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English Church Architecture -

North Yorkshire.


DALTON, St. John the Evangelist (SE 436 763)     (April 2013)

(Bedrock:  Triassic Mercia Mudstone Group, Keuper Marl)


This church (shown above, from the southeast) is one of three within a four or five mile radius, by William Butterfield (1814-1900), one of the foremost architects of the Gothic Revival.  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 Dawney, the seventh Viscount Downe, for whom Butterfield had previously built the neighbouring churches of St. Cuthbert, Sessay, and St. James, Baldersby St. James. The latter is one of Butterfield’s finest works, but in this humble building at Dalton, Butterfield chose to spend what little spare cash was available, on the inside, with the result that to an unsuspecting visitor, the church barely attracts a second glance. He or she must go in search of the key, however, for the interior, though modest, is attractive and characteristic of its author.


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 thin western tower with a spirelet. There is also a prominent and typical Butterfieldian chimney adjoining the nave N. wall (far left), for Butterfield disliked pretence and yet was always practical in his attitude to the propriety and convenience of his churches.  He was also unusually concerned for his day about using 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 (near left) 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 two close together in the chancel N. wall, the reason for which is apparent inside. To this, admittedly, the tower adds very little, except as a place in which to hang a bell.


The building 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 gives way to warm patterns in English-bonded red, yellow and vitrified blue brick, the courses separated at intervals by stencilled stone bands (illustrated right, on the W. wall of the nave), while the floors are paved with encaustic tiles, confined to the centre aisle in the nave but spreading wider and becoming richer 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-bracing supporting collars.  The rood-screen is composed of three divisions and stands on a low brick wall, while the reredos is formed of stone tracery filled with trellis decoration in red paint and gilt, with further patterning in tiles.


Unusually, 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 clearly 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”.  The majority of the windows, however, are surrounded by a wide border of clear quarries that admit the sun and ensure the effect of Butterfield’s work is not compromised, as it has sadly sometimes been elsewhere – for example, at the Church of the Holy Saviour, Hitchin (Hertfordshire).  There the nave aisles and their glass (by Hardman) were added some eighteen years after Butterfield’s original building was erected, however, and in some other places, the  problem has  been due to unfortunate gifts or bequests. By contrast, here at Dalton the glass is part of the original composition, and it is certainly an important feature of the church.