thinking about archaeology

Miss Maurice’s organ case

Great Chalfield Manor

We went to Great Chalfield Manor, Wiltshire, the other day, parts of which stood in for Thomas Cromwell’s home in the BBC Wolf Hall series. The grounds are very pleasant (complete with a kingfisher on the moat). The house is a medieval manor largely rebuilt by Thomas Tropnell (1405–88), not an inappropriate setting for the TV series. But what really stood out was the panelled organ case in the little church of All Saints. It’s quite beautiful, with painted religious scenes, half medieval chapel and half Victorian fairground.

It was apparently made early in the 20th century for an organ installed by the Reverend Edward Kingston (rector 1878–1900). A card says the case was made when the church was restored 1910–14 to a design by Mr Biddulph Pritchard, and was painted by Miss Maurice.

Wikipedia is wonderfully dismissive, saying simply, “The organ case is richly decorated and looks medieval but is modern.” I wanted to know more. Who were Mr Biddulph Pritchard and Miss Maurice?

To give him his full name, Arnold Theophilus Biddulph Pinchard (1859–1934) was secretary of the English Church Union and author of, among other tracts, Judgment unto Truth: A Course of Six Sermons, The Pope & the Conscience of Christendom, and the memorable Belts & Buckles in Birmingham.

Photo National Trust

Photo National Trust

There is a depiction of the case in the manor’s collection, which the National Trust has put online (above). The drawing is described there as one of a box of 169 drawings and plans of Great Chalfield Manor by Sir Harold Brakspear, c 1905–15. Brakspear (1870–1934) was a local architect and antiquarian who substantially but sensitively restored and extended the house for its owner, Robert Fuller.

Biddulph Pinchard restored the church itself. Most of the organ case’s scenes are based on paintings on a tremendous late 15th century rood screen in Ranworth church, Norfolk.

The 12 apostles are on the sides. Miss Maurice has not slavishly copied them and they are not ordered the same, but you can match them all.

Photo Gary Troughton

Ranworth church: Photo Gary Troughton

All Saints church, north top

All Saints church, north top

All Saints church, north base

All Saints church, north base

Ranworth church: Photo Gary Troughton

Ranworth church: Photo Gary Troughton

All Saints church, south top

All Saints church, south top

All Saints church, south base

All Saints church, south base

On the front are the three Magi presenting to Mary, Jesus and Joseph, above St George about to behead his dragon and the Archangel Michael doing the same to a dragonesque Satan. The last two again are based on scenes at Ranworth.

Magi

Ranworth church, Photos Simon Knott

Ranworth church, Photos Simon Knott

And on the sides, between each group of apostles, are little vignetted scenes.

Chalfield organ N side

In one of these you can a man, said to be St James, being beheaded in front of the manor house, with the west end of the church at the left. On the front Caspar gives the whole church to Jesus in gold, as seen from the north:

church & manor

It’s all very lovely and moving. But who was the talented Miss Maurice?

Photo Michael Garlick, Wikimedia

Photo Michael Garlick, Wikimedia

2 responses

  1. G Puckett

    It’s so fascinating the way, no matter how hard the artist tries, the ‘spirit of the age’ creeps into the depictions of faces. At first sight they look medieval, then a moment’s closer examination – especially of the lefthand saint, ‘north top’ – shows how the modern sensibilities have replaced the medieval feeling of the face. It is often even possible to pin down, to within a decade in the 19th and 20th centuries, when something purporting to be medieval was actually painted. If asked to guess, I would say these were early 20th century; if going out on a limb, I’d say 1910-1920. I’d be very ready to be proved wrong, but fascinated to know.

    August 16, 2015 at 6:25 pm

  2. I know the Ranworth screen well, but have never come across the Great Chalfield organ case before; many thanks for bringing it to my attention. I see that Pevsner is silent on the subject, and the Shell Guide is only slightly less patronising than Wikipedia, calling it ‘a pretty piece of faking’. I can’t help you with Miss Maurice, I’m afraid, though I’d like to see more of her work.

    August 18, 2015 at 8:12 am

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