Page 11, 4th October 2002

4th October 2002
Page 11
Page 11, 4th October 2002 — A real gent

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Locations: Windsor, Surrey, Oxford


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A real gent

Henry Woodyer: Gentleman Architect, edited by John Elliott and John Pritchard, Reading University, £22.95

Henry Woodyer (1816-96) has long been an architectural enigma. The first pupil, it is believed, of William Butterfield, the hard Victorian Goth, he designed some of the most original churches of the Gothic Revival. Yet he has so far eluded comprehensive study. This is partly because his work had become unfashionable by the time he died, partly because of his reclusive nature, partly because he left few papers. He avoided publicity, he joined no professional body, and would not enter competitions for public buildings.

Woodyer's work appeals to those who like muscular mid-Victorian Gothic, with sharp angles, inventive tracery, carbuncle-set brass, spiky wrought iron, murals, rich and deep stained glass, a dark and devotional atmosphere. Woodyer made a powerful contribution to the evolution of a Catholic identity in the Church of England.

"What a distinguishedlooking man Henry Woodyer was!" remembered Harry Redfern, his pupil, in 1944. "Tall, rather spare, always attired in an easy-fitting blue serge suit, loose shirt collar and crimson silk tie. His soft, black hat — rather wide in the brim — bore a small

steel brooch in front ... A most picturesque figure, often smoking a fragrant cigar." • An aesthetic bohemian, you might suppose, but Woodyer is not so easily classified. He was the first Old Etonian to become an architect and the first Oxford graduate since Wren to do so. Romantic and pleasure loving, he had an estate at Grafham, near Guildford, and took yachting holidays in the Mediterranean.

Surrey was the main scene of Woodyer's activities. He built and harshly restored churches, parsonages, country houses and, most notably, Cranleigh School (1863-5). But his best work was elsewhere. The church of the Holy Innocents, Highnam, in Gloucestershire (1849-52), built for his schoolfriend, Thomas Gambier-Parry, is his masterpiece. GambierParry was an artist and collector of Italian primitive paintings, and he decorated the church with frescoesglowing with Southern colour. Highnam outdid Pugin at his own game.

Woodyer's conventual buildings show the most invention. Windsor was a garrison town and the district of Clewer had desperate slums. Prostitution was often the only means of escape from penury. Canon T T Carter was appointed to Clewer in 1844. He was a devoted pastor with a social conscience. In 1849 he founded the first House of Mercy, which developed into

the Community of St John the Baptist. The work of the order was to reclaim abandoned girls, give them a home and train them for laundry work and service.

For 32 years, Woodyer worked on the red brick, slate roofed house and convent, punctuated by gables and sharply pitched roofs, and built the magnificent polychromatic chapel. They are among the most dramatic buildings of their time. Clewer is rivalled only by the magnificent All Saints' Hospital and chapel at Eastbourne (1867-74), and demonstrates the confidence and dedication of the movement.

oodyer's life and work tell an uncommon story. This heavily illustrated book is an invaluable work of, reference, but has the limitations of being a collaborative work produced by the University of Reading's Department of Continuing Education, established to provide short courses and part-time degrees for the retired. It tries too hard to be scholarly and fails to appreciate the light and shade of the Church Revival (the term "High Church" fits all), and is at times so concentrated that you cannot see the wood for the trees. It is admirable as far as it goes, but Woodyer deserves a writer who will make his work live.

Anthony Symondson sJ

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