English Church Architecture -
WENSLEY, St. Michael (SE 092 898) (June 2010)
(Bedrock: Carboniferous Dinantian Subsystem, Liddesdale Group)
One of the most significant churches in the Yorkshire Dales, this building (photographed above from the northeast) is today in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. The Trust’s notes within, assign its construction to 1245, a curiously precise date for which no evidence is given. Architecturally, the chancel would fit this date, but the aisled nave is certainly later, c. 1300, the two-storey N. vestry is Perpendicular, and the early Georgian tower bears the date “1719” above the W. window. The church contains a lot of important woodwork, attributable to the sixteenth century onwards.
First, then, the chancel, whose interest lies principally to the south. The three lancets in the S. wall are decorated internally with an order of side-shafts and a large frieze of dog-tooth running all the way round. The westernmost lancet continues down as a lowside window under a transom, and the central window (shown above left) is placed above a rectangular priest’s doorway, enabling both the window and the top of the door to be framed as one by the dogtooth inside. Of a piece with these lancets is the fine sedilia further east (though not the piscina beyond), formed of three equal bays, again with dogtooth (illustrated above right), but the E. window is a later insertion, quite possibly contemporary with the nave and aisles, with its five stepped, trefoil-cusped lights and no tracery above, apart from little trefoils in the outermost lights. The only window in the chancel N. wall is a single, plain lancet, to the east of the vestry.
The aisled nave can be dated by its trefoil-cusped Y-traceried windows, two each to the north and south, which are characteristic of the close of the thirteenth century. The buttresses between and to either side of the windows, rise up above the nave parapet and are decorated at the top with broad ogee-pointed recesses containing shields, a conceit that must surely be later again. The aisle E. windows are each composed of three trefoil-cusped lancets set in an encompassing arch. The N. and S. porches both lack side windows and are impossible to date with certainty, though the S. porch bears a sun-dial over the doorway, bearing the legend, “As a shadow, such is life”, and the date “1818”.
The N. porch inner doorway carries a couple of rolls with fillets on the outer order and a flat chamfer on the inner order, above a pair of side-shafts with large circular capitals. A little hanging tracery at the top of the arch forms a trefoil-cusp in the head, and a more acute gable line above the doorway as a whole, points to the former existence of a more steeply-pitched porch. The three-bay nave arcades are composed of double-flat-chamfered arches springing from tall octagonal piers with octagonal capitals. The chancel arch is similar.
The Perpendicular, two-storey N. vestry, poses questions about its original function. Could it once have been the dwelling of an acolyte priest or similar, like the vestries at High Coniscliffe, Darlington, Romaldkirk and Staindrop, County Durham, and Hitcham in Suffolk, among others? However, other explanations are obviously possible, including the one suggested by Pevsner, who noticing that the upper window is barred, wondered if the upper storey once formed a relic chamber (The Buildings of England – The North Riding of Yorkshire, Penguin, 1966). The only windows in the vestry are found in the E. wall, where a two-light square-headed one pierces each level.
The tower (seen above from the northwest) rises in three stages to a parapet, supported by clasping buttresses to the first stage only. The bell-openings and W. window are two-light and round-headed, with keystones in the heads, and the W. windows in the aisles are similar and were were clearly replaced at the same time. As mentioned above, the tower W. window bears the date, “1719” (see the photograph above right); the lights are round-headed and there is a plain circle in the head. At the west end of the S. wall, a column of four rectangular slits, betrays the position of the tower stair.
Woodwork in the church includes, most importantly, the Bolton family pew, which is an elaborate construction in the east end of the N. aisle (illustrated above left, viewed from the nave), formed of two sections, separately enclosed by a late seventeenth century screen roughly twelve feet in height (4 m.). It opens in each section through two round-headed arches divided by a hanging pendant and provided with benches east and west, while running behind them to the north, a narrower division providing access (seen above right, from further west in the N. aisle), is surrounded by a fine, re-used Perpendicular parclose screen, believed to have been brought here from Easby Abbey (Richmond) after the Dissolution. The latter has been attributed to William Bronfleet or Brownfleet (fl. 1482 - 1523), who also worked at Ripon Cathedral (English Mediaeval Architects: a Biographical Dictionary to 1550, by Dr. John Harvey, Alan Sutton, 1987).
Other notable carpentry in the church includes:
Finally, the font (illustrated below right) bears the the date "1662" together with the initials "I.P." and "C.L.", on an octagonal bowl supported on a concave-sided octagonal stem. The circular wooden cover above, with large acorn boss, is probably contemporary.