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English Church Architecture.


SOUTH DALTON, St. Mary  (SE 967 456),


(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk.)


A church by one of the foremost Victorian church architects,

John Loughborough Pearson (1817-97). 


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 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.



This is an astonishing building by Pearson, that could stake a fair claim to be the cathedral of the Yorkshire Wolds.  Erected in 1858-61, ostensibly to replace the two dilapidated churches in South Dalton and neighbouring Holme-on-the-Wolds with their combined population of well under a thousand, the building’s size and pretensions were purely a measure of the aspirations of the patron, the third Baron Hotham, who spent £25,000 on it, in order to outdo his land agent and tenant, James Hall, for whom Pearson had very recently designed the already substantial and ornate, St. Leonard’s, Scorborough nearby.   (See Anthony Quiney, John Loughborough Pearson, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 1979, pp. 51-59.)  The church is constructed of Steetley stone externally, and white Hildenley stone within;  the roofs are covered in Cumberland slates.


Although Pearson joined the Ecclesiological Society belatedly in June 1859, he never featured among the ranks of that Society's most favoured architects.  Reviewing the new church in the issue for February 1862 (XXIII/CXLVIII, pp. 60-61), The Ecclesiologist magazine was generally complimentary – indeed, it would have made itself look ridiculous had it been otherwise -  yet managed to find a couple of supposed faults:  'The style is Middle-Pointed, of strictly English character, and of a very ornate type... The absence of a stone roof (considering the sumptuousness of the structure) and of colour, constructional or otherwise, is however, to be regretted.' Whether 'colour, constructional or otherwise' was compatible with a 'strictly English character'  the reviewer did not venture to say. 


The size and elaborate construction of the church are such that the outside and inside must be described independently. 


Exterior description. 

In broad outline, St. Mary’s consists of a superb tower and spire rising to an exceptional 208ʹ (63 m.) and visible for miles around, a large nave without aisles but with a tall and impressive S. porch and large adjoining transepts, and an ornate chancel with a transversely-gabled S. chapel, a cross-gabled organ chamber to the north, and a short, transversely-gabled vestry immediately east of that, with a doorway set askew to the northeast (as seen in the photograph above left, which was taken from the northeast).  


Seen from the west, the tower is divided into four stages, of which the lowest is plain except for the frieze of blank quatrefoils at the top, the second is recessed to permit shallow clasping buttresses to sit on the camber below and lit by a four-light W. window with two encircled cinquefoils and an encircled sexfoil in the head, and the third is very short, providing just sufficient height for the clock faces carved in the N. and S. walls.  The fourth stage is the bell-stage and a very splendid affair, with three tall gabled openings on each side, separated by buttresses, and low balustrades to the fore, as if to provide precarious viewing platforms behind.  In fact, although it is not immediately obvious, the bell-stage actually comprises an irregular octagon, creating space at the corners of the square stage below for tall octagonal turrets to run up to spirelets that terminate about a quarter of the way up the height of the main spire.   These are blank beneath the springing level of the bell-openings and decorated above with three tiers of blind rectangles or trefoiled arches.  The main spire is tall and slender with no trace of the exaggerated entasis that slightly mars Pearson’s earlier steeples at North Ferriby and Daylesford.   It is ribbed and lit by two tiers of gabled lucarnes, with the lower tier facing the cardinal directions and the upper tier, the ordinal.


The S. porch is approached up six steps and vaulted within in two narrow quadripartite bays with ribs of complex profile.  It is lit by two trefoil-cusped windows on either side of each bay, save only that the northwestern position is occupied by a narrow doorway replete with short external shafts with large stiff-leaf capitals. The outer doorway has two orders of side-shafts separated by a vertical band of blank quatrefoils and, on either side, a two-bay shallow recess at the springing level, featuring ornamental buttressing. The (principal) inner doorway (illustrated left) is a formidable pièce de résistance, with three orders of side-shafts and an elaborate vertical band of leaf carving, beneath a tympanum pierced by three glazed, encircled sexfoils containing coloured glass that gleam like marble, surrounded by two further bands of leaf carving besides the more usual hollows, rolls and fillets.


The nave, chancel and transept windows are all richly designed and different from their neighbours.  The four-light N. and S. windows to the transepts have, in the first case, encircled cinquefoils in the heads of the subarcuated pairs and a double-cusped septfoil in the apex, and in the second, encircled sexfoils over the pairs and a double-cusped trefoil in a rounded triangle in the apex.  The sanctuary is highly ornate on all sides:  the N. and S. walls are pierced by two-light windows in the centre and one-light windows to left and right, separated by a complicated combination of shafts and buttresses, and sitting on a frieze of quatrefoils and leaf motifs at a height of about 8ʹ (2.4 m.).  The five-light E. window (seen right) is announced by blank arches on each side and features outer lights subarcuated over quatrefoils, and a huge wheel in the apex, containing a double-cusped cinquefoil with circles between the foils.  (See the entry for Appleton-le-Moors for an explanation of some of these terms.)


The complex union of vestry and organ chamber in the re-entrant between the chancel and N. transept (shown in the photograph at the top of the page) are additions of 1868-72 (see C.M. Smart Jr., Muscular Churches, Fayetteville & London, The University of Arkansas Press, 1989, pp. 118-122)  They are lit by a wheel window to the east, formed of five encircled trefoils set within a larger circle with a central quatrefoil, side-shafts, and three little windows of more usual design below – and all this, to decorate a vestry on the side of the building away from the road.  The doorway set slightly askew has a trefoil-cusped arch. Quite evidently, the effort and invention that has gone into the design of even the least important features of this church was prodigious and one feels if Pearson had produced nothing else, he would still have earned his place as one of the leaders of the Gothic Revival on the basis of this church alone.


Interior description.

Such a view is fully supported upon entering the church for the interior of is fully the equal of the exterior.  Pearson has contrived here to make his building appear taller and wider than it actually is. The deeply recessed nave windows with right-angled reveals have every possible adornment, including bowtells attached to the backs of the mullions, shafts in shaft-rings at the sides, leaf carving at the springing level and in bands around the arches, and pairs of narrow blank arches between.  The W. window to the tower has two orders of shafts and contains fine coloured glass depicting Old Testament scenes. The tall tower arch (seen left, in the interior view looking west) comprises three orders - an outer order with an attached shaft, a central order with an engaged roll, and an inner order with side-shafts both sides (i.e. towards the nave and the tower).  The high quadripartite vault beneath the bell-stage has the usual central hole for the passage of the bell-ropes.


The transept arches are formed of two orders, with elaborate mouldings on both sides, shafts at the angles of the inner order, and semi-engaged rolls down the angles of the outer order.  The S. transept opens eastwards into the S. chapel (as illustrated right, in the view towards the southeast, with the S. transept on the right and the S. chapel straight ahead) and the N. transept opens eastwards into the organ chamber, in each case through a tall arch, subdivided into two lancet openings by a central shaft. 


The chancel is entered up two steps through an exceptionally tall arch also of two orders, with semicircular shafts to the inner order and bowtell mouldings to the outer.  There is a two-bay arcade on either side of the choir, this time of more usual form.  The sanctuary (shown below right) is surrounded by blank arches separated by shafts with leaf capitals - five bays each to the north and south and six to the east -  beneath another frieze of leaf carving, roughly 10′ (3 m.) from the floor.  The sanctuary windows are recessed behind internal arches, cut through what appears as a separate skin of masonry united to the outer skin by little flying buttresses.  The E. window has two orders of side-shafts and a band of carving between, and together with the W. window, contains the only stained glass in the church (by Clayton & Bell), allowing the building to be flooded with light.


In fact, these two windows apart, furnishings and non-architectural additions to the building are not especially remarkable, albeit that the floors are elaborately and attractively paved throughout with encaustic tiles by Maw (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 704), although, surprisingly, there is little evidence of the usual build-up in effect as one passes from east to west.  The unusual font comprises a quatrefoil bowl supported on a round central column and clusters of four shafts at the angles (sic).  No coloured stone is employed and, indeed, the church is a demonstration of how little this form of decoration seemed to  interest Pearson, even when there was very clearly the money for it.