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English Church Architecture -

North Yorkshire.


MASHAM, St. Mary (SE 226 247)     (May 2010)

(Bedrock:  Carboniferous Namurian Series, Millstone Grit Group)


This is a large church but, except in the tower, one where the exterior is now mostly Victorian.  The tower is important, however, for the three broad lower stages are twelfth century Norman work, with a W. doorway of three orders (see the photograph, left), of which the outer two bear rolls and rise from shafts with scalloped capitals (or more strictly, in the middle order, a crude form of carved lozenges).  The two-light former bell-openings are formed of round arches encompassing pairs of sub-arches divided by shafts with scalloped capitals.  The N. and S. tower walls are pierced below by very narrow round-headed windows in the first stage and wider ones in the second.  The third stage ends at a corbel-table, above which the late fourteenth or fifteenth century has added a new octagonal bell-stage, reminiscent of Cambridgeshire, together with a tall spire on top (partially rebuilt following a lightning strike in 1855 – church guide).  The angles between the square and octagonal stages are filled with crocketed pinnacles with buttresses behind, supporting the diagonal sides of the octagon, which has bell-openings in the cardinal faces only.  The octagon is topped by battlements and further pinnacles at every angle.


The rest of the church consists on an aisled nave with a S. porch and a small N. transept at the east end of the aisle, and a chancel with an independently-gabled N. chapel and vestry further east.  The windows are Victorian everywhere except in the Perpendicular clerestory, formed of five pairs of three-light untraceried windows, and the square-headed three-light window in the west wall of the N. aisle.  This aisle also retains its simple original doorway.  The S. porch has battlements at the sides and a plain parapet above the S. front, with a little gablet in the centre, containing a tiny trefoil-cusped niche.  It has a tunnel vault inside.


Within the main body of the church, the tower arch (right) is the most interesting feature, formed of two unmoulded orders with only the intervention of abaci with chamfered under-edges.  The nave arcades, of equal length, are constructed in six narrow bays to the north and five to the south. (See the photograph below, looking towards the chancel.)  Both consist of double-flat-chamfered arches supported on octagonal piers and corbels at either end, but the capitals are deeper on the S. side, giving the impression that this is later.  Later, but when?  Pevsner considered “both [arcades] probably Perp., but much redone” (The Buildings of England: the North Riding of Yorkshire, Penguin, 1966) and they certainly have been restored, yet the N. arcade appears essentially thirteenth century in style and shape and the S. arcade, either later thirteenth century or early fourteenth.  The clerestory windows are positioned on both sides in line with the arches forming the S. arcade. The only original corbel at the ends of the arcades is the W. corbel to the north.   The two-bay arcade from the chancel to the chapel is old and similar to the nave arcades, but lower.  It seems to be the only feature in the chancel that pre-dates the nineteenth century.  The arch from the N. aisle to the N. chapel is modern.


So also is the font, while the church woodwork (including the roofs) is entirely Victorian.  However, the church is rich in monuments, the best two of which can be found at the east ends of the aisles. The monument in the N. aisle (illustrated below left) is the earlier and commemorates Sir Marmaduke Wyvill (d. 1618, although the monument was begun before his death, in 1613) and Lady Magdalen, his wife, and features effigies of the couple, lying on their sides, with their eight surviving children depicted on the tomb-chest beneath.  The S. aisle monument (below right) is dedicated to Sir Abstrupus Danby (sic) (d. 1737) and features Ionic columns either side, supporting a broken pediment above a well carved bust.  Neither monument is signed.  Other memorial tablets in the S. aisle include one commemorating William Danby (d. 1833) with nicely carved female figures either side, and three mentioned by Rupert Gunnis (Dictionary of British Sculptors: 1660 - 1851, The Abbey Library, 1951), one by John Fisher the Elder  (1736 - 1804), dedicated to an earlier William Danby (d. 1773), and two by Michael Taylor of York (1760 - 1846), to John Babley (d. 1820) and Countess Harcourt (d. 1833).


Finally, immediately south of the porch, in the churchyard, there stands the base of a much weathered, ninth century Anglo-Saxon cross, which Pevsner described at length.  Unfortunately however, such is its state of preservation that it will probably not excite many visitors.