Sussex Life January 2017 Poetry + solution
Solution for the ‘Landmark’ piece by Tony Ward in the Sussex Life January issue
Where is it? Landmark
Damaged by war,
unfinished, neglected, bleak,
in need of friends,
- 1 10 of the best Halloween events in Cheshire
- 2 10 spooky Halloween events in Sussex
- 3 Simon Reeve explores the Lake District his new series
- 4 Essex firework displays: The best events for Bonfire Night 2021
- 5 10 great Halloween events in Lancashire
- 6 Win an amazing festive break for two in Devon
- 7 Star cast unveiled for new ITV crime drama set in North Devon
- 8 5 pumpkin patches to visit in Sussex this autumn
- 9 Fireworks displays and bonfire night events in Sussex 2021
- 10 Where to pick pumpkins in Dorset for Halloween 2021
a mission to complete.
A Tower? Ante-chapel? Cloisters?
Plans impracticable, plans unaffordable,
foundations laid but plans abandoned.
But faith endures, conserved, enhanced,
a simpler plan approved.
Seen from the car,
scene from the train,
seen from the plane.
The Church on the hill,
no blot on the landscape,
a joy to behold.
Lifted voices, lifted spirits,
presents from pupils,
presents from friends.
For Saints Nicholas and Mary …
carols, a rose.
A little learning, a greater faith,
men of the Church, men of the skies,
finding vocations, defending their nations.
Writers, actors, music-makers,
diverse lives on shared foundations,
chapel choirs and shared devotions,
a landmark in the landscape,
a landmark in their lives.
Solution – Lancing College Chapel.
Explanation of embedded clues
Lancing College Chapel is indeed a “Landmark”. It is said to be the largest school chapel in the world. It is also considered to be one of the finest examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the country. Its foundation stone was laid in 1868. The design echoes that of 13th Century English Gothic, but also incorporating some French characteristics. A particularly noticeable feature is its height. It is one of the tallest interior vaulted churches in the U.K., the apex of the vaulting being 90ft above the floor. Not content with that though, the original plans also included an elaborate tower which would have resulted in a total height of over 300ft, taller than Chichester Cathedral, spire included. Although the foundations for the tower were laid and the plans revisited and revamped by successive architects over the years, the overly-ambitious scheme was finally abandoned. This was also true for plans for an Ante-chapel and for cloisters. Verse 2 records this period.
The Chapel has a history of stops and starts. Started in 1868, after eight years of building work only the crypt had been completed and this became the centre for daily College services from 1875. It wasn’t until the appointment of Bernard Tower as Headmaster in 1902, that a big push was made towards completing the Chapel. By 1911 the main Nave was completed. It was no longer largely open to the elements. A great consecration service was held on 18 July of that year. The chapel was dedicated to St Mary and St Nicholas. There was still work to do though, as circumstances and finances allowed. The First World War intervened. Some work was completed between the two World Wars, notably the War Memorial Cloister and the interior furnishing of the upper Chapel, but the West End remained unfinished.
In 1946 the Friends of Lancing Chapel was set up as a charity, independent from the school, with the twin objectives of completing and maintaining the Chapel. The opening verse of the poem is intended to give an impression of what they were taking on – “unfinished, neglected, bleak”.
Between 1950 and 1977 a number of completions and additions were successfully carried out. Missing pinnacles and copper turrets were put in place and the Art School and vestries were created in the crypt. A programme to replace the bottle green plate glass with which windows had been glazed back in 1898 was commenced in the 1950s, and a new design for the West wall incorporating a Rose Window was agreed and finally completed in 1977. This latter was the last significant addition. At this point building work paused. A proposed ante-chapel and a cloister to link the Chapel to the main College buildings was deferred. In 1978 the Rose Window was dedicated by Archbishop Coggan in the presence of HRH The Prince of Wales. The window contains over 30,000 pieces of stained glass, and with a 32ft diameter is one of the largest in England. In terms of size, though not in age of course, it surpasses the more famous examples in the cathedrals of Lincoln and Durham and of that in York Minster.
For the next 30 years The Friends switched their attention from further extensions to concentrate on restoring, completing, improving and furnishing the existing building – “a simpler plan approved”. Conservation and maintenance remains an ongoing concern in a building of this age. Sussex sandstone weathers relatively quickly in such an exposed position.
By the end of this 30-year programme though it became possible to commission another significant feature. This was a stained glass window in memory of Bishop Trevor Huddleston (1913-1998), a pupil at Lancing in the late 1920s. It was consecrated by Archbishop Desmond Tutu on 22nd May 2007.
The Friends have been giving financial support and professional advice to the Chapel now for some 70 years. They certainly do not consider their work complete. In addition to the continuing maintenance work there remains the challenge of finally completing the West End, externally as well as internally.
Verse 3 of the poem is concerned with the Chapel as a “Landmark” when seen from some distance. Driving along the A27 just North of Shoreham-by-Sea it is unmissable. The Chapel towers above the valley of the River Adur. This is partly because it is sited on what is effectively the edge of a cliff above the river. Because of this it is also a bit of an iceberg, the foundations go down over 60 feet. The Brighton-Southampton railway line, running parallel and just South of the road also provides, through its ‘picture windows’, the “scene from the train”.
“Seen from the plane” brings in more local history. Peter Brandon in The Discovery of Sussex, records that the neighbouring Shoreham Airport, established in 1910, is the oldest municipal airport in the country. Initially owned by Brighton, Hove and Worthing local authorities, it was not only the airfield where trainee pilots from Lancing College learnt to fly, but was associated with the pioneer flyers Amy Johnson and Charles Lindbergh. Shoreham Flying Club was one of the first flying schools in the country. Lancing College Chapel was usually a useful landmark for an approach run, but ‘great white sea mists’ sometimes hung over the Downs and trainee pilots were forced to land elsewhere. There are, probably apocryphal, stories that, just by chance, in the case of the Lancing College trainee pilots, the most convenient forced landing site happened to be in the grounds of Roedean, the famous girls public school on the outskirts of Brighton.
Incidentally, the phrase ‘great white sea mists’ was taken not from a pilot’s log but from a diary entry on 3 December 1919, by one of the College’s famous alumni (OLs), the writer Evelyn Waugh. He also had navigation problems due to the mist, in his case on a House run. ‘No one could find the way … a great white sea mist hung all over the downs and was wet on our bare chests; it seemed to heave and creep up the edges of the slopes.’
The penultimate line in verse 3 – “no blot on the landscape” – also has a connection with another popular OL author. This is Tom Sharpe, best known for his ‘Wilt’ series of novels as well as Porterhouse Blue and (the title I borrowed), Blott on the Landscape. As many visitors and writers have remarked, Lancing Chapel is certainly not an eyesore, but - “a joy to behold”.
Verse 4 – “Lifted voices, lifted spirits, / presents …” acknowledges the generosity of past pupils and the Friends as a result of their time at the College. Saints Nicholas and Mary are of course those to whom the Chapel is dedicated. “A rose”, the present for Mary, is of course the Rose Window. The “carols”, the present for St Nicholas (aka Santa Claus/Father Christmas), are those sung by the acclaimed Lancing College Choir commencing around the time of his ‘Feast’ (6 December).
The last two verses are a roll-call of some of the notable alumni with – “shared foundations, chapel choirs and shared devotions”. Pupils attended two services a day in Lancing Chapel, three on Sundays. “A little learning” is the title of the first volume of Evelyn Waugh’s unfinished autobiography, published in 1964. Waugh was at Lancing from 1917-1921. The Chapel played a big part during his time there. Waugh is best known for his novel Brideshead Revisited (1945) which was adapted as a successful TV series. A major character in the book, Charles Ryder, was also the subject of a separate 51-page story Charles Ryder’s Schooldays. The influence of Waugh’s experiences at Lancing College, including that of the Chapel, can also be seen in this piece. It was issued in a collection with some other stories 16 years after his death … after the successful TV series. Some critics question the authenticity of this discovery.
Hopefully the paragraph above now explains that my borrowed phrase, “A little learning”, was not intended to imply poor performances on the part of the College’s students! Both academic results and provision of a wide variety of sporting and extra-curricular activities are as would be expected in a leading Public school.
“Men of the Church” refers to nearly 20 Bishops, Archbishops and Deans who attended Lancing. The phrase “a greater faith” underlies not just these men “finding vocations”, the school was from the outset ‘firmly grounded in the Christian faith’ (Nathaniel Woodard, founder, 1848). The College Motto is ‘Beati Mundo Corde’ (Blessed are the pure in heart). Girls were first admitted in 1970. Christian worship still plays an important part in the life of the school.
“Men of the skies” were those fledgling college pilots who used the skills acquired “defending their nations”. These included three World War I Flying Aces, a Spitfire test pilot, and not least, Air Vice Marshall Sir Stanley Vincent who had the distinction of being the only RAF pilot to shoot down the enemy in both World Wars.
The last verse also remembers the “diverse lives” of some other notable alumni. Two of the writers have already been mentioned. The actors include George Baker (Inspector Wexford of the Ruth Rendell Mysteries TV adaptations, among many other roles). The music-makers include Peter Pears CBE, Opera Singer and Librettist, whose career was closely associated with that of the composer Benjamin Britten; and the lyricist Sir Tim Rice whose many talents included collaborating with Andrew Lloyd Webber on record-breaking West End musicals (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita …).
Sir Tim in fact now has another ‘West End’ in which to take an interest. Sir Tim is President of ‘The Old Lancing Club’ for former Lancing College pupils and also a member of The Foundation Council. This latter is responsible for fund raising for capital projects and bursaries for Lancing College itself. Although not one of the Executive Committee of the separate and independent charity, The Friends of Lancing Chapel, no doubt Sir Tim takes a keen interest in their mission to bring down the final curtain on their own ‘West End’ project - the completion of the Chapel’s own West End.
The final two lines of the poem sum up the place of Lancing College Chapel in the landscape and of it’s place in the lives of those for whom it laid foundations for their subsequent careers. “A landmark in the landscape, a landmark in their lives”.
Acknowledgement of sources
• Peter Brandon, The Discovery of Sussex, Phillimore, 2010 (p. 153 (illustration) – an early aircraft flying over Lancing College Chapel, p. 154 – Shoreham airport history).
• David Arscott, The Little Book of Sussex, The History Press, 2011 (p. 86).
• David Hugh Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, OUP, 1987 (Nicholas, p. 315-317).
• Irene and Alan Taylor (Eds.), The Assassin’s Cloak: an anthology of the world’s greatest diarists, Canongate Books, 2000 (p. 591 – diary entry by Evelyn Waugh).
• www.lancingcollege.co.uk/userfiles/lancing/pdfs/FoLC/Lancing%20Chapel%20Future.pdf (A fascinating illustrated 16-page report on the history and The Future for Lancing College Chapel published in July 2011 by The Friends of Lancing Chapel).
• www.lancingcollege.co.uk (Official Site).
• en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lancing_College (Contains extensive lists of Notable alumni and Notable former staff members).
• Relevant websites found by searches for ‘Lancing College Chapel’, ‘Lancing College’, ‘Famous Lancing College Alumni’, ‘Evelyn Waugh and Lancing College’.
• Lancing College Chapel welcomes visitors. It is open Monday to Saturday 10:00am -4:00pm, Sundays and Bank Holidays 12:00 noon - $:00pm. Admission is free.