English Church Architecture -
AMOTHERBY, St. Helen (SE 751 735) (April 2015)
(Bedrock: Upper Jurassic, Ampthill Clay Formation)
This is a church made memorable by its ghastliness, the result of its reconstruction in 1871 in a highly exaggerated neo-Norman style. According to Pevsner, who described the arcade as "uncommonly ugly", the architect was George Fowler Jones (1818 - 1905), who seems, in spite of efforts such as this, to have found a ready supply of undiscriminating clients. Quite what he considered his justification for his choice of style is difficult to say for almost nothing of the original building was permitted to remain, save only for the inadequate seventeenth century tower and the simple, probably late Norman doorway inside the S. porch. The latter features two pairs of shafts separated by spurs set alongside each other against the jambs, scalloped capitals, and a round arch carrying convex round mouldings. The tower rises unbuttressed in a single stage, lit by a W. window of two rectangular lights, to bell-openings of similar form, barely an inch below the battlements. (See the photograph of the church above, taken from the south.)
It is difficult to believe that Jones intended his work inside the church to be taken entirely seriously for he seems to have set out here to caricature the Romanesque style. The four-bay N. arcade (above) is formed of very wide round arches composed of a single order bearing a roll and a band of chevron, supported on disproportionately slim piers raised on tall bases and topped by the largest possible, square scalloped capitals. These ungainly proportions are doubtless more successful in terms of their utility, however, since the width of the arches together with the way in which the arcade continues part-way alongside the chancel without intervening chancel or chapel arches, creates a large open space in the body of the church, suitable for many uses - a compensation, one hopes, to the church's regular congregation, for the stylistic solecisms they have weekly to endure. Unattractive features of the building that bring no obvious recompense include the unpleasant rock-faced exterior of the S. porch, N. & S. walls of the chancel, and the independently-gabled N. aisle, and the single light, round-arched windows with voussoirs in two unnecessarily alternating stones around their heads. The fact that these turn pointed in the E. wall of the chancel may be an acknowledgement of the form of the windows they replaced, for certainly this wall pre-dates Jones's interventions since graffiti scratched in the masonry are dated 1703, 1708 and 1709.
However, Jones must not be made to carry all of the responsibility for the present appearance of the building since the vicar from 1834-86, the Rev. C.P. Peach (church guide), seems to have aided and abetted him with a will. It was he, not Jones, who designed and carved the pulpit and font (above left, and right, respectively) in a manner that continues very much where Jones left off. The pulpit is decorated on the drum with a succession of mock Norman doorways, with chevron moulding round the arches, marble shafts between, and wooden panels set within, pretending to be doors. It is undoubtedly made the worse by the yellow stonework with nauseous orange decoration. The font is decorated on the bowl with orange plaster roundels in the cardinal directions and little rectangular panels on the bevelled corners, and stands on six little marble shafts. It is all very much the kind of Victorian work that in the coming century would get it a bad name.