‘West Chelborough is a village so far from the haunts of men’, wrote the eminent surgeon and author, Frederick Treves, ‘that the visit of a stranger causes some unrest’. Treves authored one of the most popular books on the county, Highways and Byways in Dorset, first published in 1906 and reprinted numerous times throughout the twentieth century. Having gained fame and fortune as Royal Surgeon to Edward VII, operating on his appendix and saving his life just two days before the planned date of the King’s coronation, Treves retired aged fifty and turned his hand to travel and memoir writing. As the reprints suggest, at this too he was a success. He cycled over 2000 miles around the county to research his book. It says much about his pioneering spirit that in the early years of the 1900s one of the most famous men in the British Empire might be found negotiating a rough chalk track deep in the Dorset countryside on a bicycle, in order to visit remote stretches of coast and largely undisturbed villages. (more…)
(I wrote this post last year and have updated it accordingly)
A significant piece of Romanesque sculpture, moved from East Teignmouth church in the 1820s to the garden of a house in Dawlish, Devon, is still missing.
This was it in November 2011 when I visited to research an article, published in last year’s Transactions of the Devonshire Association.* The twelfth-century tympanum, originally above the north door at St Michael’s, East Teignmouth, had occupied this position in the grounds of Shell Cove House in Dawlish since the early 1820s. During the first wave of restoration of the medieval church, between 1821 and 1823, the sculpture was moved here by the Reverend Charles Phillot, curate of the church from 1811 and developer of the house (then known as Clevelands). (more…)
There are two signs tucked into the hedge at the side of the A356. One says Toller Fratrum, the other indicates that the road that will take us there is a dead end. We turn left onto a single-track lane bounded on each side by a wire and post fence and bump along into the gentle valley, underneath a railway bridge and over a narrow river, then up the other side. I’d heard that the manor house had burnt down and here it is, where the road ends in mud, cloaked in scaffolding, emitting occasional groans and squeaks as the wind catches in its roof of plastic sheeting. Adjacent and serene is the church of St Basil, the path to it through the churchyard lit by daffodils. It is a simple building with a commanding view across soft, pale green hills fringed with smudges of trees. (more…)
I’m out on the north-westerly tip of Devon at Hartland. At Hartland Point grey cliffs erupt from white water hundreds of feet below, monumental sections of slate themselves folded into waves, syncline and anticline, by earth movements millions of years ago. Look west and it’s an uninterrupted view towards America. The tower of the church of St Nectan at East Stoke, inland by about a mile and the tallest in North Devon at around 130ft, is swallowed up by the vast sky. (more…)
‘Close to the sea, but sheltered from it by a bluff’ wrote Nikolaus Pevsner in 1951 in his trademark terse prose. Such understatement does little to introduce this building, the church of St Winwalloe at Gunwalloe on the west coast of the Lizard Peninsula. It is fortunate that the volume’s later contributing author, Peter Beacham, editing and updating it in 2014, adds exactly what Pevsner had missed but what appears obvious to even the most casual visitor. ‘Even for Cornwall’, the sentence now begins, ‘an especially romantic site for a church, on its own on the edge of a sandy cove but sheltered from the sea by a bluff’. Without this giant rock and its attendant spikes of slate to break the waves I doubt the building would last much more than one Cornish winter. ‘So close is the building to the shore’ wrote the vicar in 1870, ‘that the waves have frequently broken away the walls of the churchyard’. A neatly-lettered sign hangs above the door in the porch: St Winwaloe, it says (one ‘l’), The Church of the Storms. (more…)
Most of the medieval sculpture we see today is incomplete. This is because it has often lost its surface finish of bright colour – paint and gilding – which was perhaps the most important aspect of the work in the eyes of our medieval ancestors.
Our expectation of sculpture today is that the viewer should be able to see the primary material out of which it is made. This derives from a post-medieval (specifically eighteenth- and nineteenth-century) attitude that valued ‘truth to materials’ above all else. By contrast, in the Middle Ages, viewers did not consider the interior, primary material to be the true form, but rather the exterior polychrome layers.
Carved stones connect us to landscapes. Through the material, they connect us to a physical one; through the technique of its production and where it is placed, a human one; through the image itself, often a spiritual one. They are points in time and through time that allow us to sense the past and allow the past to leak into the present. Over time, these records of human interaction with the land become more and more precious, documents of moments lived hundreds of years ago. In turn, they, like the medieval churches where they are often found, become part of the landscape themselves, weathering back into it, taking the secrets of the centuries with them. Stone sculpture and landscape are inextricably linked. (more…)