|S.S. Teulon, Victorian Architect
Birch, Layer Breton & Layer Marney Local History
Published in Parish News - March 2011
One of the landmarks in this area is the spire of the now redundant St Peter's Church, Birch. Built to a design by S.S. Teulon, in the early 1850s, it replaced an earlier church on the same site. Teulon was responsible for churches throughout the country, one of which was a landmark to me long before we moved to this area. Near to that church, in Wimbledon, is a group of attractive cottages which today have "listed buildings" status. Realising the coincidence led me to "Google" the architect's name to find out more about him.
Right: St Peter's Church, Birch.
Born in 1812 he started practice in 1838 specialising in Victorian Gothic style churches. Glancing through the list it becomes clear that Teulon was a man who probably made good use of the recently expanded railway system. Prior to his work in Birch he had been involved in projects in Gloucestershire, Norfolk, Sussex and Windsor, in the late 1840s. Clearly he was well connected and he received commissions from the Duke of Bedford, members of the Buxton family and royalty. One such connection was Mr C G Round who largely financed St Peter's Church.
Although we are unable to judge how frequently Teulon visited his various projects, or how close was his supervision, mention is made in the diaries of C G Round, of meetings in Birch both at Birch Hall and the work site. Much use was made of Marks Tey station by the owner of Birch Hall and his guests and, with other works in Essex, Teulon would have been able to quite easily fit in visits to St Peter's with other work.
Birch Old Rectory
A later commission in Birch was for "a Rectory House and offices at Great Birch". The contract for building work, dated 1st April 1859, was priced at £1,165 (current equivalent £80,000). There was a small supplementary contract which included the use of Minton tiles. Unfortunately after it was sold about 1953, and renamed Greenacres, it was largely destroyed by fire but has since been rebuilt.
Teulon's work received frequent mention in the volumes in The Buildings of England series by Pevsner and others. Not all the comments are favourable, several being quite derogatory! With some 30 churches listed among his works it would be an interesting exercise to evaluate the comments and consider how well his work has survived. It would be useful, at this point, to note that St Peter's Church, Birch, is not on the Teulon list on "Google".
In addition to the two landmarks I can identify with there is a third Teulon work, totally different in nature, which I passed daily during the last four years of my working life - rather more renowned than other works is the Buxton Memorial Fountain in Victoria Tower Gardens, Westminster, celebrating the emancipation of slaves in 1834.
The Parish Surveyor and Local Road Maintenance
Changing tack altogether (a term well understood by the editor of Parish News!) how did our ancestors cope with the weather? In midwinter was it of any use to complain if the roads were not gritted ahead of a frost? Were potholes a nuisance? Who was responsible for putting things to right on such occasions?
A rather slim volume, in the Essex Record Office, titled "Layer Breton Accounts: Surveyor's Accounts", throws some light on things. In particular it records that in 1811 snow was a problem. Considering there was little urgency in travelling in those days particularly in deep mid-winter it is surprising to find that on January 9th men were employed, by the surveyor, to clear and cart away snow. Six men were paid 2s 6d for the day and one boy received half that amount. The following day an additional boy was employed but he received just one shilling. How was a boy graded? Was it by height, or age, or hours worked? In addition to their pay the surveyor also paid 4s 8d (24p) for 2 gallons of beer. The current value of 2s 6d (£0.125p) using the retail price index is about £6.50 today.
The parish surveyor was, by 1811, nominated by parishes but avoidance of his duty was frequently the order of the day. There is no evidence as to how matters were controlled hereabouts, apart from rate paying, but there was not a great deal of activity in small communities such as Layer Breton. Spare labour was not a problem in winter. In March 1811 William Wade was paid 15s for 6 days work at "washway" - presumable a known problem spot. In June, Daniel South received 9d to spread gravel. Carting and spreading gravel, some of which came from outside the parish, seemed the main activities but whether the surveyor benefitted rather more than the rate payers, as was alleged in some parishes, it is not possible to say.
A history of the Churches Old and New of Birch and Layer Breton by T.B. Millatt 1963