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English Church Architecture -

North Yorkshire.

 

SHERBURN-IN-ELMET, All Saints (SE 488 336)  (November 2004)

(Bedrock:  Permian Zechstein Group, Brotherton Formation)

 

Sherburn-in-Elmet is a large industrial village but the excellent church is well placed on an eminence by itself to the west, with steeply falling ground to the north and distant views across flat countryside towards Tadcaster.  It is also another church in this area built of cream-coloured magnesian limestone, probably here to be equated with the Huddleston stone that was once dug in the region of Huddleston Old Wood, a mile and a half to the west.  There are still working quarries nearby, notably in the triangle between the railway line, the A1 and the B1222.

 

All Saints' presents a fine sight from the south (see above) as a result, chiefly, of its Perpendicular work, yet the interior is even better and of a different age entirely.  However, to begin outside, the building consists of a W. tower, a four-bay nave and a three-bay chancel, with six bay aisles that embrace the tower and extend for one bay alongside the chancel, a S. porch, and a tall, cross-gabled chantry chapel adjoining the S. porch to the east.  The show side of the building has three-light windows with supermullioned tracery, with two tiers of reticulation units above the central lights and inverted daggers beneath secondary subarcuation over the outer lights in the manner that Dr. John Harvey traced back to Great Shelford in Cambridgeshire, where the work is dated c. 1396.  The nave clerestory is formed of three-light but untraceried, square-headed windows, and this is also the form of the N. aisle windows, where the sills are some 8' (2.6 m.) from the ground, allowing room below for a narrow Norman window, still thought to be in situ.  Yet the S. porch outer doorway is neither Norman nor Norman-Transitional, notwithstanding the chevron moulding on both sides (i.e. outside and in) of its pointed arch, nor its two orders of circular shafts with scalloped capitals, even though a very small amount of ancient masonry has been re-used in its construction.  Rather, this is the work of Anthony Salvin (1799-1881), a pupil of Nash, who restored the church in 1857 and built the vestry in the northeast angle between the chancel and the end of the N. aisle.  The one-bay extension of the S. aisle beside the chancel, known as the Steeton chapel, has a magnificent five-light E. window  (shown below left) with intersecting subarcuation of the lights in threes, through reticulation, two tiers of reticulation units above lights two and four, and inverted daggers beneath secondary subarcuation over lights one, three and five.  Beyond this, the chancel is lit by three lancets in the S. wall, of which the easternmost is steeper, and by three equal lancets in the E. wall, together with an oval window in the gable.  Pevsner considered these to be original but the church guide says they are of restoration date only (although they do look old).  This leaves the chantry (formerly mortuary) chapel to describe, and the W. tower.  The former has a three-light, square-headed S. window and a similar window to the east, on which side the chapel is also embattled.  It communicates with the porch through a doorway to the west, and is divided from the nave by a wall to the north, pierced only by a large, oddly-shaped, glazed window that could be sixteenth century in date or later.  The tower is diagonally buttressed and has two, two-light bell-openings with supermullioned tracery on each side, while above, there are battlements and crocketed pinnacles at the angles.  Yet the Perpendicular guise of this church is highly misleading and the interior comes as a shock, for which neither the round-headed N. window nor the round-arched S. porch inner doorway, have been adequate preparation, for it proves almost wholly Norman, with the power to recall twelfth century work on the monumental scale, most notably at Durham Cathedral, an association that is entirely apposite as it is probably that cathedral's influence which is seen here, having come via Selby Abbey.

 

This is most apparent in the nave arcades, composed of massive circular piers and round arches bearing a complex series of rolls and hollows. (See the N. arcade, right.)   The capitals (which go together in pairs, north to south) present variations on the scalloped form except for the leaf volutes on the E. responds.  (Successive N. arcade piers and responds, from west to east, are illustrated at the foot of the page, beginning from the left.)  Still powerful but cruder are the tower arches (north and south towards the embracing aisles and east towards the nave), each formed of three stepped orders bearing only the narrowest of chamfers, between which rises a heavy quadripartite vault (shown below left).  Thus the majority of the tower is also Norman, the nave retains its twelfth century length, and the N. aisle (though not the S. aisle) is apparently still of its original width.  Neither can the earlier nave have been much lower than the present one, for above the E. arch of the tower is a round-headed Sanctus bell window (which were generally constructed to allow someone sitting in the ringing chamber to follow the service) with an order of side shafts, and the nave roof must always have been above this.  Only at the line of the chancel arch is the twelfth century finally left behind and the thirteenth century reached, for here the pointed arch consists of two flat chamfered orders, the outer, continuous down the responds and the inner, springing from semicircular shafts.  It looks very tall and slender in comparison with the nave arcades although its proportions are actually quite commonplace.  The arches from the chancel to the Steeton chapel and what was once the N. chapel but is now the organ chamber, are double-flat-chamfered with the inner orders supported on corbels, the style of which is simpler to the north.  There are no arches between the nave aisles and their extensions as chapels, which now appear as unified spaces although they cannot have been so originally.  Indeed, a curved portion of the N. aisle wall, east of the easternmost pier, seems to show this aisle once terminated in an apse, in which case the S. aisle and chancel would probably have done likewise.  The nave and aisles may then have been covered by a single, steeply pitched roof, very high in the centre but coming down at the aisle walls to the level of the present Perpendicular window sills, making narrow round-headed windows like that surviving to the north, the only lighting this very wide church would probably have received.