Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Foulston's "Hindoo" chapel, Devonport

Ker Street, from Devonshire & Cornwall illustrated (1832)

Further to Seeking details: Devonport "Hindoo" Calvinist Chapel, I took myself to the Devon and Exeter Institution today to look at a primary source, John Foulston's self-published The public buildings erected in the West of England as designed by John Foulston F.R.I.B.A. (pub. J Williams, 1838).

I noticed previously that Foulston's chapel, demolished in 1902 and formerly part of his Ker Street development for the town centre of the newly-incorporated Devonport, always seems to get fragmentary glimpses as part of larger panoramas of the site. Foulston's own book gives rather more information about what it actually looked like.

Firstly, here's a detail from Plate 80:

Town Hall, commemorative column, Mount Zion Chapel,
Civil and Military Library, Ker St, Devonport
Courtesy of The Devon and Exeter Institution - not for re-use

Foulston commented in the preface on the general design concept:

Notwithstanding the grandeur and exquisite proportions of the Grecian orders, the author has never been insensible to the distinguishing beauties of the other original styles; and it occurred to him that if a series of edifices, exhibiting the various features of the architectural world, were erected in conjunction, and skilfully grouped, a happy result might be obtained.

Under this impression, he was induced to try an experiment, (not before attempted) for producing a picturesque effect, by combining, in one view, the Grecian, Egyptian, and a variety of the Oriental, as will be seen in Plate No. 81 [sic], the view of Ker-Street, Devonport.
The main section on the chapel, pages 63ff, describes it in detail. In contrast to the florid exterior, the interior sounds horribly cramped and uncomfortable (perhaps a deliberate exercise in Calvinist austerity):
This Chapel was erected by subscription for Calvinistic Worship. The exterior, exhibiting a variety of Oriental Architecture, is seen in juxta-position with others of Greek and Egyptian character; the Author's intention being to experimentalize on the effect which might be produced by such an assemblage. If the critic be opposed to the strangeness of the  attempt, he may still be willing to acknowledge, that the general effect of the combination is picturesque.

DESCRIPTION OF PLATES

Plate 95—Fig. 1, Plans of the Area, and Fig. 2, Plan of the Galleries, by which it may be seen that the object of the designer was to meet the wishes of his employers, in sacrificing, as much as possible, the individual comforts of the sitters to the numerical extent of the sittings. The Pews in the Chapel were not allowed to be more than 2ft. 4in. wide, nor more than 18in. for each person. The Aisles were limited to a width of 4ft. 6in., and probably in no Chapel has less space been occupied by the Staircases to the Galleries.

The Recess in which the Pulpit and Reading Desk are situated, was formed with a view to its answering the purpose of a sounding board; and it is further serviceable in allowing the preacher to avoid too close an approach to the front seats, at the end of the Galleries.

Plate 95, Fig.1, ground plan
Courtesy of The Devon and Exeter Institution - not for re-use
Plate 95, Fig. 2, gallery
Courtesy of The Devon and Exeter Institution - not for re-use
Plate 96—Front and return Elevations of Buildings.
Plate 96 (detail) - front elevation
Courtesy of The Devon and Exeter Institution - not for re-use
Plate 96 (detail) - elevation of frontage
Courtesy of The Devon and Exeter Institution - not for re-use
Plate 97—Head of Central Window
Plate 97 - head of central window
Courtesy of The Devon and Exeter Institution - not for re-use
Plate 98—Head of Side Windows
Plate 98 - head of side windows
Courtesy of The Devon and Exeter Institution - not for re-use
Pardon the distortion and variable colour; I had to take the photos under not-so-bright conditions, and the large pages couldn't be flattened.

I'll write more about Foulston's The public buildings erected in the West of England in a later post or two; it makes for rather quirky reading. While it's a record of Foulston's undoubted flair - one highlight is his description of how the Devonport Column was erected without the use of scaffolding - it does turn egotistical on occasion, and even whiny, as in the last section on his unexecuted plan for Bristol Gaol. Here Foulston tells how he resolved not to go in for any more design competitions after failing to win with his gaol design, and the account has a distinct edge of schadenfreude where he tells of the "fearful circumstances" that befell the winning entry (the New Gaol, attacked by rioters in 1831 and set on fire) as, he argues, a consequence of not following his own design principles.

Thanks to the Devon and Exeter Institution for guest access to its library; as stated, all images are reproduced courtesy of the Institution.

- Ray

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