The International Steam Pages
Huntley Church, a Victorian Masterpiece
For convenience I have now grouped lifestyle illustrated features by topic:
This page is just one of several describing aspects of our '2011 new life', for earlier and later pages use the West Gloucestershire link above.
Huntley (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huntley,_Gloucestershire) is 'just another village' in our area, normally we pass through it on the bus to Gloucester although we had stopped off once to visit its excellent garden centre, near the church. This time we were on our way to nearby May Hill, but rather than being locked and bolted, the church (dedicated to St. John the Baptist) was open as the organ is being restored. We put our head round the door out of curiosity and stayed for more than half an hour...
Like the church at Blaisdon, it has an original Norman (11th century) tower base but everything else including the spire is much newer. The trees are, I assume the traditional Yews associated with churchyards although they are considered by Druids to be the sacred tree of transformation and rebirth so their significance predates Christianity in Britain.
While the outside is really nothing special, the interior is quite extraordinary, which is why it is a Grade I listed building. It is one of a number designed by Samuel Sanders Teulon who was a friend of George Gilbert Scott, best remembered in my circles for designing the Midland Grand Hotel at St. Pancras Station in London. Dating from 1863, the village is now planning for its "150th" in a couple of years time. 'Extravagant' hardly does justice to what is a totally 'over the top' Victorian Gothic revival creation - but it works and wonderfully so.
Each of the openings has a text inscription and are lavishly ornate:
This is the font and lectern.
The pulpit is similar decorated marble but perhaps the most spectacular part of the church is around the altar where the reredos contains a version of "The Last Supper" The font, reredos and pulpit were shown at the Great International Exhibition of 1862 before installation (NOT to be confused with the Great Exhibition some 10 years earlier).
However in terms of 'the living church', the most fascinating part of the visit was talking with the chief organ restorer:
It was he who told us about Teulon and it's always a delight to talk with someone with a passion for his work. He's been at it for some 61 years having been inspired by his encounter with the organ at Clifton College. As he said "Why retire when you can do a job like this?". The Gray and Davison organ can be operated both in both manual and powered mode and is basically constructed of mahogany with some oak and pine. This sort of thing doesn't come cheaply, funding has come from a variety of sources including the National Lottery. Given that in my experience, the 'sad' users of that institution cluster at the bottom end of the economic scale, it seems a little strange that 'a tax on the poor' should be used on such a desirable but definitely 'top end' project...
The church's recent history is inextricably tied up with the adjacent Church of England Junior School - itself a Grade II listed building - which was built about the same time as Huntley National School - there is "HNS 1873" above one door. Unlike many village schools it seems to have a healthy future with a recent glowing Ofsted report ("Outstanding") and an extension on the right which is very much in sympathy with its surroundings:
The most readable account of the background to the building of this church I have found comes from Architecture of England, Scotland, and Wales By Nigel R. Jones (2005), ISBN-10: 0313318506 | ISBN-13: 978-0313318504, page 79-80. Just enter "great international exhibition 1862 Teulon" into Google Books. For technical details of the background to it Grade 1 listing consult http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-354129-church-of-st-john-the-baptist-huntley.
If you liked this then you'll also enjoy our page on Holy Innocents Church, Highnam, another Grade 1 listed Victorian Gothic church just five miles away.
Rob and Yuehong Dickinson