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English Church Architecture -

North Yorkshire.


ALDWARK, St. Stephen (SE 467 634)     (November 2014)

(Bedrock:  Permian to Triassic, Sherwood Sandstone Group)

A product of the so-called "rogue architect", Edward Buckton Lamb (1806-69), this church was constructed in 1846-53 (Pevsner) to one of Lamb's notoriously unorthodox designs, characterised by eccentric plans, the intentionally odd juxtaposition of building materials, and frenetic timber roofs in which the principal objective appears to be unnecessary 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 determine on a foggy November day, with no sun to cast shadow.  The key lies in the circular window in the east end (as seen in the photograph of the church from the northeast, above), whose function is to light the sanctuary.  The tower rises to the northwest, where it is connected to the nave by a very short north/south passage containing  the church entrance. (See also the two photographs below, taken from the west and south, respectively.)


To consider first the plan in greater detail, 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 formed of just a nave and sanctuary, for there is no real chancel, the distance from the east end of the nave to the sanctuary E. wall being barely twice the width of the space across the altar.  The stumpy "piers" around the "crossing" (insofar as these terms are applicable) serve chiefly to support the roof timbers. The short northwest tower rises in two stages, supported by diagonal buttresses, to a spire with a projecting square base supported on a corbel table.   It would be entirely detached but for the connecting entrance passage, from which internal doors open into the nave, both 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 masonry, composed 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, diminish the scale of the church as a whole.  A similar effect is created by the conspicuous lozenge patterns in shaped grey tiles, running through the rectangular red tiles elsewhere.


Inside the church, complications and quirkinesses abound and would be tedious to enumerate, but the confusing, heavy roof is impossible to ignore.  It seems certain that the job might have been done using considerably less timber, but neither strength nor economy was probably the objective.