(« back to home page)

English Church Architecture -



BONSALL, St. James (SK 280 582)     (June 2013)

(Bedrock:  Carboniferous Dinantian Subsystem, Eyam Limestone Formation)


Seen from outside, there is little of this building one feels definitely able to trust and Pevsner, indeed, described “the outer walls” as “almost totally rebuilt by Ewan Christian in 1862-3”.  Christian was one of the least inspired architects of the Gothic Revival, although he had a good reputation in his day and he appears to have been an earnest, industrious, personable individual, who could hardly be blamed if contemporary opinion rated him more highly than his worth.  It is difficult to assess precisely what he left untouched and what he altered at St. James’s, but the central window in the S. wall of the chancel with supermullioned tracery is almost certainly largely original, as the Perpendicular style was much too out of favour to have been newly introduced at this time.  The church consists of a W. tower, a nave with aisles that partially embrace the tower, a small S. porch, and a relatively long chancel (three bays).  Its most attractive feature, the pretty spire rising behind the tower battlements, is probably also mediaeval, judging by its quirkiness.  (See the photograph of the church from the south, left.)  It is composed of three stages divided by projecting carved bands, and stands on a diagonally-buttressed tower with two-light bell-openings displaying what might possibly pass as straightened reticulation units, commensurate with the late fourteenth century, a possible date (to put it no stronger) with which the mouldings on the heavy tower arch would probably be commensurate.  The windowless porch is essentially also old, and covered by a short tunnel vault supported by two chamfered ribs.


The church interior is more interesting, however, albeit scarcely easier to date with confidence.  The three-bay nave arcades rise from piers with tall bases but differ in all other respects.  The S. arcade may be the earliest:  the arches carry a hollow chamfer and a deep acute-angled recess and the piers are quatrefoil, with cable moulding running round beneath the capitals (as shown in the close-up of the easternmost pier, right).  At a guess – and it can be nothing more – this is late thirteenth century work.  The N. arcade appears to be Decorated:  the double-flat-chamfered arches spring from octagonal piers rising from square bases with broaches, and the capitals are prominent with characteristic mouldings.  The chancel arch is in similar style.  The chancel itself is high relative to the nave – an impression entirely different from that obtaining outside – and approached up seven steps. The tower arch of exceptional thickness is composed of two orders, each carrying a sunk quadrant that continues beneath the capitals.  This might be late fourteenth century in origin but small rural churches in upland parishes are difficult to date for away from the mainstream of artistic developments, they were often the preserve of local craftsmen with their own particular ideas and methods, and the common archetypes are less likely to apply.