Starting in 1910, extensive works were carried out on the New Church. The additions and changes included the extension and re-roofing of the chancel, the fitting of the stained glass East Window, the addition of two transepts, a new Baptistery including a new West Window, a new vestry and all its furnishings, a chamber for a heating furnace together with pipes and radiators, candelabras and gas light fittings, wrought metal fittings on all of the doors, pulpit and priest’s chairs and carved oak furniture for the choir and altar.
The designs for the fitments and decorative works were prepared by Mr F Terrell Brown under the joint supervision of Mr John Llewellyn and Arthur Liberty, and each piece was carved, cast and crafted in the Liberty workshops. It is this work and the craftsmanship of each piece which makes the interior of St John the Baptist so remarkable; it is a testament to the enduring legacy of the Liberty family that much of what is here today is almost exactly as it was when work was completed in May 1911.
Whilst little is known about Mr Terrell Brown, John Llewellyn was appointed onto the Board of Directors of Liberty & Co in 1898, having joined the company in 1889 and risen quickly through the ranks. It was under his inspired direction that designs for furnishing fabrics, furniture and later silver and pewter wares were commissioned from leading designers, such as Archibald Knox.
Incredibly the entire building works, including the laying of the gas pipes and the provision of a water supply and all the interior fitments and decorative works only took eight months to complete. Hard to credit that would happen today!
This page is based on a 2015 talk by Charlotte Reynolds, accompanied with photographs by Pippa Hart.
These photographs dating from 1911 show the newly finished church interior. A composition of light-filled stillness and serenity.
Liberty’s had established its own furniture design studio in 1883 and a workshop in Soho by 1887. Linenfold panelling designs had also become something of a speciality of the Liberty workshops.
Leonard Wyburd, one of England’s foremost Arts & Crafts furniture designers, ran the Liberty Design Studio and although he amicably left the company in 1903 he continued to advise on design after his departure.
All of which is to say that we cannot definitely attribute the design of the carvings, panelling and woodwork here to any one particular designer, but the door handles to the vestry and the organ doors are identical to those on a notable Leonard Wyburd designed sideboard. So the influence of his work here is very clear.
These photographs show the incredible detail of the carving and linenfold panelling.
What is interesting about this panelling is that much of the Liberty furniture and panelling was usually stained a dark colour to re-create a ‘Tudor’ look whereas here the oak is left natural and finished with a plain wax giving a lighter ’cleaner’ look. These meticulous carvings embellished with fruits, flowers and foliage is very much in the, then new, Arts & Crafts style which was a complete contrast to contemporary late Victorian church interiors, which would have been all dark wood and weighty, rather gloomy decoration. But look closer and we can see that much of the carving on the cornices and panelling is actually intricately detailed with Christian symbols. The vines and bunches of grapes with curling tendrils here represent both the blood of Christ and the wine of the Eucharist and thus the union of believers with Christ… “ I am the vine, and you the branches..” from the Gospel of St John.
Entwined with the grapes are acanthus, whose thorny leaves represent pain, sin and punishment and symbolize life emerging from death and therefore of the resurrection and enduring life. The example of the carving around the pulpit shows this particularly well.
This design can also be seen behind the choir stalls, on the organ housing and above and below the linen fold panelling on the east, or back, wall. It can also be seen on the reredos – the ornamental carved screen covering the wall at the back of the altar.
However, in the sanctuary, behind the altar rail, the two strips of cornicing show a very different pattern, of oak leaves and acorns supporting thistle heads.
Here the thistle is a symbol of worldly sorrow and the curse of sin, from the story of the Fall in Genesis, whereas the oak because of its solidity and endurance symbolizes the strength of faith and virtue and therefore of the endurance of Christians against adversity.
The panels here on the front of the altar table are more gothic in design with two trefoil and ogee patterns placed within lancet arches, the trefoil pattern here symbolizing the Holy Trinity.
The two priest stalls, here, on either side of the chancel arch have spiralling concave columns dotted with diamond shaped four-leaf flowers similar to those on the altar table, which support a cornice of carved vines and leaves.
However, one of the most appealing details, is found on the gradin, which is the name given to the oak plank shelf behind the altar.
This shelf is supported by five praying angels, hands clasped in varying attitudes of devotion and each delicately carved with individual features and all in varied garb.
These angels have a great charm and humanity and are in direct contrast to the fearfully stern gothic angels that would be found in a Victorian church.
Before the arrival of Arthur Liberty, the only source of lighting would have been from candles or oil lamps. Arthur paid for gas pipes to be laid from the village up the church path and into the church thus providing heat and gas lights for the congregation! The huge gas boiler installed in 1911 is still in place although it has now been converted to oil. So, if you ever are sitting warmly in the pews on a cold day, do send up a little thank you to him.
Illuminating the church are beautiful art nouveau metal lampshades. These 12 lights in the three different designs were originally gas powered, all now converted to electricity.
The four lights in the chancel are black painted metal hexagonal lampshades enclosing six metal and glass panels, each panel decorated with a bunch of grapes surrounded by vine leaves.
In the front nave is a pair of corona style lamp holders. Made of burnished steel and with eight inset panels with a similar pattern of vine leaves and bunches of grapes. The pipes for the original gas are still visible but now the electric bulbs are surrounded by opaque glass shades.
The transepts and back nave are lit by a further six hanging lights of a domed hexagonal ogee top divided by six barley twist metal strips each with a tiny flower at the top. Again, a pattern of metal vine leaves and a bunch of six grapes decorate each of the six panels, all of which are backed by glass.
The decorated panels on these lights could possibly be made of Tudric pewter. Tudric was a brand name for pewterware made especially for Liberty & Co and chiefly designed by Archibald Knox, who favoured Art Nouveau and Celtic styles. Tudric pewter became known as poor man’s silver due to its dull shine, which was achieved by removing the lead content and adding a small percentage of silver.
This photograph shows the wonderful detailing on the candleholders on each of the priest’s stalls. Made of pressed and burnished steel they have a delicate tracery design with a pattern of ivy leaves within the fan shapes.
The pulpit also has an elegant, adjustable candleholder, decorated with an openwork wrought iron disc with fleur de Lys.
No church would be complete without its altar cross and silverware and St John the Baptist has a wonderful collection.
The altar cross, a matching pair of candle sticks and these two silver vases were all donated by the vicar, the Reverend Constantine Osborne Phipps, and his wife Jessie Mabel Phipps in memory of their only two sons. The amethysts belonged to and were given by their mother Mabel for the commission. The two matching large candlesticks were very sadly stolen from the church during a burglary in 1973.
The altar cross is a stunning design of silver-plated brass, studded with six large amethysts.
On the reverse of the cross is a long dedication which, in summary, reads: ” To the Glory of God and in Most Loving Memory of Our Very Dear Sons, Major Constantine Phipps DSO MC Aged 25 Years, And Lieutenant Charles Percy Phipps, aged 20 years, Who Lost Their Lives On Active Service for Their Country in The Great War 1914-1918’.
The three-sided base has a design of amethyst set medallions topped with a shell and supported by winded angel heads, the upper arms and body of the cross display shells, demi angels and acanthus leaves.
The processional cross, which stands in the choir stalls, was donated in 1927 and given in memory of Mabel Phipps. It is a simple design of beaten silver plate on an ebonized wooden shaft. The central point of the cross holds a single large amethyst. Interestingly amethysts are known as the Bishop’s Stone and symbolize piety, humility, sincerity and spiritual wisdom. An appropriate choice of stone to use in both the altar and processional crosses.
The very ornamental chalice is made of silver with a silver gilt interior featuring a decoration of vine leaves and scrolls with amethyst stone ‘grape’ clusters on the central knot. This work was most likely to have been that of Archibald Knox and was designed in 1920 according to the Liberty registered silver mark. The inscription reads: “This Chalice and paten were presented for use in the Parish Church of the Lee, Buckinghamshire by the Staff of Messrs. Liberty & Co., as a memorial of their regard for the late Sir Arthur and Lady Liberty, Whitsun 1921.”
The East Window is a single large Latin cross in the form of a white vine stem with leaves, tendrils and bunches of grapes and at the centre of the cross is the Agnus Dei, Lamb of God, holding the banner of victory. Four escutcheons contain symbols of the Evangelists, St John as an eagle, Mark as a lion, St Luke as an ox and a winged St Matthew kneeling to read the book.
This window was commissioned specifically for the refurbishment works and was made by James Powell & Sons to a probable design by Heywood Sumner, a notable figure in the Arts & Crafts movement.
In the chancel we have our patron saint, St John the Baptist, he stands pointing heavenwards and holds a banner of victory and above him is a scroll with the text: “Repent Ye”.
This window was original to the 1869 church.
The window opposite St John the Baptist depicts Christ with a scroll unfurling with a quote from St John: “I am the Way”. This window also predates the Liberty works and is dedicated, on the brass panel, to the vicar Stephen Spicer Crutch who was the incumbent when the church was first built. We think it was installed sometime around 1891 at the time of his death.
In the South Transept we have a double memorial window showing St Elizabeth of Hungary feeding the sick and the lame. St Elizabeth was a remarkable woman who gave up her life of privilege to devote herself and her money to the improvement of the lives of the sick and the poor. She created a hospital for lepers and built the first orphanage in central Europe. She died aged just 24 and was canonized in 1235.
The pertinence of this subject as a memorial window was wholly appropriate. It was donated by Ivor Stewart Liberty in honour of his aunt, Lady Emma, Arthur’s wife. The inscription at the bottom reads: “To the glory of God and in loving memory of Dame Emma Louise Liberty of the Manor House. The-Lee who died on the 2nd of May Anno dommini 1920.”
Emma Liberty spent much of her life here in The Lee as an altruistic Lady of the Manor, looking after estate workers and involving herself in many aspects of village life. She personally donated to the church the green velvet altar frontal.
Above the scene of St Elizabeth, in the trefoil window, is the Liberty shield of arms with the motto Libertas. When this window was installed in 1927 it replaced a plain glass window from which this piece comes. It is worth a closer look to see the delicate pale green of the tint of the Cathedral glass.
Above the Baptistery is the West window, a very simple three lancet design with, on the central panel, a white dove its wings outstretched and descending on rays of light. This window, like the Baptistery extension below, all date from 1911.
In the North Transept there is a magnificent window showing Christ in Eucharistic robes, his right hand raised in blessing with a gold chalice held in his left. Three angels hold up a richly decorated and jeweled hanging behind him. The gothic style text at his feet reads: “Thou Art a Priest Forever.”
This window, of which there is not currently a photograph, was made by Burlison & Grylls dates from around 1870.
Also in the North Transept is the final patterned window, The Archangel St Michael. Depicted here as a Warrior Saint dressed in silver plate armour with a shield and sword and completed with a quote from Psalm 84: “‘They shall go from strength to strength”.
This window, also designed by Burlison & Grylls, was installed in 1919 and is dedicated on the brass plaque below: “To the Glory of God and in memory of Herbert Cecil Duxbury 2nd Lieutenant RFC, killed in battle 11th May 1917 aged 18 years. Per Ardua ad Astra. (Through adversity, to the stars)”.
In the Book of Revelation, Michael was the angel who led God’s armies against and was victorious in defeating Satan’s forces. Notably and rather poignantly the youthful face of the Archangel is taken from a photograph of Lieutenant Duxbury.
The organ set within its oak console has in excess of 600 pipes, extending out into the recess behind the pulpit. A brass plaque notes that Lady Emma gave it in memory of her husband Arthur, and it is “Dedicated to the Glory of God and in most loving memory of Sir Arthur Lasenby Liberty, May 11th 1917″.
The organ was acquired ‘second hand’ from a church in Glasgow and installed in 1918 a year after Arthur died. Made by James J Binns, of Bramley Organ Works Leeds, Mr. Binns himself came to play the voluntary at the installation service in July 1918. For over 100 years since, the organ has played at every Sunday service, celebration, wedding and funeral, week in and week out.
It was serviced in 1967 when it was overhauled and repaired, and for the next 48 years played without complaint… however dust and dirt unsurprisingly accumulated, and some pipes began to stick meaning the notes sound continuously, necessitating a major deep clean. Having raised the necessary £6,000 in 2015, work was carried out to individually clean all 600 plus pipes and check all moving parts were in good working order. Newly repaired, restored and serviced, the organ was returned to full working condition!