English Church Architecture.
SESSAY, St. Cuthbert (SE 465 747),
(Bedrock: Triassic Mercia Mudstone Group, Bunter Keuper Marl.)
A small, early church by William Butterfield (1814-1900), erected in 1847-48.
This is a church entirely by William Butterfield, although it is one of his earliest buildings and among neither his most important nor characteristic. Erected in 1847-8, just four years after his first church at Coalpit Heath in Gloucestershire, it displays little of the structural polychromy for which he would become famous or (depenmding on one's point of view) notorious later, but already his confident handling of masses is apparent, together with an ability to weigh the overall effect of his designs. The wide but steeply pitched roofs, indeed, would become a regular feature. Moreover, as happened sometimes with Butterfield’s commissions, the church was only the most important part of a larger commission, for at Sessay he was also responsible for the lych-gate and the school, of which the latter is still in use.
The walls of the church are constructed of a sandy limestone with dressings of magnesian limestone from Burton Leonard on the Permian outcrop, twelve miles to the southwest *. (A detail of the masonry is shown above left.) Limestone slates have been used for the roofs (as seen on the porch, above right) and wooden shingles for the broach spire. The building consists of a W. tower with a spire, a nave with a S. aisle and a S. porch, and a chancel with a cross-gabled N. vestry. The windows display a variety of pseudo-mediaeval designs, of which the circular E. window to the S. aisle (below left) and the chancel E. window (below right) are the most original.
The interior of the building is strikingly wide and plain. The four-bay aisle arcade is formed of arches of two orders bearing hollow chamfers that continue all the way round without capitals. The tower arch bears two flat-chamfers which die into the jambs, and the chancel arch is similar but carries one flat chamfer and a sunk quadrant.
Church furnishings are simple, but a few features occur in embryo that will be greatly developed in Butterfield’s later churches. One of these is the tiling patterns in the chancel floor (using Minton’s encaustic tiles from Stoke-upon-Trent) (illustrated above left): a much more elaborate scheme can be seen a few miles away at Baldersby St. James, built nine years later and where much more money was available. The painted panelling in the roof above the sanctuary also re-occurs there. Finally, here at Sessay, the visitor should also notice the painted organ pipes, the painted frieze on the nave walls at the springing level of the window arches, and the odd, narrow-beamed nave roof, of king post construction but with ostentatiously curved struts and braces. All in all there is much here that is prophetic of Butterfield's later work, but few of his churches would look as un-selfconsciously English again.
(* I am indebted to Janet Ratcliffe, local historian, for this information, who found it in a contemporary newspaper cutting.)
[Other churches by Butterfield featured on this web-site are Christleton in Cheshire West & Chester, Baldersby St. James, Dalton and Wykeham in North Yorkshire, Babbacombe in Torbay, and All Saints Margaret Street in the City of Westminster.]