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St George's, Portland - 2010

St.George's Church at Reforne on the Isle of Portland was a church which I previously visited on a superb evening in 2006 and those earlier pictures are also included in this set. Following on from my earlier 'grey day' pictures at Moreton Church in 2010, I drove-on to Portland and made my way back to the magnificent Georgian church and finally managed to view the interior which I had missed on the first visit. The weather was still very grey.

 

www.flickr.com/photos/barryslemmings/sets/72157594185254179/ to see the full set from both visits.

 

The original medieval Portland church became a ruin above Church Ope Cove, following 18th century landslips, so the new church was built closer to the centre of the island between 1754 and 1766 by Thomas Gilbert who was a former apprentice to Sir Christopher Wren. Gilbert was an apt choice as the Portland stone for many of Wren's finest buildings, including St Paul's Cathedral, was quarried on the island and many of the parishioners were quarrymen or overseers.

 

Various means were found to raise the money for the new building including selling freehold seats in the new building at prices ranging up to £25 for a whole box pew in a premier position. The building was not perfect but, while strikingly Georgian, it was noted as being cold and draughty. By 1794 the roof was already rotting and had to be replaced.

 

By the early 20th century the church was in decline. Restoration was complicated by the issue of the freehold seats - the owners of many could not be traced and this posed a legal problem - so a replacement church was built at Easton. St George's closed around 1914 and fell into further disrepair before being rescued by a local Friends group in the 1960s. It is now cared-for by the Churches Conservation Trust.

 

Architect John Vanbrugh called the church: "A masculine show" while historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner described it as the most impressive 18th century church in Dorset. He also referred to its singular - "but by no means faultless" - architecture. The building is 112 feet long and 52 feet wide with broad shallow transepts, an apsidal chancel and a tall west tower. The crossing of the transept is also covered by a shallow dome which a modern historian has called: 'exquisitely eccentric'. This strange shape suggests that a second phase with a full dome may have been planned for later. It looks like a temporary cap.

 

The church stands within a huge churchyard containing more Georgian and VIctorian stone tombs and graves than I have seen anywhere else. This is understandable as - on Portland - wood was in short supply and would have to be imported while stone was cheap and found at-hand. Indeed, one side of the churchyard overlooks one of the quarries.

 

The graves include the victims of the 'Easton massacre' in 1803 which happened when a Royal Navy press gang attempted to grab men for sea service. Two quarrymen and a blacksmith died immediately while a woman died of wounds later. A Royal Navy Rear Admiral unveiled a memorial plaque inside the church in 1978.

 

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Taken on July 7, 2010