Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Victorian Buildings

Simon Knott (see earlier post) likes Victorian art and architecture a lot more than I do- and will commend as "really very good" a window I would do my best to overlook. Each to his own- and it must enhance the experience of church visiting if you can find it in you to appreciate the Victorian elements of a building- because they often predominate.

He makes the point that the Victorian enthusiasm for all things medieval had as much to do with spirituality as with aesthetics. They inherited buildings that had been converted into protestant preaching houses and- fired up by the Oxford Movement- did what they could to take them back to their catholic origins. They wanted to restore mystery and sensuality to their worship- but where Knott applauds the achievement I'm only willing to award marks for effort.

But nothing is ever simple and straightforward. There are Victorian churches I love- only mostly they're Victorian through and through- new builds rather than restoration jobs. I adore the Watts Memorial Chapel at Compton and St Peter's at Hascombe, both in Surrey, because these are visionary buildings, respectful of tradition but unconstrained by it- not adding to and deferring to or competing with pre-existing medieval work- but joyously doing their own thing from scratch. In both cases a single presiding intelligence- or genius- was at work. The Victorians were the first people in history to think of eccentricity and nonconformity as things to be valued- and their very best buildings are their maddest.

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