English Church Architecture.
WEST TANFIELD, St. Nicholas (SE 278 791),
(Bedrock: Permian Zechstein Series, Cadeby Formation.)
A predominantly fourteenth to fifteenth century building with two small, very strange projections, earlier described as 'confessionals'.
As seen from the road (and as in the photograph above, which shows the W. tower and N. aisle but not the eastern half of the chancel projecting behind), this is a substantial Perpendicular church, standing cheek by jowl with the castle gatehouse (just out of view to the right), which is all that survives of the former castle. That the building has its origins further back than first appears, however, is shown by the S. doorway (inside the porch), which is double-flat-chamfered but still round-arched, consistent with Norman-Transitional work from the close of the twelfth century. The church is formed principally of a W. tower, nave and chancel, together with a wide, independently-gabled N. aisle and chapel extending from the W. wall of the nave to halfway along the chancel. There is also a S. porch, a modern N. vestry adjoining the aisle, and a couple of curious shallow projections, one from the southeast corner of the nave, visible outside, and the other from northwest corner of the chancel (between the chancel and chapel) and visible only inside. These were described by Sir Steven Glynne as 'confessionals' (ed. Lawrence Butler, The Yorkshire Church Note of Sir Steven Glynne (1825-74), Yorkshire Archaeological Society in conjunction with the Boydell Press, 2007, p. 435) and no clearer explanation of their function seems forthcoming. The building is best described in approximate age order although there are inevitably some uncertainties, arising in particular from its heavy restoration, undertaken in 1860 (notes in the church).
First, then, there comes S. doorway, described above, but not the porch outer doorway, even though this is also round-arched, nor the pointed tunnel vault within, nor any of the nave S. windows, which are all essentially Victorian, albeit that what might be some surviving mediaeval stonework in the easternmost window may suggest that although these windows were probably originally segmental-pointed rather than square-headed as at present, the tracery may have been similar. If so, this could be useful dating evidence, for the design here - formed of cinquefoiled lights with what are, in effect, the heads of further lights above, set between supermullions - resembles an intermediate stage between reticulated and supermullioned tracery, perhaps commensurate with c. 1350. The little projection already mentioned, at the nave southeast corner, is lit by a two-light, square-headed Perpendicular window.
Inside the church, the four-bay N. arcade is formed of double-flat-chamfered arches supported on octagonal piers, which of itself would fit almost any date from the thirteenth century to the fifteenth, but pace Pevsner (The Buildings of England – The North Riding of Yorkshire, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1966, p. 385), who ascribed the work to the late thirteenth century, the form of the capitals and the broaches between these and the outer chamfer of the arches (seen more clearly above left, in the view of the N. arcade from the west, than above right, in the close-up of the central pier), is surely more in keeping with the early to mid-fourteenth.
The chancel is lit by two three-light, untraceried Perpendicular S. windows and a particularly ill-matched E. window with modern intersecting tracery. The chancel N. wall, beyond the aisle, has a mean, adjoining lean-to shed, made more objectionable by obscuring a corner of the E. window to the N. chapel (as shown in the photograph above left). This is five-light, with alternate tracery and subreticulation. Elsewhere, the chapel and N. aisle windows are three-light and supermullioned, with strong mullions and, in the W. wall only, a castellated transom at the springing. (See the photograph above right.) The chancel arch is Victorian but the arch from the chancel to the chapel is a slighter version of the arches forming the arcade and almost certainly later (probably fifteenth century, like the aisle and chapel windows). There is no arch between the aisle and chapel. The section of chancel wall between the chancel arch and the arch to the chapel is occupied by the second alcove mentioned above (and illustrated at the foot of the page, on the left). It has a couple of little trefoiled openings to the south and three little openings to the east, in two tiers.
The tower rises to battlements in two stages, supported by diagonal buttresses. The W. window is two-light and supermullioned and the bell-openings have a kind of trefoil-cusped Y-tracery that is also Perpendicular. The stair rises at the east end of the S. wall, where there is a shallow projection lit by a column of four rectangular slits. Inside the building, the tower arch to the nave is formed of two flat chamfers running all the way around, interrupted by shallow capitals.