English Church Architecture -
ROBIN HOOD'S BAY, St. Stephen (new church) (NZ 948 053)
(August 2012) (Bedrock: Lower Jurassic, Lower Lias Group)
This is one of ten churches in the North and East Riding constructed anew by George Edmund Street (1824-81), among which this is probably the most earnest. A large, dignified building erected in 1868-70 at a cost of £6,000 (notes in the church), its external appearance is dominated by the tall S. tower rising in four stages and the unrelieved red-brown sandstone beneath roofs of uniform orange-red tile. Pace Pevsner, who seems to have become seriously disorientated on his whirlwind visit in 1966, its rather complicated plan is formed: (i) of a nave with a S. aisle, with a southwest porch and southeast tower beyond (i.e. attached to the south of the S. aisle); and (ii) of a chancel and apse with a N. organ chamber, a lean-to S. chapel, and an independently-gabled S. vestry beyond, adjoining the tower to the east. (Pevsner placed the aisle to the north and the tower to the northwest.) The clumsy saddleback roof to the tower copies a feature Street had used ten years earlier, with no greater success, at Castle Rising (Norfolk). The fenestration is largely composed of rather severe trefoiled lancets, haphazardly arranged - some in pairs, some in stepped groups of three, some in and some not in encompassing arches. However, a feeling of unity is imposed on the church, not only by the unvarying masonry but also by the building’s height, which soars up in all parts in a manner more French than English, though a good mediaeval precedent may also be seen a mere fifteen miles away across the Moors at Lastingham, where the highly impressive church dates from the late eleventh century. The principal common element there and here is the short but very tall chancel and apse with windows resting on a string course some 16 - 20' feet (4.7 - 6.1 m.) from the ground. In the present case, Street’s juxtaposition of a high apse with the chancel S. chapel, independently-gabled S. vestry, and S. tower, provide an impressive grouping of masses when the building is viewed from the southeast (as illustrated in the photograph above left), notwithstanding the unfortunate, very close proximity of a modern bungalow, which has the effect of diminishing it. Conversely, the church's N. façade (below left), whether viewed from the churchyard or the parallel road to the north, is altogether less satisfactory and does not appear to have received adequate consideration. (The photograph below right, shows the church from the west.)
Neither does one find, on entering the church, the kind of riches found, for example, in the bejewelled font and pulpit at St. John’s, Whitwell-on-the-Hill or the wonderful painted roofs of St. Peter's, Helperthorpe, for the remit at St. Stephen’s appears to be to impress the visitor above all by its seriousness. This is the function of the ribbed vault over the apse and chancel in particular, formed of an irregular sexpartite vault above the former and a single quadripartite bay above the latter. The junction between the bays is marked by triple shafts attached to the chancel walls, but the ribs elsewhere are supported on corbel shafts. The chancel arch is triple-flat-chamfered.
The four-bay nave arcade is formed of arches bearing a flat chamfer and a roll with a fillet, supported on octagonal piers with slightly concave sides and deeply-cut vine leaf capitals. (The photographs below show the S. arcade from the northwest, and a close-up of the capital to the westernmost pier.) Half arches springing across to the arcade from the aisle S. wall, demarcate the first three bays, while the fourth is divided from the third by a complete arch, and another, much taller arch, leads south from this bay into the tower, which is entered down two steps. The S. aisle also communicates with the S. chapel, eastwards via another arch.
Unfortunately, Street’s furnishings at St. Stephen’s are frankly disappointing: the floor tiling shows a modest increase in elaboration towards the east, as one might expect; the two-bay sedilia in the chancel S. wall consists of two simple trefoiled-arches separated by a circular column; and the font at the W. end of the S. aisle is composed of a square bowl with chamfered corners, decorated on its faces by three-bay blank arcading and by little columns of blank quatrefoils on the chamfers.
However, a feature that does deserve close attention is the building’s stained glass, designed by Henry Holiday (1839 - 1927), friend of John Ruskin, who succeeded Burne-Jones as designer at Powell's Glass Works off London's Fleet Street, in 1861 (www.visitcumbria.com). Working clockwise from north to south, the five two-light windows around the apse depict SS. John and Mary, SS. Peter and Cecilia (below left), SS. Stephen and Paul, SS. Catherine and James, and SS. Lucy and Andrew (below right).