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English Church Architecture.

 

ALDWARK, St. Stephen  (SE 467 634),

NORTH YORKSHIRE. 

(Bedrock:  Permian to Triassic, Sherwood Sandstone Group.)

 

This is a church by the so-called Victorian 'rogue-architect',

Edward Buckton Lamb (1806-69), constructed to one of his typically bizarre designs.

 

 

 

The architect and critic, H.S. Goodhart-Rendel (1887-1959), writing in 1949, identified a group of Victorian architects he termed 'rogue-nonconformists', who seemed to value novelty above all things and liked nothing better than to raise the ire of the readers of The Ecclesiologist.  The 'arch-rogue' and mover among this group, according to Goodhart-Rendel, was Edward Buckton Lamb, and this was a nickname taken up by Pevsner, which as a result, has stuck to Lamb to the present day.

 

St. Stephem's church, Aldwark, illustrates Lamb's style very well.  Constructed in 1846-53 to one of Lamb's notoriously unorthodox designs, the building is characterised by its eccentric plan, the intentionally odd juxtaposition of building materials, and the frenetic timber roof in which the principal objective appears to be pile complexity upon complexity.  Such a building is difficult to describe in conventional terms, and, indeed, even the orientation of St. Stephen's can be quite difficult to make out on a foggy November day, with no sun to cast shadow.  The key lies in recognising that the large circular window demarcates the east end, where its function is to light the sanctuary.  The church is essentially cruciform, with 'transepts' terminating in semi-octagons, extending the width of the building to within a close approximation of its length.  The axial west/east section is comprised to all intents and purposes of a nave and sanctuary only, for there is no real chancel, the distance from the east end of the nave to the sanctuary east wall being barely twice the width of the altar.  The stumpy 'piers' around the 'crossing' (insofar as these terms are applicable) serve chiefly to support the roof timbers.  The short tower rises in two stages to the northwest and is capped by a spire with a splayed, square base.   It would be entirely detached but for a connecting entrance passage, from which internal doors open into the nave, to the east and the south.

 

All this produces a building that is strikingly unconventional, but its 'model village' appearance is due especially to its use of building materials, and, specifically, its masonry, composed of a matrix of large brown cobbles, flint, courses of red brick laid herringbone-wise, and large blocks of sandstone for the dressings, which by their size, clashing colours and rough hewn surfaces, serve to diminish the scale of the church, achieving the very opposite effect to that sought by almost all other architects, not only then but ever since.   The 'toy' effect is enhanced still further by the conspicuous lozenge patterns in shaped grey tiles, running through the red tiles of the roof.

 

Inside the church, complications and quirkinesses abound and would be tedious to enumerate, but the confusing, heavy timber roof is impossible to ignore.  Whatever Lamb's objective was here, it was clearly not clarity of construction nor the economy of timber.  Yet Lamb had his devotees and a fairly large practice, and C.M. Smart felt able to describe him in 1989 as 'an independent genius, an original creator, his own man' (Muscular Churches, Fayettville & London, The University of Rkansas Press, 1989, p. 244)!