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English Church Architecture -

North Yorkshire.


HOWSHAM, St. John (SE 738 629)     (August  2012)

(Bedrock:  Triassic Penarth Group, Mudstone)

















Together with St. John’s, Whitwell-on-the-Hill on the opposite bank of the River Derwent, this was one of the first two churches built by George Edmund Street (1824-81) in the North or East Riding, in 1858-60.  It consists of a chancel with an apse and what was probably intended as a N. organ chamber, and a nave with a northwest steeple and W. narthex - the latter, a feature Street would use again at East Heslerton almost twenty years later, although at Howsham the narthex is truncated by the tower.  The building material inside and out is a beige sandstone with gently contrasting ochre bands, but small quantities of polished granite and marble are employed in the furnishings. The roofs are of red tile.  The church paid for by Hannah Cholmley of Howsham Hall, in memory of her husband, Colonel George Cholmley.  (See the photograph of the church from the west, above left, and from the east, above right.)


The exterior displays two of Street’s fingerprints:  (i) a continuous string course beneath the windows steps up in stages towards the east, eventually to reach about 10’ from the ground;  and (ii) the windows themselves consist largely of lancets, either in loose groups of two or three as around the nave and chancel (where encircled quatrefoils above are randomly set diagonally or vertically) or more formally in pairs within encompassing arches as around the apse. The steeple has a tall, square lower stage, perhaps 24’ (7.3 m.) high, followed by a short transitional stage converting to an octagonal section, a shorter octagonal bell-stage with openings separated by shafts alternately of orange and white sandstone, and a little spire with a gabled lucarne in every direction.  The lean-to W. narthex abutting the steeple, is supported on three broad columns with very large Italian Gothic capitals, carved with figures and animals in the cardinal directions and leaf volutes in the ordinal directions.  The W. door in the wall behind is formed of a lancet-pointed arch carrying a roll and a flat chamfer, the latter supported on columns with leaf capitals. A smaller door to the north leads directly into the steeple.


Inside the building, the masonry is enlivened with an ochre band running beneath the windows, a second about 15” (38 cms.) higher up, and a third at the springing level.  The most immediately striking individual feature is the large, ostentatiously cinquefoil-cusped chancel arch.  The chancel is approached up a single step but there are four more up to the altar.  The organ chamber (if that is what it once was - at the time of this visit, it was little more than an untidy glory-hole) opens through a wide double-flat-chamfered arch, and a two-bay sedilia recessed in the S. wall opposite, consists of trefoil-cusped arches supported by an intervening black stone column with a stiff-leaf capital. The chancel and sanctuary floors show the usual increasing elaboration of the tiling patterns from west to east, the nave and chancel have wagon roofs, and the apse has a splayed roof nicely painted in red, blue and green (illustrated above). 


















Other furnishings include the font (shown above left) in the southwest corner of the nave, with flush marble patterns inlaid in the circular bowl and four coloured marble columns with leaf capitals surrounding the central stone support beneath: it is attractive and well executed though lacking the exquisite bejewelled appearance of its companion piece at Whitwell-on-the-Hill.  However, the same “marquetry” technique works to greater effect in the pulpit (above right), where the designs are closely spaced around the curved drum, and the beautiful reredos (below) is better still and the church’s finest individual item, formed of three carved stone circles with inlaid coloured marbles in the outer two.  Stained glass in the church is by Clayton & Bell and includes, around the apse, scenes from the life of Christ - in clockwise order, the Last Supper, the Transfiguration, the Crucifixion, the Deposition, Christ in Majesty, and what is possibly Christ with his disciples.