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English Church Architecture.

 

CHRISTLETON, St. James  (SJ 441 658),

CHESHIRE WEST & CHESTER. 

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

 

A village church largely rebuilt by William Butterfield (1814-1900) in 1876. 

 

 

 

William Butterfield was precisely the kind of architect the Cambridge Camden Society (later Ecclesiological) Society liked.  A dogmatic if also unconventional High Churchman, committed to building churches that facilitated the 'proper' execution of the Christian rubrics, it was he that they chose to build their model church in Margaret Street, Westminster, in 1849, which they intended to be an exemplar for church architects everywhere.  They approved of ornament and they approved of display, in both of which Butterfield excelled, and Butterfield's profound interest in structural polychromy seemed one representation of this.

 

Butterfield was an abstemious bachelor, however, determined to plough his own furrow.  Self-contained and indifferent to criticism or the approbation of his peers, he could not always be relied upon to deliver what was wanted.  And there were also very strict limits to Butterfield's tolerance of Ritualism:  he would not attend his church of All Saints', Margaret Street, after it was completed, for example (Paul Thompson, William Butterfield, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971, p. 33), probably because he objected to the incense, lights, and/or elevation of the Host.  He had, after all, been brought up as a Nonconformist, some aspects of which he would never throw off.  Yet his mature professional style owed a greater debt to the High  Church Pugin than it would ever do to the Evangelical Ruskin, and Butterfield's use of coloured materials predated its advocacy in Ruskin's The Seven Lamps of Architecture, albeit not by much.  He quickly became its supreme exponent too, for only Street proved a serious rival.  Mocked in later years for his 'streaky bacon' or 'holy zebra' style, it was his misfortune to have many of his buildings ruined by subsequent generations, sometimes by the insertion of heavy stained glass in the windows, which prevented his colourful interiors from being seen in good light, or, more usually in the twentieth century, by whitewashing over them by those who thought them garish, as at St. Mary's Hitchin (Hertfordshire).  Some survive in good heart however, and while Butterfield's churches illustrated on this web-site include a number of relatively minor buildings, they also feature  a few examples of his best.

 

 

 

The only church by Butterfield in the Diocese of Chester, St. James's consists of a chancel with transepts opening from the choir, an aisled nave with a S. porch, and a W. tower retained at Butterfield's insistence from the mediaeval building:

'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.

(William Butterfield, quoted by Paul Thompson, p. 48.)

 

Butterfield executed his work in red-brown Triassic Bunter sandstone from the Duke of Westminster’s nearby quarry at Waverton, with contrasting white sandstone dressings internally, obtained from Storeton on the Wirral.  The exterior of the building presents nothing special and, indeed, Butterfield's addition to the tower of the rather silly, recessed pyramidal roof shows he was not entirely capable of accepting his own good advice either.  However, the interior of the building creates a more coherent impression, and one which is more characteristic of its architect.

 

Here the structural polychromy - derived almost entirely from the combination of red and white sandstone - is typical of the work found in Butterfield’s smaller churches, and his authorship is evident in the build-up of effect towards the east, which, though relatively modest here - it is most noticeable in the floor tiling patterns -  calls to mind his richer commissions elsewhere.  The five-bay aisle arcades are constructed of both colours of sandstone, the clerestory windows are positioned above the spandrels, and the chancel is divided from the S. transept chapel and N. organ chamber by its own, two-bay arcades, to the east of a wooden tympanum which serves to divide the nave from the chancel in the absence of a chancel arch.  The 'trussed rafter roof' (Goodhart-Rendel’s description, quoted by Pevsner in the 'Cheshire' volume of The Buildings of England, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 2003, pp. 177-178), extends across the nave and western half of the chancel notwithstanding the intervening tympanum, and is framed in six cants, as is the roof above the sanctuary, though this is ceiled and decorated with square foliated panels.  The attractive reredos (illustrated below) is constructed of coloured sandstones and alabasters, and the font is made of crinoidal Derbyshire limestone above a base of Sicilian marble.

 

[Other churches by Butterfield featured on this web-site are Christleton in Cheshire West & Chester, Barley in Hertfordshire, Baldersby St. James, Dalton, Sessay and Wykeham in North Yorkshire and All Saints Margaret Street in the City of Westminster.]