May 16th, 2019

St Laurence, Telscombe

St Laurence, Telscombe is another of Kipling's "little, lost Down churches". Like Southease it's to be found at the end of a road that goes nowhere else. On our first passage through the village we missed it because it's (a) partly screened by trees and (b) set close to the road but so high above it that it's out of a driver's eyeline.

Unlike Southease it's off the South Downs Way- so no sandwich eaters- and the door is kept locked. Telscombe village is tiny. There's the church and a stud farm and that's about all. If you carry on driving beyond the village you end up on the grazing land of Telscombe Tye. Saltdean is just over the rise- but if you want to get there (but why should you?) you have to park up and walk.

Correction: I was misinformed- or careless in my research- when I said that Southease and St Michael's Lewes were the only churches in Sussex with round towers. In fact there's a third- at St John's, Piddinghoe- which I haven't visited yet.....

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.