Howard (1888-1934) in a medieval style. Painted wood and gilding. 1928

Personally, I am very, very pleased he was stopped.

The rood screen at St Edmund's, Southwold, Suffolk
Part of the rood screen (the south side) at St Edmund’s, Southwold, Suffolk. From the left St Paul, St John, St James the Great, St Bartholomew, St Jude and St Simon. Oil on gesso on a wood panel with gilding. 1480

I have nothing against Victorian art and it is as much part of the history and culture of this church as the medieval art. Nevertheless from the our twenty-first-century viewpoint the Victorians’ well-meaning yet heavy-handed painting and renovations can border on vandalism. The repainting of the damaged saints’ faces by Sir George Richmond in 1874 are bad enough, but just think what Howard would have done in the 1920s to all that delicate gilding on the rood screen given half a chance.

Victorian-head-on-medieval-StPaul

As I mentioned at the beginning I am a visual culture purist and as such I appreciate seeing what is left of our medieval culture when it is gently conserved, but I do realise that a little active conservation is necessary. Of course, what we have left is still only an approximation of the reality of the past. Today’s impression for a visitor to St Edmund’s is nothing like the spectacle and mystery experienced by a medieval parishioner or even a Victorian church goer as all the medieval stained glass was blown from the windows by a bomb in 1943 during the Second World War.

Ancient and Modern

All-Saints-Maldon-Triangular-tower-int

It’s a little hard to see from the photographs, but this is the rare, possibly unique, triangular tower of All Saints Church, Maldon, Essex. The top photograph shows two sides of the triangle as you stand looking up to the belfry from the third side.

 

It really is a proper three-sided, stone and flintwork tower supporting a hexagonal roof structure. In fact the three walls of the tower actually form an equilateral triangle and were constructed in the mid-thirteenth century from stone reclaimed from an earlier twelfth-century Norman built church.

It was interesting to find such a quirky tower enhancing a local parish church in what is an unremarkable, market town on the watery fringes of Essex, but .  .  .   there was more – striking mid-twentieth-century stained glass.

full-F-W-Cole-window

This stained glass was made by Frederick W Cole (1908-1998) working for Morris & Sons. Yes, that’s Morris & Sons which is not the famous Morris & Co founded by the William Morris. This stained glass company, Morris and Sons, was originally William Morris & Co of Westminster (also known as William Morris Studios). I can’t help but think that in our litigious times the chances of trading with such a similar name to a famous ‘brand’ would be nigh on impossible.

Generally, I am not a fan of twentieth-century figurative glass and I was surprised to find that this beautiful glass was installed in All Saints in 1950. Interestingly the style of the angels would not look out of place amongst late 1960s or early 1970s fashion illustrations yet perhaps Cole had been influenced by the earlier work of the Arts and Crafts stained glass master, Christopher Whall. For comparison some of Whall’s wonderful windows can be seen at Upton on Severn, Worcestershire.

Mid-20th-century-glass

Verdi: A Philanthropic Maestro

Casa-di-RiposoLast week I posted a piece about my recent visit to the Royal Opera House to see a rather passé production of Verdi’s ‘Rigoletto’. During the interval I recalled that last year my father and I had visited the Casa di Riposo per Musicisti in Milan. Also known as Casa Verdi, this is a home for retired opera singers and musicians, and it was set up by Verdi in 1896. It is also the place where both Verdi and his wife, the opera soprano Giuseppina, are buried.

Verdi commissioned this building to be a home for those musical people who, one way or another, had fallen on hard times during their latter years, often occurring when they could no longer perform for a living.

verdi's spinet
There is a small museum within the building displaying various paintings and objects that belonged to Verdi such as this spinet.

The home was open to residents on 10th October 1902 a couple of years after Verdi’s death and it was supported by bequeathed funds from the royalties received from Verdi’s operas. However, these royalties expired in the 1950s and the home is run now on income from Verdi’s property investments, donations and contributions from the residents. The residents, or guests, as Verdi preferred them to be known, each have their own room and some have views that overlook the inner courtyard, pictured above in the top photograph. The windows are those in the wings to the left and right side of the central complex which contains the communal rooms.

verdi's piano
Verdi’s grand piano still played by some of the guests of the Casa di Riposo.

A recent (3 January 2018) social piece in the Financial Times written by Hannah Roberts interviews one of the guests, the 95 year old opera singer, Luisa Mandelli. From the piece I read that the current average age of guests is 89 years old. And, when I visited, we were shown the small but elegant concert hall where the guests could get together either to perform, or to listen to music, and then share musical discussions.

Concert-HallFor the guests at Casa Verdi keeping up with their musical interests is seen as very important for maintaining robust cognitive abilities as well as offering a good quality of life. Verdi is recorded as saying that he thought his fame would only last about 30 years after his death. How wrong he was and it isn’t just his wonderful music, but also his thoughtful philanthropy that keeps his memory alive.

Butti-Verdi-statue

Role reversal

Long-Melford-charity

There is a long tradition of the rich elite funding charitable organisations. In the United Kingdom the building of almshouses for the poor is one such tradition and dates from the tenth century. A wealthy individual or family, partly in hope of improving the souls’ lot once their earthly lives had ceased, would provide land and shelter for the poor of their community. A fine example of this type of patronage survives in Long Melford, Suffolk.

almshouses long melford suffolk
Almshouses – The Hospital of the Holy Blessed Trinity founded by Sir William Cordell in 1573. Quadrangle with inner courtyard garden, red brick. Long Melford, Suffolk.

Local landowner and dignitary, Sir William Cordell, founded ‘The Hospital of the Holy Blessed Trinity’ in 1573. During his lifetime Sir William had been Master of the Rolls, High Steward of Ipswich and, in 1558, Speaker of the House of Commons. Residing in Melford Hall he had been born and raised in Long Melford and as an act of piety he provided these almshouses for some of the poor residents of his home town. He also endowed these almshouses with land and property in the surrounding area to ensure a regular source of income for the ‘twelve brethren’ who qualified to live there.

The building we see today was heavily restored in 1847 and the property continues to be administered by the Trustees of the Hospital for the benefit of the poor of Long Melford.

The neighbouring church, Holy Trinity, had been substantially rebuilt with financing from the pious wealthy during the century before the almshouses were established. And, most notably, the church windows had been magnificently glazed with stained glass (also with a view to the afterlife) displaying many recognisable donor portraits. These portraits were accompanied with heraldic information to ensure future generations would be able to identify and pray for those individuals represented.

This surviving visual record and architectural history offers a glimpse of the complex, slippery and slightly dubious relationship between God and Mammon. In our contemporary eyes there appears to be an awkward interdependence for the medieval wealthy to negotiate. Of course, during the medieval period the rich man and poor man believed that God had ordered their world and each man knew his place and acted accordingly.  One earthly benefit arising from this arrangement was employment for craftsmen and builders, and latterly, a glorious record of their skills and creativity for us to appreciate today.

Now here I come to ‘the role reversal’ – an interesting visual comparison, a wealthy medieval woman is shown praying for her soul (15th-century brass, Holy Trinity, Long Melford) and now, according to 21st-century marketing, a modern (wealthy?) woman is shown praying to/for luxury goods!

 

On a truly grand scale

front-duomo-milan

Sometimes a single photograph simply doesn’t convey the sheer scale and drama of a building. Last month I was staying in Milan and took the opportunity to visit the magnificent Italian Gothic cathedral – the Duomo di Milano. It is the fifth largest cathedral in the world and the third largest in Europe with only St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and Seville Cathedral being bigger.

Even when you walk across the Piazza del Duomo through the tourist crowds it doesn’t ‘feel’ huge as unlike many other medieval cathedrals it is broad rather than tall. Then, the closer you get the magnificent marble façade looms and looms above you. The scale is best appreciated when a few humans stand in front of the mighty west doors – mille grazie soldati!

The church is dedicated to St Mary of the Nativity and was begun in 1386 and took over six centuries to finish. It is constructed from grey and pink-veined Candoglian marble that was ferried down a system of waterways from the Lake Maggiore quarries. From a distance it looks like an intricately iced cake, but up close you can truly appreciate the many marble statues and the fine ornate decoration.

There are 3,400 statues, 135 spires including 700 figures and 96 large gargoyles adorning the church. Looking up at the spires you might assume they were simply decorated with architectural, sculpted foliage, but in fact they are spires with multiple niches each holding a statue and finally each pinnacle is topped by another statue.

detail

Interestingly, such a vast and lengthy undertaking as building and embellishing a magnificent cathedral resulted in a collaboration between local Lombardy sculptors and workers from further afield including French and German sculptors.

And inside. . . The interior can accommodate 40,000 people in the 12,000 square metres – I think the guide below was just checking to see where they all were on this very, cold morning.

behind-you

Oxburgh Hall Part 2 – Interiors, ground floor

Library-chair-Oxburgh-HallFollowing on from Oxburgh Hall Part 1 let’s now take a tour of the interior of this National Trust moated manor house. As we wander through the ground floor rooms we find essentially a nineteenth-century, neo-Gothic revival aesthetic. As with any property surviving over 500 years the handful of grand rooms open to visitors is an eclectic mix of period layers, but essentially the top gloss is a Victorian version of Gothic.

The-Saloon-Woolworth-Chandelier-Oxburgh-Hall
Nineteenth-century cut glass chandelier. It is either of English or American manufacture and was brought to Oxburgh Hall in 1985. It is known as the ‘Woolworths Chandelier’ as it was purchased by the NT using funds from a charitable trust connected to one of the heirs to the Woolworths fortune.

The first noteworthy room on the tour is the Saloon. This is a large space built to be a picture gallery by the architect John Tasker in 1775. Today, all is not quite what it seems. For example, beneath the residual Neo-classical frieze (see chandelier photo) is a red Gothic Revival wallpaper. The original Pugin design for a red flock wallpaper was made by  J D Crace, but the paper on the walls today is a replica. This large room is also hung with a number of oil paintings that turn out to be mostly 19th-century copies of earlier royal portraits.

Lady-Arundell-of-Wardour
Lady Arundell of Wardour – oil on canvas. Circa 1694 – 1744

There are a few earlier primary pictures such as this portrait of Lady Arundell of Wardour that may have adorned this specific space when it was first built. Lady Arundell was a distant cousin of Sir Henry Arundell Bedingfeld’s (1689-1760) wife. As an interesting and valuable original painting, it was sold from the estate in 1951 before the house was given to the NT. However, in 2007, it was bought back by the NT for £11,250 from an auction at Sotheby’s in London and then restored to Oxburgh Hall.

Collectors' Cabinet - the Antwerp Cabinet
The Antwerp Cabinet – tortoiseshell, ivory, ebony and gilded copper.

The decision to style this room, despite its 18th century origins, with royal portrait copies, heavily carved neo-Gothic furniture, flock wallpaper and a 19th-chandelier giving it a high Victorian sensibility, is puzzling. Perhaps this is more a nod to a version of the manor house when it was in its Victorian heyday.  Of course, all these derivative oils may have been collected/bought by the Bedingfelds during the 19th century to boost their credentials during the period when the old English Catholic families were returning from exclusion. Interestingly, there is also a question mark as to the authenticity of one of the Oxburgh grand furniture pieces, the splendid Antwerp Cabinet. It looks like a Collectors’ Cabinet that was traditionally made in Antwerp during the period 1650 to 1670, but according to the experts it has features that suggest it may have been constructed in the 19th century to look like an older piece.

The West Drawing Room was also originally a Neo-classical room with floral chintz wallpaper, but was substantially changed in 1865. Today there is a painting by the renowned 18th-century portrait painter Angelica Kauffman hanging to the right of the original Neo-classical fireplace.

Angelica-Kauffman-portrait-of-Mary-Walsh
Portrait by Angelica Kauffman. Sitter is Mary Walsh, Mrs Ralph Clavering. Oil on canvas. c 1780

It’s a portrait of Mary Walsh also later known as Mrs Ralph Clavering, another Bedingfeld’s wife’s relative. It too was sold in 1951, but in 2008 it was also purchased back at Sotheby’s in London for £79,250 and returned to Oxburgh Hall by the NT. And, here’s what the NT has to tell us about finding the funding to make the purchase. It is an excerpt from their blog – Treasure Hunt, National Trust Collections:

It was clear that we would need significant funds to buy back the personable Mrs Clavering. However, the volunteers who run the second-hand bookshop at Oxburgh generously contributed a substantial sum, and we also managed to secure a grant from the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund. In the end we had just enough to beat off the competition, and the picture is now back at Oxburgh.

Next we walk past the West Staircase which is adorned by the most fascinating painted leather wall covering (early 18th century from the Low Countries), but it’s cordoned off. Then it’s into the library. This room displays more of a wholesome expression of Victorian Gothic as it appears less restored and has a more authentic feel.

Oxburgh Hall library with Buckler fireplace
The Library, Oxburgh Hall.

Naturally, a library has many books and along with the room’s original Buckler fireplace (1831) and the (mostly original) heavily carved Victorian Gothic furniture, the library contains little groupings of ephemera that bring the room to life.

For example there is a table set with a cut glass decanter, glasses, pipes and matches, and, predictably, a family photograph. Oddly the chosen photograph is not an early photographic portrait – though it could be. They could have used the 19th-century photograph of Margaret Paston who married Sir Henry Bedingfeld in 1826. It was she, together with her husband, who was primarily responsible for the creation of this room. Obviously, the original image cannot be displayed in daylight, but a good quality copy could be easily made.

The-Dining-Room-Oxburgh-Hall

After the library we walk into the Dining Room which used to be the library during the 18th century. Like much of Oxburgh Hall this is another room reworked by the Victorian architect J C Buckler. During the 1830s Buckler oversaw the installation of the heavily carved wooden panelling some of which also includes earlier carved sections dating from 1635 and 1731. The room has an enchanting atmosphere created by the slightly distressed, gilt and scarlet wallpaper thought to be designed by the Victorian stained glass artist, Thomas Willement.

However, the most beautiful arrangement in the room is the octagonal table in the bay window.

Octagonal table made by the Belgian cabinetmaker Malfait.
Octagonal table made by the Belgian cabinetmaker Malfait.

How delightful it would be to sit here, sipping coffee and gazing out over the moat towards the Norfolk countryside.

As National Trust visitors when you enter Oxburgh Hall you turn right, but if you’re “U” then you turn left . . . . . . . .  a bit like boarding a plane!

Turn-Left-no-private.jpg

 

 

Oxburgh Hall – Part 1, A Legacy in Brick

Oxburgh-Hall-full-viewOxburgh Hall is a moated manor house in the depths of rural Norfolk. It has been ‘owned’ by the National Trust since it was donated by the Bedingfeld family in 1952. The donation of this interesting building to the National Trust has allowed it to be saved and maintained for the nation. In that quaint, slightly snobbish English way, the terms of the donation also allows for two generations of the Bedingfeld family to reside in half of the property. Apparently, maintaining the continuity of the family’s presence is . . . . . no, not sure what it is, but that’s the deal.

moated manor house Oxburgh Hall
View of the east front of Oxburgh Hall. Left tower was gutted by fire in the Civil War and later substantially remodelled by Victorian architect J C Buckler around 1860.

The well-maintained manor house we see today is mostly a Victorian interpretation of medieval Gothic. The only substantially originally medieval part is the magnificent gatehouse that comprises both the King’s Room and the Queen’s Room, and a noteworthy Priest’s Hole.

In 1482, with royal permission for crenellations (originally a licence to construct a fortified property), Sir Edmund Bedingfeld oversaw the building of a brick manor house including a crenellated gatehouse. This combination of gatehouse and moat gives Oxburgh Hall an overall impression of a fortified building, but during the late-fifteenth century moats and gatehouses were more about the conspicuous display of wealth and status than defending the family against bombardments.

As with any site that has been occupied by a substantial building for over 500 years there have been many changes, additions and improvements as different architectural ideas, together with the family’s fortunes, waxed and waned over the centuries. As was traditionally the custom for any notable medieval house, Oxburgh Hall once had a Great Hall, but, unfortunately that was pulled down by the 4th Baronet, Sir Richard Bedingfeld, in 1775.

moated manor house
View from south-west corner of Oxburgh Hall showing gap between the corner towers (the right of the photo) where the Great Hall, kitchen and store rooms used to be before they were demolished in 1775.

It is difficult to make more than a cursory summary of the broader, social circumstances of the many different lives lived over the centuries at Oxburgh Hall without making a detailed, in depth study of the historical record.  As usual we only get the faintest hint of the many hands that built, maintained, worked and served at Oxburgh Hall. Of the Bedingfeld family we learn more. They remained a Catholic family after the English Reformation and as such fell from royal favour, but 100 years later found themselves back enjoying comfortable times with the Restoration and the arrival of King Charles II to the English throne.

Oddly, the National Trust’s guide to Oxburgh Hall has a somewhat one-sided, almost hagiographic approach when discussing the role of the family as though by simply being born a Bedingfeld one had achieved something of note. Their medieval beginnings featuring the acquisition of land and status is a familiar story of fighting, scheming and beneficial marriage alliances. And, apart from being Royalists during the Civil War, the Bedingfeld’s main claim to fame is that they have remained resolutely Roman Catholic. From the heritage point of view, rather disappointingly, we don’t find any of them were renowned patrons of the arts or great collectors or even sponsors of some of Norfolk’s distinguished artists such as John Crome or John Sell Cotman.

Oxburgh Hall west front tudor chimneys
The west front of Oxburgh Hall. J C Buckler’s 1830’s Victorian Gothic interpretation of a Tudor moated manor house. The architect changed windows adding new brick mullions and also created bay, dormer and oriel windows to the facade. Finally, topping the roofline with decorated, Tudor style chimneys.
Oxburgh-Hall-full
A fine example of how the Victorians romanticised the past.

Furthermore the only truly exceptional art works of national interest at Oxburgh Hall – the Oxburgh Hangings – were brought to the hall by Mary Browne of Cowdray Park on her marriage to Sir Richard Bedingfeld in 1761. These captivating Elizabethan needlework pieces consist of many embroidered panels sewn by Mary, Queen of Scots and Bess of Hardwick (full post on the Oxburgh Hangings).

However, if you are interested in experiencing the cool, lofty space of The King’s Room within the gatehouse, or undergoing confinement in a priest’s hole, or simply the pleasure of wandering through a ‘time capsule’ Victorian library, then Oxburgh Hall is worth a visit.Romance-of-a-moat

Adaptive reuse – art school to apartments

St-Martins-DoorwayWhen I was younger I spent a year attending evening classes at the St Martin’s School of Art in London. I mostly remember arriving at the Charing Cross Road entrance on dark and wet and windy nights although it couldn’t always have been raining.

St Martin's School of Art, Charing Cross Rd brick and steel
St Martin’s School of Art, Charing Cross Rd, London sometime in the mid 1980s.

It was an important experience for me culminating in an end of year fashion show with professional models.  The evening show was extra special as the renowned British designer Zandra Rhodes attended offering her support and encouragement to the student/newbie designers.

Nowadays, St Martin’s School of Art has combined with the Central School of Arts & Crafts and is known as  Central St Martins (CSM) and since 2011 is based in the King’s Cross area of London. This relocation has left the 1939 purpose-built art school site in the heart of London available for renovation and a new lease of life as retail premises and loft apartments.

adaptive reuse of the old art school building
The adaptive reuse of the old art school building – now Foyles bookstore with apartments on the upper floors. November 2015

Although it is not listed the building is nevertheless an interesting construction of steel, brickwork, Cornish granite and Portland stone. It definitely has a 1930s feel about it and fortunately the recent renovations have not significantly remodelled its external appearance. From the street it looks very much like a successful ‘adaptive reuse’ and so much better than being simply knocked down to allow for yet another soulless glass and steel affair the likes of which seem to be springing up all around.

St-Martin's-lofts
Foyles St Martin’s Lofts designed by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands.