English Church Architecture.
HEPTONSTALL, St. Thomas the Apostle (SD 987 280),
(Bedrock: Carboniferous Namurian Series, Lower Kinderscout Grit.)
An especially noble church in Perpendicular style by Thomas Healey,
situated in a spectacular hilltop village.
As discussed under the entry for St. Matthew's, Bankfoot (Bradford), perhaps the one advantage the provincial church architect possessed as compared to his illustrious metropolitan cousin, was the opportunity to adopt a more relaxed attitude to the latest ecclesiological thinking, particularly as it related to 'correct' building style. This extended even to the licence to employ the late fourteenth/fifteenth century Perpendicular style, so vilified by the Ecclesiologists and, later, Ruskin, as decadent and indicative of the decline of mediaeval Christian England. Even so, perhaps conscious of his reputation among pietists and architectural savants more generally, Healey also produced a design for this church in geometric style, perhaps because he thought he should, as described in The Ecclesiologist magazine before any building here had actually taken place (New Series, issue 26, April 1849, pp. 332-333):
We must however express our regret that the Third Pointed style has been adopted and that the service should not be performed in the chancel. We understand that the architects exhibited another design in Middle-Pointed, which was not accepted.
St. Thomas's church, Heptonstall, probably ranks as Thomas Healey's second finest building, surpassed only by All Saints', Horton (Bradford), which Healey designed at the very end of his life. It is particularly unfortunate therefore that the building should have been subject to an especially appalling act of official vandalism in 1963/4, in which it was stripped bare of virtually everything of interest inside when its Victorian furniture and furnishings were ripped out and replaced by the more 'fashionable' ones that look ridiculously dated today. That said, the church itself, externally impressive as it is, could itself be criticised on the grounds of the decision to build it in the first place, rather than to repair the large mediaeval church dedicated to St. Thomas à Becket, whose remains still stand to their full height to the south. (See the photograph at the foot of the page.)
Instead, a request for the design of a new church was put out to competition in 1849 and, unusually, in the light of their general reluctance to waste time on uncertainties, Mallinson and Healey decided to enter, perhaps suggesting they had some intimation that they would receive sympathetic consideration. Indeed, the fact that he submitted two designs, itself suggests that Healey had inside knowledge of the building committees' preferences, and his Third Pointed (Perpendicular) design was duly chosen out of 'nearly forty' entries in total (Todmorden & District News, 28th October 1904, p. 6). The foundation stone was eventually laid on 16th May 1850 (Leeds Intelligencer, 25th May 1850, p. 7) and the building was consecrated on 26th October 1854 (Halifax Courier, 28th October 1854, p. 5), four and a half years later, the distinctly slow progress being possibly exacerbated by the weather in this hilltop settlement, and by the fact that the church was built partly by subscription, with money being raised as construction went along. Sixty-three individuals contributed between them £4,630 towards the building cost, with all donations being faithfully recorded from the £1 given by the Rev. William Fawcett of Morton (near Bingley) and the £1,000 received from John Foster of Slack (Lambeth Palace Archives, ICBS 4000, where the new church is incorrectly recorded as being dedicated, like the old church, to St. Thomas à Becket).
Today, Healey's new building is surrounded by trees and consequently impossible to photograph as a whole. Its situation in itself a rather spectacular one however - the more so if the visitor has arrived breathless after climbing the long, steep, cobbled footpath from Hebden Bridge below. The church comprises a three-bay chancel with two-bay N. & S. chapels, a six-bay aisled nave with N. & S. porches, and a tall, angle buttressed W. tower, and is everywhere embattled, with open-work battlements and crocketed corner pinnacles surmounting the tower and smaller crocketed pinnacles rising from buttresses between the bays of the nave clerestory. The noble appearance of the building derives especially from this, from the tower's height and width (as seen in the second photograph above on the left), and from the fine tracery of the aisle windows and nave clerestory (seen immediately above left from the north). The former are two-centred and have strong mullions, subarcuation over the outer lights, and supermullioned tracery above the central light, and former are four-centred and supermullioned. (See the glossary for an explanation of these terms.) The chapel windows are two-light and the sanctuary E. window is five-light with a castellated supertransom, strong mullions to the central light, and outer lights subarcuated in pairs. The proud porches have diagonal buttresses rising to crocketed pinnacles, gargoyles at the angles, and two orders of side-shafts to outer doorways bearing wave mouldings, rolls and hollows beneath crocketed ogee dripstones. (See the S. porch, above right.)
Inside the building, the aisle arcades, chapel arcades and chancel arch are formed of arches of two orders each bearing a double wave moulding springing from tall piers comprised of four shafts separated by hollows, with only the sizes of the arches varying as appropriate. (The S. arcade and chancel arch are illustrated in the photograph above left.) The nave roof is framed by tie beams supported on arched braces and has purlins ⅓ and ⅔ of the way up the pitch, while the chancel roof has braced collar beams instead and, rather superfluously it would seem, purlins at the quarter stages, although the first and last are of such narrow scantling as can have structural function. The only furnishings in the building now worth particularising are the two fonts - one in the nave, which is mediaeval and has a very unusual eleven-sided bowl, and one in the N. chapel (shown above right), the original, unsigned drawing of which is held in the Victoria and Albert Museum's R.I.B.A. Collection (PB432/1) (although it was Healey who actually drew it). It was carved by Mawer of Leeds in 1854 for the grand sum of £25 (West Yorkshire Archives, Calderdale record Office, MOO:1).