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English Church Architecture.


GREENSTEAD GREEN, St. James  (TL 822 285),


(Bedrock:  Eocene, London Clay.)


A small church with an odd tower and spire by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-78).




Work began on this church by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1844, immediately upon completion of his neighbouring Holy Trinity, Halstead, suggesting a substantial part of the workforce may then have transferred a mile and a half down the road.  Architect and, perhaps, craftsmen apart, however, the parallels between these buildings do not amount to much, for not only was St. James's raised to a smaller and simpler plan without the benefit of a grant from the Church Building Commission, as would be expected in this rural location, but almost no design elements from Holy Trinity will be found to recur here - a result, in particular, of the former's First Pointed (Early English) style in contrast with the Second Pointed (Decorated) style of St. James's.



St. James's church is formed of a W. tower with a surmounting spire, and a nave and chancel with a N. vestry and cross-gabled N. organ chamber, neatly faced with flint and cobbles beneath fish-scale tiled roofs.  It is a less impressive building than Holy Trinity, Halstead, for reasons that cannot only be put down to its smaller size.  Its one truly distinguishing feature is the way in which the tower turns octagonal at the bell-stage and is supported against the ordinal sides by flying buttresses which spring across from crocketed pinnacles rising from the corners of the square stage below, and yet its appearance is not entirely satisfactory.  Perhaps the reason is the bell-stage is too small for the two squat, diagonally-buttressed stages of the tower below..., or perhaps the bell-stage is simply made to appear too small by the relatively tall spire in moulded gault brick above...?  The nave is four bays long with a S. porch adjoining the second bay from the west, and the chancel extends eastwards for a further two.  The N. and S. windows to the nave and the chancel are attractive, two-light, and all different from one another, displaying variations of reticulated, curvilinear, and falchion-style tracery, all with minimal ogee curves, but the three-light chancel E. window is as ungainly as some of the worst fourteenth century examples, with weird asymmetric shapes above the lights that can surely only have arisen by default rather than from any deliberate design ntention.





Inside the building, the tower arch is triple-flat-chamfered and the chancel arch, double-flat-chamfered, with the inner order rising from corbels in both cases, and in the latter case, with the outer order rising from narrow circular shafts.  The chancel floor is nicely paved in red and blue patterned tiles and the easternmost S. window has a dropped sill acting as a sedilia, decorated by a frieze beneath featuring the Agnus Dei, the Sacred Monogram and the Instruments of the Passion, set between the letters alpha and omega.  The pulpit is built into the northeast corner of the nave (as shown in the interior view of the church, above right) and reached by a completely enclosed stair, accessed from the organ chamber.  Pevsner declared this to have been the original arrangement of the pulpit at Halstead also (Nikolaus Pevsner & James Bettley, The Buildings of England: Essex, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 2007, p. 435), and the thin wooden chancel screen alonside he ascribed  to William White (1825 - 1900), to whose reputation it adds nothing.  The same is also true for Scott in respect of the heavy hammerbeam nave roof.  The arched braces supporting the hammerbeams rise from large corbels projecting part way down the nave walls, and the intermediate arched braces are supported on smaller corbels immediately below the wall plates.  It is all rather cumbersome and opressive.  The steeply pointed chancel roof is framed by arched braces rising to collars.