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English Church Architecture.

 

FIMBER, St. Mary  (SE 894 606),

EAST RIDING OF YORKSHIRE. 

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk.)

 

One of six churches designed by George Edmund Street (1824-81)

for the eccentric Sit Tatton Sykes II (1826-1913).

 

 

 

Famous, above all today, for the Law Courts in The Strand, George Edmund Street was rivalled in his lifetime only by William Butterfield as the architect of choice by the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England, and, indeed, in his personal attachment to High Church ritual, he surpassed his rival and was for many years churchwarden at Butterfield's 'model' church of All Saints', Margaret Street (Westminster), after Butterfield had left, opposed to the use of incense and lights, and to the Elevation of the Host.  Yet for all his ardent religionism, it would be entirely misleading to present Street as a humourless killjoy, for entirely to the contrary, his two major publications, Brick & Marble in the Middle Ages: Notes on a Tour of the North of Italy (London, John Murray, 1855) and Some Account of Gothic Architecture in Spain (in two volumes) (London, John Murray, 1865) are peppered with anecdotes about bad hotels and the sheer awfulness of other English tourists encountered on the way, much to the aggravation of The Ecclesiologist in its long review of the former in October 1855 (vol. XVI, issue CX, p. 299):  'We cannot but think that the ordinary reader of books of travel will be as much disturbed by Mr. Street's purely professional descriptions and speculations as the architectural student will be annoyed by the details of uncomfortable beds and ill-cooked dinners'.

 

Street's earnestness was sufficient for most men, however, and his patrons, almost to a man and woman, were wealthy and generous ones.  Street was also an inveterate traveller, and a close reading of Arthur Edmund Street's biography of his father (Memoir of George Edmund Street, 1824-1881, London, John Murray, 1888) reveals that between 1850 and 1874, he made no less than twenty-two separate visits to the Continent, including two such trips in 1872 and 1874 and only missing out on his working vocations in 1855. 1864, 1865 and 1870, during the last of which, however, he made a tour round Scotland.  It is hardly surprising, in consequence, that Street's architecture is the most eclectic among all his more important confrères, and this is particularly striking in some of his village churches, which in the most extreme cases, stand out from their settings as if they had landed from the moon.

 

 

This is the least interesting of the six churches built by Street for Sir Tatton Sykes II.  Erected between 1869 and 1871, it is a relatively small building, formed of a nave and chancel without external structural division, with the addition of a lean-to N. vestry, a small S. porch and a W. tower too narrow to be a success, even though the bell-stage has good details when considered in isolation.  The style is of the Early English/ Decorated transition, in common with all Street's churches in the North and East Riding and the majority of his churches anywhere.  The nave windows are formed of two cusped lancets with encircled quatrefoils or cinquefoils in the heads, the N. and S. chancel windows comprise pinched, single, cinquefoil-cusped lancets, and the chancel E. window is three-light with outer lights subarcuated above pointed trefoils and a large quatrefoil set diagonally in the apex.  However, again as is usual with Street, it is the stepping up of the string course from west to east beneath these windows that is most characterisitic of its author:  the chancel E. window is set a full 15' (4.6 m.) above the ground, even in a building of these modest dimensions.  The tower rises in four stages to a little pyramidal roof, supported by heavy clasping buttresses, and the trefoil-cusped bell-openings are set in the centre of three-bay blank arcades with arches separated by shafts in shaft-rings.  According to Nikolaus Pevsner & David Neave (in the 'York and the East Riding' volume of The Buildings of England, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 2005, p. 420), the church is constructed of 'Whitby stone' throughout, by which is probably meant the fine-grained limey sandstones from the Saltwick Formation at the base of the Middle Jurassic, Lower Estuarine Series, quarried around Aislaby.  However, if so, the grey tower clearly derives from a different strata to the buff nave and chancel.   The roofs are of red or orange tile.

 

Internally, one of the most striking features of the building is the height of the tower arch in relation to its width.  The font beneath (illustrated left) is by far the simplest in Street's churches for Sir Tatton Sykes, consisting of a plain octagonal bowl decorated only with recessed quatrefoils in circles in the cardinal directions, supported on a moulded octagonal base.  The nave windows are set in deep rere-arches with sunk quadrant mouldings above. The stone pulpit in the southeast corner of the nave has open tracery in two tiers, made up of trefoil-cusped arches below and quatrefoils in circles above.  The nave roof is arched to the collars, with further arched braces supporting the purlins at the ⅓ and ⅔ positions.

 

The chancel arch is composed of a wave moulding and a roll, springing from wide semicircular responds with fillets.  The brass and wrought iron chancel screen stands on a stone dado decorated with a frieze of blank quatrefoils;  the three-light section on either side of the gated opening is composed of tracery supported on octagonal brass columns turning to spirals.  There is a two-bay, cinquefoil-cusped stepped sedilia recessed in the S. wall, with a two-bay, trefoil-cusped piscina beyond, and the reredos is elaborately carved in shallow relief in a pink and white stone resembling soapstone (but probably marble), with leaves and repeating patterns running across a central recess containing a rood and a two-light blank window on either side, with pointed trefoils above trefoil-cusped lights.  (See the detail, illustrated right.)  The chancel roof is painted with stars on a maroon, blue and mauve background.

 

[Other churches by Street featured on this web-site are Toddington in Gloucestershire, East Heslerton, Helperthorpe, Howsham, Robin Hood's Bay, Thixendale, Wansford, West Lutton and Whitwell-on-the-Hill in North Yorkshire, Denstone in Staffordshire, Torquay in Torbay, Brightwalton and Eastbury in West Berkshire, and St. Mary Magdalene's Rowington Close and St. James's Thorndike Street in the City of Westminster.]