THE idiom “as plain as the nose on your face” turns out not to be applicable to Lady Caroline Wenlock.
The nose on her effigy in St Helen’s, Escrick, near York, was damaged in a fire that gutted the church almost a century ago. The early-20th-century restorers could manage only a crude replacement. Today, almost everyone agrees that it looks more like a chunky male nose than the patrician appendage that one might expect of the sister of a Dean of Windsor and wife of the first Baron Wenlock.
But when parishioners wanted to perform a nose job as part of a Heritage Lottery-funded restoration at St Helen’s, they discovered that no one knew exactly what the original had looked like. “Pre-fire, she had quite a delicate, pointed nose. After the fire, it was awful,” Caroline Wandless, a churchwarden and the Lottery project lead, said.
“We don’t know who did the repair, but it wasn’t done very well. The line where the replacement was joined had become so filthy it was almost like someone had drawn a pencil line round it.”
Pictures of the effigy taken before the blaze in 1923, and a lone photograph of Lady Wenlock from the 1860s were not clear enough to give a firm idea of how it looked, and restoration experts advised against a replacement. “Their view was that, unless you have an absolutely perfect photograph that shows exactly what it should look like, then you leave it as it is,” Mrs Wandless said. “You might be replacing with something equally wrong.
“Also, our discussions with St Helen’s heritage volunteers found they regarded her dodgy nose as part of the church’s history.”
At least Lady Wenlock’s nose has been given a good clean, “and you can’t see the join so well now,” Mrs Wandless said.
The effigy, carved from Carrera marble in 1876 by the sculptor and half-nephew of Queen Victoria, Count Gleichen, broke into five pieces in the fire. It was removed from the nave and reassembled in a rear corner. During the recent work to clean the marble and return it to its prominent position in the nave, a large chip was found in the base where the original restorers are thought to have removed a piece for the replacement nose.
“The stonemasons doing the restoration also found that some of the repairs were not made with the right materials,” Mrs Wandless said. “Who knows why? They had a lot to do, and probably didn’t have the money for a proper job.”