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English Church Architecture -

Cheshire West & Chester (U.A.).


CHRISTLETON, St. James (SJ 441 658)     (April 2006)

 (Bedrock:  Triassic Sherwood Sandstone Group, Bunter Pebble Beds)


This is the only church in the Diocese of Chester designed by William Butterfield (1814 - 1900), one of the most interesting nineteenth century ecclesiastical architects, even when, as here, the building is not an especially important one.  St. James’s (shown left, from the southeast) consists of a W. tower, aisled nave with S. porch, and chancel with transepts adjoining to the west, and the work of 1876 - constructed of red-brown Triassic "Bunter" sandstone from the Duke of Westminster’s nearby quarry at Waverton, with contrasting white sandstone dressings inside, from Storeton on the Wirral - excludes only the short, diagonally-buttressed tower in two stages, which was retained at Butterfield's insistence:

"Half the buildings in Europe owe their character and interest to their system of preserving what is sound in the older parts...  Unless you want a much larger church than you have led me to expect, you had better keep the old Tower and so look a little different to the modern new Churches which are generally so noisy and pretentious." (See William Butterfield by Paul Thompson, pub Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971, pg. 48).

Unfortunately, Butterfield's addition of the rather silly, set-back pyramidal wooden roof - which is not one of his happier inventions - shows he was not entirely capable of accepting his own good advice, and neither does the rest of the church add to his reputation outside, where the lean-to aisles appear insouciant to a fault, with their short, randomly two and three-light windows in square surrounds, entirely unsynchronized with the clerestory, for which the only comprehensible explanation, apart from deliberate perversity, might have been the desire to create a “homely” appearance, appropriate to a rural church in what was then a small village.  The S. transept has a three-light S. window with two straightened sexfoils above, the chancel E. window is three-light and supermullioned (sic), and the N. transept (which is actually the organ chamber) is lit by two, two-light N. windows separated by a buttress.


Happily, the interior of the building creates a finer, more coherent impression. The structural polychromy - albeit deriving largely from red and white sandstone alone – can only be Butterfield’s, and there is a characteristic build-up of effect towards the east, which, though relatively modest here (it is most noticeable in the floor tiling), calls to mind his richer commissions elsewhere. (The photograph on the right shows the view looking east.) The five-bay arcades are constructed of both varieties of sandstone, the clerestory windows are aligned above the spandrels, and the chancel is divided from the S. transept chapel and N. organ chamber by two-bay arcades to the east of a wooden tympanum, in the absence of an intervening chancel arch.  The “trussed rafter roof” (Goodhart-Rendel’s description), notwithstanding the tympanum, extends across the nave and western half of the chancel and is framed in six cants, as is also the roof above the sanctuary, although this is ceiled and decorated with square foliated panels.  The attractive reredos (left) is constructed of coloured sandstones and alabasters and the font is made of crinoidal Derbyshire limestone above a base of Sicilian marble.