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English Church Architecture.


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


(Bedrock:  Triassic Sherwood Sandstone Group, Red sandstone.)


A superb church by William Butterfield (1814-1900),

and part of a rich commission to build almost an entire new village. 


















William Butterfield was precisely the kind of architect the Cambridge Camden Society (later Ecclesiological) Society liked.  A dogmatic if also unconventional High Churchman, committed to building churches that facilitated the 'proper' execution of the Christian rubrics, it was he that they chose to build their model church in Margaret Street, Westminster, in 1849, which they intended to be an exemplar for church architects everywhere.  They approved of ornament and they approved of display, in both of which Butterfield excelled, and Butterfield's profound interest in structural polychromy seemed one representation of this.


Butterfield was an abstemious bachelor, however, determined to plough his own furrow.  Self-contained and indifferent to criticism or the approbation of his peers, he could not always be relied upon to deliver what was wanted.  And there were also very strict limits to Butterfield's tolerance of Ritualism:  he would not attend his church of All Saints', Margaret Street, after it was completed, for example (Paul Thompson, William Butterfield, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971, p. 33), probably because he objected to the incense, lights, and/or elevation of the Host.  He had, after all, been brought up as a Nonconformist, some aspects of which he would never throw off.  Yet his mature professional style owed a greater debt to the High  Church Pugin than it would ever do to the Evangelical Ruskin, and Butterfield's use of coloured materials predated its advocacy in Ruskin's The Seven Lamps of Architecture, albeit not by much.  He quickly became its supreme exponent too, for only Street proved a serious rival.  Mocked in later years for his 'streaky bacon' or 'holy zebra' style, it was his misfortune to have many of his buildings ruined by subsequent generations, sometimes by the insertion of heavy stained glass in the windows, which prevented his colourful interiors from being seen in good light, or, more usually in the twentieth century, by whitewashing over them by those who thought them garish, as at St. Mary's Hitchin (Hertfordshire).  Some survive in good heart however, and while Butterfield's churches illustrated on this web-site include a number of relatively minor buildings, they also feature  a few examples of his best.



This is a excellent church by William Butterfield, which was part of a commission from William Henry Dawney, the 7th Viscount Downe (1812-57) to build a new village in the Vale of York and create a new parish in the process.  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 also a school (still open in 2021 but the subject of a closure order), a vicarage, a lych-gate, and a number of brick cottages.  In his 'North Riding of Yorkshire' volume of The Buildings of England (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1966, pp. 70-71), 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 was under construction between 1855-7, contemporaneously with Butterfield’s model church of All Saints’, Margaret Street, Westminster, which took a decade to complete, and it shares the same feature of a soaring tower and spire which rises immediately on top of the tower walls below, the use of brick (albeit only internally at St. James’s), and the way in which the interior decoration builds to a climax from west to east, to reach a climax in the sanctuary.  Of course, in this rural location, the degree of ornamentation is not quite the same as that 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, contribute to a unified effect.


















St. James’s church 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 (as illustrated, top right), which joins the aisle to the south.  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;  and (iii) in the chancel E. wall, a three-light window with two encircled cinquefoils and an encircled quatrefoil in the head (as shown above 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 enclosing a cross, 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 with voussoirs alternately of grey and white stone, supported on 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 soft pink brick, which was more expensive than stone, with ashlar bands of white stone in the clerestory, the upper two of which have inlaid patterns in black mastic.  (See the N. arcade, above left, viewed from the southeast.)  The aisle walls are similar, and as the ashlar bands are necessarily lower, so they are also inevitably more prominent.  Their effect is heightened further in the chancel, however, for now there are six ashlar bands, bringing them closer together, with mastic patterns in all of them but one.  (The photograph above right, shows the S. wall of the sanctuary.)  The walls below the window sills are faced with mottled red Derbyshire alabaster.


A similar build-up of effect is evident 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.)


Furnishings and fittings, however, are of high quality throughout.  They certainly 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 the real tour de force must surely be the 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 the top and bottom, while 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, the octagonal pulpit is a nice piece, with panels displaying simple blank trefoils in circles, above blank arches with cinquefoil cusping.  But the quaint, gabled, painted clock is more striking, if one will forgive the pun.  Also designed by Butterfield, this has a domestic arts-and-crafts appearance and a bright, soft chime.


[Other churches by Butterfield featured on this web-site are Hitchin Holy Saviour in Hertfordshire, Etal in Northumberland, Dalton, Sessay and Wykeham in North Yorkshire, Babbacombe in Torbay, and All Saints Margaret Street in the City of Westminster. ]