A few weeks ago I attended the Annual General Meeting of the Friends of Friendless Churches – not something I do every year, but an opportunity to see and photograph the immaculate restoration of the Chapel of St John the Baptist, Matlock Bath, designed by Guy Dawber (1861-1938) for Mrs Louisa Sophia Harris, who lived at The Rocks, on the cliffside above Artists’ Corner in Matlock Dale.
Mrs Harris disliked the liturgical practices of the vicar of St Giles’, Matlock, and objected to his refusal to memorialise her pet dog, so she erected her own private Anglo-Catholic chapel at the end of her garden in 1897.
St John’s Chapel is a delightful architectural composition, its simplicity relieved by the oriel window and bell turret that punctuate its setting on the side of the cliff.
It’s also a gem of Arts & Crafts design, with stained glass by Louis Davis (1860-1941), plasterwork, embellished with painted vines and individually-modelled swallows, by George Bankart (1866-1929) and a painted altarpiece by John Cooke. The rood screen, and probably the other interior fittings, were designed by Guy Dawber.
After many years of neglect and wanton vandalism, the chapel was vested in the Friends of Friendless Churches in 2002, and they have spent some £300,000 returning it to immaculate condition.
The Friends’ website is at http://www.friendsoffriendlesschurches.org.uk/CMSMS/index.php, which is the portal for gaining access to their properties. There is an introduction to the Friends by the Secretary, Matthew Saunders, at http://www.buildingconservation.com/articles/fiftyyears/friendless_churches.htm.
The AGM took place at Masson Farm [http://www.massonfarm.com/index.html] and included a high-quality afternoon tea with a view to match.
You know you’re at an upscale AGM when someone sends apologies for absence because they’re helping to choose the next Archbishop of Canterbury.
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals: past views of English architecture, please click here.