Meet the Architect
St Barnabas Church was designed by a young Scottish architect who wasn't well known at the time, but is now considered the last great Gothic Revival architect.
He's possibly best known for his stained glass and designs for church vestments and furnishings.
John Ninian Comper was born in Aberdeen on 10 June 1864. He studied at the Ruskin School in Oxford and the South Kensington Schools in London. His style was formed under Charles Kempe, whose stained glass was a strong influence. He was also influenced by the perpendicular gothic style favoured by Bodley & Garner.
In 1888, he formed a partnership with William Bucknall. Six years later he married Bucknall's sister, Grace, and they had six children. Two became architects!
From the start, some key features of Comper's work were restoration, church furnishings, stained glass and needlework. In his early career his key concept was 'beauty by exclusion'.
Sir Ninian Comper, 1864-1960
"beauty by exclusion"
St Cyprian's, Clarence Gate
Comper designed St Barnabas Church in 1900, and Bucknall designed the vicarage. Another major work built at the same time was St Cyprian's, Clarence Gate, also in London. Note the architectural similarities.
Comper was very influenced by journeys to the Rhineland and southern Europe. Studying Early Christian churches led to a change of style. Comper began to combine classical and gothic elements, and called this 'unity by inclusion'.
"unity by inclusion"
He re-introduced the 'English altar', and designed a number of remarkable altar screens inspired by medieval originals.
Altar and reredos designed by Comper at St Mary the Virgin, Ewelme
Comper liked to work with delicate colours, particularly rose and green. You can see early signs of this in the waggon vault ceilings at St Barnabas.
He famously 'signed' his stained glass with a little drawing of a wild strawberry, different in every window. The strawberry was in memory of his father, John, an Anglo-Catholic priest who established a mission church in the Aberdeen slums. He died while giving strawberries to children of the parish.
The last new church that Comper designed was St Philip's, Cosham, built in 1937. It shows both the change and the continuity of his style.
After the partnership with Bucknall ended, Comper continued to work with Bucknall's nephew Arthur until his own son Sebastian was old enough to take over. He was knighted in 1950.
He continued working almost until his death on 22 December 1960. The east window in St Barnabas was one of his late stained glass designs, dedicated in 1955.
St Philip's, Cosham
Comper stained glass at Walsingham...
...note the similarities with the St Barnabas window
During his career Sir Ninian Comper designed 15 new churches, restored and decorated many others, and designed elements for churches around the world. You can find his work in North America, China, India and South Africa, and in the UK from Inverness to Westminster Abbey.
And, of course, at St. Barnabas! Do come and see Sir Ninian's work close up.