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

Wednesday 28 June 2017

For once, clear, not stained glass, at Stanford Dingley church, Berks

Any regular readers this blog might have cannot be unaware of my fondness for stained glass. However, during a recent visit to Stanford Dingley, Berks, I was for once glad to find clear rather than stained glass.

The brick chancel was added to the medieval church in 1768. The large east window may once have been filled with stained glass - it's the kind of space Victorian donors often found impossible to resist - but now contains only latticed, elegantly leaded translucence. Observe the little volutes at the head of the inner arch, and the patterns made by the radiating leads as they intersect with the diamonds of the latticing. 

But best of all is the view through the window, which is dominated by an august tree*, flaunting its foliage against a blue sky on the day of my visit, a heart-lifting sight. It is only happenstance that the tree is framed so perfectly, as its roots are by no means central to the window, being instead some way to the north. The tree, however, as if eager to be admired by worshippers, has grown with a marked lean and a wriggle to the south so as to fill the composition, creating a near-perfect left-to-right pictorial rhythm. As much as I love stained glass, I'm very happy to have this living image rather than yet another average Victorian Crucifixion.

The chapel of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, similarly utilises a tree seen through clear glass as a focus for contemplation, though there the effect was presumably planned rather than a lucky chance.

Outside, the same tree is reflected in the mirror-like window. 

The south doorway is very heavily restored, but the door itself, including the ironwork,  has been more or less unchanged since the 13th century.

There are some 14th century encaustic bricks (not tiles) set into the chancel arch. (As Pevsner says: why?)

The south aisle has a memorial window to the writer on plants and gardens, Robert Gathorne-Hardy (1902-73); this isn't stained glass either, but engraved (by Madeleine Dinkel). 

The weatherboarded bell turret is essentially 15th century. 

By the path leading up to the church is a sundial resembling the headstone of a grave. I can't find any information about it; I'd guess that it's measured the days since the 17th century. Long may it do so, and long may Stanford Dingley's tree flourish.

* I'm ashamed to say that I can't tell you what sort of tree it is. Every now and then I resolve to learn to name the different varieties of trees, but I've never got much beyond oak and birch. So, although I can tell a label stop from a lancet, and indeed a hawk from a handsaw, distinguishing between a larch and a lime is beyond me. However, Professor Wikipedia refers to sweet chestnuts in the churchyard; Betjeman and Piper's Murray's Architectural Guide: Berkshire calls them Spanish chestnuts. Take your pick.