Church-crawlers in a busy literary world

Pictured: Tattershall, 17 miles from Langton by Spilsby, Lincolnshire.

Philip Wilkinson posted at on AUGUST 28, 2015:

“Across the lane from the picturesque cottage in my previous post is the church of St Peter and St Paul, Langton by Spilsby, Lincolnshire, a brick building in a severe classical style dating probably to the 1720s. For me, the main interest of this building is its unspoilt Georgian interior. It’s beautifully fitted out with panelled box pews, three-decker pulpit , and wooden panelling behind the altar. At the west end there’s also a wooden gallery supported on fluted columns…

This is the kind of interior that church-crawlers mean when they talk about a ‘preaching box’ – a church, that is, specifically designed for Protestant worship in which the important thing is that the congregation is able to sit and listen to the sermon. So there’s nothing much in the way of statuary or painting, the pulpit dominates the space rather than the altar, and the shoe-box shape of the building makes for good acoustics. Clear glass in the windows provides light enough for reading one’s Bible or hymn book and in this particular church the natural light can be supplemented with a generous number of candles – there are candle-holders everywhere.

The pews are arranged facing inwards towards the central aisle. This is quite an unusual arrangement for a parish church (it’s more common in the chapels of Oxbridge colleges) and takes the focus away from the altar. It also makes it hard for those on the right to look at the preacher, but I suppose the important thing is to listen, not to look. Whatever the practicalities, it makes for a pleasing, symmetrical layout. Whoever the carpenter was, he must have been pleased with the job. The curving panelling around the tiny apse, mirrored by the pews at the far end, are particularly satisfying.

Perhaps one of the occupants of those commodious east-end curving-fronted pews was Bennet Langton, writer and close friend of Dr Johnson, who was born in the great house nearby. One of the hatchments (the lozenge-shaped panels bearing funerary coats of arms) on the church wall is his. But the small quiet country church of Langton by Spilsby, for all the sophistication of its furnishing, seems a world away from the busy literary world in which Johnson and his friend played a prominent part.”

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