( back to home page)

English Church Architecture.


WOMERSLEY, St. Martin  (SE 532 190),

North Yorkshire. 

(Bedrock:  Permian Zechstein Group, Brotherton Formation.)


An attractive cruciform church constructed of creamy magnesian limestone,

containing some excellent late Victorian woodwork by Bodley.



Built of cream-coloured magnesian limestone, this is a cruciform church comprising an aisled nave with a S. porch, a crossing tower with a tall broach spire (illustrated above left, viewed from the southeast), N. and S. transepts, and a chancel with a Victorian N. vestry. The wide, independently-gabled S. aisle ends one bay short of the nave W. wall and the N. transept has been truncated to form an organ chamber, now covered by a poor lean-to roof.  However, the large semi-octagonal rood stair turret survives immediately to the west, lit at the top by an attractive little Perpendicular window with quatrefoils in circles above the lights (as shown above right).  


Externally most other architectural evidence is Decorated although there are minor features in Early English style and a few from the Perpendicular and Victorian periods.  Earliest, therefore, are probably the wide, short lancets at the W. end of the N. aisle, even though at first sight their proportions make them look suspect.  Decorated windows include those with two-lights and reticulated tracery in the clerestory (that is, all except the easternmost on the N. side, and those west of the S. aisle on the S. side), the cinquefoil-cusped Y-traceried bell-openings of the crossing tower and, most especially, the three-light S. transept E. window, again with reticulated tracery but here also with subreticulation. (See the photograph below left.) The easternmost clerestory window to the north and two, two-light windows in the N. aisle have straightened reticulation units in their heads, which is usually indicative of an early Perpendicular date.  Perhaps rather later is the square-headed S. aisle window with a lozenge pattern of quatrefoils above the lights, and the four-light W. window to the nave, with supermullioned tracery that is now largely renewed.  The two-light chancel windows to the south and the three-light S. window to the S. transept are Victorian and probably by George Frederick Bodley (1827-1907), who restored the church in 1893. (The date is recorded on the vestry drainpipe.)  These are very unspecial but Bodley gives a better account of himself inside the building.  Surprisingly, there is no window in the chancel E. wall.


The S. porch, through which one enters the building, has a stone roof which is not so much a vault, as Pevsner described it (Nikolaus Pevsner & Enid Radcliffe, The Buildings of England: the West Riding of Yorkshire [sic], Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1967, p. 556)  as simply a mortaring together of stone flags, supported by transverse arches. Pevsner's interpretation of the curious N. arcade, however, is very convincing.  This consists of three wide arches in the centre and a narrow one at each end, with the narrow ones separated by intervening short wall pieces.  The central bays (illustrated above right, viewed from the west) are Early English and composed of double-flat chamfered arches springing from two circular piers and a semicircular respond at the E. end.  However, the W. respond is rectangular and formed of two orders, like the Norman responds to the arches beneath the tower at All Saints', Sherburn-in-Elmet.  Pevsner concluded that this respond and the attached wall piece mark the northwest angle of a former Norman nave, and that the narrow arch to the west beyond - with two flat chamfered orders dying into the jambs - was the result of the building's thirteenth century enlargement.  As for the narrow, separate eastern arch, now largely renewed, Pevsner speculated that the insertion of this was made necessary by the incorrect setting out of the crossing tower when this was added to the previously tower-less building in the early fourteenth century. That, however, may be to underestimate the builders.  Another explanation could be that the tower was deliberately built a short distance away to the east, to allow it time to settle on its foundations before it was attached to the pre-existing building.  The crossing arches are tall and also double-flat-chamfered, and spring from responds composed of two orders of semi-octagonal shafts.  The short S. arcade consists of two wide bays only, formed of double-flat-chamfered arches supported on an octagonal central pier and semi-octagonal responds.  This is probably contemporary with the crossing tower, or nearly so.  An arch of possibly Perpendicular section, dying into the imposts, separates the S. aisle from the transept.


It remains only to describe Bodley's contribution to the building interior. This consists almost entirely of woodwork, meaning principally the roofs and the rood screen and loft, and is distinguished - as so often the case with his work - by the use of skilfully designed painted decoration.  Perhaps the nave roof is best (see the left hand photograph below).  Of arched-braced construction, this is patterned in grey, black and red and has a gilded brattishing along the cornice, creating an effect which is at once both ornate and sombre.  Also fine is the chancel roof, of tie-beam construction with further elaborate decoration;  the flat wooden ceiling beneath the crossing and the S. transept roof of couple type are treated somewhat more simply.  However, it is the rood screen and loft that dominate the church interior.  The screen (shown below centre and below right) is divided into five bays left of the passageway and four on the right, each with complex double-cusped tracery.  The wood has been partly left in its natural colour and partly burnished in gold.  Carved and painted saints adorn it to left and right and on the loft above, where SS. Mary and John stand watchfully beside the cross, while next to them, kneeling angels hold candles.  Again, the effect is sober but rich.  Bodley was good at designing work like this.  He regarded the interior decoration of churches and their furnishings as integral to the buildings themselves and he was as careful personally to superintend this aspect of his business as much as any other.