Category: art

Chideock’s catholic church

I came across Chideock’s catholic church by chance some years back.

A little path leads to a door flanked by two arches, a simple entrance not unlike a romanesque church that reminded me of a 13th century chapel you might find in the South of France.

As you walk on, emerging from under a canopy of leaves from the tall trees either side of the path, color hits you. There is Mary, her eyes raised to the sky above, as many a Catholic artwork. But this white statue above the door is against a painted backdrop of blue sky and golden stars and around her in a large roundel, eight painted medallions make a huge statement “This is a church like no other’.

It is a Catholic Church so you can expect Jesus on the cross and many a statue of Mary.  Built in the 19th century, you won’t be surprised to find all sorts of artistic styles. That, and its interesting history, is what makes Our Lady Queen of Martyrs and St Ignatius of Loyola unique.

chideock catholic church

Raised in France where Catholicism is the main religion, it was fascinating to not only discover an extraordinary building but also its history, part of a bigger story of persecution. Hidden from the road by greenery, it feels like a secret venue but its apparent initial simplicity is lit by sparks of eccentricity and eclectic international artwork.

chideock catholic church

I’ve got a thing about churches, about what used to be, in most places, the centre of the community. Art and architecture draw me in, the people who built it make me want to stop, look around and listen. Raised by a Catholic family, I still light a candle and have a little thought for the ones I dearly miss.

chideock catholic church

Of course a Catholic church in England is not the centre of the village, it is the centre of a community that used to have to hide and Chideock is no exception. Thomas Weld of Lulworth bought Chideock estate in 1802 for his son Humphrey at a time when discretion was still called for despite the Reformation.

When the manor was built in 1805, the existing barn’s loft became a tiny chapel, it can still be visited today (by appointment). Its paintings, traveling altar and minute size tell a story of hiding. The walls of what is now the priest’s sacristy below the loft are totally decorated with murals and a 1929 painting by Fra Newbury of the Chideock Martyrs is inspired by portraits of the martyrs that can still be found around the church’s nave, below the upper windows.

chideock catholic church


What is unique about Chideock is that there was no architect involved. Charles Weld, Humphrey’s son, designed it and decorated most of it himself, with some help from his family.

Look closely and you’ll find a painting in an arch that was never finished, an almost ghost like figure; or Baroque inspired, slightly over the top, short white  twisty marble columns encrusted with shiny stones and mosaics. You may think Corinthian when you observe the tall columns that hold the arches of the nave but look closer and its capitals (the sculptures at the top of the columns) are all different and were carved by Charles himself.

chideock catholic church

Several of the sculptures that catch your attention when you walk around were gathered during his travels. The German inscription on the painted Pieta at the back of the building is a giveaway to its origins and the white marble statues of Mary and St Joseph flanking the sanctuary at the front of the building are unsurprisingly Italian.

chideock catholic church

One of the most eye catching features is the gilded statue of Mary above the altar, almost floating towards heaven. Positioned under a skylight (and with a bit of help from human lighting too) she may be the first thing you see when you enter the church. Then again, we’re all different, there are so many details, inscriptions and little treasures to be found that you may see the high painted ceiling (barrel vault) or the imperfections in the treaded floor that leads you to the altar.

You’ll have to look around to find the baptismal font and its clever cover (check the wooden panelling too as it is from Westminster Abbey no less).

chideock catholic church font

When I was commissioned to take photographs of the church I was lucky to be given a guided tour for my second visit. I won’t show you all the pictures although I took dozens, it would spoil the visit and the pleasure of discovering something you’ve never seen before. Look out for when they have open days to see the whole building.

In the church itself, there is plenty to see. You’ll find statues and paintings in alcoves, details in droves. Busy behind my lens capturing a mother in turn holding her baby or her grown son on her lap, I felt like time was stopping for a while, silence around me, away from our busy world, our religious differences.

chideock catholic church

Religious buildings have come to represent our differences in the world, something that pains many of us, yet when I visited this somewhat forgotten labour of love and faith, built by an English aristocrat for his community of believers, I felt a weird and unexpected sense of peace. It was (to my surprise) a descendant of Charles who gave me a tour of the church; her family still owns St Mary (although in trust). Private ownership of churches is one of the many things I learnt in Chideock.

chideock catholic church

Something I had never come across before either is a gallery overlooking the sanctuary for the Weld family to attend mass directly from the manor without being seen from the ground level. Although the family no longer owns Chideock manor, this is an interesting witness to a not so distant past. I must admit I found this feature rather strange, if fascinating, more to do with my French ancestry, of course, than my Catholic upbringing.

It made me think of history at large, social classes, lasting separations or forgotten divides. But it also reminded me that although churches are often a story of wealth enabling a building where beliefs can be shared and celebrated to exist, faith and even more so community involvement is now what is preserving the buildings for our future generations. As I visited, the cupola was about to be rebuilt and restored to how it used to be, thanks to funds raised locally over several years.

Craftsmanship prevails, wherever the funds come from, whoever the craftsmen are. Here, everybody can come and visit, light a candle, say a prayer or simply have a look around. I’ve only scratched the surface of what you can discover at Chideock catholic church. Whilst I was visiting, three men walked in and went straight to the little cloister adjacent to the church, now a local museum. In the silence of the church, it was easy to overhear their conversation.

Here was a father and his adult sons, looking at photographs of a person the older man knew many years ago when he lived in the area. The caretaker was called over to help. Now, was she the butcher’s daughter, or was she the one married to the builder? I left them to their conversation, the father with his revived memories, his sons, the lady of the church and the caretaker of St Mary.

chideock catholic church

We all walked back out at the same time a little while later, drizzle welcoming us to the English countryside, a smile on our faces.

I looked back at Mary in her roundel above the entrance.
Is that the sun shining behind her?


2012 in Bridport, a year to remember?

There’s a lot going on in Bridport and West Dorset in 2012. The Jurassic Coast is celebrating its tenth year as a Unesco listed site, the Sailing Olympics and paralympics are but a few weeks away and ‘Spirit of Bridport’ is celebrating with a Festival of Culture that promises to be a 19 day long celebration of all things that Bridport has to offer (11-27 August 2012).

Many community groups are getting together with ‘Spirit of Bridport’ to make sure the town makes the most of the Olympics on our doorstep. There’s much talk about legacy. ‘Spirit of Bridport’ is about action from the community for the benefit of all its communities and visitors.

Street theatre, pop-up cafes, a mini film festival, exhibitions celebrating our culture, gigs (of the rowing type as well as musical), special menus… Bridport is famous for great food, inspired art, inspiring creatives, quirkiness and doesn’t need much of an excuse to have a party.  When it comes to communities getting together and creating great events, Bridport has every chance of delivering.

As the 2012 Director of the Bridport and West Dorset Open Studios, I am one of the many people involved in ‘Spirit of Bridport’. From gallery owners to gig rowers, hoteliers to councillors, artists and creatives to companies who provide financial support, it’s very much a case of ‘let’s all get together and make this the best event Bridport and West Bay has ever had’.

Right, I’m off, there’s a lot of work to be done…

Nat x

Les Ateliers Ouverts de Bridport, Dorset Occidental

English version

Bridport et sa région du Dorset Occidental est un petit coin qui inspire les artistes, un peu comme la Normandie et ses ciels changeants avait inspiré les Impressionistes. Depuis 1999 les ateliers de Bridport s’ouvrent au public pour le ‘Bridport Open Studios’ et chaque année le nombre grandit. En 2011, c’est 100 artistes dans 58 lieux d’exposition qui ont offert à un public grandissant leurs oeuvres d’art au mois de Mai.

Les artistes sont variés, certains sont déjà cotés, d’autres débutent. Les prix sont en conséquence très différents suivant les artistes et les supports. Il y a bien sur des peintres, mais également de la sculpture, céramique, mobilier, photographie, textiles, illustrations, chapeaux, bijouterie ou gravure sur bois.

Même si tous les artistes ne représentent pas directement la Côte Jurassique dans leur art, les collines rondes ou les vallées cachées qui nous entourent, ils sont tous inspirés par l’atmosphère particulière et variée du Dorset Occidental. Au milieu d’une campagne agricole où bio est plutôt la norme, de monts d’où les vues sont un patchwork aux couleurs qui changent avec les saisons, d’une côte unique recélant des fossiles préhistoriques, on trouve une ville pleine de contrastes: Bridport.

Les temps ont changé pour ce port qui fournissait des cordes dans le monde entier, y compris aux bourreaux de Londres. La longue usine où les cordes étaient tressées à été adoptée par des artistes qui ont fait revivre cet espace industriel. Dans des petits villages proches mais presque perdus, d’autres artistes et artisans ont redonné vie à des écuries ou autres bâtiments agricoles, d’autres travaillent simplement de leur maison ou cottage.

C’est peut être cet éclectisme artistique et géographique qui fait que Bridport Open Studios attire maintenant des collectionneurs d’oeuvre d’art non seulement de la région mais également du Sud-Est de l’Angleterre.

La communauté d’artistes de Bridport m’ont demandé d’être leur ‘directeur d’évènement’ pour Les Ateliers Ouverts de Bridport de 2012.

Pour plus de détails sur les artistes qui ont exposé en 2011:


Artiste Andrew Leppard, copyright Nathalie Roberts

Bridport Open Studios 2011

Bridport Open Studios finds new director via twitter

It started with a tweetup in Bridport and ended with the next director for Bridport and West Dorset Open Studios: me!

“What’s a tweetup?” friends always ask. Well, it’s a “Let’s meet up for a coffee” organised on twitter, in this West Dorset case by @tim_harrap

So a bunch of West Dorset tweeters had a coffee and a chat in Bridport in April. We discovered new faces behind the 140 characters and caught up with friends.

@kitglaisyer mentioned that the ‘Bridport and West Dorset Open Studios’ group were looking for a new director for 2012 as Philomena Harmsworth, the current director is moving away from the area. @RealWestDorset suggested to @kitglaisyer that he thought I would do a good job. Very kind.

Let’s hope he was right as Kit and Philomena have asked me to be their next director and I have agreed. We had our first meeting tonight with many artists who took part this year giving us feedback on this year’s event. It was great to see such a good turn out. There were many ideas for us to work on for next year, good things to keep and things we can try and improve on to make BOS an even bigger and better event next year.

I’ll keep you informed, via twitter of course, here and on the BOS website

Here is my post about the event and the launch.

and here is an image of the tweetup!

West Dorset Tweetup