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Holy Trinity

The postcard shows an image on an unused card c. 1910 published by the Rugby Press, with a view looking towards Rugby town centre from Clifton Road. Visible from left to right are the top of Rugby School Chapel; the tower of Holy Trinity Church; and the spire of St. Andrew’s Church.

Postcards in a wide variety of forms became increasingly popular from the mid to late nineteenth century. An attractive and relatively inexpensive means of communication, they were slow to take off at first – any messages had to be short, and many senders worried about these messages being so openly visible – but in 1894 the cost of sending a postcard in Britain was set at ½d, and this led to a phenomenal postcard boom. Any subject imaginable could be printed on a picture postcard, but a favourite, then as today, would the picturesque or interesting local view.

Pevsner, in his Buildings of England series on Warwickshire, writes that ‘Rugby is Butterfield Town’, and the tops of both William Butterfield’s major Rugby buildings can be seen in this photograph. Butterfield (1814 – 1900) was one of the leading Victorian gothic revival architects. He is significant in that he introduced a distinctive and strikingly different style of architecture, which rather than being based on the more familiar English and Continental gothic styles was an interpretation of medieval Venetian architectural forms. In this he was prompted by the art critic John Ruskin, who suggested the study of Venetian architecture in his book ‘Seven Lamps of Architecture’ (1849).

Looking at Rugby School and Chapel you immediately notice the bands of polychromatic and patterned brickwork and small rounded, or square headed windows, flanked by thin columns. No one Venetian building looks quite like this, or like the tower, nave and aisles of St. Andrew’s, but anyone familiar with such building as the Doge’s Palace or Casa D’oro in Venice will recognise that visual stylistic elements from these and others have been taken away together and recombined. Butterfield’s other most notable commission was Keble College in Oxford. The Rugby visitors who make the journey to Oxford to walk around the Keble quads and chapel may find themselves feeling strangely at home.

The view on this card is not one that it is possible to see today, owing to the demolition of Holy Trinity Church in 1983, but if it were then you would still be able to see the work of one of the most notable Victorian architects side by side with that of one of his even more famous contemporaries, Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811 – 1878). Scott was inspired by Pugin (architect of yet another Rugby Church, St. Marie’s) to design buildings in the gothic revival style, and his commissions included the Midland Grand Hotel, St. Pancras Station and the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens. Holy Trinity was built between 1852 and 1854 at a cost of £7,500, and was far larger than its relatively moderate cost might suggest, although not as large or elaborately decorated as nearby St. Andrew’s, built twenty-five years later when Rugby was becoming increasingly prosperous.

The church was constructed from large blocks of grey stone, with the crossing tower, clearly visible in the photograph, and a higher stair turret, not visible here, and with its lower stage being open from below. The nave and aisles were of four bays supported by quatrefoil piers. There were circular clerestory windows, a flat east end, and subtly differentiated tracery between the north and south aisle windows. Although not regarded as one of Scott’s more significant designs, it was nonetheless considered to be an excellent example of his work, and its absence from the town is much regretted, following its demolition after some years of disuse and a major fire had rendered it unsafe. Another postcard in our current Images of Rugby exhibition shows the church from the west side in the early 1950s.

If we exclude the surviving memorials in the old churchyard and the Lych Gate, the object of a narrowly averted theft shortly after the church’s demolition in the early 1980s, the only other relics of this church are an eagle lectern (also held by the Art Gallery and Museum) and somewhat unusually its roof tiles. These were reused on the roof of “Granny’s Meat Pies” in Bilton village, the restoration of this building happening to coincide with that of the church’s demolition.

Because the urban landscape has changed so much over the course of the 20th Century there is a very particular fascination in comparing views recorded on postcards from over 100 years ago, to those we are able to see from a similar viewpoint today – views that as local people we may have developed a particular personal relationship towards.
But the view on this card, showing three such major commissions from two of the most prestigious Victorian architects, is like many other such postcard views also informative in a wider historical sense, as being indicative of the increasing status of the town during the Victorian period, and demonstrating how urban change can progressively blur this significance were it not for such valuable photographic records.

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