Ernest Shearman

Ecclesiastical Architect 

Diana Beckett

2QT Publishing, 2021

ISBN 978 1 91408 321 1. 


Over the course of the 19th century, the population of England expanded greatly. Just from 1800 to 1833, the year of Keble’s Assize sermon, it increased from slightly over 5 million to 13 million, though these bald figures mask the vast expansion of towns. It was taken as given that churches were needed for the expanded communities. Even in 1799, William Cleaver, the Bishop of Chester, delivered a charge to his clergy pointing out the discrepancy between population and accommodation in churches. Once the Napoleonic Wars were over, the Government moved to pass the Church Building Act of 1818 (see M.H. Port’s book ‘Six Hundred New Churches’ for the story). 

Soon, under the inspiration of the Oxford Movement and the Cambridge Camden Society, Pugin and other architects like Gilbert Scott, Butterfield, Street, Bodley and Pearson became household names, and Gothic became the defining style of the great nineteenth century churches that defined many towns and cities. As the 19th century ran to its end, not only were fewer churches being built, but those that were constructed were in a different style to those built at the height of the Gothic Revival, as ‘Middle Pointed’ was no longer the default setting.

The subject of this book, Ernest Shearman (1859 – 1939), did not start designing the churches described here until he was nearly fifty. He had been articled to Sir Charles Barry Jr. (son of the architect of the Houses of Parliament), attending lectures by George Street and Norman Shaw, and receiving some instruction from John Loughborough Pearson; after several years as Barry’s assistant, he took his family to Argentina for three years, designing various buildings (many on the railways) as well as his first church project. Returning to England in 1891, he became the resident architect for the rebuilding of Sandringham House, followed by the construction of the now-vanished Cheveley House near Newmarket. 

Shearman undertook much domestic work in a lower register, often influenced by the Arts and Crafts style. In the case of some books you wonder what inspired the author to write it. Well, in this case, it is a very personal link with a house. In 1899 Shearman designed a house in the Arts and Crafts style in Winchester for his mother; it was given the name Byrnelmscote, After his mother’s death in 1909, Shearman went to live there; the author’s mother bought Byrnelmscote, which now goes under the name of Stapenhill, in 1953, and it became part of her life for sixty years. It is now a Grade II listed building.

He went into independent practice in 1900 and started church work, first on extending existing buildings (e.g. St Mark’s, Leicester and Christ Church, Wimbledon), then moving on to whole churches. By now the climate for the work had changed. Unlike the prolific architects of the Victorian age, he only built six churches: – S. Barnabas, Ealing; S. Gabriel, North Acton; S. Matthew; Wimbledon; S. Francis of Assisi, Osterley; S. Barnabas, Temple Fortune (now a Coptic church), and S. Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, of which the last named is probably the most familiar to many readers of New Directions

Shearman wasn’t just an architect; he often designed the furnishings for his churches, including the striking baldaccchino over the High Altar at St. Silas. He built mainly in brick, in the Gothic mode. In this respect, his style was probably influenced by churches in Northern Italy, built by the mendicant orders, the Franciscans and Dominicans; he would have seen these on visits to Italy with Street. The tenor of the designs is simple, though there is sometimes a rose window with tracery in the Flamboyant style. Of course, brick architecture is found much wider afield in Europe, just think of the astounding southern French cathedral of Albi, which inspired late-Victorian architects in England, including J. L. Pearson’s St Augustine’s Kilburn, making another possible link to Shearman (see John Thomas, Albi Cathedral and British Church Architecture, The Ecclesiological Society, 2002). Then there is la ville rose, Toulouse, and its great Dominican church, les Jacobins.

The book is extremely well illustrated in colour, with plentiful illustrations, printed on very high quality paper, and was obviously a labour of love to the author. This interesting book is very much recommended to readers.

Simon Cotton  


The White Stone

The art of letting go

Esther de Waal   

Canterbury Press 2021 

ISBN 978 1 78622 401 9 


‘Loveliest of trees, the cherry now/ is hung with bloom along the bough…/About the woodlands I will go/ to see the cherry hung with snow’ wrote A.E.Housman. Evocative lines typical of many selected by Esther de Waal to excite our wonder in creation. Her gift, as with many spiritual writers, is of reminding her readers of facets of discipleship, and her selection of quotations that have been her reminder over her long years are a key resource. The Housman quotation got me waiting for my own cherry tree’s blossoms with new expectancy. The author describes herself processing her move from a country cottage in the Welsh Marches to Oxford bringing insights into the letting go of place, people and possessions. The white stone is one taken from a stream by her relinquished cottage which she associates with Revelation 2.17, ‘To the one that overcometh… will I give a white stone and in the stone a new name written’.

De Waal takes us on a farewell journey around her cottage and its surroundings meditating upon the natural elements of earth, air, water and fire. I enjoyed her ability, demonstrated throughout this well written book, to ‘take upon the mystery of things, as if we were God’s spies’ (Shakespeare). Growing older with time on her hands she is able to meditate upon nature and spy, for example, the flow of life and time shining out of flowing water. Her thoughts are well informed by the Christian tradition of spiritual direction, as in her reflection on fire from the Desert Fathers: ‘Abbot Lot went to see Abbot Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.’ 

The invitation to be set afire with the loving mercy of God and become his instrument is at the heart of this short yet challenging book. Creative development in spiritual life is presented in tandem with letting go, under discernment, of things, people and places as preparation for letting go of life itself. ‘Every important creative act has this duality: of giving everything and then letting go, so that the created thing can have a life of its own’ (Celia Paul). Jesus shows us by his life, death and resurrection the God who made and loves us and lets us go into perilous freedom with its option of self-emptying. De Waal returns again and again to the balance of truth and mercy in God as in her reflection on Henri Nouwen’s ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’ depicted by Rembrandt. ‘The father rushes out to meet him, and without waiting for any confession or guilt-ridden apology, he kisses him and places his hands in blessing on the son’s shoulders. Those two hands are interesting: the right hand is gentle, almost making a caressing movement; the left is firm and strong, as though instilling strength. Profoundly moved by the picture, Henri Nouwen said that looking at it had brought him a whole new interior understanding of tenderness, mercy and forgiveness… the vast joy that is the life of God large enough to gather all sorrow and transcend it’. 

This is a book under the shadow of death which is the ultimate letting go to access the white stone of paradise. The author moves from her beloved family cottage to protected communal housing mindful of death as her next move. Letting go of this world brings responsibilities to those we need to be reconciled with. ‘If we die leaving our brother, daughter, friend with the wrong they have done us unforgiven, not only are they left with this burden to carry forward for as long as they live, we also leave them the knife-edge of our rancour to twist in the wound’ (Pauline Matarasso). This brings to mind what many suffer at the hands of those who commit suicide. De Waal illustrates the converse to rancour in the testament of the Trappist monastic superior murdered by terrorists in Algeria 1994. After his death the book was opened and it he prays for grace ‘to forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down’. Letting go of rancour is the pinnacle of letting go in preparation for death which we are encouraged to face up to as realistically as we can. 

A graphic example is given of the US Trappist monastery with a very simple wooden cross hung behind the altar. This is taken down to mark the grave of the next brother to die and a new one hung in its place, making death a natural part of life. The Paschal element of Christianity – passing from death to life in body, mind and spirit – is captured through Esther de Waal’s closing reflection upon Christ’s Letting Go captured through the Stations of the Cross.  This concludes with the poetry of St Ephrem:  ‘Our Lord was trodden underfoot by death, and in turn trod upon death as upon a road … he came to the Virgin, so that he might receive from her a chariot on which to ride to the underworld. In the body he has assumed he entered death’s domain, broke open its strong-room and scattered its treasure’. Permeated by such bold faith and insight into deepening the sense of our need for mercy this book will be a blessing to all seeking to head forward in their Christian life by losing more of the attachments holding us back.

John F Twisleton 


What Do You Seek?

Wisdom from the Religious Life for Today’s World

John Francis Friendship  

Canterbury Press, 2021

ISBN 978 1 78622 345 6


Anglican Religious Life was described by a former Archbishop of Canterbury as the Church’s ‘best kept secret.’ It has never been large and even in its heyday, between 1920 and 1970, was probably unknown to the large majority of Anglicans who assumed that all monks and nuns were Roman Catholics. In the last few decades, like its Roman counterpart, Anglican religious life has shrunk drastically. Several communities are clearly on the way to extinction, gracefully and courageously. All of us wonder whether we have a future beyond a decade or two. 

Such fragility is good for us. It keeps us humble, or should do, and keeps us dependent on God. Yet, the Religious Life does have things to say to the Church. It draws on a tradition that goes back to Gospel times. It has different priorities and lives out the Christian life in ways that challenge and sometimes illuminate the more standard Christian paths. It is, maybe, not for us to say what these are, but it is good when others point to them.

Fr Friendship has done us a service in putting together this book. It is not a standard history but gathers experience and teaching on aspects of the Religious life. Much of this teaching is from Anglican Religious of past and present though naturally some from the broader Catholic tradition is to be found as well. The material is arranged under a wide variety of headings which makes it a good book to pick up and read anywhere. Some names are well known – Gregory Dix and Fr Benson for instance, others like Dame Osyth and Mother Millicent introduce deep teaching on prayer from the hidden world of enclosed monastic life. All is well chosen and shows how sensible and strong the Religious Life once was in the Anglican Communion. It is a challenge to those of us who remain to live up to this past witness.

When people visit us they often ask ‘What do you do?’ and even today an impressive list of activities can be given. What Religious did in the past can absolutely amaze present day readers with its tally of schools, orphanages, hospitals, parish work, missions at home and abroad, not to mention theological training, retreats and the sheer work of keeping large guest houses going. However, the question misses the point. Fr Friendship concentrates rather on what Religious are, how they respond to the call of God, how they live together in obedience and simplicity, and how they pray. 

The most important aspect of monastic life is that it is a call from God. Some experience that call as an invitation, some as a command. Central to the life is the relationship we have with God. This is not static but is built up over the years as we come to understand more deeply the implications of the vows we have taken, and the responsibility of living them out in community. The vows are for life; so is the commitment to live together in community. 

This puts us in a completely different category from the ‘new monastic’ communities. Vows need to be for life as they entrust us to the mercy of God. It is our way of saying we trust God and we entrust ourselves into his hands. This kind of unconditional commitment is very counter cultural and probably one of the main reasons that a newer generation finds the Religious Life so difficult. Yet without this commitment it makes no sense.

An SPB sister was once complaining to Mother Mary Columba about the hardness of the contemplative life she had chosen. Mother replied: ‘Sister, it is not my job to make this life easy for you. It is my job to help you live this difficult life.’ It is a difficult life and a costly one, and one needs to be ready for that when you join. It is also an incredibly joyful and fruitful life. I for one am immensely grateful to God for the privilege of being called to it. I would choose no other. I hope Fr Friendship’s book will encourage others to take the risk of casting their lives into the loving mercy of God.

Nicolas Stebbing CR


The Dissolution of the Monasteries: 

A New History

James G.Clark  

Yale, 2021

ISBN 9780300264180 


In August 1536, four commissioners rode into the village of Ingham, near the north Norfolk coast, with orders to close the Trinitarian monastery. On finding it completely deserted, bereft even of livestock, they learned that the prior had already sold off the monastery. As the Trinitarians were friars and not monks, he asserted, they were beyond the provisions of the recent Act of Parliament suppressing the smaller monasteries. The crafty prior had decided not to try to save his house, but to sell on his own terms and to his own advantage.

The Dissolution of the Monasteries by James G. Clark shows how religious houses did not always concede or oppose suppression but often bargained for a better deal. On reading it, one wonders how it all actually happened, so completely and swiftly, within just four years. Clark does not believe that at the outset Cromwell intended for outright suppression of the monasteries; what he wanted was their complete possession. As Clark states ‘the modernising ambitions of the Tudor regime were not matched by its machinery of government’.

The dissolution was directed from Cromwell’s office in Austin Friars in the City of London, the revenue passed through the Court of Augmentations at Westminster, and it was carried out by a few commissioners often acting on their own initiative and desperate for directions. Clark mines the primary sources to supply an abundance of facts to back up or challenge commonly held assertions; he clearly demonstrates that it was cruel, savage and chaotic.

The cruelty of the dissolution is illustrated by the situation of female religious dispersed from their houses but not dispensed from their vows under the Act of Six Articles of 1539. What could a former nun on a meagre pension do who could not marry but fall back on the support of her family? ‘Vulnerability was their life sentence,’ he says.

Its savagery is exemplified by monastic executions but also in the fact that the continued wearing of a habit was a felony with a capital sentence. Cromwell chillingly warned a former friar at a London bookstall he would be hanged ‘as an example to all other’ if he did not divest himself of his habit. 

The confusion of the dissolution is shown by Oxford friars still occupying their premises months after their suppression because they had nowhere else to go and the commissioner having to reluctantly act as their warden.

This is a monumental piece of research, comparable in stature to Eamon Duffy’s The Stripping of the Altars. However the long chapters would benefit from subdivision and a categorised index to make it easier to refer back for information, and the original Tudor English of the copious quotations does not always make for easy reading.  

The proud tower of Ingham Priory church still displays the arms of the Trinitarian friars and their patrons who continue to lie beneath battered monuments in the chancel.  What survives of our monasteries is a consolation but also a poignant reminder of how much has been forfeited. Clark exhaustively and dispassionately describes that loss. 

Adrian Ling





National Gallery, London

until 31st July, 2022


‘Raphael’ at the National Gallery is how to do it. The exhibition space is in the main building and is spacious. The design and notices are elegant. The commentary is clear and helpful. And the very high quality of the exhibits is a testimony to the scholarship and diplomacy of the curators and the Gallery. I left slightly stunned which doesn’t often happen after art shows.

The show had originally been planned for 2020, the 500th anniversary of the death of Raffaelo Sanzio da Urbino. Not only has it been possible to assemble almost the whole of the show as originally planned but a small number of extra exhibits have been added in. All 88 exhibits are by Raphael (though ‘La Fornarina’ is disputed) so there’s no padding with other artists. That reflects the large holdings of Raphael’s work in this country. It also is the result of the curators’ wish to represent the whole range of Raphael’s work over the whole of his career: painting, drawing, printing, architecture, textile design, archaeology and sculpture. The National’s show is the first of its kind outside of Italy.

Inevitably, there are limits about what can be shown. The Chigi Chapel remains in Rome, but there is interesting film of it. The exquisite frescos of the Villa Farnesina can’t be taken off their walls. But, one of Raphael’s most famous frescos, the School of Philosophy from the Papal Stanze, is reproduced in largescale. As is ‘St Paul preaching at Athens’ one of the cartoons for the Sistine Chapel which has been reproduced to a very high standard of verisimilitude. Beside that facsimile there is from the Vatican Museum the tapestry created from the cartoon. Of course, the tapestry is faded but there’s a strong sense from the gold threads just how spectacular it would have been when new (and how innovative). A second tapestry on show – ‘God the Father accompanied by symbols of the Evangelists’- is even more impressive. The small oil on which it is based hangs alongside, a design by Raphael fleshed out by his lead pupil, Giulio Romano (who features with Raphael in one of the last portraits Raphael made). 

Those soft furnishings are excellent. And so are two bronze roundels based on designs by Raphael. And these hold their own alongside the drawings. The drawings show the artist moving from first thoughts and problem solving to final, finished designs. Most are preparatory studies for paintings but there are a few of historical interest, notably drawings of Leonardo’s ‘Leda and the swan’ and ‘Mona Lisa’, and an entertaining picture of Julius IInd being carried in procession.

The copies of Leonardo’s paintings as well as being of historical interest bear witness to one of Raphael’s most notorious traits: his use of other people’s ideas. At its most sublime this allowed him to imitate very faithfully his master Perugino, and maybe the sweetness of Perugino lasted a little too long into Raphael’s mature work. Raphael’s shamelessness also led him to sneak into the Sistine Chapel when Michelangelo’s work was still incomplete and take note of both his formal solutions and the heroic style which he applied above all in his great, last painting of the ‘Transfiguration’ (sadly not in the show).

But if appropriation infuriated his colleagues and rivals, it was at the heart of Raphael’s method. Again and again, especially in his Madonnas, Raphael took a traditional form and tweaked and moved it into something fresh and dynamic. The show is rich in these paintings and gives us both a sense of artistic progression and creativity, and some gorgeous works, especially the ‘Alba Madonna’ from Washington.     

The Madonnas also give us some of Raphael’s most interesting figures. St Anne in the ‘Madonna of Divine Love’ is an older woman recognisably past her youth but still with beauty and dignity and warmth. Raphael had the reputation as a lover of women – La Fornarina’s nipples are observed with great precision – and he painted some very beautiful, idealised women. The most attractive of these is the Magdalen in the ‘Vision of St Cecilia,’ one of the painter’s last and most wonderful works. She just about holds her own alongside a brooding St Paul as Raphael perfectly balances the position of his cast of saints, one facing us and one facing away from us, and two facing eachother.

The final painting in the show is a portrait of Raphael’s friend Baldassare Castaglione. After all the gorgeousness which has gone before, this sympathetic, almost monochrome picture stands out. Its sitter’s famous piercing blue eyes fix us and show how in his last months Raphael was creating a new style of psychological portrait.

Get a ticket if you can. 

  Owen Higgs




Straight Line Crazy

Bridge Theatre, London


Horsepower is no longer of much interest but cars are still a symbol of where you the owner are. Even if having a car and driving has only been universal for 50 years. I remember my dad’s mother being surprised on prize day at my school that someone she deemed not very classy possessed and drove a car. ‘Little people’ did not do that very much in the 1950s. We (my dad) had no car when we were living in a flat in Southsea after the war. It was quite a big deal when my dad (a Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander with an OBE) bought a 1935 grey old Vauxhall with no boot. We all rode bikes; I rode wherever I wanted around Southsea – and by myself. Traffic was so much less then – though one time riding home from school my handlebars came off in my hands and I fell off almost opposite the Kings Theatre stage door.
Now, however, cars are really in big trouble in London. The speed limit has been reduced to 20mph, after a century at the more reasonable 30mph. New, intrusive, and little used bike lanes clog arterial roads, and traffic jams make the air foul. Road patterns are being radically altered. No Entry signs and One Way streets are multiplying. Drivers unknowingly commit offences, and a week later the post brings a demand to pay a £130 fine. Wise to pay up the £65 half-fee permitted, if one acts quickly. It’s a new traffic world!

David Hare’s fascinating Straight Line Crazy at the Bridge Theatre over the Thames from the Tower is all about the man who in the 1920s and 1930s gave New York its wonderful parks and a road network of freeways to get to them. It was no easy task for Robert Moses, the central character in Hare’s play, and the various forms of opposition register strongly on stage (though current London road reforms seem to go through on the nod). Moses is a great role for Ralph Fiennes which he thoroughly relishes and the audience loves. The subtle direction is by Nicholas Hytner (and a couple of credited but unexplained fellow directors). I have not always liked Hare’s work Racing Demon struck me as a distorted account of the CofE, though it was hugely successful and widely enjoyed. But this Moses story is new to me – though I have often visited New York and had and have friends there.

Hare has – as he usually does – found an intriguing tale this time, with a major central character who very much belongs in our world. There may be a dearth of ideas politically right now in the UK and Europe. But all the more reason to enjoy a play that has its focus on the future long ago, when a city like New York was growing hugely and had needs requiring serious attention and expenditure. The scenes with New York Governor Al Smith, played with glorious calculating naughtiness by Danny Webb, are a high point. But Hare engineers plenty of telling discussion. One feels totally in 2022 with this controversy from a time Hollywood was only just getting going. Decor is not the point, and mostly the stage is more or less bare. But the pleasure for us is all about repartee and the attitudes to Moses of those he works with as well as those whom he has to persuade to go along with him like the oppositional Jane Jacobs (a gift for Helen Schlesinger). The portrayal of what is really going on in this triumph of planning and politics by a genius is really immaculate. The shorter second act is 30 years later in the 1950s thinking through what happened and providing the outcome. All good things come to an end sometime.

Theatre needs to be constantly renewed. But what it deals with is generally the past – and sometimes how things seem in the immediate present. 

It’s excellent that Hare’s latest work is a commercial undertaking. London desperately needs to recreate its once vital theatrical tradition beyond the tourist fodder. However much money the theatre has been making in London, these 40 years have seen theatres – and all the once-thriving theatre companies – vanish from the provinces. They need proper subsidy of course – which the theatre and opera and all live performing arts culture do get in Germany and elsewhere in Europe – including Russia. We in the UK and the Republic of Ireland need to wake up to what we have been missing – and what we all need more than those tourists!

A former choral scholar and countertenor, Tom Sutcliffe is a veteran journalist whose stints include the Guardian, Evening Standard, Vogue and Opera Now.

  Tom Sutcliffe