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English Church Architecture.


HELPERTHORPE, St. Peter  (SE 953 704),


(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, .Welton Chalk Formation)


One of six churches designed by George Edmund Street (1824-81)

for the eccentric Sit Tatton Sykes II (1826-1913).




Famous, above all today, for the Law Courts in The Strand, George Edmund Street was rivalled in his lifetime only by William Butterfield as the architect of choice by the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England, and, indeed, in his personal attachment to High Church ritual, he surpassed his rival and was for many years churchwarden at Butterfield's 'model' church of All Saints', Margaret Street (Westminster), after Butterfield had left, opposed to the use of incense and lights, and to the Elevation of the Host.  Yet for all his ardent religionism, it would be entirely misleading to present Street as a humourless killjoy, for entirely to the contrary, his two major publications, Brick & Marble in the Middle Ages: Notes on a Tour of the North of Italy (London, John Murray, 1855) and Some Account of Gothic Architecture in Spain (in two volumes) (London, John Murray, 1865) are peppered with anecdotes about bad hotels and the sheer awfulness of other English tourists encountered on the way, much to the aggravation of The Ecclesiologist in its long review of the former in October 1855 (vol. XVI, issue CX, p. 299):  'We cannot but think that the ordinary reader of books of travel will be as much disturbed by Mr. Street's purely professional descriptions and speculations as the architectural student will be annoyed by the details of uncomfortable beds and ill-cooked dinners'.


Street's earnestness was sufficient for most men, however, and his patrons, almost to a man and woman, were wealthy and generous ones.  Street was also an inveterate traveller, and a close reading of Arthur Edmund Street's biography of his father (Memoir of George Edmund Street, 1824-1881, London, John Murray, 1888) reveals that between 1850 and 1874, he made no less than twenty-two separate visits to the Continent, including two such trips in 1872 and 1874 and only missing out on his working vocations in 1855. 1864, 1865 and 1870, during the last of which, however, he made a tour round Scotland.  It is hardly surprising, in consequence, that Street's architecture is the most eclectic among all his more important confrères, and this is particularly striking in some of his village churches, which in the most extreme cases, stand out from their settings as if they had landed from the moon.




The plan adopted here at Helperthorpe by George Edmund Street (1824-81) is altogether more conventional than in the majority of his churches in the North and East Riding, for the tower is at the west end of the building, which is otherwise formed of a chancel with a N. vestry and a nave with a N. aisle and S. porch.  Characteristic quirks do nevertheless announce themselves, however, as the way the principal accent of the design is laid on the chancel, which dominates the nave not merely as a result of its slightly greater height but from the manner in which the string course beneath the windows steps up in stages towards the east, until the sill of the chancel E. window is set in excess of  12' (3.6 m.) from the ground,  an effect given still greater emphasis by the porch being so low.  When the church is viewed from the southeast (as in the photograph above), this also enhances the perspective and thus the church’s apparent length.  This was probably a calculated part of Street's plan:  thirteen years earlier, in 1858-60, he had intentionally designed the southeast tower at nearby Whitwell-on-the-Hill with progressively receding upper stages to give, in that case, an increased impression of height.


The unbuttressed W. tower here at St. Peter's rises in three stages to a splay-footed spire with little gabled openings encircling the upper section about a third of the way up.  The bell-openings have cinquefoil-cusped Y-tracery with additional 'Somerset tracery' beneath, as seen, for example, at Shepton Beauchamp in that county.  The stair turret, lit by trefoil-cusped lancets, rises at the east end of the S. wall, to terminate just below the bell-stage, above a large canopied niche containing a statue of St. Peter holding the keys to heaven (illustrated left).  The  porch is windowless and entered via an outer doorway bearing narrow rolls and hollows, but its significant feature is the stone tunnel vault within (seen right), supported on three transverse arches. The nave and chancel windows are mostly two-light and trefoil-cusped with various shapes in the apex, some regular and some not.  The chancel E. window consists of five cinquefoil-cusped lancets within an encompassing arch.  The construction material is 'Whitby stone', as at Fimber.   throughout, according to Nikolaus Pevsner and/or David Neave (as mentioned in the 'York and the East Riding' volume of The Buildings of England, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 2005, p. 457, in one of those very many irritating instances where the series's unwillingness to tear itself away from the pre-1974 county boundaries, even half a century later, make it nigh on impossible to know which volume to consult). 


The independently-gabled N. aisle was added by Temple Moore (1856 - 1920) in 1893 (notes in the church).  It is distinguished from the rest of the church by the parapet running round it, but the N. windows conform so well to Street’s (admittedly loose) scheme, as to suggest they are Street’s work re-set.  Not so the W. window (shown left), with its three trefoiled lights, additional trilobes (pointed trefoils) beneath the subarcuation of the outer lights, and a circle in the apex, filled with four more pointed trilobbes.


Inside the building, Temple Moore’s N. arcade proves to be composed of four low arches with piers formed of four major and four minor shafts with fillets, conjoined capitals, and arches bearing two hollows around the outer order and a sunk quadrant around the inner.  (See the photograph, right, taken from the southwest.)  This is well-executed work, yet its necessarily diminutive size diminishes Street’s building while simultaneously opening up the N. side of the nave and destroying the internal symmetry.  The best feature of the aisle is the elaborate carved reredos in red sandstone against the E. wall (illustrated below left), with carved statues of the Virgin and Child flanked by angels, set in three ogee-pointed crocketed arches separated by buttresses with intricately crocketed pinnacles.  The wall beneath is patterned in floral motifs. 


The tower is approached up three steps through an arch carrying two flat chamfers that die into the jambs.  There are five steps up to the chancel and three more to the altar.  As is usual in Street's churches, the tiled floors here are increasingly elaborate as one passes towards the east.  There is a double-bay sedilia recessed in the chancel S. wall, a piscina further east, and blank panelling around the reredos.  Other furnishings of note include the low wrought iron chancel screen, the fine altar table (shown below right) and the stained glass by Burlison & Grylls (notes in the church).











However, it seems to be the roofs upon which Street has lavished his particular attention in this building.  The nave roof (seen below, from the west) is arched to the collars (and categorically not of 'wagon type' as stated in The Buildings of England), with collar posts rising to the ridge, purlins at the level of the collars, and wind braces, both the 'right' and 'wrong' way up, between the purlins and principal rafters.  The elaborate paint scheme in green, russet-brown and blue, picks out the principal timbers in little chevron and crescent running patterns, and the common rafters in large chevrons, while the panels between are patterned with stars and stylized flowers.



The chancel roof, internally of 'mansard' form, is arguably better still.  The low pitched upper section is covered with repeating patterns which include the Sacred Monogram and the lower, more steeply pitched section is beautifully decorated with two tiers of stylized plants.


[Other churches by Street featured on this web-site are Fimber in the East Riding of Yorkshire, Toddington in Gloucestershire, East Heslerton, Howsham, Robin Hood's Bay, Thixendale, Wansford, West Lutton and Whitwell-on-the-Hill in North Yorkshire, Denstone in Staffordshire,  Torquay in Torbay, Brightwalton and Eastbury in West Berkshire, and St. Mary Magdalene's Rowington Close and St. James's Thorndike Street in the City of Westminster.]