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English Church Architecture.


THIXENDALE, St. Mary  (SE 842 611),


(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Welton Chalk Formation.)


One of six churches designed in Yorkshire by George Edmund Street (1824-81)

for the eccentric Sit Tatton Sykes II (1826-1913).




Famous, above all today, for the Law Courts in The Strand, George Edmund Street was rivalled in his lifetime only by William Butterfield as the architect of choice by the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England, and, indeed, in his personal attachment to High Church ritual, he surpassed his rival and was for many years churchwarden at Butterfield's 'model' church of All Saints', Margaret Street (Westminster), after Butterfield had left, opposed to the use of incense and lights, and to the Elevation of the Host.  Yet for all his ardent religionism, it would be entirely misleading to present Street as a humourless killjoy, for entirely to the contrary, his two major publications, Brick & Marble in the Middle Ages: Notes on a Tour of the North of Italy (London, John Murray, 1855) and Some Account of Gothic Architecture in Spain (in two volumes) (London, John Murray, 1865) are peppered with anecdotes about bad hotels and the sheer awfulness of other English tourists encountered on the way, much to the aggravation of The Ecclesiologist in its long review of the former in October 1855 (vol. XVI, issue CX, p. 299):  'We cannot but think that the ordinary reader of books of travel will be as much disturbed by Mr. Street's purely professional descriptions and speculations as the architectural student will be annoyed by the details of uncomfortable beds and ill-cooked dinners'.


Street's earnestness was sufficient for most men, however, and his patrons, almost to a man and woman, were wealthy and generous ones.  Street was also an inveterate traveller, and a close reading of Arthur Edmund Street's biography of his father (Memoir of George Edmund Street, 1824-1881, London, John Murray, 1888) reveals that between 1850 and 1874, he made no less than twenty-two separate visits to the Continent, including two such trips in 1872 and 1874 and only missing out on his working vocations in 1855. 1864, 1865 and 1870, during the last of which, however, he made a tour round Scotland.  It is hardly surprising, in consequence, that Street's architecture is the most eclectic among all his more important confrères, and this is particularly striking in some of his village churches, which in the most extreme cases, stand out from their settings as if they had landed from the moon.



This little church was constructed for Sir Tatton Sykes II at the same time that two of Street’s other Yorkshire churches were being erected at Fimber and Robin Hood’s Bay, in 1868-70.  St. Mary’s, Thixendale, is not particularly promising externally with its seemingly cobbled-together N. elevation (shown below left), composed of a tiled nave and chancel with a diminutive bell-cote to demarcate the junction, an almost flat leaded-roofed N. aisle, and excessive emphasis laid on the independently-gabled N.E. vestry, as if it were a chapel.  The composition does, admittedly, work better from the southeast (as illustrated in the photograph above), where the vestry can be seen to run beside the humble, lean-to organ chamber, itself an insignificant eastward extension of the aisle.  However, a feature holding out hope for better things inside is the small apsidal projection at the west end of the nave, which some visitors will identify, correctly, as a baptistery.  Moreover, except in the S. aisle, windows to the building are otherwise traceried - in contrast to Street’s more usual resort to various arrangements of cusped lancets - and include: (i) a three-light, trefoiled E. window, with three trefoils in rounded triangles above the springing; (ii) two, two-light chancel S. windows, the easterly with cusped Y-tracery, a dagger in the apex and trilobes in the heads of the lights, and the westerly with a wheel of three little trefoils above trefoiled lights;  (iii) two three-light nave N. windows, with trefoils in the heads of the outer lights and an irregular cinquefoil above the central light;  and (iv) a high, circular W. window above the baptistery, formed of a sexfoil surrounded by quatrefoils in circles.  Judged on his own terms, this represents almost a riot of invention for Street, who generally showed little interest in window tracery.  Nevertheless, the artist’s fingerprints are in evidence here, in the way the string course beneath the windows steps up progressively towards the east, until, even on a building of this size, it reaches 9 or 10' high (3 m.).  The porch is windowless: the outer doorway carries a couple of rolls and a hollow, and the trefoil-cusped inner doorway has a complex series of little mouldings running round it, above an order of shafts in shaft-rings.











Inside the church, the four-bay aisle arcade is very nicely designed for such a humble building (as seen below left, viewed from the nave), with accurately-cut piers formed of four major and four minor shafts - the former circular with fillets, and the latter, keeled - and arches bearing an outer flat chamfer and a series of narrow sunk quadrants and hollows.  A half-arch crosses the aisle between the organ chamber and nave aisle proper, and a wide arch opens between the chancel and organ chamber, with a sunk quadrant around the inner order and a keeled moulding around the outer.  The rere-arches to the aisle windows are triple-hollow-chamfered over their heads and the S. window in the sanctuary has a lowered sill to act as a sedilia. The arch around the baptistery apse (below right) is round-headed and bears a keeled roll between hollows.  The font consists of an octagonal bowl with a pair of blank trefoil-cusped lancets on each face, above a moulded octagonal stem. 



















Other furnishings in the church include the stone pulpit with trefoil-cusped arches decorating the circular drum and pointed quatrefoils beneath the cornice.  The wooden rood screen and loft are heavy affairs, with little to commend them, but the stone reredos (below) is very attractive and features a row of trefoil-cusped blank arcading along the back, with ivy leaves in the spandrels, further carvings above, and a castellated top rail, set between elaborately patterned tiled panels on either side.  Further tiling patterns inevitably feature on the floor where, as usual, they increase in intricacy as one approaches the altar.  Finally, the chancel roof is barrel vaulted and patterned in dark brown with the sacred monogram;  the nave roof is arched to the collars and there are wind braces beneath the purlins.



[Other churches by Street featured on this web-site are Fimber in the East Riding of Yorkshire, Toddington in Gloucestershire, East Heslerton, Helperthorpe, Howsham, Robin Hood's Bay, Wansford, West Lutton and Whitwell-on-the-Hill in North Yorkshire, Denstone in Staffordshire,  Torquay in Torbay, Brightwalton and Eastbury in West Berkshire, and St. Mary Magdalene's Rowington Close and St. James's Thorndike Street in the City of Westminster.]