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English Church Architecture -



HALSTEAD, Holy Trinity (TL 808 305)     (December 2017)

 (Bedrock:  Eocene, London Clay)



This church of 1843-4 (illustrated left, from the southeast), now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, is one of the later, so-called "Commissioners' Churches", built consequent to the passing of the Church Building Acts of 1818 & 1824.  The majority of these were meanly provided for, for Parliament was only to allocate a mere one and a half million pounds towards the erection of what would eventually prove to be over six hundred new churches, situated mostly in the newly industrialized regions of Britain, frequently in areas too poor to contribute much themselves. Halstead was fortunate, for while the Commissioners saw fit to provide a grant of just 500, a large donation from a lady in Earls Colne eventually made it possible to lay out a total of 4,690.15s.0d on a building with seating for 700, including 199 paying customers, accommodated in rented pews, and 504 people on free seating.  (See M. H. Port, Six Hundred New Churches - The Church Building Commission, 1818-1856, Spire Books, 2006).  This amounted to a generous 6-13s-5d a sitting, at a time when the majority of the churches being aided by the Commissioners were expected to cost a half or even a third of that.  Even so, the materials employed at Holy Trinity were probably as inexpensive as they could be - namely yellow gault brick with its typically "washed-out" appearance, faced across much of the exterior with iron-stained flint lump - and it was lucky the work was in the hands of Scott & Moffat, one of the better architectural practices at that time, before the company's business overreached the capacity of its principal partner, George (later, Sir George) Gilbert Scott (1811-78), to give it sufficient personal attention.


Scott & Moffat chose the First Pointed (Early English) style for their new church in Halstead and were true to it throughout.  The design elements are simple and the church draws much of its effect from the consistency with which they are applied.  Windows everywhere are lancets, with only their heights varying, and whether in the chancel, aisles or clerestory (where the windows alternate with wider blank arches), are all provided with an order of side shafts with stiff leaf capitals, both outside and in.  The southwest tower, which adjoins the second nave bay from the west and also serves as the porch, is blank on its lower stage except (of course) to the south, where the outer doorway of four orders rises above three orders of shafts, but the tall lancets in the second stage and the pairs of bell-openings in the slightly recessed fourth stage, all of which unfortunately had their shafts removed in the 1960s (ibid), have a wider blank lancet on either side.  The short third stage is pierced by quatrefoils and the admirable surmounting broach spire (which, however, had to be rebuilt twice in the 1840s due to its over-hasty original construction), is lit by two tiers of gabled, lancet lucarnes in the cardinal directions.  The nave W. window and the chancel E. window are composed of groups of three equal lancets, but there is also another lancet in the gable above the former and an excellent wheel window in the gable above the latter, divided into eight 45 segments by short shafts acting as spokes, all with capitals and bases.  The model has clearly been taken from St. Nicholas's, Castle Hedingham, barely four miles to the northwest, where the work is Norman-Transitional. Sir Alfred Clapham (English Romanesque Architecture, pub. Oxford University Press, 1934) believed that to be one of only four comparable mediaeval windows anywhere in England. (Another may be found at St. Nicholas's, Barfreston in Kent.)


On entering the south porch tower, one is struck by the size of the space and by the large blank, flat-chamfered arch in gault brick on each side. The N. arch is especially wide and leads through the very thick tower wall to the inner door to the S. aisle. Inside the nave, the six-bay aisle arcades prove to be formed of arches of two orders, bearing a flat chamfer on the inner order and, alternately, a roll and a keeled roll on the outer order, all constructed from moulded gault brick, supported on piers alternately circular and octagonal.  (See the interior view of the church looking east, above right.)  The large, square capitals with leaf volutes carved in pale stone (left), form a further parallel with Castle Hedingham (where the arcades are also six bays long and the piers, alternately circular and octagonal) and the hood-moulds rise from large, well-executed head label stops.  The tall chancel arch is lancet-pointed and essentially of two orders, each resting on a pair of semicircular shafts below, carrying a roll moulding around the inner order and a keeled roll around the outer order.  Another large arch cutting through the chancel N. wall, opens into the organ chamber. The chancel has a wagon roof, albeit a slightly pointed one, and the nave roof has arched-braced collar beams and two tiers of purlins up the pitch, at the ⅓ and ⅔ positions, with wind braces between.  Save only for the plain benches in the nave and aisles, which the church guide declares to be Scott's, most of the present furnishings are later additions.