Monday, 1 November 2021

Holy Trinity, Bradford on Avon

The churches of St Laurence and Holy Trinity sit low down by the river Avon and are separated from each other by the seriously attractive Church St. The buildings could almost hold hands they are so close. That first visit in all an intense experience. The beauty almost too good to be true. I'd like to think that in the deep past when the church of St Laurence formed part of an Anglo-Saxon monastic complex founded by St Aldhelm it shared space with the predecessor of Holy Trinity; and that at the ending of the monastery the umbilical link between both churches was severed, St Laurence was secularised and Holy Trinity, being the parish church was rebuilt and enlarged so that now it is by far the larger of the two buildings. Alas, that may be wishful thinking, things being a little more complicated than they first appear.

Holy Trinity stands on the north side of a long, thin lens of churchyard separating the church from the river; to the north it stands hard against Church St. There is a business-like west tower with blunt spire, a north aisle which is rather fine, but there is no corresponding aisle on the south (not matter what Pevsner implies in the Wiltshire edition of 'The Buildings of England'). The contrast between north and south sides couldn't be more telling or more interesting, for the north is in all a piece, competent Late Gothic, and south, though obviously rebuilt, is a palimpsest of styles, with projecting porch and transeptal chapel. In origin that S nave wall must be Norman (see the windows).

 The interior is surprisingly spacious but, rather like the tower, it's business-like. Not a place for the numinous. Sad to say. I'd  even go so far as to say it is somewhat forgettable. What I do remember are the large number of memorials in the church, the grandest being in the chancel - some in need of a clean. And there is the n aisle  arcade. It is is mainly Victorian - those scrolls! Originally the aisle was divided into chapels by solid walls, so the effect now is very different from that intended. According to Pevsner the arcade is the work of [John Elkington] Gill (never heard of him) and dates from 1864. Previously in 1858 the great Sir George Gilbert Scott himself had been called in an advisory role. The Vicar  of Bradford at the time was William Henry Jones, 1817-1885. He was also an antiquary and it was he who discovered the church of St Lawrence hidden in plain sight as it were among later buildings. His brother was Samuel Flood Jones who was a member of the Chapter of Westminster Abbey.

In writing this post I began to suspect that the church had undergone a Tractarian restoration at that time, influenced by such restorations undertaken in the weaving communities of the Cotswolds particularly by Tom Keble, vicar of Bisley and brother of John Keble. However the current re-ordering has been so radical that it was hard to tell from my photographs what had happened way back in the midst of the nineteenth century. It was only via an internet search that I found evidence of what was done and what was lost in the process. Judging by what I found that  restoration was a pretty thorough-going process, just as radical in its way as what has recently occurred, with the destruction of a west gallery and organ and the removal of two interesting looking post-Reformation plaster ceilings. Both nave and chancel now have attractive wooden barrel vaults that deserve to be coloured and gilded. So perhaps no great loss.  About the aesthetic and spiritual qualities of the current thorough-going re-ordering the least said the better, but what the hell. My heart lies with with the previous states of the church. It could be argued that the current re-ordering is just another example of a series of discontinuities that the church has suffered. And that is true but it cannot be used as a justification for such far reaching changes; neither is it an excuse for something quite so banal. 


Wednesday, 27 October 2021

Bradford on Avon

 On the second full day of our trip to Bath we headed off to the station and caught the next train to Bradford on Avon. A mere fifteen minutes away. Trains are every half hour and it is a journey I would recommend if you're holidaying in Bath. (I'd also recommend the 'Pablo's Tapas' where we had lunch!)

In the late seventies and early eighties the English architectural historian Alec Clifton Taylor presented three series (each of six episodes) on the architecture of English towns for the BBC. A different town each episode. They were excellent. Just the sort of thing that the BBC was then very good at. Alas, I don't think the same can be said today. These half-hour documentaries can be occasionally found on YouTube, but usually disappear again; I think for copyright reasons. I suspect the BBC is very assiduous in that. However the programmes are really worth looking out for. Anyway Bradford on Avon appeared in series 2 which was broadcast in the Autumn of 1981. And I suppose it was seeing that particular episode on YouTube a year or so ago that put the idea in head when we decided to visit Bath.

Bradford is not large, (pop 9,000+); the centre in particular is very small - a tight knot of narrow streets that suffers a lot from through traffic. An important river crossing that was once over looked by a hill fort, high on the hill to the N above the town. In Late Saxon times the site of a monastery. So a place of some considerable history. There isn't much town on the southern bank of the Avon but on the north it creeps up that steep hillside to the Budbury plateau in a series of long parallel lines of old stone houses that once housed weavers. This was once a manufacturing town, and down on the valley floor were a series of great woollen mills. The architecture in all is very like what I was used to living in south Lincolnshire - ooltic limestone, ranging from pale grey to warm ochre, and stone slate roofs. Both Kesteven and Bradford are at either end of the great Limestone Belt that weaves its way through England in a roughly SW to NE. What interested me in Bradford were the remarkable group of Baroque houses, somewhat similar to the ones on Bath, and the two medieval churches. One of which, St Lawrence, really is something special, of national importance, and Holy Trinity, the parish church. 

You know, as I upload these pictures I feel I haven't really done Bradford on Avon justice. Alas we didn't see Bradford Hall, which is the second building in the town of national importance, or the the tithe barn. In places the narrowness of the streets and lack of pavement meant it was next to impossible, on a normal week day, to take photographs. Perhaps another time.

English Baroque of the local type at Westbury House 

The Old Church House, now Wallington Hall. Late Medieval church hall. 

Houses in Church St. Particularly admire the combination of stone walls and yew hedging

Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Bath III: Early morning in the city

 On our final morning in Bath, I went out before breakfast just as dawn was breaking over the city to take some phots, it being the best time to catch architecture before the crowds and the bustle. Just a random selection really.

Sunday, 17 October 2021

Bath II: Bathwick

 Our hotel was situated in Henrietta St, east over the river Avon from the city centre. A sinuous street of tall pale stone terraces that flows north, following the line of the river, from Laura Place  It was our first visit to Bathwick, as this area of the City is called. The approach from the city is mightily impressive, relying on a sort of coup de theatre from intimacy to the spacious; from the picturesque to the formal; from bricolage to stylistic uniformity. Chaos to serenity and clarity. Standing in Laura Place with Argyll St and Adam's Pulteney Bridge behind and Great Pulteney St, long and immensely wide, ahead of you, the contrast between the city and the new suburb could not be clearer. In the distance is the Holborne of Menstrie Museum, set within a great hexagonal park. It has to be said that it is too small a structure for the scale of things - I can't decide whether that is a fault or a deliberate act to create the illusion of yet greater distance. In all though one of the greatest pieces of town planning in late Georgian Britain.

 You might even want to call it Baroque, and why not? Oh yes, I know that the style is Neo-classical, Bathwick was laid out in the 1788-1806, but the facades are merely  decoration, the icing on a sort of urban form that only appears in the Baroque. Styles do not die, they are not un-invented. Sometimes think of Art and Architectural historians as taxonomists, rather like 19th century naturalists. They might even throw in a few terminal dates too. It's not as though these categories don't exist only that sometimes the definitions can be understood as antithetical to one another, when there are always elements of continuity. I would argue that this represent such a continuity, maybe even a revival. I didn't realise until researching this post that the museum is the focus of a 'patte d'oie' of three radiating streets. Baroque too in the sense of individual units being subsumed into the greater whole for the sake of urban theatre. And that, it could be argued, is also one of the tendencies of Modernity. But alas for all that grandeur and social cachet the scheme with, its long 'palace fronts', was not completed. As with Bath itself, development ceased by 1820. Terraces abruptly halt and the next buildings in the street date from the late 19th century. Only on Henrietta St, being that bit closer to the city centre, is there a sense of continuity with a line of early to mid Victorian villas on the west side of the street. Lovely they are too.

Friday, 15 October 2021

Bath I: Baroque in the City

Just back from a few days in Bath - a treat to celebrate the bf's significant birthday. We couldn't have had nicer weather, for what was our second visit. Our first visit is chronicled is here. Our two days away were spent mainly spent ambling around the city, immersed in a mixture of shopping and architecture. However our peregrinations did take in deliberate visits to The Museum of East Asian Art (which we enjoyed) and two favourite bookshops of ours: Persephone Books and Bath Old Books, without which a visit to the city would be incomplete. We also went on a jaunt to Bradford-on-Avon yesterday, but more about that in future posts.
As you can imagine I took a fair number of photographs, but I'd like to start with those I took of the baroque buildings of the city - an attempt to catalogue the Baroque architecture of the city, a style not readily associated with Bath where the overwhelming  majority of historic buildings labour under the undue influence of English Neo-Palladianism. With the buildings that will appear in the next blog about our little jaunt down the line to Bradford-on-Avon it is possible to discern a local Baroque style. Firstly the majority of buildings have a resault, or risalto, of a single bay emphasized by a stack of aedicules - each essentially of a single storey in height. Perhaps they can be related to Vanbrugh House in Oxford, where the resault consists of a single giant order aedicule. Secondly the influence of French architecture. One way of understanding the rise of Neo-Palladianism is to see it as a self-conscious attempt to break the French influence in British art.

We ate so well in Bath, it has to be said, there were two particular highlights. There  was dinner on our first night in the city at 'Sally Lunn's', North Parade Passage; I had a Pork and Walnut terrine, followed by a beautiful looking, and tasting, beef pie. Beef pie was also on the menu at the vibrant 'Corkage', Chapel Row, where we ate last night. The food was mightily inventive, and it being the bf's actually birthday we did rather indulge; pigeon, sardine, pie and marrow, lemon posset. We then headed off to the Canary Gin Bar in Queen St. Finally I'd like to mention the wonderful breakfasts at our hotel, The Kennard on Henrietta St.

Monday, 11 October 2021

London II: Sunday in the City

What to do on my day off when I wasn't playing shopkeep? I took the tube into the City, travelling through wonderfully atmospheric and grimy cuttings, evocative of the Industrial Revolution, to Barbican and an empty City basking in late summer sunshine. From the station I walked west to Smithfield, through a dense network of streets and alleys to St Bartholomew the Great; church and urban fabric a great meshing of palimpsests. The scale human. The density high. Higher still until 1913 when there was a slum 'clearance' scheme in Cloth Fair to the north of the church, that saw the demolition of Medieval and post-medieval houses.

From Smithfield I wove my way south - a little directionless, but what did that matter? - finding myself in another city - of monstrous bland and blank office buildings. I shave to admit an ambiguity in my response to these buildings, symbols of the pre-eminence of the City in the world banking, I acknowledge. However they just don't make a city. A place of anomie and dislocation, of bland corporatism. Then unexpectedly the high dome of St Paul's and the peeling of bells. My new destination. Close to the noise of bells was overwhelming and deeply emotional.

I stopped for refreshment, and then headed back towards Barbican tube station, stopping-off at a couple of very interesting examples of post War classicism: St Vedast Foster Lane, rebuilt after the War by Stephen Dykes Bower perhaps one of the best post-war restorations, and the Wood St Police Station by McMorran and Whitby. Not a particularly good photo of either building, I'm afraid. They both deserve a post to themselves. I arrived, eventually, at the labyrinthine Barbican Centre, where I had a mediocre lunch. It's been a while since I tasted the delights of British institutional cooking.

The jaunt ended in the delightful Charterhouse Square. A place like Cloth Fair that is much to my taste - humane in scale, complex in the interplays of history, style, materials and space.