English Church Architecture -
WITHERSLACK, St. Paul (SD 432 842) (April 2009)
(Bedrock: Carboniferous Dinantian Subsystem, Great Scar Limestone)
This little church in an attractive rural position, was originally built in 1664 and subsequently altered in 1768, and so presents the visitor with the unaccustomed exercise of distinguishing between work of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The building (shown below left, from the south) is formed of a nave and chancel without structural division, a W. tower, a small S. porch, and a humble N. vestry. It is rendered in grey pebble-dash, arguably the most impoverished of materials, but the windows draw one’s attention immediately for they are square-headed and formed of three round-headed, uncusped lights in two tiers, or - if one prefers - divided by a transom some three fifths of the way up, and these provide the clue to the understanding of the building, for the lower tier actually constitutes the original seventeenth century work and the upper tier represents an eighteenth century heightening of the building, when the roof was raised to enable a coved ceiling to be put inserted within.
However, to begin with a description of the exterior of St. Paul's, the tower rises to battlements in what is the most conspicuous attempt by the seventeenth century builders to adopt a late-Gothic style (of sorts). The bell-openings are two-light and round-arched and there is a little single light opening below to the north, while the equivalent position to the south is occupied by an excellent one-handed clock dated 1731 (shown in the thumbnail, below left). The N. wall of the nave and chancel is pierced by four three-light windows and there is also a little square window about halfway along, that once opened above the pulpit when this occupied a central position on this side and the benches were arranged transversely around it, in the manner of an Oxbridge college (as is still the case at Ravenstonedale in this county). The E. window consists of five lights within a segmental-pointed arch and was considered by Pevsner to be entirely original, but the south windows copy those to the north, except that since there is a porch on this side towards the west, the windows are pushed approximately one bay to the east, such that (from the west) the first and second windows to the south are opposite the second and third windows to the north, and the third and fourth windows to the south are set on either side of the fourth window to the north. The position of the square window to the north corresponds with a small doorway opposite (presumably intended as a priest’s doorway even though it leads into the nave) with a cartouche and inscription above (illustrated right), which reads, “Rev. John Barwick, born in this hamlet, late dean of St Paul’s, built this chapel, A.D. 1664”. The S. porch is windowless but the inner and outer doorways bear wide, reverse ogee mouldings, the wooden outer door is formed of six vertical planks with long ornamental iron hinges, and the inner door is double-leaved.
Inside the building, the coved Adam-style plaster ceiling is one of the two most striking features, the other being the cornice marking the entrance to the sanctuary, supported on two Ionic columns and pilasters at the sides. (See the photograph of the interior below, viewed from the west.) This is the work of 1768. The sanctuary is raised a single step but the nave and chancel are built on the same level and divided only by a low wooden screen. The communion rail is of Laudian type (i.e. with three sides that enclose the altar) (as illustrated at the foot of the page, on the left). The pulpit (illustrated at the foot of the page, on the right) is surmounted by a heavy tester supported by a high backboard carved with lozenge-shaped motifs, and is itself decorated with two tiers of panelling carved with vines and flowers. Reputedly, this is a nineteenth century reconstruction from eighteenth century pieces. The tower is approached from the nave through a wooden rectangular doorway (without a door), with an architrave above, supported on consoles.
Finally, the church contains several minor wall monuments, of which the most affecting is set against the N. wall of the chancel, immediately west of the sanctuary, and features the recumbent effigy of a young child. It appears to be unsigned and commemorates Geoffrey Stanley who died in 1871 at the tender age of two. The S. wall of the nave displays a large Royal Arms of Queen Anne but the quality is poor.