There are eighteen miniature images on the screen plus nine shapes based around details found in the stained glass windows of both Barrow Gurney (six) and Flax Bourton (three) windows and nine shapes of purely decorative colouring. The window details were chosen for their abstract forms, rich colours and the interaction between the lead glazing bars (which I rendered in gold acrylic) and the glass. Focussing down on a tiny portion of a window gives an opportunity to understand how it is put together. In both churches the windows are late Victorian, Arts and Crafts influenced creations and they rely on painting of the glass as much as the colour of the glass itself. It is only when I photographed the windows and magnified them on screen that I could see how much work had gone into the background around the key figures and major scenes.
The eighteen major images break down to six per panel. they were chosen simply because for me they have some personal connection with our local parishes. As I started by painting the central images I’ll describe them first, then move on to left panel and finally the right. Each image was painted in acrylic using photos, they took about four hours each and, as usual, I mixed all the paint on the picture.
We have planted dozens of fritillaries in the front garden of the Rectory. They are one of the delights of spring, especially when the orange-tips rest on them awhile. And, of course, fritillary covers both several species of bulbs and of British butterflies. The painting of the flower is rather heavy and clumpy but I was pleased with the way I managed to render the orange from the butterfly’s upper wing shining through the underside of the lower.
We love the minor majesty of the buzzard, and the way it has come back from persecution. When we moved to Salisbury in the early 90s they were modestly common in the south but seemed absent everywhere north of the Plain. On moving to Somerset and travelling back to Birmingham to visit family we have regularly kept counts of the number seen on our journeys and it has been fascinating seeing them expand their range over twenty years so that they are now to be spotted over the Redditch ring road. Our best tally was 31 spotted on one cold, bright Christmas morning.
St Michael’s seen from the A370 on the Weston-super-mare side but with the road signs removed and a few trees enlarged.
In the days of the GWR broad gauge line the original Flax Bourton station was closer to the village than the later one. I found this photo a few years ago and it was taken during the last months of broad gauge running, showing one of the iconic convertible GWR locos which was able to run on both broad and standard gauge. It is a picture of a vision for comfortable, speedy rail travel which was sat upon by a short-sighted parliament.
Over the last few years these transient orchids have begun popping up over all three lawns at the Rectory and are a great pleasure, a throwback to the meadows which covered the land where our house now stands. Taken from a photo of one flowering in front of the house I blotted out the building and struggled to make sense of the intricacy of the florets.
St Mary and St Edward’s is a tricky church to photograph or paint as there are no good angles which show the tower to its full potential. Most photographs are taken from this site and tend to foreshorten the tower making it look sadly stumpy.
A local plant which grows in the verges and in our garden, it is both fun to look at and greatly loved by the bees.
The big hawkers are one of the jewels of summer and are regularly to be found quartering the garden hunting smaller insects. I also thought this was a good pairing with the next image.
Above the main doorway (with its stuck on Norman lintel) of St Michael’s is a Saxon carving depicting a pointy hatted angel, sword raised in triumph in his left hand and in his right a processional cross which he is ramming down the throat of the dragon squirming at his feet. This is St Michael, the patron saint of Flax Bourton Church, throwing the rebellious devil, in the shape of the serpentine dragon, from heaven. It is a remarkable piece of Saxon carving, flowing with energy. Unfortunately, whenever the outer porch was built to cover the sculpture and later Norman doorway, the central beam of the roof was driven through the top corner of the carving, breaking off the archangel’s sword. For this painting I removed the beam and restored sword and in my preparatory studies I also came to the conclusion that St Michael may well be the central fragment of a now lost larger frieze.
Another piece of Saxon sculpture, simple in structure but hallowed by 1000 years of baptisms. And it has itself journeyed across the building – moved from near the doorway during the twentieth century reordering of the church.
Part of the Victorian rebuild – the same date as the conversion of the railway line from broad to standard gauge – with magisterial iron lions guarding the entrance to this richly endowed sacred space. This is the inner door, the outer porch door is also fine but less elaborate.
Just prior to moving to Flax Bourton we bought at auction a Victorian overmantle mirror decorated with goldfinches only to arrive here and find that they were endemic to this area, a constant source of delight feeding, singing, breeding around the garden. The goldfinch is also a symbol for Holy Communion.
Professor Yaffles is often to be heard in Bourton Coombe, the woodland that connects to the two villages, and has made regular appearances on our lawns, anting for extended periods.
On the inside of the main doorway are carved two heads – a mitred bishop, facing the altar and this fellow, facing the bell tower. He has always interested me but, like most of the carved heads in the building, I have no idea who he is and why he was chosen to be doorkeeper – which is a very priestly role.
It is always a joy to find these crickets in the garden, with their tremendously long antennae. They are more delicate and more retiring than their Dark Bush Cricket cousins and often harder to spot. This female seemed to thoroughly enjoy nestling among the rose flowers.
A fragment of the 1838 Tithe Redemption Map for the village showing properties well before the expansion of the twentieth century and providing a glimpse into the centrality of the church to the whole community.
A view taken from five years ago (the vegetation along the top of the embankment is now so high that the station is almost totally obscured) of the second GWR station in the village, closed by the Beeching axe and left to rot. A symbol of the short-sightedness of politics towards infrastructure and the severing of connections between communities.
The Normans stuck this carving onto the already existent Saxon doorway to assert their dominance. Now time has blended this and the Saxon carving above into a harmonious whole. It is a narrow gate, which has its own Biblical allusions.