English Church Architecture.
CLAYTON, St. John the Baptist (SE 118 320),
CITY OF BRADFORD.
(Bedrock: Carboniferous Westphalian Series, Elland Flags from the Lower Coal Measures.)
The first church designed by Thomas Healey (1809-62) after entering into partnership with James Mallinson in the summer of 1845.
Thomas Healey was born in 1809 and it is important to recognise how early in the history of the Gothic Revival this actually was. The three men who might arguably be considered the greatest leaders of the movement, Sir George Gilbert Scott, Augustus Pugin and William Butterfield, were born in 1811, 1812 and 1814 respectively, and it was Butterfield, Healey’s junior by five years, who wrote in an autobiographical note many years later:
'[My] choice of a vocation in life was made before any accurate and detailed study of church architecture had been made. There were then, in fact, no practicing church architects of any repute, except Pugin, who was beginning work - Rickman's catalogued examination of English churches was a useful pioneer but no more.' (Cited by Paul Thompson in William Butterfield, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971, p. 59.)
This is of relevance in another respect also, for Butterfield and Healey's paths ran together for a while in the late 1830s. Unsurprisingly, Healey's early life and training passed with little notice, but a few bare facts have been handed down. Thomas Healey was the only one of four children born to Thomas Healey Senior (b. 1771) and Martha, his wife (b. 1765), to survive into adulthood. Both parents came from Flockton, between Huddersfield and Wakefield, while his future wife, Elizabeth Bedford, would come from neighbouring Emley. Thomas and Elizabeth produced four sons and one daughter - Thomas Henry (b. 1839) and Francis (b. 1840), who would continue their father's practice after his early death, Edward (b. 1842), Alfred (b. 1844), and Elizabeth (b. 1846). Thomas Healey Senior's occupation is unrecorded but he seems to have been a man of reasonable means, for it appears he was a governor (along with Thomas Bedford, Elizabeth’s father) of the Classical and Commercial Academy, Wakefield, and he was able to afford a pupillage for his son in Robert Dennis Chantrell’s prestigious office in Leeds when Healey was in his mid teens.
Chantrell had moved from London upon receiving his articles and set up business in Leeds in 1819, where not only was he perfectly placed to play a significant rôle at the heart of a rapidly developing manufacturing town, but, as it transpired (surprisingly after his Classical training with Sir John Soane) to fashion himself as a leader in what Christopher Webster has called 'the slow drift towards Gothic' taking place over the next couple of decades (R.D. Chantrell and the architecture of lost generation, Reading, Spire Books Ltd., 2010, p. 165). Webster considered that surviving Gothic drawings suggest Healey accompanied his master on tours to Gothic churches across Yorkshire as the latter sought to make up the deficiencies in his own professional training.
Healey received his articles in 1829 at the age of twenty and followed Chantrell's example by moving almost immediately - in his case, to Worcester. His new master was his exact contemporary, Harvey Eginton (1809-49), described by Gordon Barnes as 'the only worthwhile architect practicing in the city at that time' (Frederick Preedy, Evesham, The Vale of Evesham Historical Society, 1984, p. 9) and one of eleven men appointed by the Incorporated Church Building Society in 1848 to sit on their Architects' Committee of expert advisors, and here Healey remained for a full sixteen years in the subordinate position of head clerk. It seems a long while, but there is no evidence to suggest that Healey had a thrusting nature and he may have enjoyed the professional camaraderie, not only with Eginton, but also with the even younger men who occasionally took up posts in the office, among whom were Frederick Preedy (1820-98), the later glass painter who worked for Eginton from 1835 until the latter's premature death, and William Butterfield (1814-1900), who spent about eighteen months there, 1838-9, after completing his pupillage with E.L. Blackburne, the architect of Clement's Inn. Paul Thompson describes the time following Butterfield's departure from Blackburne's office as 'the most useful part of his education... The name of his Worcester principal in unknown, but there was only one church architect of any reputation working in the town at that time - Harvey Eginton' (op. cit., pp. 59-60). Eginton, in Thompson's view, 'was an unusually serious and competent gothic [sic] designer [for this date, whose] details were remarkably careful'. However, of equal or greater importance were the opportunities the position gave Butterfield to spend 'in the company of a sympathetic head clerk of archaeological tastes [my italics],... measur[ing] and draw[ing] the cathedral and examin[ing] the [other] buildings of the county', although one imagines the benefits flowed both ways. Butterfield was renowned in later life for reserve and abstemiousness, but he can reasonably have been expected to have been an inspiring and merry fellow traveller for Healey in this early period, and Healey, for his part, would doubtless have had some valuable professional experiences to share.
Harvey Eginton's career is even less well chronicled than most in this period, but about seventeen churches can be ascribed to his practice, either in whole or in part, plus one unexecuted design and seven restorations. Unfortunately it is impossible to divine the extent to which Healey, although in no way unequal to Eginton in either training or age, might have influenced these buildings - all the plans and elevations are signed by Eginton alone - but, at the very least, he would have been immersed in them as they passed through the office, and he was probably called upon to make visits to the sites to monitor building progress. Designs vary widely and there are a few failures: St. Philip & St. James's, Whittington (Worcestershire) (1840), for example, is not a happy invention with its hungry, free-standing western bell-turret, topped by a bell-stage too narrow for the bell-openings and surmounted by a Lilliputian spire. However, the majority are remarkable for their date. St. Michael & All Angels', Broadway (also Worcestershire) (1839), built two years before Sir George Gilbert Scott’s first surviving church of St. George, Camberwell, is a proud Gothic building in First Pointed (Early English) style, with a tall W. tower rising to double-lancet bell-openings and crocketed pinnacles at the angles, surmounting square bases with blank trefoiled arches on the outer faces. All Saints’, Broseley (Shropshire) (1842) is nobler still, this time designed in Third Pointed (Perpendicular) style: the tower rises in four stages supported by angle buttresses terminating in pinnacles, the bell-stage has a pair of two-light, transomed bell-openings in each wall and openwork battlements above, and the rest of this all-embattled church comprises a five-bay aisled nave, a two-storey S. porch adjoining the second bay from the east (sic), and a short chancel with a southwest vestry. Internally, the tall nave arcades are supported on compound piers with shafts to north and south rising up between pairs of two-light clerestory windows positioned over the spandrels, to give the appearance of supporting the wall posts of the nave roof. This is all very impressive so early in the Revival and shows that Eginton, and probably also Healey, had visited, examined and understood the design principles behind a wide range of mediaeval churches, notwithstanding their youth and limited experience.
Mallinson and Healey formed their partnership in the summer of 1845. The precise date can be determined within a narrow range for the terminus ante quem is some time in August, as indicated by the revised drawings for Elland National School, signed by both partners, referred to in the entry for Wyke on this web-site, and the terminus post quem is the 21st June, when a sale by auction was announced, to take place 'on Friday next, the 27th day of June, 1845, beginning at ten o'clock in the morning', of 'household furniture, elegant chimney glass and effects, the property of Mr. Thomas Healey, at Dwelling House, College Churchyard, Worcester, who is removing [i.e. not yet removed] to a distance' (The Worcester Herald, 21st June 1843, p. 3). Healey must surely have been ready for a new challenge, but he may besides have needed more money, for he now had four sons. His move to Bradford would have taken him nearer his own family and his wife’s, and that may have added to the attraction.
The commission to design a new church at Clayton (shown above in a drawing of 1850, viewed from the southeast) enabled Healey to grasp his new opportunities. It was well received, even at the planning stage, before masonry had been raised above the level of the foundations. 'This church', declared the Bradford Observer for the 31st May 1849, in its long report of the ceremony for the laying of the foundation stone at St. John the Baptist’s, Clayton, two days earlier:
'is remarkable for what the Vicar, in his address, calls ‘decent simplicity’. It is a village church, devoid of ornamental decorations, but of proportions which at once give it a character which cannot be mistaken. Considering the pecuniary means at the disposal of the architects, for the supply of the required amount of accommodation, it speaks no little for their judgment and taste in the design of a building which contains all the elements of architectural propriety, combined with the most rigid attention to economy'.
This was hardly a case of journalistic exaggeration. A very substantial church (shown from the south-southeast above and from the northwest below), containing five hundred and ninety-two free seats and one hundred and ten rented pews, was shortly to be erected here for a total of £1,903, equivalent to £2.14s.3d per sitting, which was the way the economy of new churches was often assessed in those days (M.H. Port, Six Hundred New Churches: the Church Building Commission, 1818-56, 2nd edition, Reading, Spire Books Ltd., 2006, p. 343). It was a figure to contrast with the estimates the Crown Architects had produced when asked by the Treasury in 1818 what it would cost to construct new churches in the burgeoning manufacturing towns of England with church accommodation for sometimes as little as one tenth of the population. Robert Smirke (1781-1867) thought a church to accommodate nineteen hundred persons could be built for £24,000, equivalent to £12.12s.8d a sitting, John Soane (1753-1837) considered two thousand could be seated comfortably for £33,000, or £16.10s.0d a sitting, but John Nash (1752-1835) was more optimistic and produced a variety of designs in both Gothic and Classical styles, all to seat two thousand and estimated to cost between eight and ten thousand pounds each, or between four and five pounds a sitting. However, in coming up with these figures, Nash 'scarcely played fair' for he added a further £1,920 for pews, pulpit and reading desk as if they were optional extras, his cheapest design was 'hardly more than two-dimensional', and all of them were notable for 'that papery thinness familiar in a number of late eighteenth century Gothic churches' (ibid., pp. 61, 63 & 65). Thus, even allowing for various the cost-cutting procedures that had become familiar since 1818, Mallinson and Healey’s achievement was still quite extraordinary. Here was a building that would still form the dominant local landmark a hundred and seventy years later, designed by a well-respected firm which - in W.A. Pike's memorable phrase (in his obituary for Sir Arthur Blomfield in The Builders' Journal for 8th November, 1899), 'excelled in the charitable but unremunerative art of keeping down the cost'.
St. John the Baptist's, Clayton, was to become one of the more than six hundred 'Commissioners Churches', so-called for having been part-funded by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners after the Government allocated one million pounds in 1818 and a further half a million in 1824, towards the provision of 'additional churches in populous places' (Church Building Act, 58 George III). Since the whole purpose of the grants awarded under the scheme was to kick-start the erection of as many new churches as possible within the limited available budget, it was natural that preference would often be shown towards parishes able to contribute a significant amount themselves, and unsurprising that many of them would be characterised by flimsy construction, a complete lack or ornament and, in the worst cases, the rapid onset of structural problems, but better architects produced happier results of course, as illustrated, for example, by Scott and Moffat's very successful Holy Trinity church, Halstead (Essex), built in the same year as the present building. Holy Trinity, however, cost £4,690.15s.0d altogether, and had two less seats than St. John the Baptist's (the equivalent to £6.13s.5d per sitting). Here at Clayton, Thomas Healey designed a very solid, even handsome structure, comprising a W. tower, aisled nave, and chancel with shorter N. and S. chapels, for an absolutely paltry sum, and although its elaborate interior today is the result of the extensive adornments in coloured marbles undertaken by the pre-Raphaelite artist, Gaetano Meo, in 1913, at the expense of the local mill owner, Harrison Benn, yet even when the mind's eye has stripped all these away, we are left with a worthy and ecclesiastically 'proper' church in the high Victorian sense, that would have amply fulfilled contemporary expectations: the chancel is well developed, allowing for a suitably reverend separation of the altar from the congregation; the well-proportioned tower rising in three stages to battlements, announces any passing Nonconformist (then in the majority in much of the West Riding) that 'This is none other than the House of God'; the fenestration throughout is simple but subtly and attractively varied, composed of linked pairs of trefoil-cusped lancets in the aisles, trilobes in arched splays in the nave clerestory, and geometrical tracery in the chancel E. wall and tower W. wall; and the very sturdy interior (shown below, viewed from the west) features chunky five-bay nave arcades formed of octagonal piers with large octagonal capitals supporting double-flat-chamfered arches, a strong collar-braced nave roof with 'V'-struts above the collars, and a chancel roof framed in seven cants with scissor-bracing. It was all a massive advance on Mallinson's Holy Trinity, Queensbury, of 1843, just two miles up the hill to the west, and if this could have been considered the partners' new statement of intent, they could hardly have bettered it.
'[I]t is not in our power', opined The Bradford Observer on 31st May 1849,
'to do justice to the eloquent and fervent and truly Christian address of our esteemed Vicar [immediately after the laying of the foundation stone], which was listened to with an attention well worthy of the subject and occasion; and will be remembered for many days to come. After the address, the Benediction was pronounced, and the assembly dispersed, the scholars to be regaled with buns, &c.; and a large party of the most influential members of the church in Clayton and the neighbourhood, to the School-room, where a beautiful cold collation was provided, by Mrs. Wade, of the New Inn, Bradford, presided over by John Hirst, Esq., after which the appropriate toasts were given and speeches made.'