Friday, March 22, 2013

Old and Eccentric Churches: 3. Broughton, Staffordshire

The phrase "old and eccentric" might have been invented for the Church of St. Peter, Broughton, Staffordshire. After the Reformation, English Church-building styles did not change overnight, so that writers have spoken of a "Gothic Survival" well into the 17th century. St. Peter's is a great example of that survival, built in 1630-34, it could have been constructed a century earlier. The reason for its odd shape is that this is not a Parish Church at all; it is rather a country house chapel intended to serve nearby Broughton Hall, and the servants and tenants of the Broughton family.

 This family Church was spared the ravages of the Civil War, and has developed since then. Owing to the old English custom of younger sons of landowners becoming clergymen, a number of incumbents have also been of the Broughton family. The size of the chancel suggests that the original builder was sympathetic to the ideas of Archbishop Laud. The interior, with its 18th century box pews, two-decker pulpit and various family monuments, is a gem. It is not normally open, but there is a number that you can call to summon a very knowledgeable and helpful Church Warden.
 Being a family Church, it has many family monuments. This one is to Lt. Col. Spencer Broughton, a well-travelled soldier who died at sea in 1702 - hence the warship at the bottom of the tablet. Most of the tablet describes his adventures in the service of the crown.
The font, at the back of the Church, is extremely odd - for one thing, it is so positioned as to be impossible for the majority of the congregation to see it, as it is placed in one of the piers of the tower arch. For another, it is clearly a re-purposed something else - namely a pre-Reformation holy water stoup. Tradition says that it came from a demolished monastic Church. It is quite convenient for small private baptisms, of course, which is what it was meant for!
As you can see, the font is completely invisible from the nave. And no, it is not an optical illusion, the tower arch is significantly out of true. This is one of the last Gothic Churches built in England in the 17th century, but the architect (if there was one) was not as proficient as his Medieval predecessors. Or maybe he was just cheap.
The stained glass of the east window is constructed out of bits of other windows re-used in a patchwork quilt effect. It is supposed to show the patron saints of England, Scotland and Wales, but the man who put it together had never heard of St. David, and so confused him with King David - as seen here. David's legs, head, body and crown are from at least three different stained glass figures, not all to the same scale, thus he looks comically deformed.
Finally, the pulpit and reading-desk are the focal point of the 18th-century furnishings of this 17th century private chapel that has since become a tiny Parish Church.
And so farewell to this eccentric little church, the chapel of the Broughtons of Broughton Hall.

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