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English Church Architecture -

East Riding of Yorkshire (U. A.).


WANSFORD, St. Mary (TA 062 566)     (August 2012)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)

















This was the first of six churches built for Sir Tatton Sykes II by George Edmund Street (1824-81), the other five of which are at Fimber, and at East Heslerton, Helperthorpe, Thixendale and West Lutton in North Yorkshire. Erected between 1866 and 1868, the present building is also the most atypical, a situation apparent outside from the incoherent way the string course beneath the windows steps indecisively up and down, whereas in Street's other churches for Sir Tatton Sykes, it steps up consistently towards the east, to give emphasis to the sanctuary.  And indeed, by all external criteria, St. Mary's, Wansford, is an inconsequential-looking building:  it is composed of just a nave and chancel with a N. vestry, shallow S. porch and small surmounting bell-cote;  it is lit, even by Street's standards, by a mishmash of different window forms - mostly in early Decorated style but including two untraceried square-headed ones reminiscent of Perpendicular;  and the diminutive bell-cote has a pinched, almost withered appearance, in consequence of changing to an octagonal section from an already modest square base, barely a few inches above the nave ridge.  The little bell-openings in the cardinal sides are separated by shafts with leaf volute capitals beneath quatrefoils in circles and a string course masquerading as a set of gables, and the lucarnes in the spire would not be out of scale in a doll's house.  (See the photographs above, taken from the southeast.)  The building material is everywhere an irregularly-coursed limey sandstone beneath roofs of red tile.  The church is locked:  can it be worthwhile telephoning for a key? 


Indeed, it would be a mistake not to do so, for in no other of Street's churches in the North and East Riding does the interior come as a greater surprise.  This is where the money has been spent, and every feature has been well crafted and thoughtfully considered.  The first surprise comes immediately on entering, for the westernmost bay of the nave (i.e. the bay beneath the belfry) is separated from the others by a transverse arcade formed of three double-flat-chamfered arches with the central arch stilted (illustrated right, from the east), the narrowness of all three of which serves only to increase the impression of height.  Supported on two substantial circular piers with octagonal bases and anulets beneath the large circular capitals, they would self-evidently be "over-kill" if their only function was to support the belfry.  Instead, their more important task is announce the rich interior and, in particular, to herald the much more decorative stone screen between the nave and chancel, in Street's favourite Italian Gothic style.  This is formed of five trefoil-cusped arches in different coloured marbles, set beneath crocketed gables topped by crosses and supported below on barley-sugar columns with leaf volute capitals.  The outer arches rise from a stone dado carved with flowers and leaves in squares and contain sections of a short iron screen above, while the central opening holds a pair of attractive wrought iron gates.  (See the photograph, left, taken from the nave.)  Perhaps the proximity of this screen with the arcade to the west, might have been expected to appear to shorten the nave, but by good fortune or judgement, it does not.


These features inevitably dominate the interior, but there is something of interest wherever one looks.  Street, like his contemporary William Butterfield, often took particular care over the design on his fonts and pulpits, frequently conceiving them as a matching pair.  That is not the case here, however, and the palm goes to the latter.  The font (shown right), situated to the west of the W. arcade, appears to be constructed of the same sandstone as the building itself:  it is composed of a hexagonally-lobed bowl with lobes decorated with blank "three-light windows" with trefoils in the heads, standing on a stem formed of six circular shafts with circular bases and capitals, and annulets about three-quarters of the way up.  The pulpit (below left) is constructed of white marble with red, yellow and green marble inlay inside the three trefoil-cusped blank arches round the drum.  The spandrels are carved with vine leaves within irregular pointed quatrefoils and cable moulding and dog-tooth decorate the cornice.  It is an excellent piece of workmanship, though somewhat in need of cleaning at the time of this visit.  The reredos, which was another church furnishing that was (understandably) often elaborately treated by Street, is here constructed of sandstone with marble inlay and attractively tiled side panels;  the central section features a cross within a trefoil-cusped arch set between crocketed pinnacles.  Other things to notice in the chancel include the double-flat-chamfered arch to the organ-chamber-cum-vestry, and further east on the south side of the chancel, the two-bay stepped sedilia with little piscina beyond, with uncupsed arches carrying a little roll moulding above an order of circular shafts.


Significant woodwork in the church is confined to the roofs.  The chancel roof is panelled and decorated with the Sacred Monogram on a patterned red and blue background, but the nave roof (shown right) is altogether more interesting, both for its admirable construction and for its paint scheme.  Arched to collars approximately halfway up the pitch, it also features octagonal collar posts rising to the ridge, purlins at the level of the collars and, most strikingly, wind braces, both the "right" and "wrong" way up between the bays. The paint-scheme is meticulous.  The common rafters and ridge beam are painted with a square floral motif and the wind braces with leaves, directly (as it appears) on to the natural wood, the panelling between the common rafters and ashlar pieces is painted with a variety of forms of stylized flowers on an orange-red background, and the principal rafters, collars and arched braces have their edges picked out in little white diamonds on a narrow red strip.  It is all extremely pernickety but also very effective and beautifully sets off this very fine interior.  Stained glass throughout the building is by Clayton & Bell (according to The Buildings of England):  the E. window depicts the Transfiguration in the left-hand light, the Crucifixion in the centre, and the risen Christ appearing to his disciples in the right-hand light;  other windows show scenes from the life of Christ and an assortment of saints.