Page 9, 19th April 2002

19th April 2002
Page 9
Page 9, 19th April 2002 — Going Gothic

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Going Gothic

"A Church as It Should Be": The Cambridge Camden Society and its Influence, edited by Christopher Webster and John Elliott, Shaun Tyas £40

Not long ago we knew what churches should be. They were Gothic with pointed arches, designed on a liturgical plan, with long chancels, high pitched roofs, and chapels; furnished and decorated with marble altars, brass, stained glass, painted statues and rood screens. It was A W N Pugin who, in the 1830s rediscovered the structural logic of Gothic and moved the Gothic Revival on to the maturity with which we are familiar. Pugin was a convert and an innovator and after Catholic Emancipation he built some of the best churches in the country and changed the face of church architecture from a Classical to a Gothic expression.

In 1839 two High Anglican undergraduates — John Mason Neale and Benjamin Webb — founded the Cambridge Camden Society for the study of ecclesiastical art. The Society embodied the tenets of the Oxford Movement in an architectural form. Medieval churches were measured and restored, and it sought correct ceremonial. In 1841 it started a periodical, The Ecclesiologist, which made or broke reputations.

This book is a collection of 15 essays, originally given at a conference held by the Ecclesiological Society in 1997. Pugin was a thorn in the Society's side. Roderick O'Donnell sets out the unhappy tale of its deliberate policy of ignoring him. Although he designed the seal, Pugin was denied membership, not because of his architectural principles but because of his religion. His intemperate manner may also have been a factor, yet he welcomed the Society and it could not have developed as it did without his principles.

Christopher Webster examines Camdenian attitudes to the late Georgian church. Of greater interest is Simon Bradley's illuminating essay on the roots of ecclesiology in late Hanoverian attitudes to medieval churches based on archdeacons' charges. Geoffrey K Brandwood offers a myopic study of the Camdenians and early Victorian worship which shows surprisingly little understanding of worship, doctrine and liturgy. He records who did what first but not why. His list of mentors is valuable.

The late Chris Brooks contributes an essay, demonstrated by histograms, on William Butterfield, Beresford Hope and the building of All Saints, Margaret Street, in terms of semiotics and the class struggle. Butterfield's problem, it appears, was that he was not a gentleman. John Elliott oversensitively defends R C Carpenter against Pugin; yet no architect more faithfully brought Puginism into the Church of England. Gavin Stamp presents Sir Gilbert Scott's cautious relationships with the Society with assurance and equanimity.

Then come three essays by Dale Dishon, Hilary Grainger and Rosamund Reid on Ruskin, Webb and Street; J L Pearson; and George Whitwick which are conspicuous for slips, ignore important contemporary evidence and existing studies of greater value. One of the best chapters is on the Society and church restoration by Chris Miele. It concentrates on Anthony Salvin's celebrated restoration of the Round Church at Cambridge. The book concludes with a general survey of ecclesiology in Scotland by John Sanders; Nonconformist architecture, the adoption by which of Gothic was anathema to the Society, by Christopher Stell; and the Society's innovations in church music by Christopher Webster.

In 1962 James White published The Cambridge Movement, a book whose pioneering influence is of lasting value. The present volume covers broader ground and conveys greater, if often coagulated, denser detail; but there is little of the narrative power and lucidity of White's study. Greater editorial control was necessary in order to iron out inconsistencies and errors, and, while it contains good material, it should have been a better book.

Anthony Symondson SJ

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