Historic Churches 2018

BCD SPECIAL REPORT ON HISTORIC CHURCHES 25 TH ANNUAL EDITION 13 PORCH GATES Linda Hall H OW MANY times have you stopped and looked at the porch gates before entering a historic church? Occasionally? Never? Many churches do not have porch gates, while some have outer doors, but a surprising number of fascinating and historic porch gates survive. Sometimes these are in a rarely used porch, while the current entrance has plain functional gates that may be quite recent. A Google image search will also produce interesting modern examples. Yet these gates are never mentioned in books about church architecture and very rarely mentioned in Pevsner’s Buildings of England or in church guide books. It is as if they are invisible. Porch gates perform different functions in different places. Some are clearly designed to keep intruders out, with locks, bars and a fearsome array of wrought iron spikes on the top. Others are lower and spike-less and were perhaps intended to keep out dogs, cats and other animals rather than human intruders. More recent examples often include a mesh to prevent birds from flying into the church, especially where the main door is kept open as a sign of welcome. The oldest surviving gates appear to date from the 17th century, with many more from the 18th century and later. They come in three main types. Some are of solid plank or panelled construction like doors, while others have an open framework of posts, rails, wooden slats or ironwork. The third type combines the two, with a solid, often panelled, lower section and decorative spindles or balusters in the upper section. Pairs of gates seem to be more common than single gates and are often more pleasing to the eye. Some porch gates are almost doors filling the entire arch, but qualify as gates by including ventilation in their design. The south porch of Holy Trinity, Much Wenlock (Shropshire) has a splendid pair of late 17th- or early 18th- century doors with alternating rows of tall and square fielded panels, with a panelled top section almost filling the head of the arch. The narrow gap left for ventilation is filled with beautiful wrought iron spirals (page 14, upper left). The equally magnificent gates at St Peter’s, Oundle (Northamptonshire) have heavily moulded fielded panels, typical of the later 17th century, while ventilation is provided in the upper section by a sunburst effect of tapered slats radiating from the centre (page 14, upper right). Holy Cross, Sherston (Wiltshire) has a wooden porch with very striking and unusual openwork gates composed of elaborate ‘splat’ balusters set in a two- panelled framework under a cusped head (splats are flat in profile and have either straight or symmetrically shaped sides to produce a more decorative effect). The balusters appear to be late 17th or early 18th century in design, although the overall composition looks later (page 14, lower right). Simpler versions exist elsewhere. A door composed entirely of plain splats fills the arch at St Peter’s, Wormleighton (Warwickshire) and has a simple wooden latch. The gates at St Mary’s, Priors Hardwick (Warwickshire) each have two recessed vertical panels with an upper section of vertical square struts; an 18th-century date seems likely. St Pol de Leon, Paul (Cornwall) has a probably 19th-century St Andrew, Broadhembury: the design of the turned balusters, the fielded panels and the ramped top rail all suggest an early 18th-century date. (All photos: Linda Hall)