Judge refuses modernisation plan for historic Tennyson church

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Moves which would modernize the appearance of a 13th century Lincolnshire country church said to have been immortalised in a poem by Tennyson have been rejected by a judge because of the impact they would have on the ancient building.

Those responsible for St Thomas of Canterbury at Mumby want to install a modern glass door in the 19th century porch of the Grade I listed building to help keep the church warm and stop leaves being blown into the porch and the church itself.

But a judge has turned the scheme down on the basis that the harm the glass doors would do to the appearance of the church outweighs the need to stem the build up of leaves and the draft. In doing so he backed the view of English Heritage that the doors would cause “substantial harm” to the church.

In his ruling the Rev Mark Bishop, Chancellor of Lincoln and a judge of the Church of England’s Consistory Court said: “I am not satisfied that the Applicants’ justification for the proposals outweighs the serious harm that would be done to this building by the erection of the glass doors.

“As with many churches of this kind the ancient fabric seems to interweave with and promote the continuity of Christian worship and life here 800 years after the first stones were laid,” he said.

Describing the early 13th century inner doorway where the glass door would be installed he said it had shafted reveals, stiff leaf capitals, dog tooth decorative detailing and a richly moulded head.

It was said by English Heritage to be of a particularly high architectural and historic interest and to make a key contribution to the significance of the church.

Chancellor Bishop said that Tennyson’s father had been the Rector of nearby Bag Enderby from 1807 – to 1831 and Tennyson and his mother had continued to live in the Rectory for some years.

Tennyson, he said, was understood to have made the 13th century decoration in the doorway the subject of a poem and he continued : “It seems quite likely that the poet would have been moved to write about what he saw above the doorway into this Church.”

He said church porches had, since mediaeval times, been important meeting places and it was because of this importance such care was taken to create this decorative detail above the doorway. The decorative detail was a focus of attention and was part of people’s preparation for what awaited them at the church.

He said that he too was satisfied that if glazed doors were erected in the porch there would be serious harm to the significance of the church as a place of special architectural and historic interest.

He continued : “It is inevitable in my judgement that however ‘non-reflective’ the glass doors will be , there will be a significant reduction, and possibly an elimination, of any view of the decorative arcade above the doorway as people walk up the path into the church.

“The link between the churchyard and the church through this doorway is an important part of the architectural and historic significance of the church, and this would be seriously harmed, if not lost altogether, if the glazed doors were erected.”

He said he understood the problem with the leaves and the cold. However, he said that the same problem of cold air coming into the church would be created when the glass doors were opened.

As far as the leaves were concerned he said the problem could be met by regular sweeping.