Recovering Connections with Art & Beauty

East WindowIn the meantime The Rev. Lewis Gilbertson succeeded Rev. Cough in 1870 and set about softening  the church environment which was rather austere. He was a member of the Oxford movement who wished to emphasise the community of his congregation, joining together in worship as well as listening to his exhortations. He wanted music to enhance the church services.  The Oxford thinkers wished to see the Church recover its connection with art and beauty among other things.  The biggest change he made was in the appearance of the chancel itself which was transformed by redecoration. This was the work of the leading High Church designer, William Butterfield, architect of Rugby School. He covered the timber roof supports in the chancel with carved and painted boarding in brown and silver. The floor was paved with red Minton tiles with various geometric and heraldic patterns in yellow. The east window was raised in order to make room for a tiled stone reredos surmounted by a painted cross which is now hidden by oak panels. Painted stone figures of saints flanked the east window on both sides. The painting of the shafts on either side of the chancel arch gives some idea of the boldness of his colour schemes which would have stood out in the well-lighted chancel of his day. The introduction of stained glass windows, though colourful themselves, has made the chancel darker.

With more women travelling with their menfolk and living aboard whilst travelling they would no doubt have encouraged the decoration of their living space. The tradition of painting flowers and landscapes (or Roses and Castles as they are more popularly known) on canal boats began to appear. If not started in Braunston, the village played an important role in popularising the custom. William Nurser, who was a fine artist as well as a  Braunston boat builder was churchwarden around this time and it is thought he was influenced by the Oxford thinkers in wishing to beautify the environment .

It is a romantic notion that the early boating families coined the title the “Cathedral of the Canals” as at the time the church must have been a magical place but sadly there is no documentary evidence to support this. There is evidence however that some children were indeed baptised twice! In the first instance this was near wherever they happened to be at the time of birth, such as Brentford. The children were then baptised again in Braunston – as if they were not ‘done properly’ until they had been baptised in Braunston. Similarly there is a common belief that boatmen who had died away from Braunston were frequently brought back for burial, although there are only a limited number of cases where this is shown in the Registers. A disproportionate majority of deaths appear to have occurred whilst the boat was in Braunston! Clearly All Saints' Braunston was seen as the spiritual home of the Boatmen.

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