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Zeals church is a relatively early work by the celebrated Victorian architect, George Gilbert (later Sir G.G.) Scott. Scott’s career encompasses the history of the Victorian Gothic revival movement (of which he was a leader) from its early days – characterised by the search for a truly catholic style rooted in the architecture of the English middle ages based on careful study and the use of correct archaeological detail – to a more individual and imaginative treatment of gothic forms that looked for inspiration to continental as well as English models, and which resulted in some of the greatest buildings of the age. Scott published a number of scholarly studies of medieval architecture, was prominent in the professional debates of the time, and created some of the acknowledged masterpieces of the period such as the Albert Memorial and the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras station in London. St Martin’s comes early in his career, when he was in partnership with W.B. Moffat (who specialised in public institutional buildings such as workhouses), and shows him mastering the requirements of the high Anglican churchmen who wished to see more frequent services, more dignifed worship and a greater emphasis on the Eucharist which required a well-proportioned, long chancel. Scott used the fashionable ‘Decorated’ style from the early 14th century and the details are fine and accurate, for instance the deeply-cut arches that give into the chancel and the organ chamber and the robust and powerful roofs – notably, the impressive hammer-beam roof over the nave. Originally the stone pulpit was entered from the vestry behind (where the organ chamber now is) and the blocked doorway can still be seen: this was not an unusual arrangement for churches of the time, for it allowed the priest to conveniently divest his surplice in order to preach in his cassock as Anglican custom demanded. This arrangement was changed at St Martin’s later in the century when the pulpit was reduced in height and accessed in the normal way.
Fittings and furnishings Good quality furnishings and fittings date both from 1845-6 and a re-ordering of the mid-1860s (probably when the pulpit was rearranged). Although some wall decoration has subsequently been painted over and some tiling (notably in the sanctuary) concealed by carpets, the church is an excellent example of a small rural church of the 1840s by an up and coming architect who would later become one of the legends of the age.

Portnells Lane
BA12 6NL

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