Saturday, 27 June 2015
Christ Church, a Gothic Revival
church in Leamonsley, Lichfield
After visiting Davidson House on Upper John Street and writing about its distressed state and about the work of its eminent former resident, the Lichfield architect Thomas Johnson, I decided to visit one of Johnson’s finest works in Lichfield.
Christ Church was built in 1846 in Christchurch Lane in Leamonsley, just off Walsall Road in the south-west corner of Lichfield. It serves a parish that includes the areas around Leamonsley, Sandfields and Lower Sandford Street.
The church was photographed extensively and described beautifully in January 2013 by the Lichfield blogger and local historian Kate Gomez. I was interested in visiting it this week because of its connections with Thomas Johnson and another great Gothic revival architect, George Frederick Bodley, its Hardman and Kempe windows and its interior decorations. They bring together a truly delight expression of the late period of Gothic Revival architecture and art in Staffordshire.
My visit was arranged by the Revd Janet Waterfield, and I was shown around the church by the verger, Margaret Beddoe.
Christ Church is a fine example of the Decorated Gothic revival style of the 19th century. The church is a Grade II* listed building. On the ceiling of the chancel are some unique Pre-Raphaelite canvas panels painted by John Dickson Batten.
A growing population in the west of Lichfield created the need for a new church in the area. Building work on Christ Church began in 1844 and it was completed by 1847, making it the first new parish church in Lichfield since mediaeval times.
The ¾ acre site for the church was a gift in 1844 from Richard Hinckley, a Lichfield solicitor and the owner of Beacon Place and its surrounding estate grounds. The site was about 500 metres south of Beacon Place at the edge of the grounds of the Hinckley estate and could be seen by the Hinckleys from their home.
The church was built in the corner of the park surrounding Beacon House. Because the church had no parish, a new parish was created by annexing parts of the parishes of Saint Michael and Saint Chad.
The church was built and endowed by the generosity of Richard Hinckley’s wife, Ellen Jane Hinckley, the daughter of John Chappel Woodhouse (1780-1815), Dean of Lichfield (1807-1833). She was a niece of the Lichfield hymn-writer, Frederick Oakeley (1802-1880), best known as the translator of ‘O come, all ye faithful.’
Ellen had suffered tragic family losses. Her first husband was Canon William Robinson, and they had two daughters, Ellen-Jane and Marianne, who died in their childhood in 1813 and 1814. These two children are the subject of the memorial in Lichfield Cathedral carved by Sir Francis Chantry and known as ‘The Sleeping Children.’
Canon Robinson died in 1812 while he was still in his 30s. In 1817 in Lichfield Cathedral, Ellen married her second husband, Hugh Dyke Acland (1791-1834). But she was widowed a second time when he died in 1834. A year later, in 1835 she married her third husband, Richard Hinckley. In 1837, they moved into Beacon Place, and soon after donated a corner of their estate for building a new church.
Christ Church was built of sandstone quarried in Lichfield and was designed by the Lichfield architect, Thomas Johnson, who lived in 67 Upper John Street, later known as Davidson House.
The church was built with local red sandstone in a decorated Gothic revival style under the design of Thomas Johnson of Lichfield. When the church was completed in 1847, it consisted of a chancel, nave and west tower with a bell cast in 1845 by CG Mears of London. The tiles are by Herbert Minton, whose firm also worked closely with AWN Pugin and donated tiles to about 40 or 50 churches and vicarages throughout the Diocese of Lichfield.
The church was consecrated on 26 October 1847 by the Bishop of Lichfield, the Right Revd John Lonsdale. The first incumbent was Canon Thomas Alfred Bangham (1819-1876). He been ordained priest only a few months earlier in May 1847, but he stayed at Christ Church until his death.
Over the decades, the church has been richly endowed with many treasures and more practical items such as a modern heating system due to the generosity of a number of local benefactors.
The north and south chancel windows, transept east window and nave south window date from the 1870s and 1880s and were designed by Hardman & Co, the Birmingham firm founded by John Hardman (1811-1867) of Handsworth, who worked closely with AWN Pugin.
The church was enlarged to designs by Matthew Holding of Northampton in 1887, when the north and south transepts and bays were added. The north extension consisted of a Lady Chapel and the south extension provided the church with an organ chamber and vestry. The extensions were partly funded by Samuel Lipscombe Seckham, who had bought Beacon House from the Hinckley family in 1881, and partly by public subscription.
Samuel Lipscomb Seckham (1827-1901) was a prosperous architect, developer, magistrate and brewer. He was employed by Saint John’s College, Oxford, to develop parts of North Oxford, including Park Town, Walton Manor and Norham Manor. From 1877 to 1883, he owned Bletchley Park, later known as the location for the code-breakers in World War II. In 1889, he bought Whittington Old Hall, a 16th-century country house outside Lichfield.
The chancel screen in Christ Church was presented by Seckham’s wife, Kinbarra Sweene (nee Smith), in 1888, but this has since been removed to the former choir gallery.
In 1897, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the church, the vicar and churchwardens commissioned the decoration of the chancel ceiling and walls by John Dickson Batten (1860-1932). Batten is better known as an illustrator, and his work for Joseph Jacob’s various editions of fairy tales in the 1890s display his magnificent talent for design and creativity.
Batten painted his canvases for Christ Church in the Pre-Raphaelite style, depicting Old Testament figures with symbols of the Passion and the Eucharist. In these canvasses Batten represents the Biblical figures pointing to Christ as the promised and hoped for Messiah and the Eucharist as the Christian’s means of union with him.
The paintings on the north side of the sanctuary represent (viewed from left to right):
● Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden;
● Noah, with the rainbow, the sign of God’s promise and blessing;
● the Archangel Gabriel guarding the gates of Paradise until Paradise should be regained by Christ;
● Abraham with Jacob, with Jacob’s vision of a ladder between Heaven and Earth;
● Moses, the leader and lawgiver, with Aaron, the High Priest who offers sacrifice to God.
The paintings on the south side of the sanctuary represent (viewed from left to right):
● Joshua leading God’s army into the Promised Land;
● David, the king and psalmist from whose royal house the Messiah would come;
● Solomon, the builder of the Temple in Jerusalem;
● Elijah, the prophet of God’s judgment, with Isaiah, speaking of comfort;
● the Archangel Gabriel, with Saint John the Baptist, calling the Virgin Mary to be the mother of Christ.
The original watercolours used by Batten as cartoons for his work on the ceiling paintings were discovered in the tower of Christ Church in the early 1980s. At first, it was thought they were the work of the Birmingham stained-glass artist Florence Camm (1874-1916). But this was disputed while the watercolours were being restored at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Art historians and the BMAG and the Victoria Albert Museum now agree that they are the work of Batten.
The Tractarian artist, Charles Eamer Kempe (1837-1907), designed the glass for the north transept west window in 1894. Kempe, who studied architecture under George Frederick Bodley, also designed the colourful triptych that forms the reredos of the altar in the Lady Chapel in Lichfield Cathedral.
The reredos and marble sanctuary floor were presented to Christ Church in 1906 by Thomas Cox, a churchwarden, and his daughters in memory of Sarah Cox, wife and mother.
The sanctuary refurbishings were designed by George Frederick Bodley (1827-1907), and were built by Robert Bridgeman and Son of Quonian’s Lane, Lichfield.
Bodley was a lifelong friend of Kempe, and he was the first major patron of William Morris’s stained glass. He is closely associated with the Gothic Revival and High Anglican aesthetics, and his biographer Michael Hall argues he “fundamentally shaped the architecture, art, and design of the Anglican Church throughout England and the world” (George Frederick Bodley and the Later Gothic Revival in Britain and America, Yale University Press, 2012). The Church Historian, Owen Chadwick, says Kempe’s work represents “the Victorian zenith” of church decoration and stained glass windows.
Bodley’s other works in the Diocese of Lichfield include the Church of the Holy Angels, Hoar Cross (1871-1872), the Mission Church in Hadley End (1901) and Saint Chad’s Church, Burton-on-Trent (1903-1910).
Other churches designed by Bodley include All Saints’ Church on Jesus Lane, Cambridge, close to Westcott House and Sidney Sussex College; and the Chapel of Queens’ College, Cambridge. He also designed the statue of a sailor from HMS Powerful, carved by Bridgeman, on the wall of Lichfield’s former museum and library, now the city Register Office, at Beacon Park.
The clock on the tower of Christ Church was installed in 1913 was presented by the Burton brewer by Albert Octavius Worthington of Maple Hayes in memory of his wife Sarah. He was the vicar's warden in Christ Church, and after he died on Ascension Day 1918 the east window was installed by his children in his memory in 1920.
The churchyard was enlarged twice, in 1895 and again in 1929. Three tombs of the Hinckley and Acland families at the rear of the church also have Grade II listing as monuments.
Today, Christ Church stands serenely in a beautiful and peaceful churchyard. It has a very village-like feeling to it in this quiet corner of Lichfield. The church is an active parish church with regular Sunday services at 8 am, 9.45 am and 6 pm, with weekday services at 7.30 am.
After visiting Christ Church, I strolled for a little while through the woods behind the church, and then crossed the Western Bypass and into Beacon park, where I strolled through the former estate of the Hinckley family, before making my way into the Cathedral Close and the mid-day Eucharist in Lichfield Cathedral.
● Kate Gomez, who blogs regularly about Christ Church and the Leomansley area, points out that on the weekend of 4 and 5 July, Christ Church is combining an Open Gardens event with an exploration of the social history of the area. The organisers, the Friends of Christ Church, have studied census records, deeds and maps, and collected oral histories to produce a guide to houses and gardens in the area. Admission to the gardens is between 2 pm and 6 pm on both days, and programmes will be available from Christ Church, with refreshments at 19 Christchurch Lane.