Church architecture in Hertfordshire and elsewhere, art, books, and whatever crosses my path

Saturday 31 October 2015

Gerald Finzi, Laurence Whistler, Reynolds Stone and John Arlott

A Window to English Music, by Laurence Whistler, Ashmansworth church, Hants
The composer Gerald Finzi (1901-56) moved with his wife Joy to the village of Ashmansworth in north Hampshire in 1939, and stayed there for the rest of his regrettably short life. As well as composing music there, he founded and ran the Newbury String Players, built up an extensive collection of English poetry*, and grew many rare varieties of apples.

He was buried in Ashmansworth churchyard, next to the porch.

In 1976 a window of engraved glass by Laurence Whistler, entitled 'A Window to English Music', was installed in the porch, just feet from the grave. Engraved glass in windows is very difficult to photograph in situ; the photo at the top of this page was presumably taken before the installation. My copy of the photo was sent by Whistler to John Arlott, the cricket commentator and poet, along with a programme for the unveiling ceremony, suitably inscribed, as you can see. (It does seem a bit odd that he addresses his old friend by both first and surnames.) Arlott had the programme bound in plain black boards, and loosely inserted the photo. After his death his library was dispersed, and I bought this volume**.

Laurence Whistler (1912-2000) (the brother of the painter Rex Whistler) is the supreme English exponent of the art of engraving on glass (both on a small scale, such as goblets, and on a large). His masterpiece is to be found in Moreton church, Dorset, where over a period of about 30 years he made all the windows. The concept behind the Ashmansworth window is explained in the programme. I think it's highly successful, both stately and rather playful. I have to admit that I've never heard of some the composers celebrated. Richard Mudge? John Garth? Capel Bond? I'm ashamed not to have heard of Robin Milford either; I've just consulted Professor Wikipedia about him, and I shall listen to some of his music very soon.

It's a shame that room wasn't found for my favourite quotation about music, from Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing: 'Is it not strange that sheep's guts can hale men's souls from their bodies?' (He continues, with a typical double entendre, 'A horn for my money, when all's done.')

The small picture on the front cover of the programme is of Ashmansworth church, and is by another master of his medium, Reynolds Stone*** (1909-79), who engraved not glass but wood. 

Loosely inserted in my copy of the programme is this flyer for the dedication ceremony. The Newbury String Players (founded by Finzi) were to perform and to be conducted by Christopher Finzi, Gerald's son and a notable musician in his own right, and Gerald's wife Joy was in charge of the allocation of tickets.

In June 2016 a new window (of eight lights), by Tom Denny, will be installed in Gloucester Cathedral, a building Finzi had long associations with through the Three Choirs Festival. The window will be next to that dedicated to the poet and composer Ivor Gurney, who Finzi did so much to help.

It's wonderful that forty years after the Ashmansworth window, and sixty years after his death, the beautiful, yearning and evocative music of Gerald Finzi will be celebrated in this way.

You can read more about (and donate money towards) the Finzi windows here, and see images of all eight lights here.

* His library is now in the Finzi Book Room at the University of Reading. The catalogue is here; it includes a long and informative introductory essay.

** When John Arlott was the guest on Desert Island Discs, one of his eight records was Finzi's setting of Hardy's poem 'To Lizbie Brown'.

*** I recently blogged about cover designs for editions of Shakespeare. One of the classic designs was for the early Penguin Shakespeares, by Reynolds Stone (based on the First Folio portrait); these editions were printed on much better paper than the later ones with Gentleman and Hogarth covers.

Gerald Finzi's Five Bagatelles and Chosen Hill

View of Chosen Hill, Glos, from Witcombe. Photo by Philip Halling, from Wikipedia
In the early 90s I spent a few days in Herefordshire, where three churches that would feature in my top ten are to be found (Abbey Dore, Kilpeck and Shobdon). One evening I listened to a play on the car radio about Gerald Finzi, a composer I'd heard of but otherwise knew nothing about. Nevertheless it held my attention because it told a good story and referred to several places I already knew quite well, the cathedrals of the Three Choirs Festival, and Ashmansworth church, Hants. In the play Finzi and his wife also spent a lot of time picnicking, talking and relaxing in a place they called Chosen Hill. I took this to be their own private pet name for a favourite, chosen spot.

The next day I set off to drive back to Herts. As usual when driving alone, I had the relevant Pevsners on the passenger seat for quick reference. Somewhere in Gloucestershire I stopped at some traffic lights, and while waiting for them to change, luckily remembering the name of the town I was passing through (Churchdown), I found the relevant volume and the right page to see if it was worth stopping.

Pevsner's* description of the church begins: 'Situated on the skyline on the steep edge of Chosen Hill'. Had I not stopped at those lights, and had they changed before I'd had time to locate the entry, I might still be unaware that Chosen Hill is a real place and not merely a feature of the private geography of Gerald and Joy Finzi.

Naturally, I went to visit Churchdown church, perched at the summit of Chosen Hill (which in my memory is much steeper and more impressive than the photo at the top of this page suggests). Sadly it proved to be locked, though the view partly compensated for this. 

Churchdown church, Glos. Photo by Derek Harper, from Wikipedia

View from Chosen Hill. Photo by Brian Robert Marshall, from Wikipedia
Despite this nudge in the ribs from the Fates, I didn't investigate Finzi's music for quite some time. I think I bought the Naxos CD of the Clarinet Concerto and other orchestral works soon after it was issued in 1998, and this was enough to make me regret having not sought out his music years earlier. He's not a major composer in the way that Britten or Tippett (let alone Bach or Mozart) are; his emotional range is rather narrow, for one thing, and he seems happiest working on a small, intimate scale (though oddly enough he wrote very little chamber music). So not a great composer, but an entirely loveable one.

Gerald Finzi (1901-56) is best-known and best-loved as a composer of vocal music. His masterpiece is generally acknowledged to be Dies Natalis, an orchestral song cycle for soprano or tenor and string orchestra; in it Finzi sets poems by Thomas Traherne, the 17th century poet and mystic, written from the point of view of a newly born child. Finzi attains a kind of restrained ecstasy that's enormously powerful and moving. I'm especially fond of his smaller scale (i.e. just voice and piano) song cycles, especially those which set my favourite poet, Thomas Hardy. 

One of his most well-known and popular pieces is the Five Bagatelles, for clarinet and piano, Op.23. This was completed in 1943 but, like many of his compositions, took shape over a period of years (which is one reason why he reached only opus 40). He dismissed it as a 'trifle' and was almost annoyed by its success, feeling that it was getting the attention due to his more serious pieces. I can't imagine a better introduction to his work, though, and you can hear a live performance of it on Youtube** here. It's in five short movements and lasts about 15 minutes. I defy you to listen to it without humming the tunes. If you have only three minutes to spare, try the fourth movement, 'Forlana', which starts at 10.20. It's also been arranged (not by Finzi) for orchestra (the Youtube link to which doesn't work properly), and string quartet (listen to the last three movements here).

The picture below is of Laurence Whistler's engraved glass window in Ashmansworth church, Hants, celebrating English composers and especially Finzi. I shall write more about it in my next post.

* I'm using 'Pevsner' here as a generic term, as the 1st and 2nd editions of the Glos volumes are by David Verey.

** I've expressed my reservations about Youtube and other sites which give away music for free before. If you, dear reader, or I did some work, wouldn't we expect to be paid for it? I assuage my conscience by buying lots of CDs and concert tickets.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Tickencote churchyard

18th cen gravestones in Tickencote churchyard, Rutland
Some fifteen years ago, or a little more, I ran a class in creative writing on Thursday afternoons. One sunny autumn day we strolled to nearby Willian church for inspiration. The church is permanently and impenetrably locked - a perfectly justifiable precaution against all the local felons who would of course strip it of its contents and turn it into a smouldering ruin within a week should it ever open its doors - so we wandered around the churchyard, reading the tombstones and reflecting on mortality (though this didn't stop some of the literary responses being light-hearted and witty).

There are no notable graves, either aesthetically or historically. Even the oldest ones are no older than early Victorian, yet, despite their lack of antiquity, many of the inscriptions are now illegible. (The same is true of many other gravestones in many other churchyards.) It struck me how sad it is that the relations and friends of the dead put so much emotion (and money - tombstones aren't cheap) into commemorating them, expecting the commemoration to last, if not for ever, a very long time, and now, not much more than a century later, their loving inscriptions have faded away. Stone gives the appearance of being permanent, but it isn't. It weathers and crumbles. The lapidary immortality they sought is illusory.

Furthermore, the relations and friends have themselves died and been equally forgotten. The mourners who stood around the graves at the burial perhaps have their own illegible memorials elsewhere. 

The first eight and last two lines of the following very Hardyesque poem came to me more or less instantaneously. It took me a decade or more to fill in the gap. 

The epigraph is of course from 'Fear no more the heat o' th' sun' from Cymbeline, one of the greatest song lyrics ever written. 

In the second stanza I originally intended to say that prayers are useless as they go nowhere, but rain is one of the most useful things there is, so I've contradicted myself. I haven't changed it because a) I'm lazy and incompetent, and b) I'm happy to think that prayers might do some worldly good even if they don't go via Heaven. The word 'graved' is borrowed from Stevenson's poignant 'Requiem' ('This be the the verse you grave for me').*

The repetition of 'thoughts' in the second stanza and 'thought' in the third is clumsy. 

'Save' in the third stanza isn't quite right, but I rather like the pun on 'letter' (letter of the alphabet/someone who lets or leases something, such as a grave). The grammar of the last line is ropey, but I think its meaning is clear enough. 

The list in the first line of the last stanza is feeble. I couldn't and can't think of a better way of filling up the line.


Golden lads and girls all must . . .

Where are the mourners now?
          Gone to dust;
Fallen under the plough,
          As all things must.

Once they graved these words
          With tears and pain;
Their thoughts flew up like birds,
          And fell like rain.

They thought their words would last
          To save their dead,
But the letters' lease has passed:
          Unreadable, unread.

Their sighs, their grief, their groans
          Were all in vain.
These leaning lichened stones
          Are all that remain.

18th cen gravestones in Tickencote churchyard, Rutland

* This line is the source of the title of an infinitely superior but equally depressing poem, Larkin's 'This Be the Verse' ('They fuck you up, your mum and dad . . . ')

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Tickencote church, Rutland

A couple of weekends ago I found myself in Rutland, with Tickencote high on my list of places to visit. You approach the church from the north, and if (as in my case) all you know about it is that the Norman chancel arch is outstanding, your first view is puzzling.

Tickencote, view from north
The details are broadly Norman in character, yet they're like nothing built in the 11th or 12th centuries. The windows are too big and are separated by round pilasters which look as if they want to be Tuscan columns, and which have two string courses running across them, cutting them into thirds. What seems to be a transept has a blank north wall except for the string courses. The chancel has blank arcading of intersecting arches, such as are often found inside greater Norman churches (less often outside), but again the details are all wrong.

Tickencote, south chancel
For example, of the four bays of blank arcading seen in the picture above, three (the exception is the second from the right) have two solid continuous mouldings separated by a wide deep groove, so they look like railway tracks. The bays on the left and right have big zigzag decoration, but the apexes point away from the wall instead of parallel to it, so the decoration is hidden away (and hardly visible in the photograph). The second from right bay has odd diamond shapes. The clerestory windows have a cross between dogtooth and beakheads, and look almost like Art Deco.

The west front is even more bizarre.

Tickencote, west front
The pilasters loop to form a hoodmould, but the window has Gothic cusping and doesn't fit under the hoodmould, leaving a blank crescent-shaped tympanum, and an awkward space beneath the window where normally you'd expect to find a richly moulded doorway. Compare this to a genuine Norman parish church west front, the famous example at Iffley in Oxfordshire:
Iffley, photo by ceridwen
Nothing looks right at Tickencote, either as genuine Norman work or as Victorian revival (Victorian architects might well take liberties with the style, but not in this gawky way). However, everything becomes clear when you realise that what you're looking at is Georgian Norman Revival.

Although the Gothic Revival is usually associated with the Victorians, its origins go very much further back. A good case can be made for saying that St John's College Library, Cambridge, built in the 1620s, is the first Gothic Revival building, and by the 1790s (when Tickencote was built) it was well established. Norman ecclesiastical architecture, however, for whatever reason didn't receive the same attention until the 1820s at the earliest. There are some 18th century examples of Norman Revival castles, or houses made to look like castles, but churches are very much rarer. If you know of a Norman Revival church earlier than Tickencote, please let me know.

This explains the unarchaeological naivety of the church: the architect was a pioneer and working in the dark. He had no pattern books to help him. In the circumstances he did extraordinarily well.

He was Samuel Pepys Cockerell (1753-1827) (so named because he was a great-great-nephew of the diarist). He built very few churches; Sezincote House, Glos, is probably his most well-known work. In 1792 (the year in which Tickencote was built and repaired) he was a successful London architect, being Inspector of Repairs to the Admiralty, as well as Surveyor for the Foundling and Pulteney estates and the Victualling Office. How he came into contact with Eliza Wingfield, who paid for the rebuilding, I don't know, but perhaps she went looking for the best man for the job. Cockerell didn't let her down.

One of his smartest moves, and we must be very grateful to him for this, was that, when it wasn't necessary to do something, he did nothing. In particular, he left the magnificent chancel arch, the feature that above all else brings Tickencote its renown, untouched.

Tickencote, chancel arch

Oddly, Pevsner doesn't assign a date to this in the main text, which I assume is an oversight; in the caption to the photograph it's dated 'c.1150-60(?)'. Whatever its precise date, it's endearingly wonky and extraordinarily, wonderfully over-elaborate.  Why was such fecundity of decoration thought necessary? Six richly carved arches nestle inside one another like Russian dolls; I can't think of any other Norman parish church with so many layers of embellishment (again, if you can, please let me know).

Most of the layers have repeated decoration. The outer arch has what Pevsner calls 'a kind of stepped abstraction of beak-heads' (which seems to have been Cockerell's source for the decoration at the top of the chancel clerestory windows), the next has zigzag. The third I'll come back to in a moment. The fourth has crenellations (like the battlements on a castle wall) combined with zigzag, the fifth beakheads, and the inner arch a simple roll moulding.
Tickencote, chancel arch, north

Tickencote, chancel arch, south

Tickencote, chancel arch, beakheads
As I've implied, it's the third layer that's the most interesting as it doesn't repeat motifs. It features stylised heads, both animal and human, and leaves.

Tickencote, chancel arch, heads

Tickencote, chancel arch, heads and leaves
In the picture above, there's a green man at the bottom and what looks like a ram above.

Tickencote, chancel arch
In the picture above, top right there's a frog or toad.

Tickencote, chancel arch, heads and leaves
In the picture above, there's a bear wearing reins or a muzzle, and at the top what seems to be a face with a snake slithering out of the mouth.

Tickencote, chancel arch, capitals on the south
The font is of about 1200. The faces at the tops of the angles are very genial.

Tickencote, font

Tickencote, font
Behind the arch the chancel is genuine rather than revival Norman (though restored by Cockerell). It has a sexpartite vault, with heavily zigzagged ribs.

Tickencote, chancel
The east front seems to follow the original design, though the details are probably all restorations. It's a very pleasing design, quite unlike the west front. The upper window lights a now inaccessible priest's room over the chancel.

Tickencote, east front

Tickencote, south
High on the west front, in the bottom corners of the gable (where no medieval mason would ever have put them) are Cockerell's versions of Norman grotesque carvings. I think they're very successful, especially the one on the north (in the bottom picture).

Tickencote, west front, detail

Tickencote, west front, detail

Monday 26 October 2015

The Arden Shakespeares and the Brotherhood of Ruralists

Arden Shakespeares, 2nd series
The above picture shows a complete set of the Arden editions (2nd series) of Shakespeare's plays, arranged on my kitchen floor, in their First Folio sequence. (The narrative poems and Pericles weren't included in the Folio, but are of course included in Arden 2. Strangely, the sonnets weren't published by Arden until the 3rd series.) I bought some of them new in the 80s and 90s, but most of them I've collected secondhand in recent years, rarely paying more than a couple of pounds per volume.

The 1st series began with Hamlet in 1899, and took 25 years to complete. Arden 2 first appeared with Macbeth in 1951 and took 32 years to complete, this time finishing with Hamlet. I've collected Arden 2 because it's the best scholarly edition of Shakespeare (though the New Cambridge Shakespeare is hard on its heels, and Arden 3 will beat it when complete.) The lengthy introductions give plenty of space to deliciously nerdy details such as the early history of the texts and what relation they might have to what Shakespeare wrote, and the questions of dating. The text of the plays is clearly laid out (though I don't like the use of abbreviations for the names of the speakers, and the line numbers aren't separated by enough white space from the text, which is occasionally momentarily confusing).

The extensive notes to the text are one of the things that make Arden stand out. It's not uncommon for the notes to take up more space than the text they're commenting on. There might be examples of pages consisting of just one line of text followed by a whole page of notes, but after a quick flick through a few volumes the best example I can come up with is in Twelfth Night, where on page 107 two lines of text are followed by one line (in very small type) of textual history, and then the bulk of the page is notes (in small type). (A few of the plays, for example Hamlet and Richard III, have longer notes printed after the text to avoid swamping the play altogether.)

The texts are usually followed by appendices, often substantial, offering, for example, extensive extracts from Shakespeare's sources, or notes on (and sometimes musical notes too) the early settings of the songs. Altogether, you get an enormous amount of information in a compact, attractively presented package, though if you just want to read the plays unencumbered by editors' ruminations, the Arden editions aren't for you.

Arden 2 was originally issued as hardbacks in plain dustjackets:

Later they were issued as paperbacks. At first the paperbacks had plain, predominantly white covers:

Then they were issued with engravings from Bell's late 18th century edition of Shakespeare on the covers*:

At first the engravings had coloured borders, but later the edges were bled off (i.e. printed without borders):

An engraving as it originally appeared in Bell's edition
Later still, from about 1980, they were issued yet again, this time in specially commissioned covers by the artists of the Brotherhood of Ruralists. The Brotherhood of Ruralists was founded in 1975 (and still exists, with some change of personnel) by Ann Arnold, Graham Arnold, Peter Blake, Jann Haworth, David Inshaw, Annie Ovendon and Graham Ovendon. That's three married couples (Blake and Haworth were married), two men called Graham and two women called Ann or Annie; it must have got a bit confusing at times, and poor David Inshaw must have felt left out, being neither married to nor sharing a name with another member (he left the group in 1983). They took their inspiration from earlier artists inspired by the English landscape, especially Samuel Palmer, the Pre-Raphaelites and Stanley Spencer. Blake is probably the best known of them, mostly through having designed the sleeve of the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper in 1967, but Inshaw is perhaps the most interesting; his 'The Badminton Game' has deservedly found a foothold in the public consciousness.

David Inshaw - 'The Badminton Game'
While doing some background reading for this blog I found a university lecture on the subject of the Brotherhood's cover designs, but also plenty of animus directed at them. For example, here's a paragraph from a scholarly review of some of the first volumes of Arden 3:

If we are grateful for nothing else in the changes signalled by the arrival of Arden 3, we must give thanks for the fact that Routledge [the publishers] have finally banished the dreaded 'Brotherhood of Ruralists' and the artwork which they inflicted on the second Arden series. Their kitsch evocations of pastoral glories have, in the first three volumes [of Arden 3], been replaced by a set of fetching stylised modern covers.

'Second-rate Pre-Raphaelite whimsy' is another phase I've come across; 'twee' is a word that's cropped up more than once in my research.

In a review of a 2011 exhibition featuring, among other art, the Brotherhood's work (not the Arden cover designs) Tom Lubbock wrote in The Independent:

Like the hippies, though, they never had much sense of what they were up against. They thought it was enough to say "let's pretend", but they didn't see that their imagination of mystical, deep, England had already been fully colonised by commercial imagery. Their pristine visions of an unfallen world came straight from a pretty advert for soap or air-freshener.

They had their moments. There's always been a bit of neo-surreal hauntedness in David Inshaw's work, with its hard, long shadows falling across flat grass. . . . If I really wanted to put someone off the English countryside I'd do it with Ovendens and their emetic combination of lurid colour, featureless smoothness and air-brushed soft-focus.

Are the covers really as bad as these comments suggest? I'm not going to claim that they're masterpieces waiting to be rediscovered, or that none of them are failures, but on the whole I like them. I think that the author of the first review quoted above is objecting more to the name the Brotherhood of Ruralists than the covers themselves; the grammatically unnecessary quotation marks are what gives away his or her real motive. How many of the covers try to be 'evocations of pastoral glories'? (Whether they're kitsch or not is of course a matter of opinion.) Maybe eight or nine (out of 38), and that eight includes one of the best, Inshaw's Love's Labour's Lost, which seems to me to capture the perfectly poised artificiality of the play. (Incidentally, is this Shakespeare's most purely charming comedy?) It's true that Graham Ovenden's cover for A Midsummer Night's Dream tries and fails to out-Palmer Palmer, and Ann Ovenden's for As You Like It is just a bit dull. 

Arden Shakespeares, 2nd series, comedies
About half the covers consist of, or feature very prominently, a portrait or portraits. Some of these are I think quite good. Blake's Henry IV part 2 shows us the more introspective side of Falstaff (which surely he must have), Graham Ovenden's Pericles captures Marina's strength of character, Ann Ovenden's King John shows Arthur's (I assume) vulnerability, and Inshaw Juliet's innocence. On the other hand, Blake's Anthony and Cleopatra, depicting Cleopatra and Charmian with the dead Iras, is utterly lacking in any sense of drama or psychological insight, and his Othello is quite without nobility.

Arden Shakespeares, 2nd series, histories (and poems)
Some of the covers, such as Titus Andronicus, The Taming of the Shrew and The Comedy of Errors, refer back to Italian Renaissance paintings, a conceit that I think works. A Winter's Tale, in contrast, is brought up to date, which in itself is no bad thing, but seems out of place among the period costumes.

Arden Shakespeares, 2nd series, tragedies
Arden 3 is still incomplete; apparently the remaining volumes will appear before the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death in 2016, but at the moment the most up to date edition of, say, King John is the 2nd edition, which dates from as long ago as 1954. 

It's interesting to compare Arden 2 and 3. I'll use As You Like It as an example. The Arden 2 edition dates from 1975; the preliminaries and introduction occupy 95 pages, the text of the play 131, and the two appendices four. There are no illustrations or index. Arden 3 (2006), devotes 142 pages to preliminaries and introduction, including 22 full page illustrations, 246 pages to the text, and 100 pages to five appendices, bibliography and index. The font is a little bigger in the 3rd series, and the pages of the playtext less cluttered and easier to read; the characters' names are written in full in capitals (as opposed to the 2nd series which has abbreviations in lower case italics). 

Most importantly, Arden 3 can draw on several decades further scholarship. The introduction and notes to Arden 2 now seem dated in places. Naturally, those to Arden 3 will suffer the same fate eventually. (Apparently Arden 4 is already in the pipeline, and, as someone who remembers anxiously awaiting the appearance of the 2nd edition of Hamlet, this fact is one of an increasing number that makes me feel very old.) 

So Arden 2 has been largely superseded, but I think I'll hang on to my set, at least while my collection of Arden 3 is incomplete, and until shelf space becomes even more of a pressing concern in my house than it is at the moment. I'll keep them mostly because I'm familiar with them, but the Brotherhood of Ruralist covers play a part too. I've lived with some of them a long time, and, while they may not be great (or, in a few cases, even good) art, I'm fond of them.

The Arden Shakespeares are the best heavily annotated editions, but if you want minimal notes and the bonus of excellent covers then the New Penguin Shakespeare editions are for you. They ran from 1967 to 1987, with covers initially by David Gentleman (he designed 31) and later by Paul Hogarth (38); they've also been issued in different covers. 

Cover design by David Gentleman
Cover design by Paul Hogarth
You can find complete (or nearly complete) images of the New Penguin Shakespeares here and here.

* One of the claims to fame of the publisher John Bell (1745-1831) was that he discontinued the 'long s' (often mistaken for an f) in the books he produced, starting a trend and thus making reading easier for future generations.

Ben Jonson's introductory poem to the First Folio shows the use of the long s: it was used where we'd now have a lower case s, except at the end of words. Thus in the first line what we'd now write as 'seest' looks like 'feeft' (though the f and the long s are similar, not identical; modern keyboards obviously don't allow for the latter).

Monday 5 October 2015

Wallington church, Herts: graffiti and George Orwell

Wallington church doesn't sound particularly interesting when you read about it in guidebooks; for example, Pevsner has it done and dusted, building, contents and all in just sixteen lines (only one more than he deems necessary for describing the Waltham Cross Shopping Pavilion of 1968-73 on the next page). Yet a visit proves it to be greatly appealing. It's true that architecturally it's pretty run-of-the-mill and contains little worth going out of your way to see, but it has an atmosphere that many better endowed churches lack.

The church is all of the 15th century (except the chancel, which is of 1864). (What was the purpose of the diminutive nave window right of centre in the picture above? Did it light a nave altar?) On the north side are a number of small original grotesque carvings.

The second one pictured here is especially lively, as it twists round to stare uncompromisingly at the onlooker. It's sometimes said that carvings like these (they're often called gargoyles, but a gargoyle is a carved waterspout) are found exclusively on the north, sunless sides of churches, their job being to ward off the evil that was believed to assault the church from that direction. It's true that there are no grotesque carvings on the south side at Wallington, but there are at very many other churches, so this theory is false; the theory reveals more about us and our desire to see medieval people as ignorant and superstitious than it does about them.

The interior of the church is full of light and a vivid sense of the past. Most of the benches are as old as the building, and although they're very plain - as plain as the ordinary people, as ordinary as you and me, who've come and gone over the unfolding years - to sit in them is a charged experience. You're sitting where people have sat for more than five centuries. Here they've cooed over babies at baptisms, made merry at weddings, been inspired by or yawned at sermons, and mourned at funerals. They're all around you as you sit there now.

In the north chapel there's a tomb chest, again coeval with the building. The heraldry features three pickaxes, and over the tomb there are some fragments of stained glass with the same device. These are the arms of Sir John Prysot, who died c.1450; the prominent position of the tomb probably means that he paid for the building of the church.

There are some attractive ledgerstones on the floor; this one features four boars' heads and three scallop shells.

The Victorian chancel has an exceedingly nasty spotty grey marble floor (a great contrast to the plain tiles of most of the church), but the east window of 1867, (its maker unrecorded), although not a completely successful design, has some exotic flora in the outer lights.

Under the tower there's this graffiti of a knight with raised sword:

Although the drawing is very simple, even crude, it's vigorous. And in the porch there's another graffiti (rather harder to 'read') of a hobby horse:

Both are impossible to date (except of course they can't be older than the church itself), but the supposition is that they illustrate a mummers' play. This is as good a guess as any.

Returning to the outside of the church, looking at the tower makes me reflect that towers badly need battlements, or pinnacles, or a Hertfordshire spike, to top them off and prevent their meeting with the sky being too abrupt*. The completely flat top is very unbecoming. The stonework of the upper storey windows on the east and north sides has recently been renewed, and the label stops carved as curious heads, in the best traditions of Gothic masons. As far as I know, there's no information in the church or its guidebook about the heads or their inspiration, which is a shame; I like them very much. The one on the right in the top picture seems to be wearing a crown.

The church has always been open whenever I've visited, and I get the impression that it's much-loved and that its custodians take pride and pleasure in presenting it. There's currently a small exhibition at the west end of the aisle about the church's history, and in particular its connection with George Orwell. 

Orwell (real name - though I've never been sure why a name given to us by our parents is any more real than one we choose ourselves - Eric Blair) first moved to Wallington in 1936. The house he lived in looks very attractive now, but then it had a corrugated iron roof, an outside toilet and flooded when it rained, (but the rent was only 7/6 a week).

He was married in the church in June 36; photocopies of his marriage certificate are sold there. 

He wrote a letter to an old schoolfriend on the morning of his wedding saying that he was 'writing this with one eye on the clock & the other on the Prayer Book, which I have been studying for some days past in the hopes of steeling myself against the obscenities of the wedding service.' I think the chancel floor on which he stood as he said his vows is far more obscene.

It must have been in Wallington that he witnessed a large cart horse being shooed along a lane by a small boy, and saw a parallel between this and the working classes being controlled by their bosses. When he later came to write Animal Farm he used Wallington (changing the name slightly to Willingdon) as the setting, and in particular the barn in which Old Major addresses the animals at the beginning of the book. 

If the farm to which the barn belongs had been called anything other than Manor Farm then it's likely that he would have called it Manor Farm in the book anyway, as this name perfectly suits the feudal atmosphere before the rebellion. But the farm really was and is called Manor Farm.

Orwell wrote much his best pre-war novel, Coming up for Air, in 1938-9 when he was in Morocco for his health. It's often said that in this novel he draws on his childhood memories of the countryside around Henley-on-Thames, but I've never heard anyone mention the possibility that the countryside around Wallington, much fresher in his mind, must also have had an influence. 

A late Victorian well built around a spring, now rather neglected.

* Apparently there was once a stair turret, which must have helped a little.