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Monastery 1908 to 1912

The modern abbey was begotten by Benedictine monks from Solesmes, near Le Mans, who came to England in 1901 as a result of anti-clerical legislation in France. They settled temporarily in the mansion at Appuldurcombe.

In 1907 they bought Quarr House, a rambling, largely Victorian house W of the old abbey site, and new buildings soon raised beside the house. They were designed by Dom Paul Bellot (1876-1944), whose father was the French equivalent of a surveyor, and who studied architecture at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. He took his diploma in 1900, but decided for a monastic life. In 1902 he became a novice in the community of monks at Appuldurcombe; he took his vows in 1904. However, the order directed him back to architecture; he was commissioned in 1906 to design a new church at Oosterhout, Holland, where other monks from Solesmes had settled. Shortly afterwards he was called back to the Isle of Wight to design the first new monastic buildings at Quarr, including the present cloister, refectory and chapter house, together with dormitory accommodation. These were started in 1907, and were sufficiently complete for the monks to move to Quarr in mid 1908 (using at first a temporary wooden church moved from Appuldurcombe).

The abbey church was built of Bellot's design during 1911-12 - a remarkably short time considering its size and complexity, and the fact that it was fully completed.

Picture of Aerial View circa 1930
Aerial View circa 1930

Bellot's last work at Quarr was the entrance block, including guest accommodation, S and W of the cloister, finished in 1914. After the First World War he worked in Holland France and Canada, where he died. His later monastic buildings developed his style and methods of construction with great inventiveness, but Quarr, in Pevsner's words, 'is his outstanding achievement'. The abbey church has, without any doubt, the finest interior of any building on the Island.

Bellot's style was related to Expressionism, the artistic and architectural movement which developed in northern Europe before the First World War, and became most influential around 1920. Expressionism emphasized the importance of form rather than function in the design of buildings, and encouraged the creation of impressive, sometimes dramatic, effects through sculptural shapes and conspicuous features. Holland and Germany were the main early centres; the Dutch architects Berlage and de Klerk were influential. There were also indirect relationships with the works of Gaudi in Barcelona. But Expressionism declined in importance as the Modern Movement, with its emphases on function and structure, developed. In its heyday Expressionism made little obvious impact in England. When Pevsner visited Quarr Abbey in the mid 1960s he was therefore astonished by the architecture of the abbey church, of which he wrote: 'It is built of Belgian bricks, rough unattractive bricks, bricks others would have tried to hide. It is high and long and high again, and its plan is wholly original. It consists of a short and low nave, then, a few steps up, a long choir with bare sidewalls, very narrow side passages (like Gaudi's corridors at the college of St Teresa at Barcelona), and ampler galleries above, and then an altar space under a high square tower. Everything is of the same brick, externally and internally. Externally the low nave looks like a Cluniac ante-church or a narthex; for it is followed by the high S tower, the low N tower, and much high bare wall between. The square tower at the E end is not as high as the S tower but mighty in its square volume and overwhelmingly blunt in its marking the E end of the whole building.

Paul Bellot was a virtuoso in brick. All is brick and all has to be done angularly; for such is the brick's nature. Instead of pointed arches triangular heads. Stepped gables for the low façade of the church and for the entrance to the abbey, cut-back friezes and stepped patterns of all kinds. They are again curiously reminiscent of Gaudi. Inside the church, and also the chapter house and the refectory, Paul Bellot repeats one powerful motif; transverse pointed arches carrying the roofs, and that is a Catalan motif as well, used in religious and secular architecture and especially similar to Quarr in the Cistercian abbey of Poblet. But it is also present in such South French Cistercian buildings as Le Thoronet. But Spain altogether must have impressed Paul Bellot most; for the tremendous arches inside the E tower of the church, dazzling with the arched openings pierced in the spandrels, are inspired in their crossing - two diagonal ribs and four running from the middle of one side to the middle of the next - by the Mosque at Cordova. The way in which the four immensely high narrow windows in the E wall are cut into by the ribs in the tower and the series of open arches in the spandrels is brilliant indeed and establishes Dom Paul Bellot beyond doubt as one of the pioneers of C2 Expressionism'.

Pevsner's concise and pungent account deserves elaboration and further comment. Although the nave is relatively low and short it has a dramatic W elevation with a broad pointed arch, moulded and without capitals, opening into a shallow porch-like space. Above the arch a series of inset panels, stepped at their tops, rises into the boldly stepped gable. The southern tower) in fact at the SW corner of the boldly massed choir) is a dominant feature, with long inset panels on its exposed sides; it is surmounted by a circular, columned bell-turret ending in a cone, the tallest feature of the composition. The E tower is not so high as the S tower, but seen from the E (not a usual viewpoint for visitors) it is a tremendous composition, with massive squared corner turrets, machicolated parapet and four very tall thin windows in the E wall, square at their tops but set within broader arched panels. Inside, the nave is more complex than its exterior suggests. There are transverse arches at close intervals, and narrow flanking arches to every bay, each in triple recession. A few steps lead up to the choir with its stark lower walls (concealing the narrow passages which Pevsner mentioned). The sanctuary has a cruciform internal shape with four great arches within the space of the E tower; they rise from respond capitals made of concrete. The spandrels and wall spaces above the arches are pierced by lancet-shaped openings. These contribute to the effect of the axial vista where the E crossing arch, with the pierced wall above it, cuts into the view of the high narrow windows beyond. But Bellot's ultimate tour de force, the view up into the tower space above the sanctuary, with its fantastic interplay of arches supporting the roof, cannot be appreciated until one is right at the E end. The entrance block of 1913-14, including guest accommodation, has a stepped gable with square-topped panels - a development of the pattern over the W church entrance (to which it stands at a right angle). Otherwise the cloister and related accommodation are as Bellot finished them c.1908, with the refectory tot eh W, the old adapted Quarr House at the NW corner, and three-storeyed residential blocks on the E side and the E part of the N side. The cloister has plain external arches on three elevations, in a not entirely regular pattern, and transverse arches within; the range to the S (which is related to the entrance block) has strange three-light ground-floor openings with diamond shaped upper tracery. The refectory has transverse arches brought out in alternating patterns with slightly lighter and darker bricks; the capitals and corbels are in concrete as is a single free-standing shaft. The chapter house, on the E side behind the residential block, has simpler transverse arches. He died in 1943

Lloyd, D.W. and Pevsner N. 2006. 'The Buildings of England: The Isle of Wight', New Haven and London: Yale University Press, p.215-18
Aerial Photograph: CUC. 1948. SZ5692-GL-7
(1) Aerial Photograph: CUC. 1948. SZ5692-GL-5
(2) Aerial Photograph: Tomalin, D. SZ5692-GL-4
Listed Building (II*) – 411110 QUARR ABBEY
Isle of Wight County Archaeology and Historic Environment Service

This page was last edited on: 26th January, 2022 17:50:40

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