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St Mary, Middleton
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I came here on an overcast morning of drizzle, and this didn't help the interior much. It was a bit like stepping into a fairly gloomy barn, the only spots of colour being a couple of windows which I will come back to in a moment, and the view east to the chancel. However, wandering down the nave a bit, the overwhelming impression is one of height, and the reason for this is obvious when you face west and see that narrow and enormous tower arch shooting up to heaven. Those Perpendicular masons knew what they were doing. In the other direction, the chancel arch is equally enormous, the chancel appearing almost as a small afterthought beyond.
Most of the nave windows are clear, but two have excellent windows of the 1930s by the Powell & Sons workshop. One depicts the Adoration of the Magi and the other the Finding of the Young Christ in the Temple. They are in that early-16th Century style unfamiliar in English churches but seen at its best in Kings College Chapel in Cambridge - busy scenes, everybody doing something and giving a sense of bustle. It would be interesting to know who the artist was.
At first sight the two windows seem oddly placed, one in the north aisle and the other in the south but not facing each other. But if you count the clear windows, you can tell that they were probably originally intended as part of a sequence which would have started with the Annunciation in the north-west corner and may have finished with the Baptism of Christ at the east end of the south aisle. A grand scheme it would have been, but the fact that the two existing windows are almost contemporary with each other suggests a change of plan. It is tempting to imagine a Trollopeian controversy, but most likely it was that the Thirties depression and then the Second World War intervened.
St Mary is the only church in East Anglia with furnishings by Robert Thompson, the Yorkshire-based 'mouseman'. You'll find his signature mouse carved on the base of the lectern, and the communion rails and prayer desk are also his. Their clean Arts and Crafts lines may lull you into a false sense of simplicity, for as you step into the chancel you'll be struck by the riot of gold of the organ. In itself not terribly exciting, but the screen that hides the blower is made up of part of one side of the old rood screen, and still retains its Saints, albeit garishly repainted. They are St Jude, St James, St Philip and St Thomas. The chancel arch would have been wide enough for twelve Apostles, six each side. It may be that these panels did not come from this church originally, but if they did, I wonder what happened to the rest?
Simon Knott, July 2016
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