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All Saints, Roydon
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By 1855, his increasing reputation enabled him to set up in practice for himself, in London, and he entered designs for a number of competitions for secular buildings in the city that were going up in the new gothic style. Mostly, he was unsuccessful, but one of the first churches he received a commission for as an independent architect was this one, All Saints at Roydon.
Now, we think of Street as one of the half dozen top architects of the Gothic Revival, so it comes as some surprise to discover that All Saints was rebuilt in a neo-Norman style. But this was just a year or so after the publication of his book The Brick and Marble Architecture of Northern Italy, so perhaps his mind wasn't yet fully focused on the pattern-book English gothic of his friend Butterfield's All Saints Margaret Street. Pevsner seems to think that Street would have been reluctant to essay into neo-Norman, but if he was, he made a pretty good job of it.
There is a pleasing harmony to the building, the details taking their key from the surviving doorways. The glass of Clayton & Bell (east), depicting the Crucifixion flanked by the Resurrection and the Ascension in three lancets with a roundel of the Nativity above, is an unusual choice for neo-Norman, but once again it works very well, as does the west window depicting St Peter and St John, which Mortlock thought was probably by William Wailes. The font is grand, the pulpit, albeit in wood, echoes the neo-Norman style of the building. It should all be terribly kitschy, but somehow the quality of the work shines through, and there is a quiet gravitas to the interior that I had not expected. Is there a reason for this?
Well, perhaps there is. In January 1856, Street took on as an apprentice a maverick genius by the name of William Morris. The 21 year old Morris was just down from Oxford, where he had studied classics, but his real interest had been in medieval art and architecture. He had known the older Street in Oxford, and shared his passion for the work of Pugin and Ruskin. Morris's arrival must have been like a firework going off in Street's office. His obsession with detail, his puritanical rejection of mainstream artistic tastes, his dislike of urban life and his longing to return to the idyllic simplicity of medieval rural life and manners - is it wishful thinking to see these things reflected in Street's All Saints, Roydon? At the very least, can we assume that the ironwork of the doors may have come from Morris's influence, and possibly even his design?
Simon Knott, August 2016
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