By Brian Andrews, Archdiocese of Hobart Heritage Officer

This image is a detail of the rood screen in St Paul’s, Oatlands, a building designed in 1843 by the great English architect Pugin, friend of William Willson, our first bishop, and opened in 1851.

English medieval churches always had a rood screen between the nave and the sanctuary, and Pugin invariably included them whenever possible.

History has not been kind to his rood screens. St Paul’s is one of a mere handful of his churches—Our Lady and St Wilfrid’s, Warwick Bridge; St Alban’s, Macclesfield; St Giles’, Cheadle; St Edmund’s College, Ware; St Augustine’s, Ramsgate; St Patrick’s, Colebrook; and St Peter’s, Marlow—that retain their screens in the proper locations.

This screen was carved by a local man, Patrick Lynch, c.1855. Lynch was well qualified to undertake the work in the proper spirit for, before leaving Ireland, he had been engaged on the wooden furnishings of Pugin’s works at Lismore Castle, County Waterford—an ideal apprenticeship.

Given its rarity and near completeness, the screen is of international significance and should be preserved at all costs.

In the late 1960s, the major uprights on either side of the screen’s opening were sawn through top and bottom, and latches secured over the cuts to enable the uprights to be removed during Mass. Likewise, the minor uprights, four in number, were also able to be lifted out during Mass.

Regrettably, this action weakened the integrity and stability of the screen, and the routine of removing the uprights for Mass has long been discontinued. Happily, restoration work is currently in train to remedy this problem.

The evidence appears to point to this screen having been directly derived from that in Pugin’s Jesus Chapel, Pontefract, opened in October 1842 and demolished in 1963.

The builder was George Myers whose craftsmen constructed the church model, built from Pugin’s architectural plans, which was used for the Oatlands church.

One could speculate that in 1843 Pugin simply instructed Myers to use the existing Pontefract screen design drawings in the model.

It is noteworthy that the form of the Oatlands tracery is near-identical with Pugin’s 1847 rood screen in St Peter’s, Marlow, which was executed in stone. Again, this indicates that he was not averse to using variants of his own designs.

Tags: Heritage Conservation