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English Church Architecture -

East Riding of Yorkshire (U. A.).


SCORBOROUGH, St. Leonard (TA 015 454)     (April 2013)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)

It would be misleading to regard this church (seen above from the north) as merely the little sister of nearby St. Mary’s, South Dalton, for the present building is more “foreign” (French?) and has a considerable display of structural polychromy, which St. Mary’s entirely lacks.  Constructed to the designs of John Loughborough Pearson (1817-97) in 1857-9 at a cost of £5,500 compared with dates of 1858-61 and a price-tag of £25,000 at St. Mary’s, both the closeness in date and the vast difference in cost are unexpected.  True, St. Leonard’s is a lot smaller, but it is still highly ornate, with a tall, impressive tower and spire, and by way of comparative figures, only fifteen years later, Street’s church at West Lutton, which has neither, would set Sir Tatton Sykes II back the little matter of £13,125.


Stated baldly, St. Leonard’s consists of a chancel and nave externally divided only by buttresses, a cross-gabled N. organ chamber-cum-vestry, a S. porch, and the aforementioned tower and spire with its curiously unsettling central encircled quatrefoils in the gables above the bell-openings, giving the appearance of a Cyclops, squinting out over the surrounding countryside.  The style is the expected late First Pointed geometric, whose nearest mediaeval equivalent would date from c. 1280-1300.  The large porch (seen left, from the southeast) is lit only by three little encircled quatrefoils each side. The steeply pointed outer doorway is composed of two orders bearing rolls with fillets, supported on jambs with two orders of side shafts with leaf capitals, probably formed of Rosedale ironstone.  The inner doorway has a complex profile beneath a band of leaf carving and two orders of marble side shafts, the inner, red, and the outer, black.   


The nave is three bays in length and lit by three pairs of trefoil-cusped lancets to the north and two pairs to the south (i.e. to the west of the porch), with trefoils in the heads of the lights and quatrefoils above and between the pairs.  The same windows then continue along the sides of the chancel, with two pairs to the south and one to the north (east of the vestry). A frieze of blank quatrefoils runs between the lancet pairs at the springing line and a continuous but varying frieze of leaf carving runs round the building beneath the eaves.  The buttresses to the south and the east are decorated by blank arcading on their leading edges.  The chancel E. window is an elaborate composition in three planes, formed of three lancet lights separated by narrow blank lancets, with shafts in shaft-rings between and two orders of shafts at the sides, the whole arrangement set in a large encompassing arch with two encircled quatrefoils and a large encircled sexfoil in the tympanum. (See the photograph, right, showing the chancel southeast angle.)


The tower rises in three stages supported by clasping buttresses for the first two, before turning octagonal at the bell-stage to provide space at the angles for tall hexagonal pinnacles sitting on broaches. The tower W. window (left) is composed of two trefoiled lancets with trefoils above the lights and colonnettes at the sides, set in an encompassing arch with an encircled sexfoil in the head.  A frieze of blank quatrefoils runs, high up around the second stage, and there is a frieze of leaf carving immediately below the bell-stage. The bell-openings are formed of lancet pairs divided by colonnettes, with three orders at the sides.  The pinnacles are divided into four short stages and terminate in ribbed spirelets.  The main spire is tall and slender, with no lucarnes or noticeable entasis.


Inside the church, it is probably the window rere-arches that create the greatest impression for, in effect, there are two skins of masonry, linked by stone “bridges” from the gap between the lancet lights on the outer wall, to columns in corresponding positions in the inner.  (See the photograph of the nave N. wall, right.)  The chancel arch is ostensibly supported only on a pair of narrow, red marble shafts on each side.  The E. window has an individual arch around each light, decorated with dog-tooth and divided by clusters of four shafts in shaft-rings, all formed of coloured marble.  The tower W. window is arranged like the nave windows but here, there are two orders of shafts at the sides, one of stone and the other of marble.  There is a quadripartite ribbed vault beneath the tower, with the usual central hole to allow for the passage of the bell-ropes.


The nave and chancel roof comprises a single unit (shown left, from the west), albeit with two arched braces close together, separated only by a band of blank quatrefoils, to mark the junction between the two parts of the building.   There are purlins approximately one-fifth and three-fifths of the way up the pitch, and the structure is arched from the wall plates to collars at the level of the upper purlins.  The scantlings are very thick and the arched braces, carved with dog-tooth.   The porch roof is also unusually complex for so small a structure, with purlins at the ⅓ and ⅔ positions and three tiers of wind bracing, obviously added for effect rather than out of any structural necessity.


The wall behind the altar (it cannot be classed as a reredos) is faced in inset coloured stone below an inscription reading, “Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life”, and above this, a frieze of deeply-carved quatrefoils containing floral and specifically religious motifs, includes a lamb and a cross.   The font (right) stands on a central shaft surrounded by eight narrow, red marble shafts in shaft-rings, and has an elaborately carved circular bowl, with quatrefoils featuring Biblical scenes in the cardinal directions and complex leaf motifs in the ordinal.  The pulpit is made of stone and has dark coloured shafts round the base and orange marble shafts at the angles of the drum.  The sides of the drum are blank below but have carved sexfoils featuring carvings of SS. Jerome, Augustine and Gregory above.


St. Leonard’s church was built for James Hill, a land-owner in his own right but also the land agent and tenant of the third Baron Hotham, who was then hastened into action at South Dalton from a desire not to be outdone.  Reviewing St. Leonard’s in its “New Churches” feature, The Ecclesiologist conceded, "This is a style of great merit and originality" (vol. XXI issue CXXXVI for February 1860).  So it is, and it adds grace and distinction to this tiny village.