Photographs by John Salmon. You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit John Salmon and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. Click on the images to enlarge them.

The Church of St Mary the Virgin, Great Warley, Essex, seen here from the south-west, is a Grade I listed building designed by Charles Harrison Townsend — one of his finest works, even though its basic form was taken, at the benefactor's request, from that of Henry Woodyer's mid-Victorian rebuild of St Peter's Church, Hascombe, in Surrey (see Bettley and Pevsner 429). Townsend's church was built 1902-04, and has roughcast walls with, according to the listing text, oolitic limestone dressings, and a shingled belfry and spire. Oolitic limestone is a kind of limestone made up of round grain-like particles. Traditionally used, for example, in old farm buildings, it tends to gain in warmth as it weathers (see Local Design Guide, 3). From the outside, then, the church might look like a "modest neo-Gothic chapel" (Jenkins 218), but its carefully thought-out traditional style and materials at this date are in fact good indications of the Arts and Crafts riches within.

Left to right: (a) Three-quarter view of the west end. (b) The dove on the spire, designed by William Reynolds-Stephens in about 1903. (c) The southern elevation, with the south porch entrance. On this side also is the south chapel.

Other indications (especially in combination with the above) are its less conventional touches: the gilded dove of peace alighting on the spire, with an olive branch in its beak; the heart-shaped tracery radiating from the centre of the rose window; the leafy patterns on the cast-iron heads of the drainpipes; and the ornamentation of the south porch's bargeboards, with the inscription, "Enter into these gates with praise," and carvings of foliage at each end. Compare the church with Townsend's own earlier St Martin's Church, Blackheath (1892), and William Lethaby's All Saints' Brockhampton (1901-02). Although all three of these churches harmonise beautifully with their rural surroundings, not one of them is quite traditional enough to mislead the observant visitor as to its rough date. Here is an approach foreshadowed much earlier on by Sarah Losh's St Mary's, Wreay of 1841-42, but largely indicative of a turn-of-the-century, Arts and Crafts origin. Another example, though with a more exotic interior, is the Church of Jesus Christ and the Wisdom of God, Lower Kingswood, Surrey, by Sidney Barnsley (1890-92).

Three-quarter view from the south-east. "Porch projects in Essex style," says the listing text, so this is appropriately local in feel.

Left: View from the rear, showing the apse at the east end. Right: Three-quarter view from the north-east. On the north side, the other of the two "transeptal projections" mentioned in the listing text, this time for the vestry.

Left to right: (a) Foundation stone laid by Eveline Heseltine's wife in July 1902 (notice the texture, contrast and warmth of the surfaces here). (b) The "well-tended churchyard" to which Simon Jenkins refers (218). (c) The attractive lych gate.

The row of seven little windows at the west, below the rose window, are deep-set in the beautifully coloured natural stone — as used around the other windows, but making a contrasting band here — another of those thoughtful, subtle touches that alert the visitor to the special quality of the design work. These are the baptistry windows, as distinctive a feature inside as out. The lych gate is another clue. Like the bargeboards of the south porch, the ones on the lych gate are decorated in a carved design of fruit and leaves, while the heavy oak gates have berry finials. The tiebeam has an inscription, "To guide our feet into the way of peace" and the date of its erection ("Anno Domini — MCMIII— In the reign of King Edward VII"). Although it is all very much of a piece with the church, and was also designed by Townsend, the gate is separately listed as Grade II*.

The architectural historian Wendy Hitchmough is not alone in talking more about the interior decoration of the church by William Reynolds-Stephens (1862-1943) than about its architecture (see Bowe 388-89), and indeed when the church was built at the expense of stockbroker Evelyn Heseltine, to stand as a memorial to his brother Arnold who died in 1897, the main focus was on the interior (see Bettley and Pevsner 429 and Crawford 71). But it is hard to separate these — and should one try, in a collaborative work of this kind? As a contemporary commentator says,

there are ample evidences of [Townsend's] picturesque fancy in the quaintness of the exterior.... As an architectural effort the church bears plainly the stamp of his individuality and of that personal intention which counts for so much in his practice. It is perfectly sincere, thoroughly studied, and, with all its simplicity, wholly free from any archaic affectation; and it provides an absolutely appropriate setting for the intricate piece of ornamentation which it enshrines. [Baldry 6]

In 1904, this church replaced the previous church in Great Warley as the parish church, and it did so with a comprehensiveness that has been questioned: there seems to be some regret in the remark that "Heseltine's munificence has swept it all away" (Crawford 73). This statement gives entirely the wrong impression. Nothing was sacrificed to this new church. The earlier one was not on this spot, and was itself basically a mid-Victorian rebuild by S. S. Teulon. Moreover, it had not been used for about ten years, during which time the parish had had a wooden mission church, which was dismantled and moved elsewhere (see Powell, and "Church History"). Much more important, there is nothing in any way precious about Townsend's exterior to warrant such regret. He was not that kind of architect at all. The interior is much more lavishly appointed, but few would want to change that, either.

Related Material


Baldry, A.L. "A Notable Decorative Achievement by W. Reynolds-Stephens." The Studio. 34 (1905): 1-15. Internet Archive. Web. 17 June 2015. [Whole text on the Victorian Web.]

Bettley, James, and Nikolaus Pevsner. Essex. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007.

Bowe, Nicola Gordon. Review of Architecture 1900, ed. Peter Burman. In Journal of Design History 12/4 (1999):387-89. Accessed via JSTOR. Web. 17 June 2015.

"Church History." St Mary the Virgin, Great Warley. Web. 17 June 2015.

Crawford, Alan. "Arts and Crafts Churches." In Churches 1870-1914, the Victorian Society's journal, Studies in Victorian Architecture & Design. 3 (2011): 63-79.

"External Building Materials." Wansdyke District Council. Web. 17 June 2015. [Not about this area, let alone this church, but useful.]

Hitchmough, Wendy. "Great Warley Church: Architecture and Sculpture — body and soul." In Architecture 1900. Ed. Peter Burman. Lower Coombe, Dorset: Donhead, 1998. 99-108. [This is the version on Google Books, but it was also published by Routledge.]

Jenkins, Simon. England's Thousand Best Churches. London: Penguin, 2009.

List Entry for St Mary the Virgin. Historic England. Web. 17 June 2015.

Powell, W. R., ed. "Great Warley." In A History of the County of Essex, Volume 7. London, 1978. 163-74. British History Online. Web. 17 June 2015.

Created 26 June 2015