Saint Andrew's Parish Church, West Tarring
The Mosaics Project

by Veronica Donkin*

INTRODUCTION

The Parish Church of Saint Andrew, West Tarring 1, is a lovely, ancient building, parts of which date back to the thirteenth century. It was developed between the reigns of Edward I and Edward IV from a smaller Saxon church and thus carries contemporary architectural characteristics, with its Early English nave and a chancel and tower representing the later Perpendicular style.

Situated between the Iron Age fort high on the South Downs at Cissbury, and the sea, the strategic importance of the settlement at Tarring was underlined by King Athelstan when he bequeathed it to Christ Church, Canterbury, in 941 AD. Whilst Tarring's strategic importance has been obscured by general societal development as well as the more recent process of urbanisation, Saint Andrew's Church, although subject to the Diocese of Chichester, remains an Archbishop's Peculiar.2

In 1878 this increasingly tenuous link with Canterbury was revived with the induction of Dr Henry Bailey as the Rector of West Tarring: previously Warden of Saint Augustine's College, Canterbury, between 1850 and 1878, Dr Bailey retained his association with Canterbury, returning there in 1892 after the sudden death of his wife, to carry out the duties of Honorary Canon in Canterbury Cathedral until he died in 1906. It was during his incumbency at Saint Andrew's that the mosiacs were installed.

During the 1850's, the then Vicar of West Tarring, the Reverend John Wood Warter, had reversed the declining fortunes of the church by undertaking a major programme of repair and restoration to the cost of 2,200, so that by the time Dr Bailey succeeded him, the Parish was benefiting from a church which, previously altered on an ad hoc basis, had been returned to 'a (sic) homogenous whole' 3.

Writing in 1853, the Reverend John Wood Warter provides us with the following description of Saint Andrew's:-

'Tarring Church is, I believe, what is called a Twelve-apostle-arch church. There are five arches on each side, separating the Nave from the North and South aisles, which with the Tower and the Chancel Arch complete the number' 4.

The large expanses of bare wall between the clerestories on the North and South Nave walls and the tops of the pillars clearly demanded some form of decoration. Elsewhere fresco painting had been tried, but because of the damp English climate and the damp interior of churches generally, they had not lasted. Dr Bailey's solution was to arrange for the installation of what remains to this day, a unique set of wall mosaics.

 

THE MOSAICS

"In his temple every thing sayeth, 'GLORY'". (Psalm XX1X. 9.)

With these words used on the title page of his pamphlet 'An Argument for the Decoration of Churches', Dr Bailey sums up his own philosophical approach to the beautification of churches; using vivid biblical extracts, he sets out to provide moral justification for worship through beauty.

…And when, through the wonderful progress of arts and sciences; the increase and enjoyment of beautiful things in our own houses is so remarkable and universal, shall they be absent from the House where the rich and poor meet together, the Lord being the Maker of them all?' 5

Filled with moral purpose then, Dr Bailey set out to gather the best available skills for the job in hand. Inspired by his predecessor's discourse on the design of the nave, Dr Bailey proposed that marble mosaics showing the Twelve Apostles should be placed on the nave walls. The work was paid for by subscription into a dedicated charitable fund. The whole project was carried out under the supervision of William Butterfield 6 - a close friend of Dr Bailey's.

A band of itinerant mosaicists from Udine, Northern Italy, was employed by the London- and Paris-based firm Burke & Co., to produce the mosaics in the Paris workshops. A wonderfully dated account is given by the Sussex Coast Mercury:-

‘It is not more than twenty years ago that a company of Italians began to travel over many cities of the Continent for the purposes of re-introducing this long-lost art... They are men of remarkable intelligence, perfect artists in their trade and withal perfectly sober and industrious.' 7

The inspiration for the designs was the ancient mosaics at Ravenna which Butterfield had visited earlier in the century. There are striking similarities between the mosaics at West Tarring and those in the Basilica Nuovo San Appollinari, which is a three-tiered depiction ‘Procession of the Martyrs'.

The mosaics in Saint Andrew’s church are two-tiered and show the twelve Apostles in the top tier supported in the lower tier by medallions depicting the Patriarchs. In his pamphlet Dr Bailey describes them thus:-

Beginning with the east end of the South wall of the nave and going round by the west to the east end of the nave, we see a series the twelve Apostles. Each figure is six feet high and stands in the centre of a panel 11 feet by a little over 9 feet. The drapery falls in graceful folds and is of diverse colours; reaching from head to foot... on either side rises from its roots a tall rich date palm, with characteristic fruit at the head of the stem, and boughs made to bend inwards so as to form an arch over the Apostle's glory-crowned head.' 8

The upper portion of each panel is decorated with stars, and each of the Apostles is identified not only by name but by those emblems traditionally associated with them. Underneath these panels, the spandrils are filled with a striking diaper pattern, which ends between the arches in alternate red and white bands. In the centre of each of the eight chief spandrils are the medallions depicting the Patriarchs. Between the tiers runs a band, which contains the Apostles' Creed.

The mosaics were never completed; a design showing Christ in Glory, flanked by SS Andrew and Peter, and intended for the wall of the Chancel Arch, was never executed because of lack of money. Fortunately, we are in possession of the original cartoon for this remaining section.

 

THE PROJECT

The mosaics were last cleaned in 1930. At the time, the church was in financial difficulties and could not afford the cost of bringing in Burke & Co. to carry out the necessary work. Archival material shows that whilst the church anticipated paying between 20 and 30, Burke & Co. set the price for cleaning at 80.

There was also an intention to complete the mosaics, but with an estimated cost of 1,075.0.0., it was clearly out of the question. Eventually they were cleaned by a local Worthing firm who were advised by Burke & Co. This advice, typed out by the Rector, John Godber, is the final entry in the archive: -

I saw Mr. Horace Burbidge who conducted the correspondence with regard to the cleaning of the mosaics in 1913... He suggested that they should be cleaned by local labour, merely cleaning them with a cloth damped with water... and then, having dried the surface, rub the surface over with a cloth damped with linseed oil.' 9

Now, sixty nine years later, the mosaics are showing clear signs of neglect: large areas are heavily discoloured and cursory examination has revealed partial disintegration and suggests the substrate may have decayed. Clearly, if no action is taken, deterioration will continue to the point where the mosaics are lost to the nation.

In response to this concern and renewed interest in the mosaics, Saint Andrew's PCC appointed a sub-committee in June 1998 to develop the mosaics project.

The project itself falls naturally into two discrete stages:

1. The cleaning and restoration of the existing mosaics

2. The completion of the whole work 116 years after the project was started

The cost of cleaning and restoring the mosaics is in excess of 125,000.

Completion of the mosaics would raise the cost to a minimum of 250,000.

The sub-committee has embarked on a process of research and consultation in preparation for funding bids, and is awaiting the results of a condition survey of the mosaics which was carried out in January 1999 by Trevor Caley Associates 10. An exhibition relating the history of the mosaics, and consisting of primary source material and a recent set of photographs, was on display in Chichester Cathedral between 8th and 27th March 1999.

 

Footnotes

1 The village of Tarring is usually called West Tarring to distinguish it from another Sussex village, Tarring Neville, which is in East Sussex, near Newhaven.
2 Although Peculiars were abolished in 1810, Saint Andrew's, having the Archbishop of Canterbury as Patron, retains the title 'Archbishop's Peculiar’.
3 Davies, R. 1990 page 157
4 Warter, Rev. J.W., 1853, page 241
5 Bailey, Dr H., c. 1885, page 10
6 Butterfield, a leading light in the Polychromatic Movement also designed Keble College, Oxford, All Saints, Margaret Street, and Rugby School.
7 South Coast Mercury, 15th August 1885
8 Bailey, Dr H., c. 1885, page 12
9 PAR 193/4/6
10 Funded by English Heritage, Trevor Caley Associates has recently carried out restoration work on the mosaics on The Albert Memorial.

  Biblography

Bailey, Dr Henry, 'An Argument for the Decoration of Churches', pub. Kirshaw, Worthing c. 1885
Davies, R., 'Tarring - A Walk through its History', pub. Roger Davies, Worthing, 1990
Orger, E.R., 'Life of Henry Bailey D.D.', pub. Hugh Rees Limited, London, 1912
Warter, Rev. J.W., ‘West Tarring', pub.1853
South Coast Mercury, 15th August 1885
Saint Andrew's Mosaic Archives, PAR 193/4/6/7 and PAR 193/7/19, County Records Office, Chichester, West Sussex

* Veronica Donkin was the original chair of the Mosaics Sub-committee when it was set up by the P.C.C. of Saint Andrew's Church.

This article, which has been updated in a few minor details, first appeared in Church Building, issue 56, dated March/April 1999.

 

POSTSCRIPT

Since this article was written, the project has been reduced to include only the conservation of the mosaics, and they will not be returned to as new condition. The installation of the missing mosaic on the east end wall of the nave has also been abandoned. The final cost of the approved works will be in the region of  50,000. (AMS 04/10/2003)

 

Please note: this material is copyright 1999, 2003 Saint Andrew's Church, West Tarring, Parochial Church Council.

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