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English Church Architecture -

North Yorkshire.


HELMSLEY, All Saints (SE 613 839)     (May 2003)

(Bedrock:  Upper Jurassic, Upper Calcareous Grit Member)


This is a big nineteenth century church in a style that cannot quite decide between Norman and Early English. There are some re-used arch heads here, in both styles, so that has probably been allowed to generate the confusion, but added to this, the building was constructed by a  firm – that of Banks and Barry -  in 1886-9,  and while it is not without a certain grandeur, it nevertheless lacks the real individuality that can probably only be expected from a single artist working alone.


The re-used arches in the building include first, the round-headed Norman S. doorway, where an arch of four orders, all decorated with chevron, springs from the original scalloped capitals, and where the inner order of shafts has also been preserved.  Also round is the chancel arch inside the church, which is old from the capitals up.  These have leaf volutes, while the arch above is decorated with chevron and double cone mouldings around its two orders. Thirdly, the N. arcade arches are original (but not the piers), though these are pointed now and devoid of mouldings.  All this re-used work can probably be ascribed to Norman-Transitional times, between, say, c. 1190 and c. 1210.  The masonry of the lowest stage of the tower and the N. aisle may only be a little later than this, but the details there are now Victorian.  Perhaps in carrying out their work, Banks and Barry were unsure whether to regard their commission as a reconstruction or a new build, and in fact, they fell between two stools.


That said, the W. tower (shown above, from the southeast) is well-proportioned and tall enough to appear above the roof tops almost anywhere in this small market town. Built in three stages with wide, shallow  buttresses, it rises to a parapet and large pinnacles at the corners, without crockets, which gives the structure a clean-cut but not a mediaeval appearance and should, perhaps, indicate that the architects knew what effect they wanted.  However, although the windows in the tower are all lancets, with two orders of colonnettes beside the tall bell-openings and one order of wider shafts in shaft rings elsewhere, the windows in the rest of the building alternate between Gothic and Romanesque, being round-headed in the porch, nave and chancel S. walls, and N. transept (see the chancel S. window, illustrated right), and pointed in the S. transept and chancel E. wall.  Moreover, the side shafts of the tower windows are repeated in the E. window and in the round-arched windows of the porch, nave S. wall and N. transept, but not in the pointed arches of the S. transept, where the lancet lights are entirely unadorned.  After this, perhaps it is no surprise that the N. aisle windows, although of the same date, are of a different style again - Decorated this time, with either two or three lights and reticulated tracery. Fortunately, the clear unfussy lines of the building, and the cool limestone ashlar used throughout, do a great deal to restore a sense of unity, and the building is not unpleasing even though it remains firmly in the second rank.


Internally, the renewed piers of the N. arcade (the church does not have a S. aisle) are quatrefoil in section, but the responds at the ends are semicircular.  The  transept  arches bear keel mouldings around their two orders, of which the inner springs from corbels, and the responds are elaborated with shafts at the angles.


The chancel and transept windows have an order of shafts beside the splays, but the lighting is too poor to see these clearly, especially in the chancel. Fortunately, heavy stained glass is absent in the N. aisle, allowing full view of the delicate painting of the aisle roof by Temple Moore (1856-1920), in red, green and black on a white background (shown left).    Moore’s churches vary widely in quality but he was capable of producing some very fine work, as may be seen, for example, at All Saints’ church, Peterborough.  His modest contribution here would have looked even better before the gaudy murals were added to the walls, both in this aisle and the S. transept, to the designs of the Rev. C.N. Gray in 1909.