St Michael Barton: an architect’s view

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It was a warm July evening. Prince Charles had married Princess Diana the day before, as I made my first visit to Barton Church. Entering through the beautifully carved Lychgate, I was immediately taken by the elevated position of the church on a mound, enclosed by what appeared to be an historic circular boundary wall.

The building stands comfortably – approached by a line of mature trees in an immaculate low-key churchyard, and I sensed overtures of history as I approached the seventeenth century porch.

The dominant feature, the tower, is reminiscent of the local pele towers built to provide defence during the border raids. The immediate impression is of a uniquely beautiful combination of Norman, Medieval and Renaissance styles, and it was this that spoke to me, it was love at first sight.

Crossing the threshold I was aware of a building fortified by prayer for over a thousand years, a structure largely unchanged since 1330 and in that sense, unique.

It was a low evening sun, as I entered, and the glorious West Window was filled with colour. St Michael the Archangel is centre stage, clothed in warm 20thcentury colours, this seemed curiously appropriate. Like all visitors I was intrigued by the double rounded arch supporting the mass of the tower, a structural conjuring trick, that beggars belief, which adds real drama to the Nave.

When Sockbridge Hall Farm was re-roofed in 1703, 32 cartloads of slate were left over surplus, and donated to Barton Church to replace the original thatch. Two hundred years later, the fine oak barrel vaulting to the Nave and Chancel finished the interior restoration as we see it today.

Among my favourite features of the interior is the stone carved head representing Edward I, a vague smile on his face, as he faces the congregation – what is his secret?

Picture by Steven Barber

During the current restoration work, I have been able to access the upper levels of the east gable and the tower. The immediate impression is of extreme weathering that has distorted the profile of the stone work.

The redundant gargoyles are more grotesque than ever, the parapet and coping stones wavelike, timeless and beautiful.

But the piece de resistance is the flat roof covering the tower. Here is a veritable masterclass in the lead-workers craft. Stonemasons mistakes are bandaged with free flowing dressings, curvilinear flashings turn every corner, and yet the roof looks orderly, ship-shape and weather tight, but there is still work to be completed.

How marvellous to see the superb workmanship underway. The repointing, stabilising and repair has never been in better hands. When all is done, scaffolding removed, the glorious church of St Michael will be safe and sound for another century.

John Innderdale

October 2018

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