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English Church Architecture -

North Yorkshire.


BALDERSBY ST. JAMES, St. James (SE 366 770)      (April 2013)

(Bedrock:  Triassic Sherwood Sandstone Group, Red Sandstone)


This is a superb example of the work of William Butterfield (1814-1900).  Indeed, almost the whole village was originally designed by him, under a rich commission from Viscount Downe, who created in the process an entirely new parish. Downe was an Oxford graduate, much influenced by the Oxford Movement, and in Butterfield he found a sympathetic architect approaching the height of his powers. For Downe, Butterfield designed not only what was in effect a town church on a greenfield site, but a school (opposite, and still in use as such), a vicarage, a lych-gate, and a number of brick cottages.  In his North Riding of Yorkshire volume of “The Buildings of England” (pub. Penguin, 1966), Pevsner drew attention to the way in which Butterfieldian houses such as these, influenced Philip Webb in his designs for William Morris’s Red House at Bexleyheath (completed in 1860).


St. James’s church (shown above, from the southeast) was under construction between 1855-7, contemporaneously with Butterfield’s model church of All Saints’, Margaret Street, London (1849-59), and it shares the same feature of a soaring tower and spire (its height emphasized by its slender section), the use of brick (albeit only internally at St. James’s), and the way in which the interior decoration builds to a climax as one travels from west to east.  Of course, in this rural location, the degree of ornamentation is not quite that to be found at Margaret Street, but the building provides a superb example of the High Victorian style nonetheless, and wonderfully illustrates Butterfield’s ability to make all aspects of his design, work to a single effect.



St. James’s consists of a southwest tower and spire, a five-bay aisled nave, and a chancel with a lean-to N. organ chamber.  Entry is gained through the tower, which joins the aisle to the south (as evident in the photograph of the W. front, above left) The external walls are constructed of rock-faced Bramley Fall stone from Leeds (a millstone grit from the Upper Carboniferous series), with contrasting dressed ashlar bands and red tiled roofs.   (See the close-up of the chancel S. wall masonry, above right.)  The impression the building creates is due chiefly to the height of the spire (160’ or 49 m.), the contrasting colours of the walls and roofs, and the restrained dignity of the fenestration.  Windows adopt a variety of similar geometric forms, including:  (i) in the aisles and clerestory, two-light windows with encircled quatrefoils or cinquefoils in the heads respectively;  (ii) in the nave W. wall, two two-light windows with trefoils over, and a wheel window containing five trilobes and a cusped cinquefoil in the gable (above left);  and (iii) in the chancel E. wall, a three-light window with two encircled cinquefoils and an encircled quatrefoil in the head (below left).  The tower has very large bell-openings, and angle buttresses that change to clasping buttresses immediately above the entrance.  The outer doorway has two orders of shafts beneath a tympanum featuring a carved quatrefoil holding a cross (shown below right), and the inner doorway has a complex profile formed of rolls, sunk quadrants and flat chamfers above a single order of shafts.  The passage between the two is covered by a quadripartite stone vault with red brick spandrels.



The interior of the building is splendid.  The arcades are composed of double-flat-chamfered arches formed of alternately grey and white stone, springing from quatrefoil piers with fillets, and with the westernmost arches separated from the others by short wall pieces that keep the nave in step with the position of the tower.  Above the arcades, the material is brick, with ashlar bands of white stone in the clerestory, the upper two of which have inlaid patterns in black mastic.  (See the N. arcade, below left, viewed from the southeast.)  The aisle walls are similar, although as the ashlar bands are now necessarily lower, they are correspondingly more prominent.  However, their effect is heightened still further in the chancel, for now there are six ashlar bands, bringing them closer together, with mastic patterns in five of them.  (The photograph below right, shows the S. wall of the sanctuary.)    Below the level of the windows, the walls are faced with mottled red Derbyshire alabaster.



The same build-up of effect from west to east is seen in the floor tiling patterns. The tiles themselves are encaustics, manufactured by Mintons of Stoke-on-Trent.  The patterns begin in a restrained manner in the nave, but are augmented in four stages - two as one passes along the chancel (up first one step and then another), a third as the floor ascends into the sanctuary, and a fourth as the floor rises for a final time, around the base of the altar.  (Patterns from the chancel floor are illustrated below.)



However, furnishings are of similar quality everywhere.  They include the low, stone screen between the nave and the chancel, with pierced quatrefoils above open cinquefoil-cusped arches, and wrought iron gates painted red and blue like the iron, chancel candlestick holders behind.  Yet perhaps the real tour de force is the exceptionally ornate font, surmounted by a slender ribbed cover, at the west end of the nave (illustrated left and right).  The octagonal bowl is unforgettable, inlaid with pale grey and red marbles and surrounded by slate grey horizontal mouldings at top and bottom, but the base is equally fine, formed of eight marble columns, alternately mottled red and striped blue, with neat white marble capitals.  Finally, turning to carpentry, there is the octagonal pulpit, with panels displaying simple blank trefoils in circles, above blank arches with cinquefoil cusping.  However, the quaint, gabled, painted clock is more striking.  Also by Butterfield, this has a domestic arts-and-crafts appearance and a bright, soft chime.