Timothy Betjeman at All Saints, Margaret Street

In a guest post, artist Timothy Betjeman writes about his new paintings of All Saints Church, Margaret Street in London’ s West End.

I was born and lived most of my life in America, so I have come to know England, and especially London, where I now live, through painting parts of it over the last seven years. 

Timothy Betjeman All Saints Margaret Street

Timothy Betjeman All Saints Margaret Street

It is a frequent occurrence for me, as a primarily ‘plein air’ painter, to be working in a place that has caught my interest for whatever reason, and to discover that its history at some point entwined with that of my grandfather, Sir John Betjeman, especially if the place happens to be a church.  All Saints , Margaret Street was no exception.  When I began painting at All Saints, I was quickly informed by a parishioner who took note of my surname that he had enthused about the church in a series on Victorian Architecture for the BBC in 1970.

I somewhat wished I’d discovered it myself—and it really does feel like a discovery, hidden like a treasure between tall buildings, invisible save for its spire until one is practically in its courtyard.  But my jealousy soon gave way to a comforting thought, that this building, designed for a purpose by William Butterfield in 1850, and still used for that purpose today, could attract our mutual admiration.

I was very young when my grandfather died, so I never really knew him.  When I come upon buildings like All Saints, that I know he touched, or was touched by, and if I feel the same thing, there is a sense of knowing him through that.  I think that my engagement with these places develops in a different way than it did for him, but the initial attraction to great architecture and the atmosphere it affords is a major source for me as an artist as it was for him.

I liked the ritual of working in the church

My introduction to All Saints Margaret Street was in 2012 by my friend Alistair Fletcher who brought me to a service there, promising it had a very good choir (it did), and urged me to do a painting of its eccentric interior.  After the service I spoke to the vicar, Alan Moses, and he was enthusiastic about the idea, so I started showing up 3 or 4 times a week.  I would set up my easel in the morning near the back of the church and work through the 1:10 Mass, and pack up when the electric lights came on just before Evening Prayer.  I liked the ritual of working in the church so much that I ended up doing ten paintings instead of one, and a series of etchings as well; so I spoke to the vicar again at the end of it all, and we decided to do a show.

Timothy Betjeman, All Saints Margaret Street

Timothy Betjeman, All Saints Margaret Street

I’m accustomed to painting on the street, where people are moving about me very quickly and their movement must be integrated with the relative stillness of the architectural forms.  Painting at All Saints was unique in that the dynamic was reversed.  The people (and usually there were one or two, even between Masses) stayed perfectly still while the wild zigzags and gilded decoration on the walls and floor seemed to turn on and off and shift with the light as it came in sudden streaks through the high chancel windows.  I spent a long time studying the way natural light came in and competed with the invented light of the designs covering the inside of the church.  There was a kind of weather system to the place that related to but was wholly different from the one outside.  One feels this as soon as one enters the dark quiet of the church and inhales.

In the course of the 6 months or so that I spent painting at All Saints, and the time I have spent there since, I am very thankful for how kindly I was received by the priests, wardens and all of the parishioners.  It is a rare place, and truly a living church.

Timothy Betjeman At All Saints’  exhibition, will be open daily (12 – 6pm) from  22 – 27 October at 7 Margaret Street, London W1W 8JG.   A portion of the sales will benefit All Saints Church

More information about the exhibition 

More about All Saints,  Margaret Street

Advertisements

Giving thanks for our wonderful churches

Today is Thanksgiving in America.

The modern Thanksgiving holiday tradition is commonly, but not universally, traced to a poorly documented 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. The 1621 Plymouth feast and thanksgiving was prompted by a good harvest. In later years, religious thanksgiving services were declared by leaders such as William Bradford, Governor of Plymouth colony, who planned a thanksgiving celebration and fast in 1623. The tradition of Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving was carried to the new world by Pilgrims and Puritans, when they began emigrating from England in the 1620s and 1630s.

On my journey home from the office tonight I will pass the very group of small villages from where the core group of Pilgrims came. Not near Plymouth, as many people think, but in north-east Nottinghamshire and south Yorkshire – passing in turn:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Babworth:

The Pilgrims were brought together by a common belief in the ideas promoted by Richard Clyfton, a parson at All Saints’ Parish Church in Babworth between 1586 and 1605. The church contains many interesting items recalling the Pilgrims including the chalice used by Richard Clyfton for communion services.

The church of All Saints is around 900 years old. It is a small but handsome structure with a tower steeple with three bells and a clock, a nave, chancel and a handsome porch. Most of the building dates from the 15th century, with several 18th century memorials and 19th century stained glass by Kempe. The chancel and sanctuary contain furniture by Robert ‘Mousey’ Thompson, featuring his trademark mouse carvings.

Scrooby:

The Manor House was home to William Brewster, a former diplomatic assistant to the Netherlands, serving as postmaster for the village and bailiff to the Archbishop of York. In 1605, Clyfton was declared a nonconformist and stripped of his position at Babworth. Brewster invited him to live at the Manor House, and for the congregation to meet privately there also. Beginning in 1606, services were held with Clyfton as pastor, and Brewster as the presiding elder.

The 13th century limestone church of St Wilfrid with its tall early 15th century tower and steeple is Scrooby’s focus. The west window is also early 15th century. The south aisle was added in the early 16th century. T he church’s roof, pews, font, pulpit and east window were restored in 1864 after a period of neglect. The east window received stained glass in 1889. The church is easily visible from the train (east coast mainline) for its tall spire, most other churches in this area have square towers.

Austerfield:

Congregation member William Bradford was born in Austerfield, and baptised in the font at St Helena’s church. Kept a journal of the congregation’s events leading up to leaving England, living in Holland, traveling across the ocean and during the settlement of the Plymouth Colony in America. It would later be published as Of Plymouth Plantation.

The church of St Helena was built in 1080. In 702AD Austerfield was the location of a Synod, where a dispute between the King of Northumbria and Wilfrid, Bishop of Ripon was resolved. The Synod also discussed and agreed was the way that Easter is calculated. The church has several windows by one of England’s greatest stained glass artists, Charles Earner Kempe. In the nave is a Sheila-na-gig of which there are only 16 recorded in England!

You can read a detailed history of the Pilgrims and their flight to the new world here: Wikipedia

You can find visiting details for the three churches here: Heritage Inspired

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You will no doubt have guessed from this that I do not live in London, but in Yorkshire.

%d bloggers like this: