ST. MARY THE VIRGIN
PARISH CHURCH OF GREAT WARLEY, ESSEX
The original church in Great Warley was sited much further south; across the A 127, at the end of Church Lane. Only some of its gravestones now remain.
That church started to fall into disrepair when the village moved to the higher ground, where the village centre lies today; and in 1892 the then rector Bailey built a wooden church in the grounds of his home "Fairsteads". On his death, this was bequeathed to the parish of Baildon in Yorkshire. It was taken down and re-erected there.
In 1902, with money and the land donated by the Heseltine family, the present church of St. Mary the Virgin was built. The design and furnishing were entrusted to the architect Mr. C. Harrison Townsend and Sir William Reynolds-Stevens, sculptor and interior designer, both eminent artists in their fields, who could be expected faithfully to reproduce the contemporary Art Nouveau style for the interior.
It is one of only three in the Art Nouveau style churches in the country and has been said to be the best preserved of those. The church has been awarded Grade 1 listed status and its lychgate Grade 2 listed status.
Materials used for the interior are a mixture of various metals, marbles, and
mother of pearl, together with the walnut furniture. There is much evidence all
around of the Art and Craft movement and of the influence of the
Locally, it is popularly known as the "Pearl Church", because of the widely used mother of pearl decoration.
It is visited by individuals, and groups, both from this country and abroad, also art students, as one of the best examples of the style.
It was featured on BBC 2 in a series by Lucinda Lambton "Jewels of the M25", and by John Timpson on Anglia TV in 1996; also in January 2003 issue of the BBC Magazine 'Homes and Antiques'
Thoughts on the Construction of Great Warley Church.
The Architect, Charles Harrison Townsend, like many of his contemporaries, was undoubtedly influenced by Charles Voysey in adopting some impractical narrow lancet windows, rough rendered external walls, flattened roof eaves and unnecessary heavy buttresses - one of which threatened to sever the vestry from the nave. Townsend's name does not appear anywhere in the church.
Evelyn Heseltine, successful in the family's City stockbroking office, was obviously no stranger to the benefits of electricity, and the church he built was designed for its use, but nor for the heating and the organ. In fact, electric lighting was not in operation until after the consecration of 1904, as it was necessary to build a generator house (now Elms Cottage) to supply the 100 volts ( see vestry lobby for the transformer) for Evelyn's mansion, the church and the rectory opposite. The red and black insulated wires were encased in a wood conduit to reach the fittings of galvanised iron, copper, shell etc. specially designed by William Reynolds Stephens. Meanwhile, as a lad (now much older and wiser) John Hammond walked down from no. 5 Goldings Cottages to pump air for the prestigious organ - that is until he was suspended for falling asleep during a particular tedious sermon.
Much later, Harold Lansdell, whilst kneeling at the altar rail for communion, was not impressed by the apse which, originally surfaced with gleaming aluminium leaf to reflect the magnificence of the reredos with its triumphant silvered Christ figure, had now become blackened by candle soot. In 1980 as a parting gift when he left the district, and to exercise his hobby of gilding, he renewed hundreds of aluminium sheets, which would have been an expensive metal in 1902. The six aluminium plaster nave arches were so expertly leafed originally that they have not required renovation. (About 1930 the Cunard family used this material on their dining room ceiling at Eltham palace.
Reynold Stephens was influenced by Japanese traditional artistic practice - as were Monet, Whistler and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, all of whom collected woodblock prints, and the latter also used mother-of-pearl to decorate the furniture designed by his wife, Margaret MacDonald. Perhaps Reynolds Stephens was also influenced by Japanese cartouches, sophisticated floral decoration and, of course, the Tree of Life. Like Mackintosh he undoubtedly read the Studio Magazine, met the artists who had lived in Japan and read W.R. Lethaby's book on symbolism - Architecture, Mysticism and Myth - published in 1891.
Rectors in 1911 and again in 1929 published the first 'guide books', now interesting mainly for their professional monochrome photographs. These do not show in situ the lectern, hymn boards, processional cross, wardens' staves, litany desk, four pewter panels on the reredos, light above the pulpit desk and coffered ceiling in the chapel which -according to some - was painted and gilded later by Reginald Hallwood. This last does appear in the photographs of the second edition. However an unidentified altar frontal is shown and also carpeting in the choir and sanctuary.
Evelyn financed everything (and shunned interference) so perhaps even his resources were stretched temporarily.
Heywood Sumner - Artist.
Amongst the artists of the Arts and Craft Movement, George Heywood Maunoir Sumner (1853-1940) deserves to be better known. An exhibition of his work, researched and organised by Winchester City Museum, was shown at Winchester, Cheltenham and Portsmouth in 1986. This exhibition, which included all aspects of his work, presented him as both a versatile artist and a remarkable self-taught archaeologist. Sumner was born in Alresford, Hampshire into a family of Anglican clergy. He studied at Oxford and Lincoln's Inn, London in company with his childhood friend W.A.S. Benson, who later became a succesful metalwork designer, and whose sister, Agnes, Sumner married in 1883.
Starting by decorating the houses of his relatives, Sumner experimented with reviving the Italian art of sgraffito, a technique of incising designs in coloured plaster. Direct, bold and colourful, Sumner's narrative designs and ornamented patterns covered the walls of eleven churches and chapels in the British Isles; characteristically, he also turned his hand to stained glass, mosaic, painted gesso and inlaid alabaster. Perhaps the most notable and today complete scheme (executed in 1897-1903) is the great church of All Saints (now the Russian Orthodox Cathedral) in Ennismore Gardens, near the Albert Hall, where sgraffito, stained glass and mosaic all contribute to the rich interior.
By contrast, Sumner brings the Welsh landscape indoors in his delightful sgraffito designs (1888) in the little church at Llanfair Kilgeddin, between Abergevenny and Usk.
Sumner also designed the east window at Longworth in Oxfordshire
and the vibrant west window in North Ockendon in Essex.
But possibly his finest surviving window is the west rose window at Great Warley in Essex,where Art-workers Guild artists also contributing were : Eric Gill, L. Hallward, C.H. Townsend, Reynolds-Stephens and L. Davis.
In 1904 he put his busy career and colleagues in London behind him and designed and built Cuckoo Hill, South Gorley in the New Forest. Exploratory walks with his five children and very long bicyle rides were his daily activities. He turned to excavation of archaeological sites at the age of 58, doing most of the digging single-handed; he recorded and published his findings on some thirteen different sites in about twenty years. He died in seclusion soon after the outbreak of war in 1940, aged 87.
To enlarge pictures click on thumbnails.