BERWICK CHURCH – STOP THE VANDALISM OF THIS HISTORIC INTERIOR – NOW!

BERWICK CHURCH – STOP THE VANDALISM OF THIS HISTORIC INTERIOR – NOW!

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Preserve Berwick started this petition to Lewes District Council and

Nestled in the lee of the South Downs, this church has been the centre for local community worship for a thousand years or more and still serves a vibrant and active congregation. Berwick houses one of the most complete decorative schemes of twentieth-century artists in an ancient rural church. In 1941, in the midst of the Second World War, Bishop Bell of Chichester sought to revive the Church’s patronage of artists, believing that the contribution of the artist was essential to the spiritual life of the church,  Duncan Grant, Vanessa and Quentin Bell were commissioned to create a series of paintings within the tradition of Western sacred art. This makes this tiny Grade 1 listed church unique in England, which would merit that it is traditionally dressed. The Victorian black and red tiles, the mis-matched pews and chairs, the organ manifest how a village community came to evoke and pattern itself over the decades, they are intrinsic to the value of the totality of the ambience of this simple, much loved rustic parish church.

These paintings on plasterboard panels, executed under austere conditions occasioned by war-time shortages, 75 years on the paintings are now in urgent need of conservation. This is not a stable medium and problems have been exacerbated by the environmental conditions within the ancient church.

An appeal has raised sufficient funds to commence the structural repairs and to provide a double door on the north porch to stabilise the interior of the church and to conserve the paintings. However, through this process other considerations have come into play. The installation of underfloor central heating has been recommended as the most stable for conservation purposes, to do so the floors need to be taken up. Quite possibly the existing black and red Victorian tiles could be damaged or broken in the process, however, these could be easily replaced by the purchase of replacements from the Architectural Salvage Company. However, the PCC propose replacing areas of parquet flooring with modern terracotta tiles rather than extending the current Victorian tiles, they are of the opinion that the Victorian tiles are of limited aesethic merit. Conservation is not about making aesthetic changes: that is the start of a very slippery slope. Often the most difficult challenges of conservation relate to our times when aesthetics can override the advantages of perspective.

The Victorian tiles represent the values of retaining a period interior – and respecting previous generations such as the Rev. E. Boys Ellman, who was a minister at Berwick for 66 years. He studied at Oxford, and was taught by the founders of the ‘Oxford Movement’, a movement which restored Catholic elements to Anglican worship such as the importance of symbols, beauty, colour and the sacraments and undertook the restoration of the church to the designs by the Victorian architect, Henry Woodyer. Who is to say that our aesthetic today is superior to theirs? Bespoke and designed replacements of any nature would be completely at odds with the interior to which the artists responded when they created their series of paintings for the church. It would have been so easy to smarten up nearby Charleston Farmhouse in the 1980s, however, from a heritage perspective that would have been viewed as tantamount to vandalism by future generations. This church is so tiny, so that even the smallest adjustment will be apparent, the Aldershaw tiles currently proposed for the floor will reflect the biggest change of all to the interior.

The golden rule of successful conservation is likened to a good hair cut: once the task has been accomplished one cannot see any difference. And of greater importance, if alterations are essential, they should also be reversible.

Concerns have also been expressed about the removal of the Victorian organ (the organ moved to Alciston in the late 1980s should be returned to Berwick), the re-siting or replacement of the pews and loose rush-seated chairs. Also, a faculty some years ago enabled Quentin Bell’s painting, ‘Supper at Emmaus’, to be moved from the Chancel – contrary to the original scheme envisioned by the artists. The opportunity to return the painting to its position in the Chancel at a future date should not be compromised by other plans.

Berwick Church was closed on September 2nd, 2019 to start these works. We urgently need your support now, please will you sign this petition to register your concern relating to the points outlined above.

Thank you.

 

 

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