Cambridge Camden Society - The Ecclesiologist

The Ecclesiologist

The popularity of the Cambridge Camden Society's handbook soon led some churchwardens to seek advice on how to restore their dilapidated buildings. These solicitations were enthusiastically answered and the Cambridge Camden Society's mission changed from mere antiquarianism to architectural consultation. The society's advice soon found a forum in The Ecclesiologist, the Cambridge Camden Society's newsletter, the first issue of which was first published in October, 1841. The publication began as "a periodical report of the society, primarily addressed to, and intended for the use of, the members of that body".¹ Because of the authority the society wielded in architectural matters, however, it soon published architectural criticism. The newsletter reviewed over one thousand churches in its twenty year span and never hesitated to lambast both a building and its architect for anything inconsistent with its view of the "middle pointed" (i.e. Decorated).

As often as not, the Society's verdict on an architect's work was determined as much by his personal life as his building design. Although A. W. N. Pugin was by any standard a pioneer of the Gothic revival and had aesthetic tastes very close to those of the Cambridge Camden Society, he was unequivocally condemned for his Roman Catholicism. Likewise, the publication says of one Thomas Rickman, a Quaker, "many have really felt it a stumbling block that a person of Mr Rickman's religious persuasion should be regarded as a benefactor to Christian Art" and "he did very little...and his churches are monuments of extreme ecclesiological ignorance."¹ Although many architects drew the ire of The Ecclesiologist, the editors did not hesitate to lavish praise on those select few whom they deemed worthy. Henry C. Carpenter's Church of St Paul, Bristol was widely praised for its correctness, as was S. W. Dawkes' Church of St Andrew, Wells Street, London. The highest praise of all was given, in July 1842, to John Hayward for St Andrew's church, Exwick, Devon; this was proudly pronounced "the best specimen of modern church we have yet seen".

The Society's favourite, however, was undoubtedly William Butterfield. The architect was a man of tremendous religious conviction who refused to build for Roman Catholics. Despite his frequent infringements of the rules set out by The Ecclesiologist, Butterfield retained a special status with the Society which culminated in its high praise of All Saints, Margaret Street. Despite numerous violations of its principles, such as his use of brick, expressly forbidden by The Ecclesiologist, the Society went so far as to bankroll Butterfield's church. Although the Cambridge Camden Society claimed to be solely concerned with architecture, its criticism and praise of designers was often based as much on their personal convictions as it was on Gothic correctness.

The Ecclesiologist was also the vehicle by which the Cambridge Camden Society launched its two most important campaigns, the abolition of pews and the reintroduction of chancels to churches. The society received much sympathy in its call to rid churches of purchased pews, perhaps in part due to its fiery rhetoric: "What is the history of pues, but the history of the intrusion of human pride, selfishness, and indolence, into the worship of God?"¹ At first, the society had a hard time convincing builders to incorporate chancel areas because, since Anglican clergy were no longer separated from the congregation by an altar, there was no real purpose for the expensive addition. The problem was solved, however, when Walter Hook and John Jebb, clergymen at Leeds and Hereford, respectively, proposed that chancels be used for lay choirs. Soon almost all old churches were dismantling their pews, and new churches were being built with chancels. Both issues were major successes and seen as significant steps in the Cambridge Camden Society's quest to "medievalise" the English Church.

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