Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Celebrity Churches

It is quite reassuring, when pursuing what some might call an eccentric pastime, to come across well-known and respected people who share the same passion. OK, I'll be honest, I mean when you come across celebrity churchcrawlers. Discovering two who have visited churches that we have visited ourselves provides, if you can believe it, a sudden thrill of excitement. These are the actor Richard Briers and broadcaster and comedian Mike Harding. In this article we will mention 2 churches we have shared with them that also have celebrity connections with historical figures.

Richard Briers' book "English Country Churches" covers 100 he has visited and includes 13 in the East Midlands. He sums up well the attractions of church crawling:
"At a time when those all-important moments of tranquillity and reflection become increasingly hard to find, sitting quietly in the cool of a building that has been standing for a quarter of the Christian era or longer helps put life into perspective. Visiting a country church is like opening a window on living history ... inside every one and around every churchyard the past is always present."
One of his favourites is St Helen's, Brant Broughton, in Lincolnshire, which we visited in June 2011. It is an example of a fine medieval church that was sympathetically restored by the Victorians. In fact, it was restored by one of the most influential church architects of the time, G.F. Bodley. The crowning glory was the restoration of the 15th Century angel roof.

George Frederick Bodley, 1827-1907, has been described by Country Life as one of the great British architects. He worked extensively for the Church of England and his work, especially for the Duke of Westminster in Cheshire, is regarded as among the best examples of the Gothic Revival.

At Brant Broughton his client was the rector, Frederick Sutton, who wanted, when he arrived in 1873, to reclaim the church from its state of "poverty and squalor."  He ensured that the restoration was completely in harmony with the work of the original medieval builders. In restoring the roof, Bodley kept the original colour scheme and as much of the original wood as he could. We rather like it. The church is deservedly included in Simon Jenkins' book "England's Thousand Best Churches" and other features of it will no doubt crop up in future posts.

Our other celebrity, Mike Harding, visited St Peter and St Paul, Exton, in Rutland, which he mentions in his "Little Book of Tombs and Monuments." This is one of an attractive series of books in which Mike includes his own photographs of stained glass, gargoyles, green men and other features in churches he visited while on tour all over Britain. Exton is one that we visited in August 2010.

The feature that caught Mike Harding's eye was the 1686 memorial to Baptist Noel, 3rd Viscount Campden (not Lord Lonsdale, as Harding mistakenly ascribes it), carved by Grinling Gibbons. It seems the Viscount's (the figure on the left) missing fingers fell off over the years and were thrown out by cleaners!

Simon Jenkins includes the church as one of his thousand best purely on account of its monuments, which fill every corner. This one, in marble, has urns, swags and curtains and would not be out of place, according to Jenkins, commemorating an 18th Century pope in St. Peter's, Rome. We are very pleased we photographed it.


Mike Harding's book, which also includes Wirksworth (Derbys), Gaddesby (Leics) and Grantham (Lincs), to which we will no doubt return, was published in 2008 by Aurum Press Ltd.

Richard Briers' book was published in 1989 by Robson Books Ltd and re-published in 1995 by The Promotional Reprint Company Ltd, exclusively for Bookmart Ltd, Enderby, Leicester.

"England's Thousand Best Churches" by Simon Jenkins was first published by Allen Lane in 1999 and by Penguin Books in 2000 and 2009.

The article on G F Bodley was published in "Country Life" on Sat 30 January 2010.

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