St Martin's Church The Later Years - Penny Correspondence

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Description of the Restoration in the Ecclesiologist

This fine church has just been restored by Mr. Butterfield, with taste and judgment. The plan comprises a narrow chancel, with aisles not extending to the extreme east end ; nave, with lean-to aisles, and clerestory ; western tower, and south porch. The nave is First-Pointed, with massive square piers, and a clerestory of later date, surmounted by a fine high roof. This portion of the church, with its aisles, has been fitted with open seats, which, though not inconvenient, are not treated satisfactorily. There is, we regret to say, a prayer-desk outside the chancel, on the south side. The pulpit, on the north, is of wood on a stone base. We were unable to admire it. The chancel has longitudinal benches, and subsellae without desks, not more successfully treated than the rest of the woodwork. It is fair to remark, however, that these fittings have the appearance of altbeing of less recent date than the restorations just completed. The sanctuary has received some tile decorations, both on its walls and floor. A double piscina and a single sedile, singular for their round arches, though of fully developed First-Pointed date, have been well restored. The tracery of the new east window of three lights struck us as rather heavy. Some good painted glass would give great richness to the east end. The chancel is separated from its aisles by stone parcloses—not particularly elegant—and from the nave by a low stone screen, with simple iron gates. The aisle windows, of early Middle-Pointed date, are glazed with flower quarries. Outside, the masonry has been remarkably well pointed; and a lychgate, (most vigorously and effectively treated) erected at the eastern approach to the churchyard. We congratulate the energetic Incumbent on this successful restoration of his fine church : and we trust that the services may be worthy of it, both in beauty and frequency.

Response of Reverend Penny

Sir,—In reading the December number of the Ecclesiologist, I have been struck with a notice of the restoration of Great Mongeham church.

In a publication intended to influence the public taste and judgment in questions of ecclesiology, it is due, I think, to your readers, that an anonymous critic, before he speaks with authority in a tone of depreciation, should prove his ability for the task he undertakes by something more than a vague description of the churches brought under notice, and certainly by the correctness of his facts. We have no other security in the case of anonymous writers—no other means of knowing what importance we may attach to their judgments in questions of taste.

In the remarks that I venture to make, by way of comment on the notice of your correspondent, it is not my intention to enter into any question of taste, but simply to put you and your readers in possession of facts, which seem to me to appeal to the judgment of any qualified ecclesiologist. And this I the more desire to do, inasmuch as I cannot think that your correspondent has duly appreciated the older parts of a church, which, on account of its severe simplicity of style, is very far from commonplace.

" The nave " is described as " First-Pointed." It would be more correct to say, that all the old parts of the church and chancel, and also the chapels, are First-Pointed : the tower being Perpendicular. Again, " the aisle windows" are described as "of early Middle-Pointed date." They are, in fact, simple lancets. " A double piscina and a single sedile " are referred to as " singular for their round arches." So far from this being the case, there are two sedilia, each round-headed, and a large trefoil-headed piscina with a double basin. The parts of the fabric which are designated " chancel-aisles," should certainly have been called, from their peculiar construction, chapels. They are distinctly gabled, and nearly of the same height as the chancel itself, and communicate with the " lean-to aisles" of the nave by two moderate- sized arches. In order to make the impropriety of the term " aisle " fully apparent, they ought to be seen by ecclesiologists more observant than your correspondent. The stone parcloses which separate the chancel from the chapels, and which are described as " not particularly elegant," are a careful attempt at restoration of some very singular remains, of which the upper string, extending entirely round the chancel, as well as the mouldings and form of doorway were found in an almost perfect state. The nave-piers I cannot think are well described as being " massive square piers." Their dimensions are 4 feet in length by 1 foot 11 inches in thickness ; and Mr. Butterfield has often described these very arcades to me, and apparently with good reason, as being neither more nor less than pierced walls. It is the term, as it appears to me, which any well-informed ecclesiologist would apply to them, for they are treated in every respect like the responds at the east and west ends of the church; and the mouldings, as well of the bases as of the capitals, are not continued throughout, but stop, at least 2 ft. short of meeting, on each side of the piers, just as on the responds : thus seeming to recognise the intervening space as simple wall.

Having thus attempted to give you a correct description of the older parts of the church, let me add that the porch and south aisle are new; the latter having been built on the site of an aisle, which had either fallen or been taken down at some former period. Of its previous existence, however, no records remained, except the south arcade of the nave, the arch communicating with the south chapel, and a single lancet window in ruin at the west end: all of which were found carefully filled in with brick and faced with flint, the materials probably of the original south wall of the aisle. This western wall of the aisle, with its stopped lancet window (which, I ought to mention, was the authority for this portion of the restoration,) had been used as one wall of a porch, built against the westernmost bay of the nave, and finished with brick in the Domestic style of the age of James I. The north aisle has also been rebuilt. Before the restoration of the other parts of the church it existed as an aisle, but of a very debased character, and out of all proportion with the nave ; its roof being a continuation of the roof of the nave externally, (cieled flat internally,) and thus concealing and blocking up the north clerestory windows, which were found in a perfect state when unstopped. In addition to these extensive restorations, the entire church, chancel, and south chapel, have all been re-roofed : the north chapel—the property of a non-resident lay person—being the only part of this " fine church " which now remains in a state of dilapidation.

These, sir, are the simple facts, which might easily have been ascertained from any person in the parish. But, judging from the tone and character of the notice, I can come to no other conclusion than that the visit of your correspondent—whose remarks are, notwithstanding, invested with editorial authority—must have been hurried, and his observation very superficial.

Apologising for the length of my letter,

I remain, sir, your obedient servant,

Edward Penny, Rector.

Great Mongeham Rectory, near Deal; Jan. 3rd, 1855.

Reply in the Ecclesiologist

Mr. Penny is most unreasonably dissatisfied with our favourable criticism of the restoration of his church, in our last number. He impeaches the accuracy of our facts and disputes our qualifications for the task of reviewing his church. Whether he has sufficient grounds for the grave accusations conveyed in his letter, we leave our readers to judge. First, Mr. Penny must allow us to say, that we do not pretend, in noticing church restorations, to give, invariably, a detailed account of the whole church under review. We quite agree with Mr. Penny that his church is "very far from commonplace"; nor is a contrary opinion indicated by the brevity of our description. About the date of the various portions of his church, we shall not quarrel with Mr. Penny.

Probably what we should include in the term " Early Middle-Pointed," he would prefer to designate " Late First Pointed." This is quite a matter of indifference, as is also Mr. Penny's next charge,—to which, however, we must plead guilty—that we spoke of a single round- headed sedile instead of two "sedilia" with round arches. A practical ecclesiologist will know how easy it is to make insufficient notes on visiting a church, and how still more easy it is sometimes to misinterpret one's notes. Our correspondent, on the other hand, proves our correctness in talking of a "double piscina," in himself informing us that it has a "double basin." Must we explain to him that this is the accredited meaning of our phrase ? The head is not of the essence of a piscina. Mr. Penny blames us severely for calling the structures on either side of the chancel, "aisles." His argument, no doubt, proves what we certainly never gainsaid, that these aisles are, in fact, chapels. They are so; yet are they none the less aisles. Chancel-aisles they are, as touching their position : chapels, with reference to their (original) use. Did our correspondent ever see a chancel-aisle of the date of the Great Mongeham examples, that was not a chapel ? If the stone parcloses are a faithful " restoration of some very singular remains," they are certainly remarkable, and, we may add, commendable ; but that does not make them elegant. Mr. Penny complains of our describing the nave as having massive square piers. His measurements, and his architect's opinion, show, doubtless, that the nave-arcades are " neither more nor less than pierced walls," these piers (which, from their dimensions, ought perhaps to be culled rectangular, rather than square,) being simply spaces of wall. Very well; this is just what we meant to express by the term " pier." At page xl. of the Appendix to the " Hand-Book of Ecclesiology," S. , Great Mongeham is enumerated among the many Kentish churches, noticeable for having " square piers without capitals, or only imposts and arches without mouldings." The Glossary of Architecture will teach Mr. Penny the true meaning of the word " pier." We need not follow our correspondent through the details he gives of the very creditable and munificent restoration he has undertaken and completed. To his reiterated complaints of the injustice done to his church through what he is pleased to call, our " hurried and superficial" observation, we can only reply, as before, that we did not intend our notice to be taken as a description of the whole church, but only as a criticism of such parts of it, as, having been recently restored, seemed to us to call for remark. We regret that we failed to convey the impression we desired, viz., that the restoration, as a whole, is a very successful one. We assure Mr. Penny that there was no intention to assume " a tone of depreciation," in speaking of a work which, we sincerely hope and trust, will act as an example of care and reverence for the Church and (may we add ?) her offices of prayer and praise, throughout the diocese of Canterbury.

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