Let’s continue our clerical theme this week, shall we? As we noted in last week’s AustenOnly post accessible here, in the BBC’s 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice two churches were used, both for the exteior shots( no interior shots were included in the production) of Hunsford parish church. In the 2o05 film version starring Keira Knightley, again two churches were used, one for the exterior and one for the interior. Today we shall concentrate on the church that provided the interior,the parish church of St Peter, Brooke, a tiny church in a tiny village near Oakham in Rutland.
St Peter, Brooke is a very special parish church, being a rare survivor. First built in the 13th century, it was virtually totally reconstructed during the latter years of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign,and most of the Elizabethan features have survived to this day- quite a feat considering the upheavals of the English Civil War and the improving hands of the Victorians.
It has been estimated that the date of reconstruction is circa 1579, but it is clear, looking at the arches in the nave that divide the south and north aisles of the church,that some of the 13th century bones of the building survived to have the Elizabethan structure built around them.
The reason why St Peter Brooke was built in this era, at a time when very little church design and building was being undertaken , was probably because its benefactor, Sir Andrew Noel, had acquired a former monastic property in the village and using that as his starting point, was building Brooke House (sadly no longer in existence) as his home. He probably used the same building team that built the house to restore the village church.
The surviving Elizabethan features are to be found in the north and south chancel arches and the wooden furnishings in the church- the box pews, benches, pulpit and the balustraded screen that separates the nave from the chancel,seen above. The low level chancel floor- only two steps higher than the nave, as you can see above – is also an Elizabethan feature. When you stand within the chancel, and the screen door is closed you are standing in a rare church device: an Elizabethan Communion Room, totally separated by the screen from the preaching area of the nave that contains the pulpit.
And it is the nave that we first see in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, as Mr Collins’ rather bored and indeed somnolent congregation, with the honourable exception of the supportive Charlotte, is sitting listening to his sermon.
A child plays with a spinning top( a rather noisy occupation to be secret in such a small church, silly child) before Mr Collins who is preaching, badly, from the pulpit.
The Elizabethan pulpit is tiny. As you can see.
I often wonder if the diminutive actor Tom Hollander was chosen for the role because he would fit not that pulpit,and someone more in keeping with the build of the Reverend Collins as described in Jane Austen’s text, a Hugh Bonneville for example, would not have managed it:
He was a tall, heavy-looking young man of five-and-twenty. His air was grave and stately, and his manners were very formal…
As the place where Lady Catherine, Anne de Bourgh and Darcy sit
while Colonel Fitzwilliam tells Elizabeth Bennet
It is in fact an empty space, no seating normally stands there,
The most flamboyant feature in this beautifully restrained and modest church (and which was not seen in the film) is the tomb of Charles Noel, son of Andrew Noel, mentioned above, to be found in the side chapel next to the chancel
He is beautifully carved…
translates as follows:
Charles, son of Andrew Noel, brave and high
his dust inhabits here his soul the sky
Mature and Worth, Valour and Wisdom too
in this one boy strove all their gifts to show.
Worth made him duteous: Nature a comley youth.
Mars to be brave: Bright Wisdom, loving truth.
Yet even he in youth’s fair Springtime pined
As Buds will perish in a bitter wind
He died in 1619 at the age of 28 years.R.I.P.
My poor photographs do not do justice to this tiny and peaceful place. If you ever do get the change to visit, then do: the village and the surrounding countryside are perfect, though hard to access on public transport. Regular services are still held at St Peter, and it is very much a living church. I hope you have enjoyed this visit to a very special location.