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English Church Architecture.

 

DALTON, St. John the Evangelist  (SE 436 763),

NORTH YORKSHIRE. 

(Bedrock:  Triassic Mercia Mudstone Group, Keuper Marl.)

 

A small church by William Butterfield (1814-1900), commissioned by the widow of one of Butterfield's principal and late patrons, in memory of her husband. 

 

 

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 church is one of three churches by Butterfield within a four or five mile radius.  It was built in 1868 for the fixed sum of £2,500 at the expense of Lady Viscountess Downe, in memory of her first husband, William Henry Dawney, the 7th Viscount Downe, for whom Butterfield had previously built one of his earliest churches at Sessay and one of his richest at Baldersby St. James.   Here at Dalton, where there was little to spend, Butterfield largely confined his attentions to the interior of the church, so although the rather cheerless exterior with its Lilliputian spire might barely attract a second glance, the visitor should go in search of the key, as the interior, though modest, is both attractive and characteristic.

 

In plan, the building consists of a nave with a S. porch, a slightly lower chancel with a N. vestry, the shallowest possible S. transept, and a starved western tower with a spirelet. There is also a prominent and typically practical Butterfieldian chimney adjoining the nave N. wall (seen left), for Butterfield disliked pretence and rarely hid a building's 'necessary' features.  He was also unusually committed for his day to the use of local stone:  materials were of great importance to him, both for their colour and their genius loci, and the rock-faced walls at Dalton are built of a millstone grit which is certainly dour yet not out of keeping, while the roofs are covered in grey Westmorland slates.  Windows are chiefly cinquefoil-cusped lancets and include a pair, close together, in the chancel N. wall, the explanation for which becomes apparent internally.

 

Were this all therefore, the building would scarcely justify a place among these pages, but the interior creates a very different impression for here, albeit on a small scale and at low cost, Butterfield has provided a complete example of his structural polychromy. The hard exterior now gives way to warm patterns in English-bonded red, yellow and vitrified blue brick, the courses separated at intervals by stencilled stone bands (as illustrated right, in a close-up of the nave W. wall), while the floors are paved with encaustic tiles, confined to the central aisle in the nave but spreading wider and becoming richer in Butterfield's usual manner as one passes up first one step into the chancel and then three more into the sanctuary.  The nave and chancel roofs are of pseudo-wagon construction, the former with scissor-bracing and the latter with arched-braces supporting collars.  The rood-screen is composed of three divisions and stands on a low brick wall, while the reredos features stone tracery filled with trellis decoration in red paint and gilt, with further patterning in tiles.

 

Unusually in Butterfield's churches, this coloured work is enhanced rather than spoilt by the stained glass, which is of the finest quality – the work of Morris & Company.  Indeed, the glass in the four N. windows and one of the S. windows to the nave, and in the E. window and two N. windows to the chancel, are by William Morris himself,  while  the  others  are  by  Edward Burne-Jones and Ford Madox Brown. The two N. windows to the chancel now prove to have been set close together to house a portrayal of the Annunciation (shown below left), with Gabriel in the left hand light and St. Mary in the right, for whom Morris’s sulky wife, Jane Burden, was, as so often, the model.  The nave N. windows portray Noah (below centre), Moses, King David and Isaiah, and those to the south, St. Mary Magdalene (by Morris), St. Peter (below right), St. Paul, St. Stephen and St. John the Baptist (all by Madox Brown).  The W. window portrays the church’s patron saint, St. John the Evangelist:  this is by Edward Burne-Jones.  His also are the two angel lights in the chancel E. wall, with their vivid blues, one either side of Morris’s 'Our Lord in Glory'.  However, although not in this one, the majority of the windows are surrounded by clear quarries that admit the sun and ensure the effect of Butterfield’s work is not compromised, as it has sadly often been elsewhere, as,  for example, at the Church of the Holy Saviour, Hitchin (Hertfordshire), where the glass by Hardman was inserted some eighteen years after Butterfield’s original building was erected, very much to his detriment.  Here, by contrast, the glass is part of the original composition, and it is an important and integral feature of the church.

[Other churches by Butterfield featured on this web-site are Christleton in Cheshire West & Chester, Baldersby St. James, Sessay and Wykeham in North Yorkshire, Babbacombe in Torbay, and All Saints Margaret Street  in the City of Westminster.]