All Saints’ Church, Thorney Hill
Service Times9.20 am Sung Matins BCP 1st Sunday Month Sung Holy Communion BCP
The church was built in 1906 in memory of Mary Christine, the daughter of Lord John Manners and his wife Constance, and who died of cholera in India in 1904 at the age of seventeen. The site was provided by Lady Manners and her sister for a church for the local people, who included Romany families from the Forest brought in to work at the nearby brick kilns and who have come to regard the church as theirs, many having been buried in the churchyard over the years.
The architect was Detmar Blow, a protégé of John Ruskin who was inﬂuenced by the principles of William Morris, founder of the Arts and Crafts Movement. All Saints was designed with these principles in mind: for example, it was to be lit only with candles.
Built of white stone imported from Caen in Normandy, its combination of round and square columns, creating an optical illusion of greater space, is of particular interest. Also unusual is the North-South orientation of the building, rather than the more usual East-West.
Against the western interior wall of the church is a commemorative bronze statue by the Australian sculptor, Sir Bertram MacKennal of the Hon. John Manners, killed in action in the ﬁrst weeks of the 1st‘ World War. He is particularly noted for having sculpted the tombs of Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in St George’s Chapel, Windsor and designing the British War Medal for 1914-18.
The grieving angels looking down on the effigy of John Manners were sculpted by Eric Gill, who also carved the inscription on the memorial tablet by the font to Mary Christine. This is a particularly ﬁne example of his art, in which he revived Roman lettering from Trajan’s Colurrm in Rome and added the serif, a style of lettering which now bears his name.
The altar is of black Italian marble, supported by two lions from the Manners family coat of arms. It is said to be modelled on the altar of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, and is unusual in being constructed of stone. In the Church of England communion tables are traditionally made of wood as a simple reminder of the Last Supper, as distinct from the Roman Catholic practice, where stone is seen as symbolic of sacriﬁce.
The dominant feature as one stands facing the altar is undoubtedly the mural by Phoebe Traquair. What was to be her last major work was started in 1920, the year in which she became the first woman artist elected to the Royal Scottish Academy. The mural was painted in memory of Lady Constance Manners, who died in that year.
The only other church murals by Phoebe Traquair that can be found in England are in the 12th century St Peter’s Church, Clayworth in North Nottinghamshire.
The mural was completed in 1922, and necessitated the blocking-up of windows originally placed there by the architect. Unfortunately, this alteration allowed rain to penetrate the wall and endanger the mural. This problem has now been rectiﬁed and the painting completely restored.
In the dome Christ is seen in Glory, surrounded by children and young people from Thomey Hill. The shape of the dome acts like a concave mirror, allowing the light reﬂected by the gold paint to glow in a striking fashion.
The main panel of the mural presents a view of the Forest around Thorney Hill, with the roof of Avon Tyrell House just visible in the distance on the right. The grouping of the characters is reminiscent of a nativity scene and features several well-known people and members of the Manners family.
Amongst those that have been identified are the poets William Blake and Alfred Lord Tennyson, Louis Pasteur and Lord William Cecil, Bishop of Exeter. The latter was father of Mary, who married Francis, 4th Baron Manners, who is himself said to be represented in the form of the baby. The soldier looking down at the baby is Raymond Asquith, eldest son of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. Lady Constance Manners herself is looking out of the picture on the left. A full description of the mural is available in the church.
The mural restoration was carried out by the artist by Ms Simone Pelizzoli in 1993-7.
If you would like to arrange a visit to this wonderful little church, or have any other questions, you can contact the churchwarden David Crabb by completing the form below:
Funds are urgently needed to restore the roof following the recent lead theft. You can donate by following the link below.