English Church Architecture.
BANKFOOT, St. Matthew (SE 157 303),
CITY OF BRADFORD.
(Bedrock: Carboniferous Westphalian Series, mixed deposits from the Lower Coal Measures.)
SHELF, St. Michael & All Angels (SE 127 289),
(Bedrock: Carboniferous Westphalian Series, mixed deposits from the Lower Coal Measures.)
These two small, towerless churches, situated barely four miles apart, constitute the only example of Thomas Healey's re-use of the same basic design, albeit that he then distinguished between the two buildings by dressing them in different architectural styles. It is for both these reasons that they are best considered together here.
As discussed under the entry for Manningham, there were many significant differences between the approaches the successful provincial Victorian architect needed to adopt when compared to his illustrious metropolitan confrères, but whereas in most aspects his life was more constrained and difficult, in respect of the opportunities available to him to employ a wider range of architectural styles, the opposite was generally true. Architectural propriety in the design of churches was a subject of fierce debate in the middle years of the nineteenth century, never far removed from the suggestion that to deviate from the currently accepted path was indicative of a failure of an individual's moral compass. Most of the great and the good who patronised national church building campaigns, being desirous to appear neither perverse nor ignorant, took great care therefore to avoid the stylistic faux pas that might arise from a failure to keep abreast with the latest ecclesiological thinking (directed in particular and in turn by A.W.N. Pugin, the Ecclesiastical Society and John Ruskin), and the fears of the patrons were naturally shared by their architects, who were anxious to be known for their earnest and sincere interest in matters of such deep and Christian concern.
Mallinson and Healey’s oeuvre shows that while these solicitudes had some parallel in the England's burgeoning manufacturing towns, the correlation was rather a loose one, for not only was industrial northern England relatively isolated from the southern half of the country by geography, economic conditions and the preponderance of Dissent, but many of the clients were also hard-pressed men of business with neither the leisure nor the inclination to trouble themselves with fashionable esoteric mysteries. It was the comparative freedom this gave Mallinson and Healey that presented them with the opportunity to range their business widely, largely free from censure if and when they breached the latest conventions in taste or propriety, even to the extent of enabling them to work from time to time for the Nonconformists, which was often the greatest of all possible taboos elsewhere.
St. Matthew's, Bankfoot, viewed from the south.
The precepts of the Cambridge Camden Society were set out in The Ecclesiologist, in occasional publications such as A Few Words to Church Builders, published in 1841, and in an extended introduction to the Society's founders' translation of Rationale Divinorum Officiorum by Guillaume Durand. Taking root in the ground Pugin had recently been tilling, the authors’ influence soon outgrew even their dogmatism.
...if architecture... is a branch of poesy, if the poet’s mind is to have any individuality, he must design in one style, and one style only. For the Anglican architect, it will be necessary to know enough of the earlier styles to be able to restore the deeply interesting churches, which they have left us as precious heirlooms: but for his own style, he should choose the glorious architecture of the fourteenth century [J. M Neale & Benjamin Webb, introduction to Rationale Divinorum Officiorum, Leeds, T.W. Green, 1843, p. xxiv].
This was ambiguous as well as contradictory but any contemporary architect worth his salt would have recognised at once that it was the early fourteenth century, curvilinear or flowing Decorated style that was being referred to here. Indeed, further on in their introduction, Neale and Webb were more specific:
[T]he Decorated style may be indeed the finest development of Christian architecture which the world has yet seen… [N]o other period can be chosen at which all conditions of beauty, of detail, of general effect, of truthfulness, of reality are so fully answered as this… [T]he decline of Christian art… may be traced from this very period [ibid., compiled from pp. xxxi & xxx].
This was destined to became the new orthodoxy that swept across England over the next decade and a half, and was carried even as far as America and Australia, and yet which, in short order, would be significantly modified if not completely overthrown, by the equally tendentious arguments of Ruskin, who, influenced by his passion for Venice, argued that since stonework is, by its very nature, 'stiff and unyielding' (Ruskin's italics), the tracery forms of the curvilinear Decorated style 'sacrificed a great principle of truth; it sacrificed the expression of the qualities of the material' ('The Lamp of Truth' from The Seven Lamps of Architecture, 2nd. edition, Orpington, George Allan, 1880, para. xxiv) and this was both artistically ruinous and (which was much the same thing for Ruskin) morally corrupting.
All this was aimed at one principal target, which was the ogee arch. Venetian Gothic was most closely related to the north European geometric of the Early English/Decorated transition, c. 1290-1320. For architects and their clients who accepted the general thrust of Ruskin’s reasoning, it was a simple matter to turn back three or four decades to the style that had prevailed in England at the very beginning of the fourteenth century. Indeed, to do so was arguably simpler and less expensive for besides confining the apertures in the heads of traceried windows largely to trefoils, quatrefoils and cinquefoils, etc., instead of trying to invent a new design for each principal window as had been best practice previously, it was usual in the new style for all windows in an elevation either to be identical or to use just two designs alternately.
St. Michael & All Angels', Shelf, viewed from the southeast.
What, therefore, appears to have been Mallinson and Healey's response to these changing ecclesiological verities? Thomas Healey first employed the geometric style at Clayton in 1847 and continued using it throughout his life with the exception of the years 1851-54. He first used a version of the curvilinear style at Mytholmroyd in 1847, and although after a period when he particularly favoured it (1851-54 again), he can be shown to have adopted it less, his last manifestation of full-blooded flowing tracery in his work came only in 1861, when he used it for St. Mary's, Laisterdyke (Bradford) (since demolished). This record does not suggest he was unduly trammelled in his approach to architectural style and the two contemporary churches considered here are especially interesting because Healey availed himself of the curvilinear style at Bankfoot and the geometric style at Shelf, suggesting he considered them entirely interchangeable.
Bankfoot and Shelf churches each consist of a chancel with a tiny N. chapel and a southeast vestry (cross-gabled at Bankfoot and with a lean-to roof at Shelf), and a nave with lean-to aisles, a N. porch and a bell-côte above the W. gable (which is octagonal and topped by a spirelet at Bankfoot). St. Matthew's, Bankfoot, was described exhaustively in The Bradford Observer, both inside and out, with even its precise dimensions given ('Nave, 65 feet by 25 feet 2 inches; Aisles, 65 feet by 9 feet 4 inches; Chancel 22 feet by 16 feet; Vestry, 10 feet by 8 feet') besides the names of the contractors who built it and who it was probably hoped would thus want to buy a copy of the newspaper in order to see their names in print ('Masons - Messrs. Patchett & Co., Queenshead; Joiner & carpenter - Mr. Ives, Shipley; Glaziers - Messrs Firth, Halifax; Slaters - J. & H. Hill, Bradford; Painter - Mr. Peel, Bradford; Clerk of the Works - Mr. Mawson').
The church owes its origin mainly to the pious liberality of John Hardy Esq., of Tryburgh, in this county, who contributed the magnificent sum of £2,500 towards the endowment, and £500 towards the erection of the building... The nave is separated from the aisles by lofty arches of two orders, resting upon octagonal pillars and plain bases... The chancel is entered by a lofty arch resting upon attached filleted shafts... The [chancel] roof is of wagon-headed form, having spaces between the rafters coloured blue and semée with stars... We understand that the entire cost of this church, including the churchyard wall, is about £1,800, and the accommodation for 490 persons (The Bradford Observer, 13th December 1849, p. 6).
A little of the exuberance of the curvilinear style can be seen at Bankfoot, even in this small compass, in the variety of window traceries in which all the lights are ogee-pointed. (See the two N. windows illustrated above.) Inside the church, the five-bay nave arcades are composed of arches bearing a hollow chamfer and a wave moulding, springing from octagonal piers. The nave roof has purlins at the ⅓ and ⅔ stages, collar beams supported by arched braces joining the lower purlins, and struts rising from the collars to the upper purlins above. Following the completion of the building, Mallinson and Healey were commissioned to design a National School for the parish, and this too has survived (across the road immediately opposite), now converted into a couple of private dwellings.
Windows at St. Michael & All Angels’, Shelf, as is always the case with the geometric style, are rather sober in comparison, and all formed in this instance of trefoil-cusped lights beneath trefoils (some inverted), quatrefoils and sexfoils. The church seems particularly tall from the south where the ground drops away, but otherwise its consanguinity with St. Matthew's, Bankfoot, is obvious.
The interior of the church is very dark. The five-bay nave arcades are formed of arches bearing an outer hollow chamfer and an inner sunk quadrant, springing from alternately circular and octagonal piers. The chancel arch carries two sunk quadrants with the inner order rising from corbels shafts with carved figures top and bottom, the lower two (illustrated below) being reputed to represent the principal donors, Mr. and Mrs. John Hardy of Thrybergh (Rotherham). The nave roof has purlins at the ⅓ and ⅔ stages and collars joining the lower purlins. The font is situated in the N. aisle and may or may not be original: its circular bowl carries the legend, 'There is more joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth'.
The service of consecration took place on 14th June 1850 and was written up at length in The Morning Post (24th June 1850, p. 2).
The architects of the building are Messrs. Mallinson and Healey, of Bradford and Halifax, who have given us another proof, if proofs were wanting, that the spirit of the ancient freemason has not been entirely lost, as, in the founder of the church, we have evidence that the spirit of liberality which animated the church builders of former days is not completely extinct. Yea, we might go further, and say, that here we have, both in the church founder and the church artisan, the revival of the flame which had only smouldered beneath a heap of dying embers, and needed nothing but sheer necessity to rekindle and restore it.
Newspaper journalists, and particularly local ones, in early Victorian England, often seemed understandably confused when seeking to provide details about church building style, but this article, given a column and a half in a London paper, suggests both stylistically and in being so much better informed than usual, that it may have been written by A.J. Beresford Hope, the editor of The Ecclesiologist. In particular it contains the following pertinent paragraph:
'The style of architecture adopted in the erection of this church is Early Geometric Decorated, which prevailed from 1270-1330. Its details are essentially distinct from the Flowing Decorated adopted in the church of St. Matthew, Bankfoot, which we described in the month of December last. Those who desire a knowledge of the distinction between these two portions of one general style will find a visit to these churches of far more service than a lengthened description.'