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English Church Architecture -

Bradford (U. A.).


BOWLING, St. Stephen (SE 161 313)       (September 2017)

(Bedrock:  Carboniferous Westphalian Series, mixed deposits from the Lower Coal Measures)


This church of 1859 is surely the most perversely original in Mallinson and Healey’s considerable catalogue, for Thomas Healey (and it was probably he) went out of his way here to ensure this would be a building unlike any other anywhere.  The church consists of a chancel with a tall semi-octagonal apse (seen below from due east), an aisled nave with later transepts (whether or not by Healey is unclear) and a clerestory formed of a line of dormers, and a northwest tower surmounted by a helm roof (illustrated in the photograph above, taken from the northeast).  It is this odd assembly of parts that is responsible for the church’s exceptional appearance, and with building designs such as this, the partners ensured their ecclesiastical work could never be considered formulaic.



To consider some of these building parts in turn, the apse and chancel owe their height, seen from outside, to the fact that the ground falls away steeply to the east.  The apse is thus divided into three stages by string courses, with the principal windows occupying the uppermost stage, the second stage left blank, and the bottom stage forming a crypt lit by simple two-light square-headed windows without architectural pretensions.  The sides of the apse are separated by buttresses and topped by independent gables in what might almost have been a trial run for greater things at Horton.


The striking statement made by the northwest tower at the other end of the building is entirely due to its helm roof, and nor is its impact much diminished when the church is viewed from the south (as seen below), for Healey has ensured that the site-lines from bottom of the helm roof gables are high enough to clear the steeply-pitched nave roof below.  In fact, in other respects, the design of the tower is perfectly simple, for it rises in two plain stages above the lean-to S. aisle roof to two-light bell-openings with plate tracery.


Such forceful terminations to the building, however, need the architectural interest to be maintained in between, and here the four dormer windows on each side serve to unify the composition with their series of gables all rising at the same steep pitch (60º) as on the apse, helm roof and later transepts.  This is also the angle of roof pitch above the shallower cross-gabled extensions that now adjoin the transepts to the east, forming an organ chamber on one side of the chancel and a vestry on the other.  These also display a cross-gabled window facing east, further enhancing the display from this direction.  As first constructed, there was a vestry on the south side of the chancel but no organ chamber.


Nevertheless, with work like this provided for a budget price (Mallinson and Healey estimated the cost just £2,650), there was never going to be much money left to be spent on the interior, and indeed the six-bay nave arcades as simple as possible, composed of double-flat-chamfered arches supported on circular piers.   All interest, therefore, is focused on the roofs, which are necessarily intricate in view of the complexities above.  Thus the line of the nave roof is continually broken by the dormers, the crossing introduces further complications, and the scissor-bracing over the apse is another draw for the eye.


If The Bradford Observer's journalist was anything to go by, however, then to judge from his report on the building's consecration in April 1860, the contemporary view of the church may have been rather different:

"In many respects this church is peculiar in outward appearance, having something of a continental character about it, but at the same time blending the useful with the ornamental.  The interior effect we think much superior to the exterior (sic), and well calculated to assist devotion and serve one great end designed, viz. the accommodation of a considerable auditory with the least obstruction to sight and sound."

Alas, architectural originality may not have featured very highly among the priorities of the typical Victorian church-goer if Puritanism and moral earnestness were all he really considered to be required.