Historic records and architectural histories: Faculties

By Tim Hudson (guest blogger)

What types of historic documents do architectural historians use? Continuing with our guest written series, the once Editor of the Sussex Victoria County History and co author of the updated Pevsner guide to West Sussex, Tim Hudson, will be exploring the types of records used when researching built heritage. Each blog, Tim will look at a significant West Sussex building through a variety of historic documents available at the Record Office.

Today we look at church faculties.

In a church or any other consecrated building a ‘faculty’ is required from the diocese before anything is done to its fabric, decoration, ornaments or fittings.

Examples of faculties are to be found in two places at the West Sussex Record Office: under individual parishes in the parish collection (Par), and in the diocesan collection (under the class mark Ep I/40 if the parish is in Chichester Archdeaconry).

The simplest record is the legal document itself, giving details of what was proposed.  It’s not that common to find accompanying drawings, but those for a new credence and piscina in the chancel of  Walberton church dated 1875 are a beautiful example.

Par 202/4/9 – Proposed credence and piscina designs for Walberton Church, 1875

These are by the then Diocesan architect Lacy W Ridge, who worked all over West Sussex, as the new ‘Pevsner’ Buildings of England volume (2019) by Elizabeth Williamson and others reveals.  Sadly the work at Walberton was never carried out.

Two early 20th-century faculties relate to work to be done by more important designers, both items as it happens in commemoration of the First World War.

At West Wittering church the war memorial tablet in the chancel was designed by Eric Gill, who grew up in the parish where his father was the vicar.  This tablet dates from 1920, a period when many communal memorials were being created, some inside churches, others not. 

By an oversight Gill’s memorial had been erected before the faculty had been applied for and was therefore technically illegal, as the document itself reveals.

Though simple, the memorial exemplifies the fine lettering Gill is famous for.  The occasional red colouring perhaps recalls the poppies so ubiquitous on the Western Front in France and Belgium.

War memorial tablet of St Peter and St Paul Church, West Wittering. Photograph by Basher Eyre

The list of names here is alphabetical by surname and without indication of rank.  Poignantly it includes four members of one family, the Kewells; and also Gill’s own brother Captain Kenneth Carlyle Gill, MC, killed in a flying accident in the last weeks of the war.

A faculty at Racton church is for a stained glass window in honour of the two sons of Henry and Ethel Christy of Lordington House, Stoughton. Both were killed in 1916, Stephen near Ypres and Basil on the Somme.

Lordington House. Photograph by Tim Hudson.

The very striking window of 1918, with rich and glowing colours, is by the stained glass artist Christopher Whall, whose other work in the county can be identified from the index of the new ‘Pevsner’ volume.

Excerpt of Par 156/4/22 – the faculty for Racton’s window, 1918

Though not illustrating Whall’s design, the faculty does explain its symbolism in some detail.

For students of architecture and the other arts, the West Sussex Record Office’s collection of faculty papers holds much else of equal interest.

Stay up to date with WSRO – follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s