Sir Ninian Comper
The church, as we know it today, internally at least, owes its greatest debt to the work of the distinguished church architect, Ninian (later Sir Ninian) Comper.
Comper, who was born in 1864 and died in 1960, was a Scotsman, born in Aberdeen, and a High Churchman. He is possibly the most important English church architect of the 20th century, yet few people have heard of him. This is partly because of the antipathy of Nikolaus Pevsner, whose county by county architectural guides to ‘The Buildings of England’, published between 1951 and 1974, and which provided great authority as to taste, constantly denigrated and belittled Comper’s work.
Pevsner preferred the church architecture of the Norman and medieval periods, and did not share Comper’s catholic interests in later architectural styles. Comper designed complete church buildings, including St. Mary’s, Wellingborough, St. Cyprian’s, Clarence Gate in London, and much closer to here, the church of St. Philip, Cosham, where I was vicar from 1988-1996.
For a time, Comper was much influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement associated with William Morris, and had an interest not just in architecture, but also in church fabric and furnishings. Comper was employed here by Thomas Heywood Masters, vicar from 1902-1921. In 1930, Masters became the only the second Provost of Portsmouth Cathedral, after the foundation of the diocese in 1927. In that year, because of its enormous geographical size and increasing population, the Diocese of Winchester was divided into three, and the Dioceses of Guildford and Portsmouth came into being. Comper’s activity in East Meon spans two periods. Around 1906, he was responsible for, amongst other things:
The roof of the lych-gate
The two altars in the sanctuary and the lady chapel
The riddel posts around the sanctuary altar, topped by the statues of the four evangelists
The frontals for the sanctuary altar, which we still use
The reredos behind the altar in the Lady Chapel.
The timber screens surrounding the Lady Chapel
The stained glass in the east window of the Lady Chapel
The vestry door in the North Transept; now the access to the church hall
And the lectern, with its carved angels
As you will see, much of this work was in and around the altars, expressing Comper’s emphasis, as an Anglo-Catholic, that the primary purpose of a church as a place of worship was for the celebration of the Eucharist.. ….
The present pulpit had arrived a few years before Comper’s innovations. It dates from 1706, and used to stand in a London church, Holy Trinity, Minories, until that church was pulled down
Masters’ predecessor as vicar, E.H. Tomlinson, arranged for its transfer. A drawing from a slightly earlier period shows the previous pulpit placed in the crossing, which demonstrates the importance the Victorian Church placed on preaching, sometimes at the expense of the Eucharist
And after the First World War, Masters commissioned Comper to design the great East window (above) depicting the coats of arms and patron saints of those countries who formed the alliance which defeated Germany and its allies. It was and remains an unusual and unique commission. The window was dedicated in 1921. Comper’s final contribution to the church was the Masters memorial window, installed in 1946.