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English Church Architecture -

North Yorkshire.


LOWER DUNSFORTH, St. Mary (SE 444 648)   (November 2015)

(Bedrock:  Triassic Sherwood Sandstone Group, undifferentiated sandstone)



Completed in 1860 to the designs of Mallinson and Healey of Halifax and Bradford, this is a small church in a smaller village, and a very different case from the partnership's more usual commissions for large, cheap churches in West Yorkshire's manufacturing towns.  (Cf., for example, St. Paul's, Manningham, Bradford.)  Here there was no need to raise a pennant for the Established Church in the middle of an ocean of Dissent, though the building does boast a tower and spire, if only of modest proportions.


In fact, it appears that almost all of the firm's ecclesiastical work fell to the senior partner, Thomas Healey (1809-62), who had spent his late teens learning his trade in the office of Robert Dennis Chantrell of Leeds, before moving to Worcester in 1829 to spend the next sixteen years working with his exact contemporary, Harvey Eginton (1809-49), who would be responsible for the erection of a number of Gothic Revival churches during the 1830s and '40s, characterized by a greater archaeological verity than was usual at the time.  Healey's influence on these projects is not possible to determine, but certainly, when he eventually left to set up his partnership with James Mallinson (1818-84) he was a fully-fledged Revivalist architect, perfectly capable of designing large churches on his own.  The present building, which also serves the hamlet of Upper Dunsforth and was built on the site of what had become a ramshackle chapel-of-ease of Norman origin, was at a greater than average distance from Healey's office in Bradford's Tyrell Street, but the task probably fell to him because eight years before he had redesigned the neighbouring and rather larger, St. James's, Boroughbridge, which, just like St. Mary's, was also served by a curate attached to the mother church of St. Andrew's, Aldborough.  Dunsforth's curate was the Rev. C.R. Scholfield, who was appointed in 1858 and seems to have spent most of his five year tenure, seeking to raise the necessary funds.  With the supposed precision characteristic of the age, the final cost of the works was 2,267.12s.10d, which may additionally have included the cost of building the school and schoolhouse (now an attractive private house) nearby.  (See the excellent church guide by J. Sanderson and V. Story, pub. 2011.)


The church  (which is shown at the top of the page, from the  southwest) comprises a nave and comparatively short chancel, just one and a half bays in length, together with the southwest tower with surmounting broach spire already referred to, and a cross-gabled N. vestry adjoining the chancel to the west of the sanctuary.  The lower stage of the tower also functions as a porch and has a double-hollow-chamfered outer doorway, diagonal buttresses rising about halfway up, and bell-openings with cusped Y-tracery.  Both these, and the windows in all parts of the building, although they vary widely, are broadly commensurate with the Early English/Decorated transitional style of c. 1300, but an ogee has crept in above the central light of the E. window to the chancel (as seen in the photograph, left).  Viewed at close range, the notch in the trefoil cusping of some of the lights is not particularly attractive and the "hammered sandstone from the Lingerfield quarry near Knaresborough" (church guide) of which the church is built, looks altogether too gingery when the sun is at a low angle, but there is not a lot to say about the design otherwise, for good or for ill.


The interior is more enjoyable.  The stone now appears grey (is it the same one?) and the broad arch from the chancel to what must formerly have been the organ chamber (although only a poor little upright piano stands in it now) creates a modestly attractive perspective from the nave.  The vestry opening behind it, preserves a re-set Norman doorway (admittedly rather worn), saved from the former chapel.  The chancel arch is simply double-flat-chamfered above semi-octagonal responds, but most of the furnishings have attracted some decoration:   the font of Caen stone (illustrated right) has a large bowl with curved undersides and the Symbols of the Evangelists carved in roundels on the cardinal faces, supported on four black marble shafts;  the pulpit, which unfortunately has been lowered (church guide) has large carved figures of saints on the sides of the drum;  and the reredos consists of seven blank arches with the outer pair on each side supported on black marble columns.  The original stained glass by Wailes in the chancel windows illustrates, to the east, the traditional scene of Christ on the Cross with SS. Mary and John on either side, and in the two-light window to the south, the text "Suffer little children, and forbid them not to come unto me" (Matthew, 19,v.14).  (See below.)