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English Church Architecture.


BROOMFLEET, St. Mary  (SE 881 273),


(Bedrock:  Triassic Mercia Mudstone Group, Keuper Marl.)


A modest little church by John Loughborough Pearson (1817-97),

which nevertheless illustrates the High Victorian privileging of mass over line. 



Born in Brussels but raised from a young age in Durham, John Loughborough Pearson was the tenth and last child of Ann and William Pearson, a painter of landscapes who regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy and who probably ensured his young son was exposed to the visual arts as he grew up, even if, as it appears, the younger Pearson's formal education was very limited (Anthony Quiney, John Loughborough Pearson, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 1979, p. 5).  By the age of fourteen, it was certainly clear he could draw however, and his father obtained a pupillage for him with Ignatius Bonomi (1787-1870), a well-respected architect of Italian origins, practising in the city, who, over the next ten years, ensured Pearson acquired a thorough training in all aspects of the profession, until September 1841, when Bonomi announced he was going to form a partnership with a young man of his acquaintance, and Pearson promptly left, probably feeling he had been unfairly passed over.  A brief hiatus then ensued in Pearson's career, followed by a year or thereabouts during which he worked,  in turn, for Anthony Salvin and Philip Hardwick in London.  But Pearson was able to build up his own individual clients and commissions during that time, and a point was soon reached where he had a viable church building practice of his own. (Quiney, pp. 7-18).

Pearson was a devout churchman throughout his  entire life, but although he joined the trenchant Ecclesiological Society, there is little evidence that he shared that Society's dogmatic Anglo-Catholic views, being, in all likelihood, of a latitudinarian persuasion.  His architecture is less intense than that of his High Church confrères and with a few conspicuous exceptions, his buildings are not notable for the structural polychromy that was all the rage in the third quarter of the nineteenth century especially, but rather for an ingenious use of internal space, which was his supreme accomplishment.  Pearson could design a vault for almost any space, however awkward, and largely as a result, many of his churches are distinguished by their interesting internal perspectives.  His generally relaxed manner and churchmanship did not suit everybody, however, and sometimes he was replaced, after having been appointed to a job initially, by a more thrusting competitor - most notably Street.


St. Mary's, Broomfleet, is one of Pearson's smallest but most Ruskinian churches, and was constructed in 1860-1 at the expense of Elizabeth Barnard of South Cave (David Neave and Nikolaus Pevsner, the 'York and East Riding' volume of The Buildings of England, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 2005, p. 357).  It stands in a pleasant little one-street village, which confounds one’s expectations after driving across the windswept expanse of Walling Fen to within a mile of the Humber estuary and one imagines Elizabeth Barnard took pride in this little community, for she engaged for this small job, one of the most notable church architects of the day, albeit one with local connections.  What she got for her money was a modest but fashionably High Victorian little church formed of simply of a nave with N. porch tower and a chancel with a S. vestry.  


Ruskin published The Seven Lamps of Architecture in 1849 and one of its most influential chapters was chapter three, 'The Lamp of Power', in which  Ruskin was driven by his admiration for  such chunky, cumbersome piles as the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, which he endeavoured to associate with the prophecies of the Book of Revelation ('and [the angel] measured the city with the reed... The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal') and which he sought to persuade architects to emulate, by privileging mass over line and associating the former with the impression of power:

'[The square and circle are pre-eminently the areas of power among those bounder by purely straight or curved lines;  and these, with their relative solids, the cube and the sphere, and relative solids of progression.., the square and cylindrical column, are the elements of utmost power in all architectural arrangements.'  (The Seven Lamps of Architecture, ch. 3, para. ix.)


The gathering influence of these dogmas couple with the concomitant avoidance of buttressing would lead within a few years to many High Victorian churches appearing as if they have been constructed from a set of children's building blocks.  St. Mary's, Broomfleet, displays precisely these compositional qualities and does so at the most elemental level, with all shapes pared down to their most basic geometric form.  Thus three cuboids laid lengthwise  comprise the chancel, nave and S. vestry , a fourth, placed upright, serves for the tower, three triangular prisms form the chancel, nave and vestry roofs, and a simple  suffices for the spire.


Windows are all geometric in form, this time to accord with the tenets of the second chapter  of The Seven Lamps, 'The Lamp of Truth'.  The nave windows are two-light to the north and south, with encircled trefoils and quatrefoils in  their heads above trefoil-cusped lights, the W. wall is pierced by two widely separated, trefoiled lancets, and an encircled cinquefoil pierces the gable.  The chancel has two lancet lights to the north, a three-light E. window with trefoil-cusped outer lights and a cinquefoiled inner light beneath two encircled cinquefoils, and an encircled quatrefoil in the apex.  The chancel S. wall is partially occupied by the cross-gabled vestry, but the S. window if the latter is composed of three trefoil-headed lancets separated by mullions (as seen right).  The external masonry consists in all parts of the church, of limestone rubble, offset with two bands of ashlar, approximately 5½′ ( 1.7 m.) and 8½′ (2.6 m.) from the ground.  (See the photograph below left.)


Inside the church, the chancel arch is double-flat-chamfered with the inner order dying into the jambs.  The chancel furnishings are very simple:  the sedilia is formed of three separate arches with a flat chamfer round the heads.  The pair of N. lancets together, have a lowered sill, which was probably intended to act as a credence shelf.  However, the most interesting internal feature is the nave roof (shown below right), which is arched to the collars and tied longitudinally by purlins at the ⅓ and ⅔ stages, in a visually much more satisfactory arrangement than, for example, Butterfield’s almost contemporary nave roof at Wykeham (N Yorkshire), erected, one imagines, at substantially greater expense.










[Other churches by Pearson featured on this web-site are Dartington and Landscove in Devon, North Ferriby, Scorborough and South Dalton in the East Riding of Yorkshire, Daylesford in Gloucestershire, Appleton-le-Moors in North Yorkshire, and Wentworth in Rotherham Metropolitan Borough.]