( back to home page)

English Church Architecture.

 

THORNHILL LEES, Holy Innocents  (SE 242 204),

KIRKLEES. 

(Bedrock:  Carboniferous Westphalian Series, mixed deposits from the Lower Coal Measures.)

 

 

One of Thomas Healey's best churches which at the time of this visit retained all its architect-designed furnishings.

 

 

 

One of the subjects examined by this web-site is the near-complete oeuvre of a little-known but regionally dominant, mid-nineteenth century architectural firm specialising in ecclesiastical work, in order to discover how they built their local reputation, how they maintained a financially competitive edge and sustained a very busy practice with few or no staff, and what 'success' looked like in terms of monetary reward and the provincial architect's acquired position in Victorian society.  The firm chosen is the partnership between James Mallinson and Thomas Healey (fl. 1845-62/3), who worked out of offices in Halifax and Bradford.  The majority of the extant church buildings for which the partners were responsible are listed below and should ideally be examined in chronological order.  They are:

  1.  Queensbury, Holy Trinity (Bradford)  (1843)  (Mallinson alone) 19. East Keswick, St. Mary Magdalene (Leeds) (1856)
  2.  Wyke, St. Mary (Bradford)  (1844)  (Mallinson alone) 20. Claremount, St. Thomas (Calderdale) (1857)
  3.  Clayton, St. John the Baptist (Bradford) (1846) 21. Clifton, St. John (Calderdale) (1857)
  4.  Baildon, St. John the Baptist (Bradford) (1846) 22. Salterhebble, All Saints (Calderdale) (1857)
  5.  Manningham, St. Paul (Bradford) (1846) 23. Thornaby-on-Tees, St. Paul (Stockton-on-Tees) (1857)
  6.  Mytholmroyd, St. Michael (Calderdale) (1847) 24. Thornhill Lees, Holy Innocents (Wakefield) (1858)
  7. Bankfoot, St. Matthew (Bradford) (1848) 25. Bugthorpe, St. Andrew (East Riding) (1858) (nave only)
  8. Shelf, St. Michael & All Angels (Bradford) (1848) 26. Bowling, St. Stephen (Bradford) (1859)
  9. South Ossett, Christ Church (Wakefield) (1850) 27. Girlington, St. Phillip (Bradford) (1859)
10. Barkisland, Christ Church (Calderdale) (1851) 28. Lower Dunsforth, St. Mary (North Yorkshire) (1859)
11. Boroughbridge, St. James (North Yorkshire) (1851) 29. Welburn, St. John (North Yorkshire) (1859)
12. Langcliffe, St. John the Evangelist (North Yorkshire) (1851) 30. Ilkley, All Saints (Bradford) (1860) (chancel only)
13. Cundall, St. Mary & All Saints (North Yorkshire) (1852) 31. Horton, All Saints (Bradford) (1862)
14. Heptonstall, St. Thomas the Apostle (Calderdale) (1853) 32. Hepworth, Holy Trinity (Kirklees) (1862)
15. Mount Pellon, Christ Church (Calderdale) (1854) 33. Dewsbury, St. Mark (Wakefield) (1862)
16. Thorner, St. Peter (Leeds) (1854) (partial reconstruction) 34. Heaton, St. Barnabas (Bradford) (1863) (Mallinson with T.H. Healey) 
17. Withernwick, St. Alban (East Riding) (1854) (reconstruction) 35. Tockwith,  Church of the Epiphany (North Yorkshire) (1863) (as above)
18. Mappleton, All Saints (East Riding) (1855) (not the tower)  

 

 

 

 

This church of 1856-8 (seen left from the northeast) is one of Mallinson & Healey's best buildings and it is a matter of real conservation concern that it has been declared redundant since this visit was made.  At that time at least, its importance lay especially in the retention of its original furnishings, designed by Healey, together with the essentials of its mid-Victorian internal arrangements after many churches of this date, especially in this area, have been stripped bare within, in accordance with a passing minister's transient whims.  Holy Innocents', in contrast - comprising a chancel with an independently-gabled organ chamber and vestry to the south, an aisled nave, and an angle-buttressed tower surmounted by a soaring spire - remains (or remained) easily the most significant building within a mile's radius.  The style is the same late thirteenth century geometric the firm would use a few years later, a mile and a half to the north, at the former church of St. Mark, Dewsbury (now the Gospel Church), but although that too is a good building - set, moreover, on a hill - this one is better, due externally to the particularly fine profile of the tower, with its openwork battlements and tall corner pinnacles, and the tall spire with its gabled lucarnes.

 

Windows everywhere are trefoil-cusped and mostly three-light.  The north and south aisle windows have tracery composed alternately of two quatrefoils and a bifoil, or two trilobes and a rather ungainly cross - the least successful design feature in the building. The aisles are lit to the to the east by wheel windows containing trefoils and to the  west by two-light windows with a pairs of trilobes and a cinquefoil in their heads.  The two-light clerestory windows are positioned over the apices of the aisle arcades.

 

The five-bay nave arcades are composed of arches bearing two sunk, slightly convex mouldings, springing from compound piers formed of four semicircular shafts bearing fillets, separated by spurs.  (See the photograph right, showing the N. arcade.) This was the most elaborate pier section Healey ever used:  generally he confined his piers to circular, octagonal and quatrefoil sections, sometimes using them in combination, and only at four other churches aside from the present one, did he put the patron or building committee to the expense of anything more demanding of the mason's time and skill, namely at Christ Church Mount Pellon, and St. Andrew' Listerhills (burnt down), where he also employed four semicircular shafts with fillets but without intervening spurs, and at Heptonstall and Horton, where he used four shafts separated by hollows. 

 

This is, therefore, somewhat above the ordinary for a church of this date in a working class manufacturing district, but the furnishings of the church lift (or lifted) it still higher, for most of the architect's wooden furniture remains, in addition to his font and reredos, and the information in the company's day-book for 1855-57 (West Yorkshire Archives, Halifax Record Office, MOO:2-4) reveals roughly how long each item took to design:

Item Days spent on the design
Altar rail
Font & font cover 3
Tiling patterns 1
Altar table 1
Stalls
Reredos 4
Pulpit 5
Reading desk
Gates (unspecified) 1
Sundial 1
TOTAL 19

 

This total figure of 19 days for designing furnishings, while admittedly approximate, is comparable with the equally approximate 15 days Healey appears to have spent designing the building itself, and if his commission for both was 5% of the final cost, designing a church's contents seems likely to have brought in a distinctly poor return.  Significantly however - perhaps as a reflection of this - the number of items for which Healey seems to have taken responsibility in any given commission, appears broadly commensurate with the cost of the cost of the church per se, with the probable implication that a cheap church was expected to make do chiefly with 'off-the-shelf' items produced to a standard pattern.

 

In contrast, at Thornhill Lees all the items listed in the above table are worthy of careful examination.   The altar table is the best piece of woodwork (as may be seen if the altar cloth is lifted):  the front displays naturalistic leaf carving in bas relief set in ovals in the four side panels, and a vine, heavy with grapes, in a roundel in the centre, and these are placed in turn within ogee arches sheltering beneath crocketed gables separated by buttresses supported on shafts.  (See the photograph below.

 

A second notable item is the tiered openwork font cover, but some of the simpler pieces are attractive also, as, for example, the chancel choir stalls (also below) with flower motifs incised in the seat-back and open winged trilobes piercing the bookrest in front.

 

Carved stonework includes the reredos and font (both, unfortunately, rather damaged, perhaps suggesting the stone was of poor quality), but more especially the pulpit (once again, illustrated below), which is one of Healey's best.  Except in the absence of structural polychromy, it is very reminiscent of another admirable pulpit at Welburn (North Yorkshire), which was probably also designed by Healey, possibly in the same year.  Also very pleasing here at Thornton Lees are the Minton tiling patterns on the chancel and sanctuary floors, which step up in three stages of increasing elaboration as one approaches the altar.

 

So much for the physical evidence of the building, but other details of its construction are also chronicled extensively in the company's day-books, which contain no less than two hundred and thirty-two references to the church, beginning on 27th March 1855, when Thomas Healey seems to have begun work on the project, apparently at the instigation of  Messrs. Thomas Cook and  Frank Wormald of Hague, Cook and Wormald, Dewsbury Mills, and of Mr. William Lipscombe.  John Lumley-Saville, the 8th Earl of Scarborough (d. 1856) gave the site, not only for the church, but for a school and parsonage also.

 

The building seems to have taken up much of Healey's office time throughout the second half of July 1855 and throughout August, although he was still working on details two years and more later.  Tenders for the masonry and carpentry were invited in November 1855 when Mr. George Simpson was chosen for the former and Mr. Gomersall for the latter.  Both were local men.  Daniel(?) Kershaw was appointed clerk of the works on 3rd January 1856, William Lomas & Son, marble masons of Bakewell, Derbyshire, were chosen to undertake some of the decorative stonework in April that year, Mr. Rawsthorne was appointed slater as late as the 8th December, and Mr. G.F. Heald of Wakefield, painter, on 29th June 1857.   Some hesitation is evident about where best to obtain the heating apparatus, approaches having been made in turn to  Messrs. Rimmington of Skipton, the Low Moor Iron Company of Bowling, and Thornton & Brooke of Huddersfield, whose tender of 97.10s.0d was eventually accepted on 20th March 1857.  Curiously, the date of the ceremony for the laying of the foundation stone is not recorded, which might suggest that no such ceremony was held, for it certainly does not appear to have been reported in the local press.  Be that as it may, the work had proceeded as far as the turning of the nave arcade arches by 25th August 1856, by which time Healey was recording in the day-books all the individual pieces he was designing for the church, including the stained glass for the chancel E. window and tower W. window throughout October 1856, the church doors on 1st January 1857, the altar rail on 27th April, the font and font cover on various dates ranging from 15th May to 7th September (in the case of the font cover), the 'stalls (desks and seats)' on 22nd June, the reredos on dates between 26th June and 3rd August (two alternatives were drawn up), the pulpit between 9th July and 7th August, the altar table on and around 11th August, and a sundial on August 25th.  The floor tiles were obtained from Mintons' of Stoke-upon-Trent, to whom the designs were also delegated;  the glass came from Messrs. R.B. Watson of Dunfermline who, on the face of it, seem a rather strange choice;  the bell (or bells) was cast by C. & G. Mears of Whitechapel;  and the font and reredos were carved to Healey's designs by Mawer & Ingle of Leeds.

 

The church was finally consecrated on 23rd June, 1858, as noticed briefly in The Bradford Observer for 1st July (p. 7), where the cost was recorded  as 'upwards of 8,000'.  That, if correct, would make this the second most expensive of Mallinson & Healey's churches, albeit coming in a long way behind All Saints', Horton (Bradford).  The considerably larger church (in comparison with Holy Innocents') of St. Thomas the Apostle, Heptonstall (Calderdale) reputedly cost 6,000, so that may be the measure of how much more was allowed at Thornhill Lees for furnishings and architectural details.  Whatever fate befalls this building henceforward, one must hope it is sympathetically treated and its architectural and historical merit, understood and appreciated.