St Michael’s Annual Lecture

Last year’s snow provided the Friends of St. Michael’s with an excuse to have two launch events after their first got cancelled following one particularly bad downpour. As one of the few who traipsed up Clifton Hill to brave the blizzard, I was treated to a personal tour of the Grade I Listed church.

It’s no secret that St. Michael’s is special. Indeed, it made it into the top one hundred in England’s Thousand Best Churches by Simon Jenkins. It’s no secret either that repairs to churches are expensive and that’s why I particularly welcome the news that a measured campaign is underway to raise the funds which are quite clearly needed to maintain this gem.

I wish that I could have attended a recent talk at the church given by John Wells-Thorpe OBE (the architect of Hove Town Hall) but I certainly will not be missing the Friends’ annual lecture. It is due to be held at St. Michael’s on Saturday 9th October. The afternoon begins with a concert at 1:15 followed by a talk on ‘Oxford and the Pre-Raphaelites’ at 2:45 by Dr Jon Whiteley from the Ashmolean Museum. The very reasonable entrance fee of £7 includes cream tea.

The Pre-Raphaelites and their associates are particularly relevant in the case of St. Michael’s as William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, Ford Madox-Brown, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and others provided a number of the building’s delightful decorative elements. The painted paper murals, thought to have been created by local artists, are in need of urgent repair so will be the focus of the Friends’ first restoration project. They seem as fragile as they are uplifting, making swift action all the more important.

St. Michael’s began as a much smaller church in 1860. Indeed, the original structure today serves as the south aisle of large 1893 addition. Different architects, George Frederick Bodley and William Burges respectively, were responsible for each section. Externally, they share the common features of red bricks, stone dressings, huge gables and circular windows. The interior is a joy to behold and includes the best views of the building’s famous stained glass, which of course vary throughout the day.

The Friends of St. Michael’s have a new website, www.friendsofsaintmichaels.co.uk, which includes a growing collection of photographs of this rather special church and details of forthcoming events. The lecture on Saturday 9th October promises to be a real cracker – snow permitting.