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English Church Architecture -

East Riding of Yorkshire (U. A.).


SOUTH DALTON, St. Mary (SE 967 456)     (April 2013)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


This is an astonishing building by John Loughborough Pearson (1817-97), that could stake a fair claim to be the cathedral of the Yorkshire Wolds. Erected in 1858-61, ostensibly to replace the 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 just designed the already substantial and ornate, St. Leonard’s, Scorborough nearby.   (See John Loughborough Pearson by Anthony Quiney, Yale University Press, 1979.)  The church is constructed of Steetley stone externally, and white Hildenley stone within; the roofs are clad in Cumberland slates.


Pearson was not a member of the Ecclesiological Society and could not rely on their approval.  Reviewing the new church in the issue for February 1862, however, 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 are best examined separately.  Even so, no attempt will be made to describe it in the same level of detail as many of the smaller buildings in these notes, as that would be excessively tedious for reader and writer alike.


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.  (This can be seen in the photograph above left, taken from the northeast.  The photograph on the right was taken from the southeast.)  


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 (shown in close-up, left) 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 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 steeple at North Ferriby.   It is ribbed and lit by two tiers of gabled lucarnes, the lower facing the cardinal directions and the upper, 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 (leading where?) 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, featuring ornamental buttressing. The (principal) inner doorway (illustrated right) is a formidable pièce de résistance, with three orders of shafts and an elaborate band of leaf carving, beneath a tympanum pierced by three glazed, encircled sexfoils containing coloured glass gleaming like marble, and surrounded by two bands of leaf carving in addition to the 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 (see the photograph, left), 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 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.


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 Muscular Churches by C.M. Smart Jr., The University of Arkansas Press, 1989.)  They are lit by a wheel window to the east, formed of five encircled trefoils set within a larger circle with central quatrefoil, with shafts at the sides, and by three little windows of more usual design below – and all this, to decorate the 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 minor features of this church is 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.


Interior description.

Certainly such a view is supported upon entering for the interior of the building is fully equal to the outside. Pearson has contrived his composition to 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 view of the church to the west) is composed of three orders - an outer order with an attached shaft, a central order with an engaged roll moulding with a fillet, and an inner order with shafts at both angles (i.e. towards both 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 seen, right, in the view towards the southeast, with the S. transept on the right and the S. chapel straight ahead)  and the N. transept, eastwards into the organ chamber, through tall arches subdivided into two lancet openings by tall central shafts, with large open quatrefoils in the spandrels.


The chancel is entered up two steps through an exceptionally tall chancel arch also of two orders, with semicircular shafts to the inner order and bowtells to the outer.  There is a two-bay arcade on either side of the choir, this time of more usual form, leading to the chapel in the case of the S. arcade, and in the case of the N. arcade, to the organ chamber through the western bay and the vestry through the eastern bay. The sanctuary 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.) up.  (See the photograph below.) 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 contains the only other stained glass in the church, this time portraying the Last Judgement.  Both this glass and its western counterpart are by Clayton & Bell (church guide) and it is striking to how much better effect even good quality coloured glass can appear when confined to the principal windows and the church is well lit by clear glass everywhere else.


In fact, these 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 (The Buildings of England).  (Surprisingly, however, 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.  The pulpit (right) is constructed of wood but a nice piece of work nonetheless, featuring a pair of elaborately carved subarcuated blank arches on each face of  the drum, with two orders of shafts at the sides and another between the bays.


Finally, the large monument in the centre the S. chapel, which self-evidently predates Pearson’s work, was retained from the old church. Commemorating Sir John Hotham (d. 1689) and reputedly the work of C.G. Gibber (Geoffrey Fisher), it was designed before “polite” early Georgian society began to consider such imagery in poor taste, for beneath an effigy of Sir John leaning on his right elbow, supported on a platform by the Four Virtues, it features a skeleton beneath, a reminder of man’s mortality that was scarcely needed at this date.