Wikio - Top Blogs - Religion and belief

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Sabbatical art pilgrimage: St Paul's Goodmayes

From 1898–9 local developer Cameron Corbett laid out an estate of good quality houses that clerks and lower grade civil servants could afford. As a result, this development in Seven Kings extending to Goodmayes has been called “the town built in a year.” Corbett added the Mayfield estate to the south and Downshall to the north meaning that the area quickly had 10,000 inhabitants (

Several churches were built as a result including St Paul’s Goodmayes built in response to the development of the Mayfield Estate. When the decision was made, in 1901, to build St Paul’s this estate had 420 houses, built in the preceding eighteen months, 300 of which were occupied, representing perhaps 1,500 people. More were to be built on the south side of the railway line, meaning that a clear need for a church was established.

The Church which was built is in the style of Gothic architecture, that had been popularised by A.W.N. Pugin and which characterised church building by the Arts & Crafts Movement. The materials used are red brick with stone dressing. Messrs. Chancellor & Son of Chelmsford and London were the architects and the contractors for the first portion of the building were Messrs. Brown & Son of Braintree. The building was completed by additions in 1905, 1917 and 1929. The completed church was consecrated by the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford, The Right Reverend John Edwin on Thursday 22nd March 1917, when St Paul's became the independent parish church of Goodmayes.

St Paul’s Goodmayes has been a prolific and generous patron of the arts since the church was originally built and now has a vast array of artwork reflecting the movement in Church Art from the medievalism of the Arts & Crafts Movement through the angular, cubist influences of Leonard Evetts to the semi-abstract work of contemporary artist Henry Shelton. The materials used include stained glass, silver, brass, copper, oil on canvas, watercolour, carvings (in both stone and wood), wrought iron work, gilding work and ceramics. There is work from the studios of Fullers, Morris & Co., Whitefriars and the Faith Craft Company, with designs from artists such as Sir Edward Burne-Jones, J.H. Dearle, Evetts, Alfred Fisher, Jane Quail, and Shelton.

The Church website documents the many commissions revealing the value of memorial bequests for the commissioning of much Church Art. The first stained-glass in St. Paul`s was the East Window of the Lady Chapel which was made by the Fullers Studio (by which the work of Geoffrey Fuller Webb may be indicated). At the end of July 1944, this window was almost completely destroyed by a flying bomb, leaving only the tracery (small upper windows) intact. These show the Arms of Canterbury and Chelmsford, flanked by St. Paul, the Patron of the church and St. Cedd the 7th century missionary Bishop in Essex.

The original main lights of the window showed Our Lady and the Infant Christ, flanked by Wise Men and Shepherds. The replacement, from 1957, is an entirely new design depicting the same scene. The three lights now show Our Lady and the Infant Christ with the kings and shepherds to left and right respectively. The replacement window came from the Whitefriars Studio and contains their mark, a White Friar, in the bottom right-hand corner, while the artist has signed it off with his normal signature, the trilby he wore in his workshop.

Like the Lady Chapel window the East Window was severely damaged in July 1944 by a flying bomb landing on the East side of the church: only one-seventh of the original remained, (to judge by the insurance valuation before and after). The original had been donated by Leonard Randall, a generous benefactor of St. Paul`s, and had been dedicated on 15th September 1929. A design by Sir Edward Burne-Jones was used for this window which was created and installed twice by Morris & Co., firstly in 1929 and again in 1954.

As Morris & Co. note on their website (, William Morris is regarded as the greatest designer and one of the most outstanding figures of the Arts & Crafts Movement: ‘In 1861, with a group of friends, he started the decorating business Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. which provided beautiful, hand-crafted products and furnishings for the home. This was highly controversial at the time as it denounced the ‘progress’ of the machine age by rejecting unnecessary mechanical intervention. Influenced by the ideas and writings of Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin, who sought to re-dress class inequality and improve society by reinstating the values of the past, Morris was motivated by the desire to provide affordable ‘art for all.’

Driven by his boundless enthusiasm, the output of the company was prolific and encompassed all the decorative arts. He is perhaps best known for his wallpaper and fabric designs but he also designed and made embroideries, tapestries and stained-glass, reviving many of the traditional arts which had been swept away by industrialisation. Before he mastered each craft, he learnt every stage of the hand making process and understood his materials thoroughly so that he could get the best results and teach others.’

Burne-Jones became the chief designer of stained glass (creating over 100 drawings throughout his lifetime) and a separate area at Merton Abbey, where Morris’ workshops were located from 1881 onwards, was allocated to his glass workshops. Morris & Co. dominated British stained glass production during the 1870s and 1880s.

The St. Alban and St. George window was donated by Leonard Randall in 1929 in memory of his nephew killed in World War I, and had been installed at the same time as the East Window. Also made by Morris & Co., this window was not a 19th century Burne-Jones design but instead a contemporary design by J.H. Dearle, who was then designing for the firm. Dearle also designed the figure of St. Peter for another West end window installed in 1933, which was complemented by a figure of St. Paul to a design by Burne-Jones. 

In between these two smaller windows is the main West Window which was made, like the previous ones, by Morris & Co (again from a design by Burne-Jones) and was dedicated on 18th December 1932. Leonard Randall, the donor of several earlier windows, died in 1932 leaving a large sum to St. Paul`s, including £400 for a window in the new Baptistry, which had been built into the West End of the church in 1929. The window depicts a well-known scene from the Gospels, where women were bringing their children to Jesus and He was blessing them. The text below (Luke 18.16) reads: ‘Suffer little children to come unto Me.’

The last of the Morris & Co. windows in St. Paul`s depicts David and Jonathan and was designed (in a rather different style from the others) by D.W.Dearle (not J. H.). This window cost £96.15s. in memory of Mr. A. E. Godfrey, and was dedicated on 4th September 1949. Today it is the ‘odd-man-out’ in the Lady Chapel as the three surrounding windows all feature Our Lady and the events of Christ`s birth. In 1949, however, it was the only stained-glass in the Chapel, (apart from the tracery over the East Window); the rest being added later. 

The surrounding windows are the most recent at St Paul’s being created in 1975 and 1980 by the prolific stained glass artist, Leonard Evetts. On 1st June 1973 Walter Tolbart died leaving a substantial bequest to the Church. He had expressed a wish that part of this money should be used for a proposed window and approaches were made to various artists, as a result, in 1974. Finally, in April 1975, the PCC approved a design by Leonard Evetts, depicting the Annunciation; and the window was dedicated in memory of both Doreen and Walter Tolbart on 30th November of that year.

In the left-hand light, the archangel Gabriel “is drawn to give the impression that on wing he has silently entered the drama, barely touching the earth” to quote the artist`s own account. Our Lady is depicted on the right; she wears the traditional blue robe, which is decorated with a Madonna Lily. Gabriel`s salutation is written across the centre in Latin: ‘Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum’ – Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.’ Gabriel went on to say that Mary would conceive by the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit appears in symbolic form represented by a Dove in the tracery, from where shafts of light can be seen descending onto the figure of our Lady.

Then, when Miss Norah Sherren died on 17th March 1977 at the age of 82, she was described as ‘the senior member of the congregation’, having been present at the laying of the Foundation Stone of St. Paul`s. Miss Sherren left a considerable sum to the Church, including £1,000 for a memorial window. This forms a pair with the Annunciation Window: both being designed by Leonard Evetts, and with the new window telling the next episode in the life of Our Lady.

Immediately after the Annunciation, Mary spent three months at the home of her cousin Elizabeth, soon to be the mother of John the Baptist, and the two women rejoiced together over the sons they were to bear; Mary`s words of celebration included the ‘Magnificat’. This story, generally called the ‘Visitation’, took place in the hill-country of Judea, which is represented by the rocky scenery in the background of the window. Elizabeth is shown on the left, Mary on the right – notice the blue robe and lilies once again. As with the Annunciation Window, Evett’s signature is just visible: ‘L.C. Evetts fecit. 1980.’ The window was installed and dedicated on the Feast of Christ the King, 26th October 1980, and was the last stained glass window to be installed in St Paul's to date.

Prior to the Evetts’ windows two other modern windows had been commissioned. The Jesus the Carpenter Window was made by the Faith Craft Company, and was installed in 1963. The Faith Craft Company was a studio set up through the Society of the Faith, which grew from vestment manufacture to encompass various aspects of church furniture such as joinery, stained glass and statues. The Company was in operation from 1921 to 1972.

The centre section of the window shows Jesus in the carpenter`s shop at Nazareth, surrounded by the tools of His trade. On the left, there is a roundel depicting the Sower (the subject of our Lord`s famous parable); while a similar roundel on the right shows St. Paul working as a tentmaker. This unusual combination of images commemorates the longest-serving Churchwarden of St. Paul`s, Foster Threadgold, who had died at the beginning of 1959, in his 29th year of office. Well over 100 people contributed towards the memorial which was located on the North side of the Church, as near as possible to the churchwarden`s seat which he had occupied for so many years.

Finally, the St. Timothy Window comes from the Whitefriars Studio and the hand of Alfred Fisher.
The Whitefriars Company was a successful British glasshouse closely associated with leading architects and designers from the later portion of the 19th century onwards including Philip Webb who designed glass for Morris & Co.

This is a lovely bright window with vivid colours achieved by the use of hand-made ‘Norman slab’ glass, which retains its lustre even in dull conditions. The window shows Timothy as a youthful figure, staff in hand, presumably engaged on some missionary journey. In the two small tracery lights above, there are symbols of the activities for which Frank Hills, in whose memory the window was given, is remembered: he was a member of the Choir for some 40 years, which explains the page of music, and the words ‘O Sing unto the Lord’; he was also at one point Churchwarden here and was also involved in the Scout Movement – hence the Churchwarden`s staff and the Scout emblem. But the words ‘Honour thy God’ have a double significance: as well as being appropriate to Frank Hills’ life, they are also a play on the name ‘Timothy’, which is derived from two Greek words meaning ‘honour’ and ‘God’.

Fr. Benjamin Rutt-Field, who oversaw the addition to St Paul's Goodmayes of a Madonna and Child by the contemporary Roman Catholic sculptor Jane Quail and Shelton’s Stations of the Crown of Thorns has said that all too “often people walk past churches and think it is just a plain building - they aren't aware of the beauty inside.”

It was Fr Rutt-Field’s belief that “for Christian art to have any significance and empathy it must be Spirit-driven, Spirit-imprinted; it should stimulate both our imaginations and our prayers.” With this in mind, he wrote an original set of meditations to accompany the new set of
Stations of the Cross commissioned from noted religious artist, Henry Shelton, through commission4mission.

The seed for this commission was sown by an elderly parishioner who gifted a generous sum for a new set of Stations and whose memory lives on in the dedication of the tryptich, incorporating Stations XI, XII and XIII, which, as altarpiece, forms the central focus of the scheme. This tryptich has inventively incorporated an existing metal crucifix into its design to form Station XII; 'Jesus dies on the cross'. There are 15 paintings in all, as the scheme includes a resurrection 'Station' depicting Christ present in the Eucharistic elements.

These, though, are not the only unusual elements of these Stations, in that, as part of its semi-abstract imagery, Christ is depicted throughout only by the Crown of Thorns. Fr. Rutt-Field notes that, “these Stations are known as the ‘Crown of Thorns’, rather than ‘The Cross’, because Jesus is depicted in each one as a simple, humble crown of thorns.”

Shelton says of his semi-abstract style and minimal flowing lines, that, “as I’ve got older I’ve learnt that ‘less is more’ and through the development of my work I’ve learnt to express emotion in a semi-abstract form.” This is why he paints; “it all goes back to feeling; the pathos of suffering.”

The power of art to evoke emotion is what originally inspired Shelton and which has sustained his work throughout his career: “When I first saw the great 
Rembrandt’s in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the power of his images seemed to transcend time. The same thing attracted me to Christian Art as a choirboy at All Saints West Ham; the art spoke to me. I used to look at the altar and see images that were just so powerful. The images seemed to bring the past into the present and to form a profound link with the lineage of the past. I see myself as an artist trying in my small way to continue that lineage and my passion as a Christian artist is to keep that lineage alive in my generation as a witness.”

However, as an artist who often paints with the tones and harmonies of the Dutch Masters, this commission represents a considerable lightening of Shelton’s palette in order that the colour scheme of these 'Stations' harmonizes with the existing stained glass. At St Paul’s Goodmayes, Shelton's 'Stations' complement the existing works to create a feast of visual art for worshipper and visitor alike.

The commission was only the second to be completed by commission4mission, of which Shelton is both a founder member and the current Chairman. Shelton says, of commission4mission, “I want us to be offering quality work and craftsmanship, rather than mass-produced work, to continue the legacy of the Church as a great commissioner of art. The Church has, in fact, commissioned some of the greatest works of art ever produced.”

To have his work in churches, Shelton says, “really is the fulfilment of my life’s work.” He doesn’t have much ambition to show in galleries and says that, “the whole point for me is to create reaction and engage people; for people to enjoy and be moved by my work, just as I’ve been engaged by the work of other artists.”

His most recent pictures have all come to him in prayer as he has been meditating on particular Bible passages. Most of his work now comes through a meditational process and it is, perhaps, this quality of Shelton’s work to which Fr. Rutt-Field is responding when he says: “I firmly believe that these new Stations of the Crown of Thorns, painted by a deeply committed Christian artist, are indeed both Spirit-driven and Spirit imprinted. They will greatly enhance and beautify the simple form and architectural lines of our parish church, as well as our worship.”

As St Paul’s Goodmayes is a neighbouring parish to my own, I have had the opportunity to undertake ministry in partnership with Fr Rutt-Field and his congregation which has often made significant use of art and the artworks at St Paul’s Goodmayes. Art competitions and workshops have led to exhibitions timed to feature as part of community festivals, while the local cluster of Anglican churches created an Art Trail with a route for visiting each church in turn and highlighting artworks of interest in the four churches. The creation of the Art Trail was a recommendation in the report produced following a
Community Street Audit of Aldborough Road South by the Seven Kings & Newbury Park Resident's Association and the Fitter for Walking project of Living Streets. Printing of the Art Trail leaflets was funded by Living Streets as part of the Fitter for Walking project and copies of the leaflets can now be found in the four churches. Fitter for Walking helped residents create streets they can be proud of and was funded by the Big Lottery Fund, along with contributions from local authorities, to work in five areas of England.

Churches have for many years been significant patrons of the visual arts and contain important and interesting works of art. The local Anglican churches in Aldborough Hatch, Goodmayes and Seven Kings are no exception with works of art by excellent local and national artists from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. The significant works of art in these churches, taken collectively, represent a major contribution to the legacy of the church as an important commissioner of art. The rich and diverse range of work found at St Paul’s Goodmayes provides a demonstration of ways in which the visual arts enhance worship and mission. The story of their commissions reveals the significance of memorial donations and the journey that Church commissions made in the twentieth century from the medievalism of the Arts & Crafts movement to the semi-abstract styles of contemporary artists.  


Larry Norman - Country Church, Country People.

No comments: