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English Church Architecture -

North Yorkshire.


HELPERTHORPE, St. Peter (SE 953 704)     (August  2012)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Welton Chalk Formation)

The plan adopted here 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  twelve feet (3.6 m.) from the ground.  The effect is made the greater 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 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 particular case, an increased impression of height.


Here at Helperthorpe, the unbuttressed W. tower 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.  The stair turret, lit by trefoil-cusped lancets, rises up 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 (shown right), supported on three intermediate 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” throughout, according to Nikolaus Pevsner and/or David Neave (The Buildings of England: York and the East Riding, second edition, Penguin, 1995), by which is probably meant one of the fine-grained limey sandstones from the Saltwick Formation at the base of the Middle Jurassic, Lower Estuarine Series, quarried around Aislaby, three miles to the southwest (of Whitby).  The roofs are of red tile.


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 (left), with its three trefoiled lights, additional pointed trefoils beneath the subarcuation of the outer lights, and a circle in the apex, filled with four more pointed trefoils.


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 (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 one might expect, the tiled floors here are increasingly elaborate.  There is a double-bay sedilia recessed in the chancel S. wall, a piscina further to the east, and blank panelling around the reredos.  Other furnishings of note include the low wrought iron chancel screen, the fine altar table (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, 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 perhaps still better painted.  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 stylized pot plants.