February 2012

Lyndhurst Church – February 2012

The Church of St. Michael and all Angels stands proudly, high on a mound, at the top of the busy High Street in Lyndhurst. Considering that the village is mentioned in Domesday, it may seem a little incongruous that this parish church is Victorian and built of polychrome bricks and stone.

All was explained by the speaker, Angela Trend, at the February meeting of the Society. With the help of a PowerPoint presentation the speaker in a most interesting and informative talk outlined the history of the church, the building and its various treasures and artefacts.

There had been previous churches on the site but eventually the one built in 1741 was considered to be too small to cater for the growing population and the Vestry applied for a Faculty to alter and enlarge it. This was given in 1859. The architect appointed was the young and talented William White, a pupil of Sir George Gilbert Scott. Virtually all the money had to be raised locally and in his Appeal to the Parishioners of Lyndhurst, the rector, the Rev. John Compton, said that the object “was to get a very handsome church with a beautiful spire and a complete set of bells.” The successful tender for the building of the church was submitted by John and Mark Hillary of Longparish. The contract for the stone carvings inside the church was awarded, following a competition on site between two masons, the winner was William Seale. One gem to survive from the previous church is a fine marble monument carved by John Flaxman, commemorating Sir Charles Jennings of Foxlease.

The interior of the church, built in the decorated style mainly with dark red and white bricks creates a most interesting and surprising impression.. Stone is used judiciously and the whole nave is surmounted by a wooden vault. The beautiful carved angels in the chancel vault were given by the daughters of Sir Charles and Lady Burrard who were closely related to the Burrards of Walhampton.

The church is noted for its fine fresco occupying the width of the wall beneath the east window. It is the work of Lord (then Mr.) Frederic Leighton. He offered, whilst staying with his friend Captain Hamilton Aide, to paint the fresco, asking payment only for the materials used. However, the proposed fresco met with resistance from the Bishop of Winchester who in a letter to the rector said that “after the Reformation such ornaments were ordered to be taken away, and if any remained, they were ordered to be defaced”. He continued, “it seems to me very inadvisable to run the risk of offending, or to set the example in other places of reviving a practice which would be altogether new to their generation, and was condemned by the past….” The Bishop also commented that “the church would be turned into an artist’s studio … which, to say the least of it, is not seemly”. In spite of this admonition the Vestry unanimously accepted Frederic Leighton’s offer. The subject of the fresco depicts a moving and thoughtful interpretation of the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matthew 25) and is a highlight of the artistic offerings in the church.

The speaker pointed out that the magnificent collection of Pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows is an important feature in the church. It was the result of encouragement from Frederic Leighton that the artists concerned came to work at Lyndhurst producing some excellent work.

The east window represents ‘The New Jerusalem,’ by Edward Burne-Jones and was produced in the workshop of William Morris. The south transept window, ‘Answer to Prayer’ was designed by Burne-Jones with some input from Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The especially fine north transept window, known as the ‘Te Deum Window’, was designed by Clayton & Bell and a series of windows in the nave were designed by H. Powell while the large west window is the work of Charles Kempe.

There are several monuments of interest to which the speaker referred and the talk was rounded off by a reference to Mrs Reginald Hargreaves, more generally known as the original ‘Alice’ of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ fame, whose grave is in the churchyard. The talk was very much appreciated and enjoyed by the members and visitors.

The last meeting of the season will be held on Friday 30 March at 7.15 pm when the speaker will be Peter Roberts whose illustrated talk is entitled ‘The New Forest in the 18th and 19th Centuries.