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All Saints, Bawdeswell
It is worth pointing out that many surviving early 19th century parish churches like the one destroyed by the returning bomber have not worn well. Coming before the flowering of that century's architecture, they tend to be dark and dingy, their fittings are anachronistic, even absurd, and there is no reason to think the parishioners of Bawdeswell had a special fondness for the lost building. Indeed, what they chose to replace it seems almost a direct reaction. Rejecting both Gothic and Modernist forms, they chose something that is basically neo-classical, in the style of the 18th century but perhaps also with the flavour of New England. The materials, if you please, would not be concrete and steel but Norfolk flint and shingle.
The church sits near the centre of the village, set back politely from the street behind a small green and what appears to be intended as a carriage drive. A number of the old headstones were reset on the western side of the churchyard, and another intriguing survival is a large cross set up beside the porch. It's inscription reads When this church was destroyed on November 6th 1944 this cross remained standing on top of the bell tower. The cross was originally erected in loving memory of John Romer Gurney who died March 29th 1932.
All Saints has the homogenity that echoes the restored Wren City of London churches. The mock-classical portal, which should overwhelm, doesn't. The bell fleche and clock stage were completed in the 1990s, and you step inside to a space full of light, the simple wooden furnishings splendid under the mainly clear glass set with roundels and panels of continental glass, some 17th Century, some 20th Century copies.
The architect was James Fletcher Watson who, in his nineties, could return to the fiftieth anniversary celebrations, and survey his work with pride. At the time it was built, and in the decade or so afterwards, his work here was scoffed at as being in what Betjeman once described as 'ghastly good taste', but the fact is that it has stood the test of time very well indeed. At this distance, there is a Festival of Britain cleanness and light to its lines, and although it is a very simple building it resists the blandness that would emerge in the 1980s shopping-centre-school of neo-classical, as found at, say, Quinlan Terry's Brentwood Cathedral.
To emphasise the early 18th Century intentions of the interior, Fletcher Watson insisted on a three decker pulpit, which the parish were at first uncertain about. They gave in when he designed one that could be easily dismantled if necessary, and there it is, still in place today. An organ gallery is tightly crammed into the west end, perhaps the only not-entirely happy moment of the interior, but in any case the eye is quickly drawn to the grandeur of the column-flanked apse, the altar serious and alone in the stark whiteness. One touching memorial records the plane crash itself, recording the names of James Maclean and Melvin Tansley, the pilot and co-pilot. It is made from a piece of the recovered fuselage.
The overall cost of the rebuilding and furnishings was slightly less than £20,000, about half a million in today's money, which seems very reasonable. Most of it came from the War Damage Reparations Fund.
Simon Knott, March 2018
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