A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
Back in May 2016 local newspapers reported serious vandalism at the redundant Church of St Saviour in New Church Street, Tetbury – pages were torn from the old Bible and decorative carvings were knocked off the top of the wooden rood screen. At the time, there was a huge outcry and local people offered to help with the day-to-day running of this important Grade II* listed building. A dedicated team of cleaners emerged and, since then, they have volunteered monthly to wield their mops and dusters. Every day a keyholder ensures that the door is open to receive visitors.
In 2016 it was said that “a painstaking repair will be undertaken by The Churches Conservation Trust to piece the fragments back together” but, since then, national funding has been cut or frozen and, at the same time, many more closed churches are needing to be cared for by the Trust. In addition to the huge costs of actual conservation work, the Trust spends over £1,500 a year at St Saviour’s doing essential maintenance, along with paying utility bills. So, sadly, the screen has yet to be conserved and the carved wooden crosses and ball flowers are living in a carrier bag still waiting to be placed back in position.
Designed by the eclectic architect Samuel Whitfield Daukes, St Saviour’s is a very correct Tractarian church in medieval Gothic style, which stands in sharp contrast to the ‘preaching box’ elegance of the earlier Parish Church. It was Tetbury’s second Anglican church; a ‘chapel-of-ease’, built for the poor who could not afford to pay pew rents in the Parish Church. It served Tetbury, from its consecration in the summer of 1848, until it was declared redundant by Her Majesty in Council, on 28th June 1974.
Nationally, St Saviour’s is not only recognised as one of the few unaltered Tractarian churches, it is also associated with the life of Father Charles Lowder, who is remembered in the Calendar of the Church of England. After serving as the assistant curate in Tetbury at the time when St Saviour’s was built, he moved to London and worked tirelessly amongst the poorest people in the East End. When he died in 1880, hundreds of people lined the streets to bid him farewell. (It was even reported that little children “cried inconsolably”).
Another curate at Tetbury was the scholarly William Brownlow who later became Roman Catholic Bishop of Clifton.
St Saviour’s is undoubtedly an important church but, since its closure it has been, and still is, woefully under-used. What can we do about this? I, for one, would like to see it developed further as a visitor attraction.
So, next summer I am intending to offer monthly guided tours and will be arranging a ‘Lowder Lecture’ when we can hear from a leading architectural historian more about Father Lowder’s life and times.
Also, I think that it would be good to develop a programme of summer activities using St Saviour’s as an informal gathering space. Already ongoing are the Town Carol Service at Christmas’; Taize services and the annual Evensong for Father Lowder, but St Saviour’s future surely lies in extending its secular use. I am not suggesting that the building should compete with our other public spaces, but we could use it more and, we could enjoy it more: activities might include offering lunchtime music; poetry readings; exhibitions; times for reflection and, possibly more?
The church’s charm lies in it being completely unspoilt, so it has few facilities, but it is much loved. Many who were brought up in Tetbury remember visits there from the nearby school and for others it is a welcome place to stop and pause when visiting the graves of loved ones in the Town cemetery. Whatever your philosophy of life, St Saviour’s Church is there for you – so feel free to pop in and enjoy its calm, its beauty and its rich history.
Should you wish to discuss ideas for St Saviour’s in 2020 please contact me directly – Richard Barton Tel 07726 795224 – and if you are interested in hiring the building then visit the website of the Churches Conservation Trust:
With thanks to John Flynn for these photographs of St Saviour’s.