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English Church Architecture -

North Yorkshire.


WELBURN, St. John (SE 722 678)     (April  2015)

(Bedrock:  Middle Jurassic, Ravenscar Group)

This is a large church for a very small village, designed by the Bradford ecclesiastical architects, James Mallinson (1819-84) and Thomas Healey senior (1809-62).  Their practice (known under the title of Mallinson & Healey) could not have claimed to be a bellwether of Gothic Revivalist fashion but the buildings they erected were all worthy and substantial, significant for their attractive elevations and well composed grouping of masses rather than such luxuries as carved ornament or structural polychromy, for which there was never going to be sufficient money in the rapidly expanding West Yorkshire manufacturing towns where most of their business lay.  The partners were chosen for this particular commission in August 1858 and asked to design a church in the Gothic style of the fourteenth century. The foundation stone was laid by the Earl of Carlisle on 15th March the following year (notes in the church) and work clearly advanced rapidly for the building was open for worship on 20th May 1860, albeit that the spire was not finally completed until 1865.  The church was then but a chapel-of-ease to St. Martin's, Bulmer, a situation that was to continue until 1986.


St. John the Evangelist's (shown above, from the southwest and northeast respectively) stands a little above the Derwent valley in North Yorkshire, in possibly the most rural position of any church that Mallinson & Healey ever designed, and the budget was allowed to overrun the original estimate of 1,200 so far as to an eventual figure approaching 4,000.  The builder contracted to undertake the work was J.C. Teale of Malton, who was also given responsibility for the limited amount of stone carving.  The stone employed was Upper Jurassic, Malton Oolite, from Wath Quarry near Hovingham, five miles to the northwest (notes in the church).  The building comprises a nave and chancel, N. & S. transepts, a northwest tower doubling as a porch and surmounted by a well-proportioned broach spire, and a steeply-gabled southeast organ-chamber-cum-vestry terminating just short of the chancel and clearly designed to add interest to the building's perspective from this direction, in the manner, for example, of George Edmund Street's little church at Thixendale.  The tower rises in three stages, supported by diagonal buttresses to the lower two, and features a lancet-pointed W. doorway with an order of side-shafts and a quatrefoil in the tympanum, a circular window containing three trilobes lighting the second stage, and two-light bell-openings with trilobes in rounded triangles in the heads.  The nave, transept and chancel windows of variously one, two and three lights, have geometrical tracery of varying forms, all pleasantly drawn if also rather predictable, with their obligatory display for this date of proper Ruskinian principles.


On entering the church, one notices first the semicircular projection in the northwest angle of the tower, enclosing the stair.  The very wide arches to the transepts from the nave, rise from corbels decorated with leaf carving and the chancel arch springs from semi-octagonal responds with carved leaf capitals.  (See the general interior view of the church, looking east, above left, and the east end of the N. transept arch, above right.)  The chancel has a panelled wagon roof but the nave roof timbers are exposed and framed in seven cants.


The pulpit (above left) is easily the best piece of ecclesiastical furniture un the building and it would be good to have confirmation that either Mallinson or Healey designed it:  the drum is decorated with blank geometrical-traceried "windows" set beneath crocketed gables separated by diminutive brown marble shafts topped by carved angels in white stone;  there is leaf carving beneath the bookrest and the stem is surrounded by eight mottled black marble columns with leaf  capitals.  It is a pity the font (above right) is not in a matching  style, but it is worthy enough nonetheless, nicely carved in white stone.