Medievalism and Ritualism – A Discussion of the Background and Context of The Parson’s Handbook, and of the ‘English Use’
By the second decade of the twentieth century Ritualism, which had been growing steadily as a force in the life of the Church of England, had polarised into two very distinctive groups. There were those within the C of E who attempted to find what they considered to be the inherent catholicism within the Book of Common Prayer. They were keen to restore arrested continuity, by attempting to discern the original intentions of the sixteenth century reformers. Then there was another group who wanted to move the church forward to the liturgical and aesthetic position it might have adopted had the Reformation never occurred. The ethos of the former, which has generally been known as the ‘English Use’ or ‘Sarum’ camp, is summed by Percy Dearmer’s work The Parson’s Handbook (hereafter referred to as The Handbook). Those who advocated this approach generally adopted a medieval aesthetic in church furnishing and vesture. The latter, who were usually characterised by the terms ‘western use’ or ‘Anglo-Papalist’, had the rally cry ‘Back to Baroque’ and adopted the aesthetic of contemporary Roman Catholicism.
|Dr Percy Dearmer photographed in 1911 in his doctoral robes.|
Although Percy Dearmer was one of the foremost personalities of the early twentieth century Church of England, he had a rather unconventional career in the church. Dearmer was the son of a professional artist and was educated at Westminster School and then Christ Church, Oxford. During his time at Oxford he came under the influence of Charles Gore and for a time worked as his secretary at Pusey House. Dearmer was ordained on the twentieth of December 1891 in Rochester Cathedral and over the course of the next decade would serve as curate at three successive London churches, combining his pastoral role with journalistic work for the Christian Socialist movement. In February 1901 he received what was to be his first and only incumbency, when he was inducted as vicar of St Mary’s, Primrose Hill in north London. He would remain in Primrose Hill until 1916. In 1911 he received his DD from Oxford. During the First World War Dr Dearmer resigned his living and spent time working for the YMCA in Serbia and France and after the war in India. Returning to England 1919, he found himself without any work and would remain without an official post in the Church of England until 1931. He was however, given the newly created chair of Ecclesiastical Art at King’s College, London, a post he held in conjunction with a college lectureship until his death. In 1931 he was finally preferred and became a residentiary canon of Westminster. He died in that post in May 1936.
Dearmer first published the The Handbook in 1899 at the beginning of his career, when he was still assistant curate at St Mark’s Marylebone Road in London. The book was an immediate success and by the end of 1899 it had run to three impressions. In 1902 a new expanded edition (called the ‘fourth’ but in truth really a second edition) was published, followed by a further expanded ‘sixth’ edition in 1907. The ‘sixth’ edition, with minor modifications remained in print until 1932 when a revised ‘twelfth’ edition was published. The ‘twelfth’ edition was as popular as previous editions and remained in print until 1962. A print run of sixty three years, is an extraordinary testament to the enduring value and usefulness of the work.
In 1965 Cyril Pocknee produced a revised and rewritten ‘thirteenth’ edition.
To describe this whole ceremonial and aesthetic system Dearmer invented a new term, the ‘English Use’, but despite inventing this descriptive term, very little of the content of the The Handbook actually originated with Dearmer himself. Dearmer was not writing in his own little intellectual bubble, but within an established scholarly milieu. Cyril Pocknee notes in his introduction to the revised Handbook of 1965, that the work was in effect a ‘haute vulgarisation’ of the scholarship of the previous thirty years. The Handbook was popular, not because of its particular novelty, but because it transformed turgid, antiquarian liturgical scholarship, into a passionate and vibrant system that could be practically applied and set forth, as Dunlop argues, with ‘admirable clearness.’ The Handbook made the scholarship of the ‘English Use’ available, as Pocknee notes, to the ‘ordinary parish priest who had not the time and inclination to delve into the researches that were required.’ Dearmer was the first to admit that The Handbook was intended to popularise the work of others and the work is full of copious footnotes. In the preface to the ‘fourth’ edition, written in 1902, he claims that his debt to other scholars was such that it was ‘not so much his own work as that of others more worthy of acceptance’. So who were these other scholars that underpinned his work? In Dearmer’s preface to the ‘fourth’ edition, he names some of them, expressing his indebtedness in particular to Vernon Staley and W. H. Frere. In the preface of the ‘twelfth’ edition of 1932 he extends his credit to include John Wickham-Legg and Sir William St John Hope.
|Vernon Staley (1852-1933)|
Vernon Staley (1852-1933) was the first of the men that Dearmer credited in The Handbook. From 1901-1911 Staley was provost of Inverness, but he went on to be rector of Ickford in Buckinghamshire until his death. He produced a number of solid ceremonial works very similar to those of Dearmer. Staley’s Ceremonial of the English Church was first published in 1899, the same year that The Handbook first appeared and in essence it is identical. It’s principles and conclusions are in all fundamentals the same, the ceremonial it suggests is near-identical, its arguments on vesture and ornament all come from the same late medieval aesthetic, on the same premise of obedience to the ‘ornaments rubric’ of the Book of Common Prayer.  His work includes reference to other contemporary scholarship, but a heavier reliance on mid nineteenth century scholarly works, some of which will be encountered in the second part of this article.
One of the contributors to Staley’s Essays on Ceremonial was John Wickham-Legg (1843-1921). Wickham-Legg was a physician by profession, who in 1887, after giving up his medical work for health reasons, devoted the rest of the life to the energetic study of liturgy. In 1879 he had founded the St Paul’s Ecclesiological Society, in essence a revival of the Cambridge Camden Society, which will be discussed below. In 1890 Legg was also one of the founders of the Henry Bradshaw Society, which was established to reprint liturgical manuscripts ‘on an historical and scientific basis’, and he contributed the first publication of the society, a three volume facsimile edition of the fourteenth century Litlyngton Missal in Westminster Abbey. In 1897 Legg, with four other laymen, H. B. Briggs, W. H. St John Hope and J. T. Micklethwaite founded the Alcuin Club, in order to ‘promote the study of the history and use of the Book of Common Prayer and allied disciplines’. The first publication of the Club The Ornaments of the Rubric set out its liturgical and aesthetic standpoint fairly firmly; the Club was founded with the ‘object of encouraging the practical study of Ceremonial, or the arrangement of Churches, their Furniture and Ornaments in accordance with the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer; strict obedience to which is the guiding principle of the work of the Club.’ The Ornaments of the Rubric was written by the architect J. T. Micklethwaite and it’s persuasive content was to form the basis of much of Dearmer’s legal arguments in The Handbook. Dearmer was himself actively associated with the Alcuin Club, by 1901 he was already on its committee and would remain on it for the rest of his life.
In the 1920s the Alcuin Club started publishing ‘tracts’ of their own that provided direct ceremonial guidance. These tracts were published at a time when the Club was under the chairmanship of Arthur Duncan-Jones and they included a two-part Directory of Ceremonial (first published in 1921 and 1930) and a Servers Manual (1935). Duncan-Jones, who succeeded Dearmer as vicar of St Mary’s Primrose Hill and later went on to be Dean of Chichester, was considerably more antiquarian in his liturgical leanings than Dearmer and that shows. The second part of the Directory of Ceremonial, which concerned itself with the liturgical seasons provided liturgical rubrics that were based on ‘practices which obtained in some English Cathedrals during the Middle Ages’.
|Bishop Walter Frere (1863-1938)|
Walter Frere (1863-1938) was another prominent early member of the Alcuin Club and went on to be its President. One of the founders, with Charles Gore, of the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield, Frere was for a time its superior and was from 1923-1935 bishop of Truro. In 1898 and 1901 he added to the corpus of medieval liturgical scholarship with a two-volume edition of the Sarum Consuetudinary and Customary, which was to provide a good deal of the rubrical background to The Handbook, particularly the ‘fourth’ edition. Frere was also one of a number of men of his era who was responsible for the recovery of the plainchant tradition in the Church of England, based, principally on Sarum precedents. Frere’s work as a musicologist had began in 1894 when he published a facsimile of a thirteenth century Sarum Gradual for the Plainsong and Medieval Music Society, work that was to be followed by a publication in twenty six fascicules of the Sarum Antiphonary between 1901 and 1925. In 1903 Dearmer and Frere collaborated to produce an ‘English Use’ altar book called The English Liturgy, to which Frere contributed the chant for Holy Communion, adapted from the Use of Sarum and the pointing for the lessons. Frere had first put this antiquarian interest into a practical liturgical application with the publication, in 1902, of a Manual of Plainsong for Divine Service. This was a collaborative effort with H. B. Briggs (who had died in 1901), who was both the founder of the Plainsong and Medieval Music Society and one of the lay founders of the Alcuin Club. The Manual of Plainsong, which contained the psalms and canticles for morning and evening prayer from the Book of Common Prayer set to Sarum tones and intended for practical use both in the Community of the Resurrection and beyond. The work continued in print throughout the first half of the twentieth century and in a revised edition from 1951.  In the preface of the Manual, Briggs and Frere note that much of its basis was in no small part founded on the pioneering plainsong research of the Revd. Dr G. H. Palmer. Palmer was the choirmaster at St Barnabas Pimlico and throughout the 1880s and 1890s he had been adapting Sarum tones to English words for practical use and some of this work was published. In 1900 the Sisters of Wantage published a number of volumes of adaptations of Sarum music for the mass, including Offices and Grails and Alleluyas for Sundays and Festivals and in 1904 the more extensive Offices or Introits for Sundays. In 1901 Dr Palmer was invited by Percy Dearmer to be choirmaster at St Mary’s Primrose Hill where he worked with Francis Burgess, another chant scholar.
|William St John Hope|
The last scholar credited by Dearmer was William St John Hope. Hope was principally an architectural historian, but the antiquarian study of medieval ecclesiology and liturgy were inevitable side interests. In 1899 he produced the very first Alcuin Club collection English Altars from Illuminated Manuscripts, a series of illustrations of altars from medieval English sources, with accompanying notes. Hope’s specific interest was the study of liturgical colours and in 1889 he had presented a paper on the subject to the St Paul’s Ecclesiological Society, which Wickham Legg had re-founded. Dearmer poured all of Hope’s knowledge into his section in The Handbook on liturgical colours and it was due to Hope’s work that Dearmer advocated the revival of unbleached linen Lenten array. In 1918, in conjunction with E. G. Cuthbert Atchley who was an equal authority on the subject, Hope produced the definitive work on the subject: English Liturgical Colours.
Dearmer wasn’t entirely a populariser of other people’s works. He added himself to the corpus of medievalist antiquarian scholarship that fed into the ‘English Use’ movement. Most of his contributions were art historical and were intended to effect practical changes to the visual aspects of church arrangement and liturgical action. In 1903 the Alcuin Club published a reproduction of a series of sixteenth woodcuts of the mass called Dat Boexken Van Der Missen, with an introduction and description by Dearmer. This was published, as Jagger notes, with the purely antiquarian aim in mind to: ‘offer a valuable visible commentary on the ceremonial used at High Mass of the period.’ In 1910 they published a similar volume edited by Dearmer: Fifty Pictures of Gothic Altars, a collection of images from manuscripts and woodcuts; primary source material brought together with a more practical purpose: ‘for the benefit of architects and of others concerned in the arrangement and decoration of churches’. From 1908 Dearmer was the editor of a series of volumes for Mowbrays under the title ‘The Arts of the Church’, to which he contributed the first volume The Ornaments of the Ministers. The volumes were intended to provide interesting and accurate information on liturgical art for the ‘average intelligent man who has not had the time to study’ the subjects himself.
Dearmer was quite different from the scholars that surrounded him in that he excelled in the practical application of the visual principles of the ‘English Use’. Dearmer was concerned with the re-invigoration of artists in the enterprise of the church. In 1902 he wrote critically of clergy who in adorning their churches thought on ‘purely commercial lines’ and criticised the whole Church of England for failing, since the Reformation, to ‘call to her service the great artists and craftsmen’ of the age. In his view art had to have a social conscience and the commercialisation of art led to vulgarity and cheapness and cheapness led, ultimately, to the production of goods in unfair conditions. In a memorable passage he betrays himself to be very much a man of his own age, demonstrating his Christian Socialist and Arts and Crafts credentials:
‘cheapness means the tyranny of the sweater. A modern preacher often stands in a sweated pulpit, wearing a sweated surplice over a cassock that was not produced under fair conditions, and, holding a sweated book in one hand, with the other he points to the machine-made cross at the jerry-built altar, and appeals to the sacred principles of mutual sacrifice and love.’
Dearmer put his principles into direct practice at St Mary’s Primrose Hill, but he also found other means to ensure that they could be rolled out elsewhere.
|Dearmer in vestments made by the St Dunstan’s Society|
In 1901 he established a workroom, which traded under the name of the St Dunstan’s Society, to make vestments in fair conditions to approved, i.e. medieval patterns. In 1912 he established, in conjunction with Mowbrays, the Warham Guild, which not only provided vestments but also church furnishings. The Guild had an advisory committee under Dearmer’s chairmanship, that included other prominent members of the Alcuin Club. To encourage the re-connection of artists to the church, the Warham Guild had a policy of employing young artists and architects. The architects W. H. Randoll Blacking (1889-1958) and F. E. Howard (1888-1934) started their careers in the employment of the Guild. F. E. Howard was an expert on medieval woodwork and that study informed his ecclesiastical work.
Other men were achieving practical applications of medievalist aesthetics independently of Dearmer and the Alcuin Club group. The designer J. N. Comper (1864-1960) is particularly notable. From the early 1890s, Comper had been restoring church interiors, adding lavish furnishings and decoration based entirely on late medieval English and German models. One of the hallmarks of many of his early schemes was the inclusion of an enclosed altar surrounded by riddel posts, based on precedents taken from manuscript illustrations. He was the first person to use this arrangement since the Reformation, and Comper himself coined a name for it that stuck, calling the arrangement the ‘English altar’. It wasn’t of course a peculiarly insular arrangement at all, but was found right across western Europe in the Middle Ages. Micklethwaite, St John Hope and Wickham Legg had been among Comper’s early supporters and he was one of the first members of the Alcuin Club committee, although he had ceased to be a member by 1906. Dearmer too was a champion of the ‘English altar’ arrangement and the Warham Guild usually adopted this style of altar by preference. Dearmer was always generous to Comper and was always careful to credit the origins of this arrangement back to him, who he considered to be the utmost authority on it. In Fifty Pictures of Gothic Altars Dearmer referred back to Comper’s written works, which he described as ‘the best account of the treatment of the Gothic altar in art.’ It would seem, however that Dearmer and Comper never got on. Dearmer thought Comper was a mere copiest and Comper thought Dearmer was a populariser and debaser of his ideas and found his socialism distasteful. Comper who had a strong view of his own work believed that his work was not slavish copying but ‘perfected late-medieval precedent’ and was proud that it was free of what he saw was the ‘individualism’ of the Aesthetic and Arts and Crafts movements. In 1933 in Further Thoughts on the English Altar, he accused the work that Dearmer influenced of technicality and a lack of spiritual connection. He argued that Dearmer’s work had resulted in a ‘fatal effect upon architecture’ and had led to ‘commercial degradation to the level of church furnisher.’ Anthony Symondson, who is convinced of Comper’s originality over and above all contemporary work and takes Comper’s rhetoric entirely at face value, rather overstates the differences between Comper and Dearmer and creates a sense of friction that probably didn’t wholly exist. He writes, with little balance, that the ‘purity’ of the medievalism of Comper was ‘compromised by Dearmer, who popularised and plagiarised their ideas, removing the sting from their fervent Anglo-Catholicism, trivialised their principles and opened the door to commercialisation.’
Dearmer was working within a strong and vibrant scholarly community, he added to that scholarship himself both academically and practically. He did not invent what he termed the ‘English Use’, but The Handbook popularised the work of the scholarly community. His work, both in the The Handbook and through the Warham Guild, made the medievalism of the ‘English Use’ movement mainstream and he injected into it a practical approach that incorporated an ‘Arts and Crafts’ ethic. With this extensive antiquarian and scholarly base, it was inevitable that the work of Dearmer and those of the ‘English Use’ school would be parodied by its detractors. From the 1920s onwards their work was criticised, notably by those who advocated ‘western’ ceremonial, as ‘British Museum Religion.’ However, what Dearmer and his associates were doing was not particularly novel. As I will argue in the second part of this article, the basing of a ceremonial system on scholarly, antiquarian research, was something that had strong precedent and was not at variance with Anglican Ritualism as a whole, but was an fundamental part of Ritualism from the very beginning.
 This biographical note is reliant both on Dearmer, N. The Life of Percy Dearmer (London, 1940) and D. Gray, Percy Dearmer, A Parson’s Pilgrimage (Norwich, 2000)
 Gray, Percy Dearmer, p. 37.
 Gray, Percy Dearmer, p. 47.
 C. Pocknee (ed.), The Parson’s Handbook Practical directions for parsons and others according to the Anglican use, as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer on the basis of the twelfth edition by Percy Dearmer, D.D. (Oxford, 1965).
 P. Dearmer, The Parson’s Handbook (fourth edition, London, 1902), pp. 1-6.
 Dearmer, The Parson’s Handbook (1902), pp. 6-7.
 Dearmer, The Parson’s Handbook (1902), pp. 18-20.
 Dearmer, The Parson’s Handbook (1902), pp. 122 and 135.
 Dearmer, The Parson’s Handbook (1902), p. 137.
 Dearmer, The Parson’s Handbook (1902), p. 36.
 Dearmer, The Parson’s Handbook (1902), pp. 10-11.
 Gray, Percy Dearmer, p. 45.
 C. Pocknee, The Parson’s Handbook, p. ix.
 C. Dunlop, What is the English Use? (Alcuin Club Prayer Book Revision Pamplets 11, 1923), p. 27.
 C. Pocknee, The Parson’s Handbook, p. ix.
 Dearmer, The Parson’s Handbook (1902), p. vii.
 Dearmer, The Parson’s Handbook (1902), p. vi.
 Gray, Percy Dearmer, p. 51.
 V. Staley, The Ceremonial of the English Church (London, 1899).
 V. Staley, The Ceremonial of the English Church (London, 1911), pp. 3-34.
 V. Staley, Studies in Ceremonial Essays Illustrative of English Ceremonial (London, 1901)
 V. Staley (ed.) Hierurgia Anglicana. Documents and Extracts Illustrative of The Ceremonial of the Anglican Church After the Reformation (3 parts in 2 vols, London, 1902)
 Dearmer, The Parson’s Handbook (1902), p. vii.
 V. Staley (ed.), Essays on Ceremonial by Various Authors (London, 1904)
 M. Dudley, ‘J. Wickham Legg’ in C. Irvine (ed.) They Shaped Our Worship Essays on Anglican Liturgists (Alcuin Club Collections 75, 1998), p. 22.
 A. Symondson, ‘Theology, worship and the late Victorian Work’, in C. Brooks and A. Saint, The Victorian Church, Architecture and Society (Manchester and New York, 1995), pp. 212-213.
 M. Dudley, ‘J. Wickham Legg’ in C. Irvine (ed.) They Shaped Our Worship Essays on Anglican Liturgists (Alcuin Club Collections 75, 1998), p. 23.
 P. J. Jagger, The Alcuin Club and its Publications 1897-1987 (Norwich, 1986), pp. 6-7.
 The volume was re-published in 1901 and for this essay the author has seen it in it’s 1901 version. J. T. Micklethwaite, The Ornaments of the Rubric (Alcuin Club Tracts 1, 1901), p. 81.
 Micklethwaite, The Ornaments of the Rubric.
 A Directory of Ceremonial (Alcuin Club Tracts 13, 1921) and A Directory of Ceremonial, Part II (Seasons) (Alcuin Club Tract 19, 1930).
 A Server’s Manual for the Holy Communion (Alcuin Club Tracts 21, 1935).
 J. Hawes, C. Kitching and B. Almond, The Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin, Primrose Hill (London, 2002), p. 10
 A Directory of Ceremonial, Part II (Seasons), p. 5.
 C. S. Phillips, Walter Howard Frere Bishop of Truro (London, 1948),
 Phillips, Walter Howard Frere, p. 206.
 Phillips, Walter Howard Frere, p. 212.
 N. Dearmer, The Life of Percy Dearmer, p. 177. P. Dearmer, W. H. Frere and S. M. Taylor, The English Liturgy: being the Office for Holy Communion with additional Colects, Epistles, and Gospels for the lesser holy-days and for special occasions (London, 1903).
 Gray, Percy Dearmer, p. 50.
 The author knows it in the revised edition of 1951, which retains Briggs’ and Frere’s original preface: J. H. Arnold, H. B. Briggs and W. H Frere (eds.) A Manual of Plainsong of Divine Service (London, 1951).
 Briggs and Frere, A Manual of Plainsong of Divine Service , p. vii.
 Gray, Percy Dearmer, pp. 68-69.
 G. H. Palmer, Offices, Grails and Alleluyas for Sundays and Festivals from the Sarum Gradale (Wantage, 1900) and G. H. Palmer, The Offices, or Introits for Sundays and Festivals with the musical notation from the Sarum Gradale [sic]. (Wantage, 1904)
 Gray, Percy Dearmer, p. 68.
 Gray, Percy Dearmer, p. 50.
 Jagger, The Alcuin Club and its Publications, p. 22.
 Dearmer, Parson’s Handbook (1902), pp. 106-116 and 442.
 W. St John Hope and E. G. C. Atchley, English Liturgical Colours (London, 1918)
 P. Dearmer, Dat Boexken van der Missen: ‘The Booklet of the Mass’ (Alcuin Club Collections 5, 1903)
 Jagger, The Alcuin Club and its Publications, p. 24.
 P. Dearmer, Fifty Pictures of Gothic Altars (Alcuin Club Collections 10, 1910), p. 7.
 P. Dearmer, The Ornaments of the Ministers (London, 1908)
 Dearmer, The Ornaments of the Ministers (London, 1908), p. vii.
 Dearmer, The Parson’s Handbook (1902), pp. 4-5.
 Dearmer, The Parson’s Handbook (1902), pp. 5.
 N. Dearmer, The Life of Percy Dearmer, p. 114. Illustrations of some of their work an be found in P. Dearmer ‘Church Vestments’ in Staley, Essays on Ceremonial, pp. 179-192.
 F. E. Howard and F. H. Crossley, English Church Woodwork a Study of Craftsmanship During the Medieaval Period A. D. 1250-1550 (London, 1917)
 Hawes, Kitching and Almond, The Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin, Primrose Hill, pp. 22 and 30-31.
 Take for example Stabler’s designs for altars, which include the contemporary use of beaten copper for riddle sconces and altar ornaments. See: P. Dearmer ‘The Altar and Its Furniture’ in Staley, Essays on Ceremonial by Various Authors, pp. 197 and 199.
 C. Pocknee, The Parson’s Handbook, p. xv.
 Comper wrote two papers on the subject: J. N. Comper, Practical Considerations on the Gothic or English Altar and Certain Dependent Ornaments (Edinburgh, 1893); J. N. Comper, Further Thoughts on the English Altar, or Practical Considerations on the Planning of a Modern Church (Cambridge, 1933)
 Comper’s name occurs as a committee member in 1901 along with Dearmer. Micklethwaite, The Ornaments of the Rubric, p. 81. He disappears by 1906. S. C. Lomas, The Edwardian Inventories of Huntingdonshire (Alcuin Club Collections 7, 1906), p. 59.
 P. Dearmer, Fifty Pictures of Gothic Altars (Alcuin Club Collections, 1910), p. 11.
 A. Symondson and S. Bucknall, Sir Ninian Comper (Reading, 2006), p. 36.
 Symondson, ‘Theology, worship and the late Victorian Work’, p. 218.
 Gray notes that the term ‘British Museum Religion’ was in fact coined by Dearmer’s friend James Adderley as a compliment not a term of derision. Gray, Percy Dearmer, p. 2.