English Church Architecture -
APPLETON-LE-MOORS, Christ Church (SE 735 881) (April 2013)
(Bedrock: Upper Jurassic, Middle Calcareous Grit Member)
This is a magnificent building (shown left, from the east), constructed in 1863-5 to the designs of John Loughborough Pearson (1817-97), one of the foremost church architects of his day. Pevsner was very sniffy about this church, describing it as “High Victorian”, which it is, but going on to make it clear from the context that the term was intended pejoratively. In fact, this is a sumptuously decorated building, particularly so for such a rural location, yet everything is kept in check by Pearson’s good taste, exemplified by the frieze of structural polychromy inside, below the roof, where the restrained colours and simple geometrical shapes have been judged exactly right. Red Mansfield apart, the rest of these 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 rather more than Street's much larger church of St. James the Less, Pimlico, erected a couple of years earlier.
The building 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, with two further doors immediately inside (facing north and south), giving access to the nave. The W. front is impressive: the outer doorway is composed of an arch of three orders decorated with dog tooth and a roll moulding, supported on jambs with three attached orders of shafts in shaft-rings. (See the example illustrated on the near right, below). A decafoil rose window pierces the gable.
The aisle windows at the sides are reduced to simple lancets - a group of three and a group of two to the south (below, far right) and a group of two and a single window to the north - 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 above 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 sixteen feet (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, it has been given a quadripartite vault, the very small size of which suggests its main function is to enliven the internal perspectives, its constructional and decorative details being arranged to be visible through its west and south arches (from the aisled nave and chancel respectively).
In fact, the interior of this building is impressive wherever one looks. (See the photograph above, showing the view towards the west.) Pevsner described the piers to the three-bay arcades as “stumpy” and “terribly complicated” but, again, 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. All the windows are deeply set behind arches with nailhead moulding and an order of side shafts, but they are also high up, so the effect is not excessive. The arch from the N. chapel to the chancel (below, far left) is formed of two sub-arches beneath an open circle, set in a large blank arch and decorated similarly. The chancel and apse have a course of billet moulding and leaf carving running round, at heights of approximately seven and twelve feet (approx. 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.) Another sgraffito frieze - divided this time by little stone columns - runs round the drum of the pulpit (as seen in the photograph on the immediate left), and depicts St. John, St. Peter & St. Paul. 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 extrordinary little church, Pevsner notwithstanding. It was commissioned by Mrs. Joseph Shepherd, and although it cost her dear, she was well rewarded for her money.