Being asked to create a panel listing the rectors of St Botolph’s Church in Chevening, Kent, was a fascinating project with a number of interesting design challenges. The list goes back to Reginald in 1262 and there were 56 names in all. It’s always a problem working out the size and style of the lettering so that there is a wide enough space for names as long as William de Wintreshull but also accommodating short names such as John Wode and John Crull without having a large white space on the right.
Because it is a formal piece and the script should reflect that, I began by writing out the names in round hand (English Caroline Minuscule), or Edward Johnston’s Foundational Hand as here. However, I soon realised that those long names were causing me problems and the columns would be too wide. I had decided at the start that there should be three columns as two would have made the piece too long and four would have resulted in a wide panel and the lettering for the names would be too small.
So I changed the lettering to Compressed English Minuscule and this worked much better. I wasn’t sure whether the dates should be in black or red – the problem with a vibrant red is that it can be overwhelming sometimes. I tried both and realised that actually the red dates looked better than the black. I also asked the client if there were flowers or plants associated with the church.They didn’t have any ideas so I looked for suitable biblical texts and thought that John 15: verse 5 seemed very appropriate – ‘I am the vine; you are the branches’, the rectors being the branches in spreading the word. This also gave me the opportunity to use vines and grapes as decoration.
It took a little while to get the information correct. After I had written out the rough it was suggested that where there were two rectors in one year the date was omitted which really didn’t look right, and then that there should be an ampersand rather than the year as here, but this didn’t look right either. In the end it was decided to revert to my original layout.
The piece was so large that I couldn’t stretch the vellum before I started as I wouldn’t have been able to reach to letter the top, so I prepared the skin, which was quite bumpy, drew all the lines and set to. Because the heading is often the most daunting I always start with this to get it over with, and then worked my way down the board. I left the red lettering so that I could do it all in one go.
Then it was on to painting the vines and grapes.I decided that the vine should start in the middle of the piece and then the branches should extend out to the right and left. This also gave a nod to mediæval images of the tree of Jesse which also seemed rather appropriate. To get the best balance with the lettering and the position of the paintings within the piece, I designed it so that the leaves and grapes were the largest at the bottom, a little smaller either side of the name ‘St Botolph’s’ and then smallest of all on the row just above the columns. I don’t know how many leaves I painted, and certainly not how many grapes, but there were thousands it seemed!
The skin was very bumpy as can be seen when unstretched, and so it needed to be dampened and then pulled round a strong piece of wood and carefully attached at the back. This will also help to keep the vellum flat in the cold and sometimes damp atmosphere in many churches.