(« back to home page)

English Church Architecture.


APPLETON-LE-MOORS, Christ Church  (SE 735 881),


(Bedrock:  Upper Jurassic, Middle Calcareous Grit Member.)


A church by one of the foremost Victorian church architects,

John Loughborough Pearson (1817-97). 


Born in Brussels but raised from a young age in Durham, John Loughborough Pearson was the tenth and last child of Ann and William Pearson, a painter of landscapes who regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy and who probably ensured his young son was exposed to the visual arts as he grew up, even if, as it appears, the younger Pearson's formal education was very limited (Anthony Quiney, John Loughborough Pearson, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 1979, p. 5).  By the age of fourteen, it was certainly clear he could draw however, and his father obtained a pupillage for him with Ignatius Bonomi (1787-1870), a well-respected architect of Italian origins, practising in the city, who, over the next ten years, ensured Pearson acquired a thorough training in all aspects of the profession, until September 1841, when Bonomi announced he was going to form a partnership with a young man of his acquaintance, and Pearson promptly left, probably feeling he had been unfairly passed over.  A hiatus then ensued in Pearson's career, followed by a year or thereabouts, during which he worked,  in turn, for Anthony Salvin and Philip Hardwick in London.  But Pearson was able to build up his own individual clients and commissions during that time, and a point was soon reached where he had a viable church building practice of his own. (Quiney, pp. 7-18).

Pearson was a devout churchman throughout his entire life, but although he joined the trenchant Ecclesiological Society, there is little evidence that he shared that Society's dogmatic Anglo-Catholic views, being, in all likelihood, of a latitudinarian persuasion.  His architecture is less intense than that of his High Church confrères and with a few conspicuous exceptions, his buildings are not notable for the structural polychromy that was all the rage in the third quarter of the nineteenth century especially, but rather for an ingenious use of internal space, which was his supreme accomplishment.  Pearson could design a vault for almost any space, however awkward, and largely as a result, many of his churches are distinguished by their interesting internal perspectives.  His generally relaxed manner and churchmanship did not suit everybody, however, and sometimes he was replaced, after having been appointed to a job initially, by a more thrusting competitor - most notably Street.


Nevertheless, after this introduction, Christ Church, Appleton-le-Moors, is one of a handful of churches that do stand rather apart from Pearson's more typical oeuvre.  Constructed in 1863-5, this is 'High Victorian' work in ways in which few other of his buildings would qualify, albeit that the churches at Daylesford and Scorborough, described in these pages, and even the little church at Broomfleet, are, in one way or another, exceptions also.  The present building stands out for its sumptuous decoration, particularly in the light of its rural, isolated location.  There is evidence of restraint here, however, exemplified by the frieze of structural polychromy inside, immediately below the roof, where the restricted colours and simple geometrical shapes have been judged exactly right.  Red Mansfield apart, the rest of these building stones appear to have been dug from local quarries, and they demonstrate just how well these northern, Upper and Middle Jurassic limestones and grits can look.  The church cost £7,000 to build, which was a lot at the time, and more, for example, than Street's much larger church of St. James the Less in Pimlico, erected a couple of years before.


Christ Church comprises an aisled nave and chancel covered by a single continuous roof, a southeast tower, a tiny cross-gabled N. chapel, and an apse.  Entrance is gained through the W. doorway, built as often in Pearson’s churches, beneath a shallow narthex sandwiched between buttresses, inside which, two further doors facing north and south, give access to the nave.  The W. front is impressive:  the outer doorway is composed of an arch of three orders decorated with a roll and dog tooth moulding, supported on jambs with three attached orders of Rosedale Ironstone shafts in shaft-rings.  (See the example illustrated right.)  A decafoil rose window pierces the gable. 


The body of the church is lit from the north and south by groups of two and three lancets (as illustrated left)  but they are drawn together at the springing by a frieze of blank quatrefoils.  The tower rises in three stages to a tall pyramidal roof:  the second stage is lit by tiny transomed, square-headed openings with blank trefoils in their heads, and the bell-stage has two-light gabled openings with an order of side shafts in shaft-rings, recessed blank cinquefoils either side, and open quatrefoils in the gables.


The apse is lit by five lancets, recessed in wider, two-centred arches with an order of sandstone shafts in shaft-rings, set in bays divided by additional, wider shafts of Rosedale Ironstone.  However, the grandeur of the apse derives chiefly from its height – the sills of the windows are about 16' (5 m.) above the ground – and Pearson’s instinctive feeling for designing structures of this mass is shown in his handling of the stonework below, which is rusticated except for four flat bands, not too wide, and two string courses, running around the exterior at nicely judged heights.


The northeast chapel is scarcely noticeable outside the church:  it has a little septfoil rose window to the east and a two-light N. window composed of two simple lancets and a circle in plate tracery.   Inside, however, in typical Pearsonian fashion, it has been given a quadripartite vault, the very small size of which suggests its main function can only be to enliven the internal perspectives, its constructional and decorative details being arranged to be visible through its west and south arches (i.e. from the aisled nave and chancel respectively).


In fact, the interior of this building is impressive wherever one looks.  (See the photograph, which looks west.)  Pevsner described the piers to the three-bay arcades as 'stumpy' and 'terribly complicated' but they are held in balance by the unmoulded, pointed arches, which provide the needed calm above the busyness of the capitals.  These display a variety of intricate, stiff-leaf-like designs, while the piers are formed of central circular columns with four Rosedale ironstone shafts in shaft-rings gathered round.  The windows all deeply set behind arches with nailhead moulding and an order of side shafts, but they are high up, so the effect is moderated.  The arch from the N. chapel to the chancel (illustrated below left) is formed of two sub-arches beneath an open circle, set in a large blank arch similarly decorated.  The chancel and apse have courses of billet moulding and leaf carving running around them, approximately 7' and 12' feet (≈ 2 m. and 3½ m.), and a frieze in red sgraffito between, portrays scenes of Palm Sunday and Good Friday. (See the photographs at the foot of the page.)  Sgraffito also decorates the drum of the pulpit where depictions of  St. John, St. Peter and St. Paul are set between columns (as seen below right).  The font is formed of a quatrefoil bowl, standing on four clusters of four shafts with prominent stiff leaf capitals.
















In conclusion then, this is an extraordinary and very enjoyable little church.  It was commissioned by Mrs. Joseph Shepherd, and although it cost her dear, she was well rewarded for her money.









[Other churches by Pearson featured on this web-site are Dartington and Landscove in Devon, Broomfleet, North Ferriby, Scorborough and South Dalton in the East Riding of Yorkshire, Daylesford in Gloucestershire, and Wentworth in Rotherham Metropolitan Borough.]