Tuesday, 9 January 2018

St Lawrence Church: A Comment

The JEP reported that:

“Ten parishioners, supported by campaign group Save Jersey’s Heritage, met the Rev Phil Warren on Thursday to serve him notice under the ‘1804 Loi au Sujet des Assemblés Paroissiales’ to convene a church assembly.”

“This is similar to a civic assembly, where ratepayers vote on parish issues, but it deals only with matters relating to the parish church The disputed scheme – to build an extension to the north of the 800-year-old building, creating a toilet and enabling disabled access – received Planning approval in 2016.”

“It also has the backing of the congregation and the Anglican Church in Jersey. Construction work is due to begin shortly.”

Behind the photo can clearly be the place where there the cannon doorway was infilled sometime after 1958 and as the Planning Inspector noted the infill granite cannot be considered ‘historical’. Indeed it stands out as an ugly alteration in the fabric of the building right behind the 10 protestors! 

Incidentally, the cannon door was totally removed from the Fisherman's Chapel although Victorian photographs show it present. It was an ugly scar from the past, and at the time a defacement of the church from a time when no one took the slightest interest in Church heritage, and actually damaged the bottom of the wall paintings there. 

When Marcus Binney says: "The cannon door, which is a particular feature of Jersey churches because every parish was required to have a cannon to defend us against the French, is beautifully exposed at the moment", it should be noted that it is not present in all Jersey Parish Churches, and the Rector of St Brelade, J.A. Balleine would have had a very different view when he was restoring the Fisherman's Chapel. Clearly at St Lawrence Church, in 1958, a cheap and nasty obtrusive opening was put in place, followed by a cheap and obstrusive infill.

To treat a cannon door as somehow sacrosanct church architecture is a perversion of history. It was cut into St Lawrence Church by Parishioners who cared nothing about blending in with the fabric of the building, and was a brutal intrusion. It has no religious significance whatsoever. The extension proposed will actually blend more seamlessly into the surrounding church.

Mr Philip Staddon, the Planning Inspector, noted that:

“The proposed extension is small in scale. It would project from the west elevation by about 2.6 metres and have a length of just under 5 metres, giving a gross floor area of about 13 square metres. Its walls would be faced in granite to match the existing church and it would have a pitched roof and stone parapet detail to match the adjacent west portal entrance. The west wall of the extension would contain a new window of a similar style to the existing window that would sit above it.”

“In principle, the potential Grade 1 Listing does not preclude extensions or alterations. Indeed, the story of many of the finest heritage assets is one of evolution over time and St Lawrence Church is no different. It is a church of different elements from different times, rather than a neatly uniform and symmetrical structure built at a single point in time. This contributes to its richness and importance as it stands witness to centuries of history”

Indeed, I was putting online a guide book to St John’s Church, and came across this:

“An old engraving shows that the Church originally had no porch to its principal door. However, this omission was remedied by the provision in 1853 of a simple porch in grey granite. The initials above the entrance are those of the churchwardens (surveillants). The side door was intended to cope with driving rain from the South- East.”

Would our ten protestors campaign against that porch, which like this extension, was intended to improve the use of the church by Parishioners? Indeed, engravings and photos of St Brelade’s Church show substantial changes made around the turn of the 19th century when J.A. Balleine opened up the current entrance at the front of the church for the convenience of Parishioners, and converted what was the entrance into the Vestry.

Philip Staddon notes that:

“There can sometimes be unavoidable tensions between heritage considerations and modern day operational needs. In my view, the rationale for this project is sound. For a community building to function effectively and inclusively in the twenty first century, accessibility for disabled people and the provision of W.C. facilities are, in my view, essential. That principle applies to both modern and historic buildings.”

And to bring the story to the modern era. Similar extensions have been permitted at St. John and Grouville Parish Churches. 

There seem to have been no public protests with Grouville Parish Church, P/2008/2070: Construct single storey extension to north-west elevation. Extend basement.

The Reverend Mike Lange-Smith said when it was approved and started in 2010:

“We have reached a most exciting stage. Work on our building project has begun! At long last we will have a meeting room with toilets available at the church. The architect’s plans are on display in the church to remind us of what lies ahead. How long we have waited for this to happen. Now it is taking place before our eyes.”

“In getting Planning permission for this project, we have been given the opportunity to do something very significant for our church. How often does one of the ancient parish churches have an extension built? It is extremely rare! We have the chance to do something in our own lifetime that will last for generations to come”

Bruce Willing, Churchwarden at Grouville church at this time, in his obituary of Mrs Matt Le Maistre wrote that she was the driving force behind this:

“Her other great love was the church and to me this is her real legacy, for it was her inspiration that led to the building of the new vestry in the Parish Church, which is named after her. She challenged me, as churchwarden at the time, to get modern toilet facilities built and, thanks to a legacy, this was achieved – just in time.”

What seems to have happened at Grouville is that those Parishioners who one might have expected to protest were part of their local Church, and not rank outsiders. They understood that the Church has always changed over the centuries to accommodate the needs of the times.

If the heritage lobby are so concerned about changes, will they strip out the modern lighting in all our Parish Churches, and take away all the central heating, so that the Church will appear in a pristine Medieval form? At its heart is the question: at what point do we decide to fix the past in aspic, and what precisely is our rationale for doing so. All the Parish Churches have changed over the centuries, and all have had massive changes made in the Victorian period, ostensibly under the name "restoration", but actually what happened was innovation, albeit mostly sympathetic to the fabric of the building.

 It seems to be that there is little consistency in how matters are arranged. Protests are mounted against a Tudor Hall at Mont Orgeuil, and yet the ugly concrete of the German Occupation is left intact. Plumbing and heating and modern lighting are fine because they do not impact on the outside appearance of a building. 

But if all we are concerned about is facade, do we differ so much from our Georgian forebears to whom architecture was all about magnificent facades, and developed buildings of hollow pretensions? Is heritage just about showcasing the imagined and ossified identities of the past? They seem incapable of dealing with historical layering.

Churches which have changed to accommodate the needs of the present have shown they lie more with that great tradition of past reform. They can stand proudly in a long line of antecedents. Isn't that just as much heritage?

As David Lowenthal noted:

"Recognising the impact of the present on past - we confront anew the paradox implicit in preservation. Vestiges are saved to stave off decay, destruction, and replacement and to keep an unspoiled heritage. Yet preservation itself reveals that permanence is an illusion ... We should not deceive ourselves that we can
keep the past stable and segregated . .. Whether we restore or refrain from restoring we cannot avoid reshaping the past . .. When we realize that past and present are not exclusive but inseparable realms. we cast off preservation's self-defeating insistence on a fixed and stable past."

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