This section is from the book "Modern Buildings, Their Planning, Construction And Equipment Vol5", by G. A. T. Middleton. Also available from Amazon: Modern Buildings.
At all periods of the world's history, and in all countries, the greatest architectural monuments have been those of a religious character; and not only has an effort always been made to render them architecturally the most beautiful, but also structurally the most sound, as they are built not for a single generation but to be of a lasting character. As a natural sequence of this, a certain type of plan which developed many ages ago has been adhered to with wonderful persistence, so that at the present time the buildings erected vary comparatively little in this respect, differing only in certain minor peculiarities to meet the needs of particular congregations and of certain varieties of ritual. This is particularly the case with Christian places of worship, with which we shall deal almost entirely, the plans of which are based upon those of the Roman basilicæ or justice halls - though certain modifications have been introduced from time to time, until at the present day it is possible to discuss the subject with but little reference to antiquity.
Interior, Looking East.
Morning Chapel. ST. Andrew's Church, Catford.
The simplest type of edifice now in use in the Church of England consists of a long narrow hall for the use of the congregation, this hall being almost invariably placed so as to lie east and west, and having an extension at the east end, known as the chancel, to serve for the use of the choir and the sanctuary, while, either at the west end or at the western extremity on either north or south, there is generally an entrance porch. Of such a type is the new church at Four Oaks, designed by Mr. C. E. Bateman, F.R.I.B.A. (Fig. 1), in which the porch is placed upon the south side. It has two doors, and so there ought to be little draught entering the building. The seating is arranged on either side of a central passage way. The font is placed at the western extremity, it being a generally accepted rule that its position should be as near the entrance to the church as possible, to symbolise the entry of a child into the Christian community.
In such a church as this there is no difficulty about either seeing or hearing, but the archway which separates the choir or chancel from the nave ought to be of almost the entire width of the chancel, so as not to obstruct sight or sound, and to allow a broad passage way for communicants and for processional purposes on such occasions as weddings and funerals. It is also essential that the clergyman's reading-desk, and the lectern from which the lessons are read, should be in full view of the congregation, and this is even more necessary in the case of the pulpit. In the present instance the pulpit is placed on the south side, and is reached by a passage way through the wall which forms the abutment of the chancel arch, access being also obtained by the same means to an open-air pulpit - an exceedingly rare feature, particularly in country churches, though it is coming somewhat into use in the crowded parts of towns, as giving an opportunity for preaching to a class of congregation which can be reached by an open-air service, but will not enter a building. The organ is now admittedly a necessity, though its right placing is still a matter of considerable discussion. In a church of this character it is particularly difficult to so place it that it may be heard and yet not obstruct the view from any part, and the difficulty has been overcome by placing it over the screen which has been introduced between choir and nave, where, although it obstructs the view of the chancel roof, it does not interfere with either sight or sound of what occurs in choir or sanctuary, as will be seen in Fig. 2. The choir space is contrived under a central tower, which is utilised for the bells, the choir seats, as is usual, being ranged longitudinally. Beyond them is a sanctuary occupying the whole width of the nave, giving ample kneeling space for communicants, and wide steps for the clergy. As is usual in English churches, there is a square east end, for not only is this traditionally correct, but it is also economical to construct and convenient for the clergy, who are by no means so cramped as when the end is semicircular or semi-octagonal. A small recess on the south side is intended for the temporary deposit during the service of the vessels used in the communion.
In earlier times a single small vestry for the use of the officiating clergyman was all that was necessary, and in some of the older country churches even this is absent, and a small portion, perhaps under the tower, has to be screened off for the purpose. At the present day, however, even the smallest village church has its surpliced choir, and as a result two vestries become necessary, one for the choir and one for the clergy. These are often arranged on the north side, but in the present instance have been placed at the extreme east end, a position which they may very well occupy, especially if the ground rise in that direction, when they can be easily placed on the same level as the choir - which it may be noticed is generally raised about four steps above the level of the nave, while three more steps in all lead to the level of the communion table, which occupies the extreme east end of the church. The total number of seven steps, it may be mentioned, is scarcely ever departed from. In the case where the ground falls towards the east it is by no means uncommon for the vestries to be placed underneath the chancel.
When a church is required to seat a larger congregation than can be accommodated by means of the simple hall plan, it is usual to add aisles either at one or both sides of the nave, as shown in the Hill Church at Sutton Coldfield (Fig. 3), also designed by Mr. C. E. Bateman, the aisles being separated from the nave or hall by means of an arcade. The nave has a central passage in this as in almost all cases, while other passages are found to the north and south, serving the seats which are in the aisles, these being generally arranged between the side passages and the walls. A good deal of trouble is often taken to so place the pulpit and reading desk that the view of these may not be obstructed from more seats than is unavoidable, a great deal depending upon the placing of the columns. In the present instance a western tower had to be provided, and the space within it has been utilised for seats, though this is somewhat unusual; and the porches are made to extend within the church, occupying positions whence the view would be obstructed if seats were placed there. It will further be noticed that all the seats face eastwards, as is always advisable, though in some cases it is not practicable. The choir and sanctuary are of the full width of the nave, so that there is a good space between the choir seats for communicants to line up; but the vestries, instead of forming an independent building, are obtained by an extension of the south aisle, the choir vestry having an organ chamber above it, and thus being utilised to give the external effect of a transept (Fig. 4). It will be observed from this illustration that the aisles are lean-to roofed, without parapets, this being the general arrangement, although flat parapeted roofs are sometimes found, and span roofs more occasionally. It may be noted in passing that the nave passage must always be at least 5 feet wide; and although the aisle passages may be somewhat narrower, they should always permit of two persons passing with comfort. In the church of St. Andrew, Catford (Fig. 5), designed by Mr. P. A. Robson, A.R.I.B.A., the nave is made of much greater width in proportion to the length of the church, while the aisles are narrowed till they become mere passage ways, as may perhaps be better seen by the photograph in Plate I. As a result of this there is scarcely a seat in the whole church from which a clear view cannot be obtained of the wide open chancel. The main entrances are at the east end of the two aisles.