Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Shere Arrangements

I'd been in Shere church many times before my visit on a sunny afternoon a couple of weeks ago, but never looked at it in any detail. Here, there were a number of changes and restorations in Victorian decades including most significantly the raising of the chancel in 1895-6, along with the installation of clergy and choir stalls and vestries, and the introduction of a robed choir. 

That brought standard Victorian High-Churchery to Shere: equally interesting are the changes that took place in the 1950s and 60s, which took that identity somewhere different. Rector throughout this time (1950-68) was Reginald Hougham, a graduate of King's College and clearly an Anglo-Catholic of some sort. The first step was taken about 1956, when Revd Hougham managed to secure the services of Louis Osman - who would, famously, go on to design the crown for the investiture of Charlie Boy as Prince of Wales - to produce a new altar and furnishings. These included a bronze-doored aumbry for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament. Carver John Cobbett made a wooden statue of St James in the mid-1960s, so, as the church guide leaflet puts it, 'for the first time since the Reformation the church has an image of its patron saint'; and finally the choir stalls and organ were cleared out of the chancel in 1967 and moved to an aisle. I have to say, begging the forgiveness of Shere churchgoers in advance, that the Osman fittings are among the most dreadful I have ever seen (they are in a sort of spindly sub-Coventry-Cathedral style), and I am glad I don't have to try and worship using them, but that's just a matter of taste! More importantly, this was a very different version of Catholic Anglicanism from the Victorian one. I will have to find out what the church looked like before these alterations.

Shere also raises the question of how far and how often Anglo-Catholicism beds down in churches like this, even when that's the clear bent of an influential incumbent. Shere has its statue of St James, and an aumbry for reservation, but no lights at either which would indicate some awareness of the significance of these things. Oddly, too, although the altar is used westward-facing, the church hasn't decided to put in a more central one, despite the high altar being quite a long distance away from the pews beyond a now-empty chancel. 

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