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English Church Architecture -

North Yorkshire.


BOROUGHBRIDGE, St. James (SE 397 665)   (November 2015)

(Bedrock: Triassic Sherwood Sandstone Group, undifferentiated sandstone)



This very substantial church (seen above, from the northwest) was erected in 1852 to one of Mallinson and Healey's most pared back designs and probably the most that can be said for it today is that the sponsors got a lot of accommodation for their money.  The building consists of a diagonally-buttressed W. tower rising in three stages to battlements and little square angle turrets set diagonally, an aisled nave with an adjoining S. porch, and a chancel with a N. organ chamber and vestry, inside which, as at nearby St. Mary's, Lower Dunsforth, the architects have re-set a Norman doorway decorated with beakhead, and several fragments of carving, preserved from the old church.  The style of the building that replaced it - insofar as it creates much of an impression - would have been considered too late by Ruskin and his disciples, being the mature Decorated of c. 1340 rather than the Early English/Decorated transitional style of forty years earlier.  The W. window of the tower (shown left), with curvilinear tracery, would have attracted the greatest criticism.  The chancel E. window has four lights and a variant of reticulated tracery, but the aisle windows are untraceried and formed merely of two or three trefoil-cusped lights (the central one in the latter case, ogee-pointed and taller), set beneath encompassing segmental-pointed arches.  The clerestory windows have trefoil-cusped Y-tracery and are set in the spandrels of the nave arcades within.  None of this amounts to much, unfortunately, and the tower, which faces the road, is not particularly distinguished, reputedly being a copy of tower that was here before.  This was probably a mistake, for Thomas Healey (1809-62), who was responsible for almost all the firm's ecclesiastical work, was adept at designing impressive towers on the cheap, as seen, for example, at Manningham in Bradford.


The church interior is stark for the five-bay aisle arcades are formed of the most uniform of double-flat-chamfered arches supported on quatrefoil piers entirely without embellishments save only for head labels stops at the ends.  Ascribed to Mawer and Ingle of Leeds, who were frequently patronised by Healey, they offered no scope for the firm to enhance their reputation, but if the poor little font is theirs also, as stated by the notes in the church, then surely one of their apprentices must have been delegated the work.  Presumably there was no money left to purchase anything better or to commission a stone pulpit like the fine one at Welburn, but it seems inconceivable that there wasn't originally a reredos!  (There isn't now!)  Thus the only internal feature of significance is the glass in the E. window by Wailes (illustrated below).  This is, therefore, about as plain as a church can be while still conforming to the traditional Gothic plan:  it is workmanlike and utilitarian, and that will have to suffice.


    "Now, it will  be noticed that... [in late thirteenth century window tracery] the attention is kept fixed on the forms of the penetrations, that is to say, of the lights seen from the interior, not of the intermediate stone...  That tracery marks a pause between the laying aside of one great ruling principle, and the taking up of another...  It was the great watershed of Gothic art.  Before it, all had been ascent;  after it, all was decline...  The change of which I speak, is expressible in few words...  It was the substitution of the line for the mass... [Ruskin’s italics].  The reader will observe that, up to the last expansion of the penetrations, the stone-work was considered as it actually is, stiff, and unyielding.  At the close of the period... it lost its essence as a structure of stone. Reduced to the slenderness of threads, [the mullions] began to be considered as possessing their flexibility...  This was a change which sacrificed a great principle of truth; it sacrificed the expression of the qualities of the material; and, however delightful its results in their first developments, it was ultimately ruinous.'


                                                                                                            John Ruskin, The Lamp of Truth from "The Seven Lamps of Architecture", pub. 1849