Thursday, 31 December 2009

I saw something today that really annoyed me.

I went up the road ten miles to East Markham in Nottinghamshire, to record some rather lovely medieval glass. I'd last visited the church in the winter of 1999 and I knew the church also had a Comper window and a Comper English altar, which would be a welcome bonus on a cold day!

East Markham, Nottinghamshire

The Comper glass is truly wonderful. It is fairly early work, dating from 1896/7 - so is an example, as you would expect from this point in his career, of rich medieval revivalism. Figures of St Hugh, St John the Baptist, the Virgin and Child, St Paul and St Cuthbert are set under tall canopies that could easily have come out of a York church.

East Markham, Nottinghamshire

East Markham, Nottinghamshire

The English altar below is rather a different matter and that is what got my blood boiling. The riddel posts remain and are still surmounted by four gilded Nuremburg angels, but all the hangings have been removed. Instead of Comper's rich textiles, the monumental stone altar is covered with a cheap and nasty white frontal, which looks like a dust sheet and is decorated with tacky appliqued cross.

East Markham, Nottinghamshire

With no dorsal or riddel curtains the riddel posts are in fact redundant and Comper's intention of visually uniting the altar with the window (as is evident in the photograph below of the altar when new) is now disrupted. Visually his work is compromised.

East Markham, Nottinghamshire

East Markham, Nottinghamshire

What is more irritating is that I discovered that many of the original hangings do in fact still survive. They are dumped in a chest at the back of the church. Thankfully they are still in good condition, but for how long. I wonder though why are they not in use? How on earth did the church get permission to remove the frontal and replace them with something that is mean and unworthy? What DAC in their right mind would allow it? Needless to say I had a little bit of a rant to myself as I spent the next hour photographing the glass.

East Markham, Nottinghamshire

East Markham, Nottinghamshire

Two of the discarded hangings from the high altar. The top one, presumably a dorsal, is quite clearly by Comper, the fabrics are his own designs. The base fabric is a beautiful murrey van der Weyden and the orphreys are in a gold St Hubert. There was probably a set of vestments to match this, as a burse is also extant. The bottom frontal, is evidently post WWI later as it has a base of Randoll Blacking's St Nicholas with red and gold St Hubert orphreys. There were other textiles in the chest, but I didn't dare get them all out!!

14 comments:

BillyD said...

The riddel posts without the hangings make the altar look like a four-poster bed.

Allan Barton said...

Indeed so, particularly given the sheet that is draped over the altar.

Anonymous said...

You should not only have looked at the other fabrics but nicked them [as moral theologians say] acting as steward and guardian,ready and willing to return them when the Revolution is over.The next time that you go they'll probably be in black bin bags,as were Dr Adrian Fortsecue's distinguished and beautiful vestments at Letchworth.Fortunately, they were rescued and are now in the sacristy of a Catholic school. Alan Robinson

Allan Barton said...

I think you have a very valid point. However, given the proximity of East Markham to the parish I serve in, I probably won't. I certainly intend to do something active about it.

Anonymous said...

Cut the wires of the all-seeing eye of CCTV !
Our late parish Deacon in the early 1970's "took into care" the altar rails [and several altar missals ] just before they were to be felled and hid them in his garage, thus, thirty years later when a more congenial priest was appointed they were able to be restored and are still in use.Happy New year !Alan Robinson.

Davis d'Ambly said...

Horrors! They will rot for this sacrilege! What passes for a frontal is indeed a disgrace, but nothing compared with the loss of the Comper hangings.

The glass is early and especially lovely. Thanks, Alan, for taking the time to document it.

Minnie said...

Happy New Year to you, Allan & family, and to your readers. I agree with BillyD, and hope you will be able to restore the hangings to their rightful glory.

Peter Mullins said...

The angels are off the peg Watts - there are some in Grimsby today (funnily enough placed there by Walter Tapper at the time of the First World War) and I saw identical ones in a case in Manchester Cathedral recently. Do you know of an explicit Comper link?

Allan Barton said...

@Peter
Though used frequently by Comper, I think it was Bodley who came up with the design for the angels. He took the design from fifteenth century examples he had seen in Nuremberg. It is because of the Bodley pedigree that Watts still produce them. Some new ones have been introduced at St Birinus in Dorchester-on-Thames, http://medieval-church-art.blogspot.com/2008/09/dorchester-roman-catholic-church.html

Anthony Symondson SJ said...

May I cast some light on the altar frontals and hangings at East Markham?

In 1988 I organized an exhibition of Comper's work at the RIBA's former Heinz Gallery in Portman Square, London. At the opening a fussy little woman spoke to me and said she was from East Markham. She ran a local interior decorating firm (curtain making) and said she had come to the exhibition to see Comper's textiles as she was replacing his work in the church. My heart sank because I could see at a glance that disaster would follow. I tried to explain that she needed to be careful and copy what was already there, though worn and faded, but an expert hand was needed to do the work properly. Flaring nostrils and declarations that she was an artist with years of experience and so on followed. Subsequently I spoke to the vicar of the time but he said he had full confidence in her as she was so artistic and had taste. Neither were true and the results are recorded in your photographs. They are suburbanism incarnate.

What pleases and surprises me, however, is that what was left of Comper's own hangings were retained and not thrown away. That is good news and I hope Alan Barton will succeed in securing an improvement. But I suspect that the woman who made the new work is still alive and he may find resistance.

At one time there was a vestment press kept in the tower of the church. It contained a beautiful, early and wonderfully simple red silk chasuble designed by Comper and made by the Sisters of Bethany. I have no idea if it still exists but, if so, it is worth tracking down.

As for the restoration as a whole, it was one of the 7th Duke of Newcastle's ventures of 1896-7 but came to an early end because of a difference between him and Comper over drastic alterations the Duke wanted to make to Clumber church. You can read about it in my book on Comper and in the National Trust Guide, written by Gavin Stamp and myself and, I think, still in print. This was unfortunate because Comper had designed an organ screen for the chancel, a development on an earlier one at St Ives in Huntingdonshire. He used elements of the design in later work, notably at St Margaret's, Braemar, but without an organ.

Peter Mullins

The angels are not standard Watts productions. The origin of the Nuremburg angels lay in a German medieval original bought in Nuremburg, once in the possession of Bodley and kept in his drawing office in Grays Inn. He and Comper had a refined version modelled and cast by Barkentin and Krall in the late 1880s. They were first used on the wall behind the reredos in the chapel of St Margaret's covent, Aberdeen. Thereafter Comper used them on the riddel posts of the first Gothic (or English) altar in the clergy house chapel of St Matthew's, Westminster, and for many of his subsequent Gothic altars. They were replaced by new standing figures modelled for the high altar at Stockross, Berkshire, in 1905-7 and rarely used by him thereafter.

When Barkentin & Krall came to an end in the early 1930s they stopped being made. Watts might well have sold them but so did the Warham Guild. Like much of his early work, Comper came to repudiate them as the standard of casting had deteriorated and he had embraced neo-Classical modelling for figures.

Billy D

In Comper's own lifetime he came to regard his early Gothic altars not as four-post beds, but box beds. You have to be a Scot to understand the reference. Box beds were inserted into walls and sometimes hung with curtains. They still exist in old houses and tenements.

Allan Barton said...

Thank you father, I had hoped you would comment on this and I appreciate you sharing your knowledge. The vestment press you mentioned is now in the vestry, it is filled with run-of-the-mill polyester chasubles. The only old work I saw in it was a fairly plain, but evidently early, red burse and a tapestry chasuble and stole decorated with diced braid. Nothing else appeared to survive I'm sorry to say. Although I admit that I didn't venture into the lowest draw, which appeared to be full of brown paper. Neither did I delve into the lowest reaches of the chest containing the frontals and hangings. A return visit is needed I think.

I will see if things can be improved, but I suspect there is little hope.

Anthony Symondson SJ said...

I am pleased you are keeping a watching eye on East Markham even though getting results will be uphill work. The burse and veil you mention are probably part of the set of red vestments I saw in the 1970s. Because of the colour and relatively infrequent use they were in good condition. I doubt if the tapestry vestments with orphreys of diced braid are Comper's because he did not use braid of that kind and disliked it. On the other hand, surprises are to be found in his early work.

Personally, I think that what has happened at East Markham is symptomatic of the ignorance and bad taste that has enveloped the Church of England during the last forty years. Don't respond by reminding me of the bad taste found in the Roman Church; it is too self-evident to need comment.

Canon Tallis said...

Ok, it is plainly horrible, but what strikes me most is how splendid and grand the proportions are even with the disgusting frontal and the loss of the riddel curtains. As an American I have seen too many churches, both Roman and Anglican, where the proportions were all so horrible that like my daughter's house, they would need to be razed to the ground so that one could start over.

Is it really true that the angels are still available? I would like four of them for my own altar.

Davis d'Ambly said...

Canon Tallis, yes, the last time I checked Watts & Co still carried the angels.