The festival has proved the acoustic of St James’s Church to be excellent, rewarding performers and listeners alike.
St James’s is well worth a visit even when there’s no music festival. Dating from Tudor times, and unchanged since the discovery of its remarkable wall images in the 1880s (top right), the 156-seat church features fine wood carvings designed by Temple Moore; vibrant altarscreen paintings by Victor Milner (who also painted the stained glass East window); and the spectacular Brocas sculpture described below. The church’s website is stjamesbramley.com.
St James’s Church, Bramley, is a beautiful 12th-century church that provides a glorious setting for a music festival. Certain features deserve special attention.
The striking wall paintings are a rare survival from the Middle Ages, though such adornments were once common in English churches. Obliterated at the Reformation under layers of limewash, they were replaced by texts of scripture, the so-called “sentences”, of which there are also examples in Bramley church.
Bramley’s murals include Dedication crosses and a depiction of the murder of Becket, painted soon after the event in 1170. Obscured by zealous Protestants, these “popish” images might generally have survived, to be restored in a more enlightened age. Unfortunately, they were held in little regard by the Victorians, whose practice was to strip away the plaster completely, exposing bare walls that were never meant to be seen.
The walls of Bramley church are made of rough flint and tiles from Roman Silchester. It was clear to Vicar Eddy, who investigated the matter in the 1880s, that there would have been no merit in stripping them. Intrigued, moreover, by the quaint images that he had discovered, he decided to restore and preserve them. It is to his enlightened attitude that we owe their existence today.
Equally eye-catching is the marble sculpture in the side-aisle of the dying Bernard Brocas, tenderly supported in the arms of his beautiful young wife. The Brocas family had been seated at nearby Beaurepaire (traditionally pronounced “Beroper”) since 1353, their lands stretching from Burghfield Hill to Basingstoke. A magistrate and colonel of militia, Bernard Brocas died in 1777, aged 47.
The couple wear classical garb (Mrs Brocas is veiled), though the portly Mr Brocas sports a fashionable periwig. The work is variously ascribed to Thomas Banks RA, or to Thomas Carter the Younger, who was in the area at the time, still working in 1780 on the monument to Speaker Chute at The Vyne.
The Brocas tomb originally stood in the open in the churchyard, where it would soon have deteriorated. Mrs Brocas had it enclosed by the present side-aisle in 1802. It was designed by Sir John Soane, the foremost architect of the day, whom she had earlier employed at Wokefield, Park, five miles away at Stratfield Mortimer, commissioning alterations and a new gateway in 1788.
Soane, who grew up in Reading, had just finished the plans for his masterpiece, the old Bank of England.
Incidentally, Mrs Brocas’s step-grandson sold Wokefield in 1839, but he removed Soane’s gates and installed them at the end of the moat bridge at Beaurepaire, where they remain to this day.
The pioneer of nuclear fusion, Lise Meitner, is buried in St James’s churchyard.