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English Church Architecture.

 

PICKERING, St. Peter & St. Paul  (SE 799 840),

NORTH YORKSHIRE. 

(Bedrock:  Upper Jurassic, Upper calcareous Grit Member.)

 

A former cruciform church of Norman origin, now most notable for its wall-paintings.

 

This is a church with a complicated history, which is best set out in summary before the building is examined:

There was formerly an aisled, cruciform Norman church here, with an apse, which itself had been built on the site of an even earlier Saxon church. The Norman central tower collapsed early in the thirteenth century, bringing down the S. transept with it, and this was then rebuilt and a new tower begun at the W. end, although this was not finally finished for almost two hundred years.  Around the end of the thirteenth century, a new chancel was constructed, replacing the former apse with a square E. end, and since this was built a few feet wider than the crossing (possibly for reasons of increased accommodation), it is this that gives the building its curious splayed appearance today.

 

The S. porch was added some time in the fourteenth century, perhaps contemporaneously with the raising of the spire, but just a few years before this, part of the new W. tower had collapsed too, necessitating its rebuilding and the replacement of the westernmost pier and the W. respond of the S. arcade.  The chancel S. chapel was constructed in 1407, and in 1450 the nave was heightened by the addition of the clerestory and the construction of a new roof.  The wall paintings that are still visible today, probably originate from this time.  Finally, a rather over-zealous restoration of the whole building was carried out from 1876-9, when both transepts were virtually rebuilt.  The box pews were replaced and much scraping of masonry appears to have been undertaken, not all of which was probably necessary.

 

The surviving architectural evidence can now be considered in approximately the same order as the building history above: 

Of the Norman church, only the nave arcades remain. These are five bays long, with short wall pieces between the fourth and fifth bays from the west, demarcating the position of the former W. crossing arch.  The four western bays of the N. arcade consist of massive round arches of one unmoulded order, springing from circular piers with scalloped capitals (one of which is shown below left), the work, perhaps, of the mid-twelfth century. The four bays of the S. arcade opposite, are later, for although the arches are still round, they are formed of two flat-chamfered orders, springing -  except at the western end - from compound piers composed of four semicircular shafts attached to piers of square cross-section, with water leaf capitals that date them c. 1190 at the earliest. (See the example illustrated below right.)  The fourteenth century western pier and the western respond of this arcade, are octagonal and semi-octagonal respectively.   The Early English easternmost arch of each arcade is double-flat-chamfered and pointed;  however, the N. arch springs from semicircular responds with square capitals decorated with grotesques, and the S. arch springs from responds composed of three shafts, suggesting a slight difference in date between these arches also or that different masons were responsible.  The chancel windows also look like thirteenth century work although Pevsner considered that their uncusped intersecting tracery 'can probably not be trusted' (The Buildings of England: Yorkshire North Riding, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1966, p. 282).  However,  the head of one such window in the S. wall, survives in a position where it now only looks through to the chapel, and since it is unlikely that this would have been remodelled, that suggests that at least the original form of these windows is preserved.

 

 

The W. tower is big and rather squat.  It has heavy clasping buttresses, a three-light W. window with cusped intersecting tracery that would fit a date of c. 1300, and bell-openings that are certainly rather later (perhaps c. 1330), with reticulated tracery.  The tall octagonal spire is unlit by lucarnes.  Internally the tower arch is formed of three flat-chamfered orders rising from responds composed of three shafts, the central one of which has a keeled cross-section, while the outer two are semicircular.

 

The S. porch, which is approached up ten steps, has no windows, and the outer doorway has one flat- and one hollow-chamfered order round the arch, supported on modern abaci.  The S. chapel to the chancel is cross-gabled and has a three-light square-headed window in each of its S. and E. walls, both with well-proportioned, supermullioned drop tracery.  The W. wall preserves the head of another such window, subsequently cut into by the insertion of a later doorway.  The nave clerestory is also Perpendicular and composed of five pairs of simple two-light, square-headed windows.  The transepts are now all nineteenth century work externally, and the chancel E. window has been replaced too.

 

 

However, after all this description, it is probably true that Pickering church today is most famous for its wall paintings.  They cover the greater part of the nave walls, above and around the arcades, and are fifteenth century in date, albeit heavily restored (in 1880).  Pevsner commented deprecatingly that 'as they had never been great art, it is perhaps better to see them now clearly than to see their original brushwork dimly'.  Doubtless they have faded a good deal since his visit in 1966 for they are certainly not overwhelming today in their reds, blacks and browns.  Among the many scenes depicted are the martyrdom of King Edmund (seen above left), St. George and the Dragon (above right), a large St. Christopher (a popular subject in this part of Yorkshire), and the martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket.

 

Finally, one item of woodwork must be mentioned, namely the excellent, eighteenth century round pulpit in the style of Hepplewhite (shown below). This is decorated around its circumference with eight square panels, but the whole piece is finely and delicately crafted.