22 May 2022

Saint James’s, a Gothic
Revival church by GE
Street in New Bradwell

Saint James’s Church was built in New Bradwell in 1857-1860 to meet the needs of the railway workers (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

In recent days, two of us visited New Bradwell on the northern edges of Milton Keynes to see both Bradwell Mill and Saint James’s Church on Saint James’s Street. Unlike many of the villages surrounding Milton Keynes, New Bradwell is of relatively recent date, begun in 1852 to provide housing for workers at the railway works founded at nearby at Wolverton in 1838.

This church came into existence because of the coming of the railway. In 1838, the London and Birmingham Railway Co established works at Wolverton that built locomotives and carriages.

As production and population rose, New Bradwell was developed from 1852 and Saint James’s Church was built on the east side of Saint James’s Street in New Bradwell to meet the spiritual needs of the railway workers.

This is a Grade II* church built in 1857-1860 to designs by George Edmund Street (1824-1881), with a north aisle added in 1897 to Street’s design. It cost £4,430 of which £2,560 came from the LNWR shareholders.

Saint James’s Church is built of limestone rubble and ashlar, with limestone dressings, and has a timber, painted bell-turret. The roof slates are mostly laid with shaped slates in diagonal patterns. There are red crested ridge tiles on the chancel and the south aisle.

The church includes an aisled nave, lower chancel, north and south aisles, a south porch, a south chancel aisle, a north vestry and the base of the planned north-west tower. The chancel has a south chapel and a timber north vestry. The west bay of the north aisle forms the base of the north-west tower. This tower, which was never completed in ashlar, rises to a height of about 7 metres and is topped by a timber turret with a spire, intended to be temporary.

The exterior of the church is incomplete since the projected tower only rises some seven metres above the ground. It carries a temporary, painted wooden turret added in 1883. The semi-circular projection on the west face shows that Street intended a strong, muscular treatment, as applied to the rest of the building. Such qualities are to be seen in the west wall of the nave which has a powerfully designed three-light window with narrow cusped lights and a vigorous punched tracery in the head – a bold trefoil set within three tiny trefoil openings.

The clerestory is in a similar vein with circular quatrefoils immediately below the nave eaves. The south aisle windows are varied but continue to have strong detail.

The east window has five lights and three cusped circles in the head. The aisles are under lean-to roofs, whereas the south chancel aisle has its own gabled roof. The south porch is striking with a tall roof that sweeps down low, and compressed shafts carrying the outer moulded arch.

The arcades are of four bays on the south and three bays on the north, plus an arch into the tower base. Their piers are quatrefoil with fillets between the lobes, the arches are double-chamfered without a hood while the capitals have vigorous stiff-leaf decoration. To the clerestory windows there are marble shafts and further foliage capitals.

A further arcade, of two bays, is located between the chancel and its south aisle. Here the arches have large cusps which die into the responds and central pier. The latter in turn has a high base and a stubby paired marble shaft beneath a foliate capital.

The chancel arch has marble shafts to the responds. Over the nave is a tie-beam roof with a crown-post to a longitudinal runner. The aisles have lean-to roofs while the chancel has a keeled one. The walls of the church are of bare stone except for the chancel and its aisle which have been whitened. The flooring is modern composition stone.

The seating, which has been reduced in extent since the 19th century, has shaped ends, and the stalls have been cleared from the chancel. The pulpit is circular, as is often the case with Street, and has 13th century arcading round it.

Similarly the font, now relocated to the east end is circular with more 13th century arcading. There is a large organ in the south-east nave arcade arch.

The north aisle has exceptional glass by Gerald Moira, probably made by Lowndes and Drury: it has vibrant colouration and a style influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement and Expressionism. The East Window is by Christopher Webb (1950) and the west window is by Harry Stammers (1964).

The oldest feature of the church, however, is the reused Norman arch at the west end. When the roof of the abandoned Church of Saint Peter, Stantonbury, collapsed in 1952, and the 12th century chancel arch was removed to preserve it. It was installed in Saint James’s Church in 1963 as an interior surround to the 19th century west doorway.

This spectacular arch is a highlight of Romanesque Buckinghamshire. The Victoria County History (1927) describes it in situ at Stantonbury as ‘small chancel arch’ and ‘a beautiful and fairly well preserved example of Norman work of about 1150.’

The architectural historian Sir Niklaus Pevsner, writing in 1960, noted only that the Norman chancel arch had been removed from Stantonbury, but it had not been installed in New Bradwell at that date. The arch has been described as impressive.

The beakhead ornament and confronted lion capitals point to a distant connection with Reading Abbey. Locally beakhead and chevron are found in combination at Twyford on the south doorway which also has a capital with confronted fighting beasts.

This arch has two orders of shafts with lots of beading in the varied ornament: it has birds and beasts in the capitals. In the head is an outer order of chevron and an inner one of beakhead decoration.

To the south of Saint James’s Church, a school and church hall by Street form part of a complex with the church.

The architect George Edmund Street (1824-1881) was one of the greatest figures of 19th century architecture. Although born and educated in London, he was articled to the Winchester architect Owen Carter from 1841. He then spent time in the office of George Gilbert Scott from 1844 before commencing practice in Wantage in 1848.

Growing success led to a move to London in 1856 and a career which saw him become one of the leaders of the Gothic Revival. As at Saint James’s Church in New Bradwell, much of his work is characterised by a strong, muscular quality which was much admired from the 1850s and early 1860s.

His most ambitious work is the Royal Courts of Justice in London for which he gained the commission in 1868. He designed the nave of Bristol Cathedral, Saint Margaret’s Convent, East Grinstead, and the theological college at Cuddesdon. His other churches include All Saints’s Church and Saint Paul’s Within the Walls, the two Anglican churches in Rome, and the American Episcopal Church, the American Cathedral in Paris, completed posthumously by Arthur E Street in 1886.

Street’s works in Ireland include the restoration of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (1871-1878), Saint Brigid’s Cathedral, Kildare (1871-1896), Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (1876-1877), Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe (1876), and Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny (1877-1879); and Saint John’s Church, Ardamine, Co Wexford (1860-1862).

Street was the diocesan architect for Oxford, York Winchester and Ripon. He died on 18 December 1881. His fame and status is reflected in the fact that, like his former master, Scott, he is buried in Westminster Abbey.

GE Street’s tower was never completed and is topped by a timber turret with a spire, intended to be temporary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
22 May 2022 (Psalm 88)

‘O Lord, God of my salvation, when, at night, I cry out in your presence’ (Psalm 88: 1) … inside the former church in the underground city of Derinkuyu or Anakou in Cappadocia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is Sixth Sunday of Easter (22 May 2022) and Rogation Sunday. Later this morning I hope to attend the Parish Eucharist in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford.

But, before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections in this season of Easter, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 88:

Psalm 88 is found in Book III in the Book of Psalms, which includes Psalms 73 to 89. In the slightly different numbering scheme in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is psalm is numbered as Psalm 87.

Psalm 88 is one in a group of psalms at the end of Book III within the 150 psalms, from Psalm 84 to Psalm 89. These psalms attempt to provide hope to the exilic Israelite community. But, despite their celebration of the historic traditions of the Jewish people, they remind the reader that these elements no longer provide the hope they once did.

Four psalms of this group – Psalms 84, 85, 87 and 88 – are attributed to the Korahites, who are described as the doorkeepers of the tabernacle in the Book of Chronicles.

Psalm 88 is a prayer for mercy and deliverance. According to Professor Martin Marty of the University of Chicago, Psalm 88 is ‘a wintry landscape of unrelieved bleakness.’ In Hebrew, the last word of the psalm is ‘darkness.’

Psalm 88 ends by saying:

You have caused friend and neighbour to shun me;
my companions are in darkness
(verse 18)

It is often assumed that the Psalm is a sick Psalm. The disease that has laid low the psalmist could have been leprosy or some other unclean illness. Other commentators see a more general calamity rather than a specific disease.

This psalm stands alone among all the Psalms for the unrelieved gloom and the hopeless sorrow of its tone. Even the very saddest of the others, and the Lamentations themselves, admit some variations of key, some strains of hopefulness. Here all is darkness to the very last verse, the very final word.

‘I am counted among those who go down to the Pit’ (Psalm 88: 4) … an ancient well in the underground city of Derinkuyu or Anakou in Cappadocia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 88 (NRSVA):

A Song. A Psalm of the Korahites. To the leader: according to Mahalath Leannoth. A Maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.

1 O Lord, God of my salvation,
when, at night, I cry out in your presence,
2 let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry.

3 For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;
I am like those who have no help,
5 like those forsaken among the dead,
like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand.
6 You have put me in the depths of the Pit,
in the regions dark and deep.
7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
and you overwhelm me with all your waves.

8 You have caused my companions to shun me;
you have made me a thing of horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
9 my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call on you, O Lord;
I spread out my hands to you.
10 Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the shades rise up to praise you?
11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?

13 But I, O Lord, cry out to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 O Lord, why do you cast me off?
Why do you hide your face from me?
15 Wretched and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer your terrors; I am desperate.
16 Your wrath has swept over me;
your dread assaults destroy me.
17 They surround me like a flood all day long;
from all sides they close in on me.
18 You have caused friend and neighbour to shun me;
my companions are in darkness.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Mission in Australia.’ It is introduced this morning by Peter Burke, Manager at Mission and Anglican Community Engagement AnglicareSA, who writes:

‘My engagement in God’s Mission emanates from a sense of being loved by God, being a disciple of Jesus Christ, and recognising the gifts of the Holy Spirit in my life.

‘I seek to discern God’s Mission each day God gives me, through various involvements in church and community.

‘This includes Parish involvement in Mission Action Planning in hospitality, pastoral care, liturgy and learning, communications, and partnerships.

‘Through AnglicareSA, I support a small team of people who connect its many community services, aged care, and housing services with the Anglican Community with the care and justice ministries of the church.

‘Through the Anglican Board of Mission, I collaborate with others locally and nationally to support global mission, being mindful to learn from the missional experience of others globally to engage in mission locally.

‘Mission is an act of unity in diversity. It seeks to bring together things separated, disconnected or in conflict, where life in all its fullness is diminished.

‘Mission is an act of community. It involves watching and waiting with others as well as being active; to see what God is doing, to follow where God leads, and reconnect with God’s unconditional love.

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (22 May 2022, Easter VI) invites us to pray:

Almighty God,
may we be united in our diversity.
Help us to follow your calling
and to encourage others to do the same.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org