(« back to home page)

English Church Architecture.


WEST LUTTON, St. Mary  (SE 931 693),


(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Welton Chalk Formation.)


One of six churches designed 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 is one of the smaller churches constructed by Street for Sir Tatton Sykes II, although at £13,125, it cost more than twice as much as St. Stephen’s, Robin Hood’s Bay, completed three years earlier in 1868-70 and replete with a tall northeast tower, a comparison which shows just how much Sir Tatton was prepared to spend on the present building’s ornamentation and furnishings. Indeed, John Hutchinson, writing in his little monograph George Edmund Street in East Yorkshire (Kingston-upon-Hull, The University of Hull, 1981, p.19) described the money lavished on this church as:

'altogether too much for the architect’s good.  The design is very full of incident, like an elaborate demonstration model.  Relentless variety in buttressing gives up only at the west end.  Relentless variety of window pattern, indeed of window type matches this, circles, a spherical triangle, tall Decorated, squat Decorated, grouped lancets.  It is a measure of Street’s skill that this almost Woodyerian profusion of disparate motifs is welded into some sort of unity.'


St. Mary’s consists of a short aisled nave with a W. belfry, and a two-bay chancel with a cross-gabled N. vestry.  (See the photographs of the church from the southeast, above left, and from the west, above right.)  The nave and aisles are covered by a single catslide roof, save for the west bay of the S. aisle, which is cross-gabled to form a shallow porch.  The belfry has a tile-hung base beneath a timber balustrade composed of eight compartments on each side, and a shingled splay-footed spire.  Elsewhere the construction material is a pale grey Jurassic sandstone capped by roofs of red tile.


















Windows - as in most of these Street churches - consist chiefly of trefoil-cusped lancets variously arranged in groups of two or three, sometimes enclosed and sometimes not enclosed within encompassing arches.  Exceptions include the easternmost S. window in the chancel, formed of just three trefoils set in a rounded triangle, the wheel window in the chancel E. wall, formed of a sexfoil surrounded by six trefoiled lobes, and the nave W. window, formed of four lights subarcuated in pairs above encircled quatrefoils, with an ancircled sexfoil above and between.  Another feature of many of these churches which may also be seen here, is the way in which the string course beneath the windows steps up in stages as it runs towards the sanctuary, to reach its highest level beneath the chancel E. window, so that even in this modest little building, the sill is scarcely less than 15' (4.6 m.) from the ground.  The porch has a circular W. window and a canopied niche above the outer doorway, containing a statue of the Virgin and Child (of 1875, by James F. Redfern (Nikolaus Pevsner & David Neave, in the 'York and the East Riding' volume of The Buildings of England, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 2005, p. 746) set between buttresses (as seen above left).  Inside the porch, a quadripartite vault springs from circular shafts in the corners, and the cinquefoil-cusped inner doorway has delicately carved cusps and a hollow decorated by floral motifs at intervals around it, supported by further shafts.  A smaller doorway in the E. wall leads directly into the aisle.


The nave arcades consist of two bays on the south side (eastward beyond the porch) and three (running the full length of the nave) to the north (as shown above right).  More strictly, the latter is actually formed of two bays plus one, for the western pier is made up of two responds back to back, separated by a very short wall piece – a curious arrangement considering that the western arch is narrower than the others, not wider, and thus the discrepancy cannot to be explained by a need to keep pace with the porch.  The arcade piers are circular and the arches carry two wide sunk quadrants separated by a deep hollow.  The chancel and sanctuary are each covered by a bay of quadripartite vaulting and approached up three steps across an increasingly elaborately tiled floor.  There is a two-bay stepped sedilia recessed in the S. wall and a double piscina in similar style beyond, while to the east there is an attractive painted reredos set between blank arcading on either side.


Other features to mention must include the king-post nave roof (above), nicely decorated with flowers on a red and pale green background.  The collars, collar purlin, common rafters and arched braces are all picked out in patterned lines on a black background.   The wrought iron rood screen has a triangular-pointed section over the gate and four-light side panels with brass columns between the dado and tops of the lights.


The font at the west end of the N. aisle is formed of a single cambered octagon, decorated on each side with a two-light blank window, transomed low down above a pair of pointed quatrefoils and containing trilobes in the heads of the lights.  The base is circular but there is just room for a row of ballflower between the two (as shown in the photograph below).


[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, Thixendale, Wansford 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.]