Coming out of the Woodwork
A Feast of Craftsmanship
Chris Dawson

St Faith’s Church is full of fine examples of the art of the craftsman, none more so than the woodwork. One enters the building through splendid oak doors that are at least two inches thick, and although the outer doors have darkened with the weathering of almost a century, the inner doors have changed little in appearance since they were made. The architects, Grayson and Ould of Liverpool, gave us a building of fine proportions which was constructed in excellent materials by extremely skilled craftsman. Have you, like me, ever marvelled at the precision of the brickwork, left exposed for all to see, not covered up with plaster as is so often the case? If you have ever tried your hand at bricklaying you will appreciate the neat, tight, mortar joints and the level surface of the brickwork. How did they cut the sandstone to match so exactly the courses of the bricks, I wonder?

When the church was consecrated, in March 1900, the High Altar was backed by a red curtain, for the beautiful reredos designed by Salviati of Venice was not dedicated until All Saint’s Day, 1901. The carved Spanish mahogany sedilia and choir stalls were the work of O.E. Griffiths of Bevington Hill, Liverpool, as was the organ casing which, according to George Houldin’ little 1950 History, was in place before the organ was finally completed in 1901. The same craftsman was also responsible for the sandstone pulpit: are his initials tucked away in some hidden corner? There are not many artists who leave their work unsigned.

There is no record of the craftsmen who built the barrel-vaulted roof over the choir and sanctuary, or the splendid hammer-beam roof over the nave, which is of the same style as the roof in Westminster Hall, or those long pitch-pine pews that filled the church when it was first opened. Their only memorial is the work of their hands, but how blessed to be able to create something of beauty that will be in place long after you have passed to that great workshop in the sky, where wood has no knots and doesn’t warp and tools never blunt.

On 21st April 1921 the beautiful carved chance! screen, designed by Sir Giles Scott and made by O.E.Griffiths, was dedicated in memory of Captain Robert Elcum Horsfall, who, as a small boy, had laid the foundation stone on the 28th May 1898. How sad that less than twenty years later this young man should lose his life on 20th November 1917, fighting for King and country. The four carved figures on the screen depict St Chad, St Paul, St Agnes (with the lamb) and St Catherine (with the wheel). We are certainly fortunate to have such a wonderful screen, which although so ornate is also light and airy, and does not spoil one’s view of High Altar and reredos.

Another treasure donated to St. Faith’s by our founder is the life-sized crucifix which now hangs on the wall in the Chapel of the Cross, and which was bought by Mr Horsfall whilst on holiday in Italy in 1928. For many years this crucifix was stored in a wooden case for most  of the year, to be brought out only during Passiontide. There was some controversy when it was suggested by Fr Charles Billington that such a beautiful object should be on permanent display in the church. Some people felt that it would lose its impact when only seen during the relatively short period leading up to Holy Week. As a compromise it was hung on the wall in the north transept as one of those St Faith’s ‘experiments’ that tend to become a tradition. So the Chapel of the Cross was created with a simple oak-veneered altar fashioned after the design of one seen at Coventry Cathedral. George Goodwin arranged for the veneered sections to be made and I assembled the ‘temporary’ altar and turned some oak candle holders so that people could decide whether it was appropriate. Although the ‘great Crucifix’, as George Houldin called it, remains on permanent display, it still has the same tremendous impact, especially when seen for the first time, when it is moved to its position behind the High Altar during Lent, with the triptych closed and draped in black.

I always feel that the west end of St Faith’s is rather drab, but this is somewhat relieved by the carved oak ‘Vicars and Wardens’ board that was installed to mark the 30th anniversary of the building. Once again this was the work of O.E. Griffiths, who is sadly no longer available to carve the names of succeeding Vicars and Church Wardens on the board, and so of late they have been sign-written.

The lovely carved oak hymn board hanging near the pulpit was given in memory of Charles Henry Cheetham Sewell, who was a member of St Faith’s choir from 1900 to 1938, and who is described as The Father of the Choir’ by George Houldin.

On either side of the High Altar are standard candle holders made in Spanish mahogany to match the choir stalls. These were designed by Harold Woodley and given anonymously, probably during the Fr Hassall’s refurbishment of St Faith’s in the late 1940s. On the corners of the altar platform stand two oak candlesticks that were given ‘In memory of Sidney Singer, Priest, died 17th February 1954, from his wife Florence.’ It is good that these candlesticks, given long before the nave altar was envisaged, should be in use and not look out of place in their contemporary setting.

Fr. Charles was a great innovator and some of his experiments are now a firm part of St Faith’s furnishings and ceremony. Probably the most controversial was the installation of the Nave Altar. For an ‘experimental’ period, pews were removed from the front of the nave, and the altar frontal chest draped in blue cloth placed in position as an altar. Some pews were arranged on either side of the altar to accommodate clergy, readers and choir so that we worshipped around the altar. Eventually it was decided, after much debate, that this experiment should also become a permanent feature of St Faith’s. A design was produced, with the legs of the altar and the supports for the communion rails reflecting the hexagonal columns and open spaces of the chancel screen. I tried to capture this theme later in the Churchwardens’ staves that I made in memory of my mother, which for practical reasons had to be octagonal rather than hexagonal in section. The nave altar platform, originally uncarpeted, was made of beech, which blended well with the oak of the altar and communion rails. There were only four rails at first but a further two were given in memory of ‘Marjorie Turner 1915 — 1981’ so that more people could be accommodated round the altar. The platform, nave altar and communion rails were all made by Taylor and Madden, who later made the lectern to a similar design.

For many years Margaret Goodrich complained about the plain white Paschal candlestick when it was brought out to be decorated for Easter, and when Jessie Gale died just before Fr Peter left St Faith’s, it was decided that we should have a new candlestick in her memory. I was fortunate enough to be asked to design and make this and after some discussion it was decided that the design should reflect the oak of the nave altar and the pale blue surround of the reredos. The octagonal core is of beech with four sides faced with American white oak and the alternating sides painted blue. When this candlestick is given its prominent position during the Easter festival, Jessie Gale is once more at the centre of things! Jessie would never reveal her age and even in death she denied us this knowledge, for the brass plate on her memorial just says ‘In memory of Jessie Elinor Gale, a member of this Church for over 50 years’.

When a new St Faith’s banner was made, the old banner was preserved in the oak-framed display case mounted on the north wall of the sanctuary. At about the same time it was felt that some people had difficulty getting up and down the steps on either side of the choir, and so we installed oak handrails, much to the approval of the more mature members of the congregation and the choir.

On reflection, all the additions of recent years seem quite puny compared with the visions and skills of those who provided us, almost a century ago, with such a wonderful building in which to worship. Let us hope that we can pass on something that will inspire those who follow us as worshippers in this place. St Faith’s is the ideal place of worship for people who admire beautiful artefacts, for, in the unlikely event that the sermon proves unbearably long or tedious, there is plenty to look at for alternative inspiration!

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