EPSOM COMMON, Surrey – Christ Church.
Rood screen 1909
The Building & Engineering Times of 12 September 1885, in an article relating to decorative art, in particular metalwork, reported on a paper which was presented to the Conference of the Society of Architects at Plymouth. This was on 3rd September 1885, and was given by George Fellowes Prynne. In it he complained of the over-use of iron in architecture, in particular cast iron, ornamentation in which he regarded as worthless. He felt that the preponderance of cast iron work had been anything but a help to the artistic treatment of iron.
On the other hand, he argued, wrought iron gave scope for originality of design. It lent itself to
….vigorous and strong, beautiful and slender treatment and to ease and beauty of form quite unobtainable in any other material.
He went on to describe how the decorative work of the 13th century was the most perfect in terms of true simplicity and symbolical design.
The greatest aim in design was simplicity and beauty of form. Much of the best forged work was spoiled by being over-elaborate in design. Above all things, ornament in iron-work should never interfere with the use or suitableness of the article. As a general rule the leading constructional lines should not be hidden, for weakness of effect was thereby imparted just where the eye sought for solidarity and strength. Overcrowded ornament in all work was unsatisfactory, and never had the charm of light and simple treatment. Iron-work required as much, if not more, careful study than any other building material, and he recommended all who took and interest in the subject to study and make careful sketches of old work. With regard to workmanship, the craftsmen of the present day were in no way inferior in skill to their ancient brothers of the hammer, but the great thing that needed to be instilled into them was feeling – to make them take a true pleasure and pride in their work, and to make their work as much a labour of love as it was a labour for bread. This was undoubtedly an age in which there was a great seeking after truth and beauty, and if that line were consistently followed, bad art and perishable materials would be doomed.
Bear these observations in mind as you read on.
This Rood screen is totally different from anything else of Fellowes Prynne’s work that I have seen. It is made entirely of metal, yet in appearance resembles much more the style of a wooden screen. It surmounts a stone chancel wall, but in no other way is it typical, except in its actual design.
The Building News and Engineering Journal of 3 October 1917 gave an account of the installation of the screen.
The new Rood Screen at Christ Church, Epsom, was erected from the design and under the supervision of George H. Fellowes Prynne, F.R.I.B.A., of Westminster, by the kind consent of Messrs. Sir A. Blomfield and Son, who were the architects of the church.
The screen, with the exception of the base, which is of stone with inlaid marble slabs, is entirely of wrought metal. While in the main the general form of the screen is on more or less traditional lines, the design and details are essentially and distinctly of metal treatment, both from a constructional and decorative standpoint. The main uprights, which are formed of four wrought iron standards with pierced copper panels placed diagonally, are taken up through the cornice and carry the rood figures and figures of angels bearing shields and emblems of the Passion, above the cornice. The cornice is formed of sheets of copper, bent and hammered out to the necessary curves, with panels of bronze bearing sacred inscriptions. A raised panel immediately under the rood screen bears the words “By Thy Cross and Passion, Good Lord deliver us.” The figures are of bronzed metal. A note of colour is given by the emblems of the Passion and sacred monograms, in coloured enamel, on the copper shields in the angels’ hands, an on the plagues [sic] held by the wrought iron scroll-work in the panels below.
The Parish Magazine for August 1909 gave a bit more description and detail:
The screen is of wrought iron and bronze, with richly ornamented traceried panels. Immediately over the central gate rises a cross, twelve feet in height, carrying the figure of the Saviour, and supported on either side by figures of the Blessed Virgin and St. John. There are also on either side of the cross angels carrying emblems of the Passion. The whole meaning of the rood, and a very beautiful one, is that only by passing under the sufferings of the Cross can we reach the holy of holies.
As well as the wording quoted above, we are told that
… running along the whole length of the screen are the following words from the Book of Revelation: “Alleluia! Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. Alleluia!” On one side of the screen is the following memorial tablet: “To the honour and glory of Almighty God, and in memory of William Sampson Trotter, late of Horton Manor, this screen is erected by his wife, son and daughter”. The work has been carried out by Messrs Martyn of Cheltenham.
In conclusion, it was Fellowes Prynne himself, who said in his lecture of 1897 that
“…modern metal screens were, for the most part, a lamentable failure”.
He no doubt was confident that he had amended this state of affairs.