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English Church Architecture -

Kirklees (U. A.).


THORNHILL LEES, Holy Innocents (SE 242 204)     (March 2018)

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


This excellent church of 1856-8 (seen left from the northeast) by the Halifax and Bradford partnership of Mallinson and Healey, seems to be faced with imminent redundancy, which will be a great loss, for not only is this a fine building, but it also retains the majority of its original furnishings, designed by Healey himself, together with all the essentials of its original internal arrangements when many churches of this date, especially in this area, have been stripped bare within, to conform with past and present ministers' notions of whatever they consider briefly constitutes contemporary worship.  Holy Innocents' church, 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 spire soaring heavenward between pinnacles - is easily the most impressive building anywhere within sight, although it is, perhaps, fortunate that, at least for the present, its developing structural problems are not really visible.  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 St. Mark’s church, Dewsbury, now the Gospel Church, but although that is also 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.


Windows are trefoil-cusped and mostly three-light.  The north and south aisle windows have tracery composed alternately of two quatrefoils and a bifoil, or of two trilobes and a rather ungainly cross - the least successful design feature in the building. The two-light west windows to the aisles have two trilobes and a cinquefoil in their heads and the aisle east walls are pierced by wheel windows containing trefoils.  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.  A hood-mould above rises from head label stops. (See the photograph of the N. arcade, right.)  The tower arch is lancet-pointed and carries two flat chamfers above semi-octagonal responds, and the chancel arch bears two sunk quadrant mouldings above two orders of semicircular shafts with fillets and leaf capitals.  Here once again, a hood-mould rises from head label stops.


All this is a little above the ordinary for a church of this date in a working class manufacturing district, but the church retains other work that lifts it higher, including much of its original wooden furniture, of which the altar table is an especially fine specimen (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 the vine, heavy with grapes, in a roundel in the centre, and these are placed in turn within ogee arches sheltering beneath crocketed gables separated from each other by buttresses standing on shafts.   (See the photograph below left.)  A second notable item is the tiered openwork font cover (illustrated in the second photograph below left), but some of the simpler pieces are attractive also, as, for example, the chancel choir stalls (below right) 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, suggesting the stone was of poor quality), but more especially the pulpit (illustrated below right), which is one of Healey's best.  It is, however, very reminiscent of another admirable pulpit at Welburn (North Yorkshire), possibly dating from the same year.  Also very pleasing 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 its on-going construction was also chronicled extensively in Mallinson and Healey's day-books, which survive for the years 1854-7 and 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 basic structure of the building seems to have taken up the majority of Healey's working days throughout the second half of July and the whole of August 1855, although he was still working on details two years and more later.  Tenders for the masonry and carpentry were not invited until November 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, 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, 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 spent at Thornhill Lees on furnishings and architectural details.  Whatever fate befalls this building in the future, one must hope it is sympathetically treated and its architectural and historical merit, understood and appreciated.