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English Church Architecture.


WYKEHAM, St. Helen & All Saints  (SE 965 834),


(Bedrock:  Upper Jurassic, Upper Calcareous Grit Member.)


A small church, largely rebuilt by William Butterfield (1814-1900), early in his career. 






























William Butterfield was precisely the kind of architect the Cambridge Camden Society (later Ecclesiological) Society liked.  A dogmatic if also unconventional High Churchman, committed to building churches that facilitated the 'proper' execution of the Christian rubrics, it was he that they chose to build their model church in Margaret Street, Westminster, in 1849, which they intended to be an exemplar for church architects everywhere.  They approved of ornament and they approved of display, in both of which Butterfield excelled, and Butterfield's profound interest in structural polychromy seemed one representation of this.


Butterfield was an abstemious bachelor, however, determined to plough his own furrow.  Self-contained and indifferent to criticism or the approbation of his peers, he could not always be relied upon to deliver what was wanted.  And there were also very strict limits to Butterfield's tolerance of Ritualism:  he would not attend his church of All Saints', Margaret Street, after it was completed, for example (Paul Thompson, William Butterfield, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971, p. 33), probably because he objected to the incense, lights, and/or elevation of the Host.  He had, after all, been brought up as a Nonconformist, some aspects of which he would never throw off.  Yet his mature professional style owed a greater debt to the High Church Pugin than it would ever do to the Evangelical Ruskin, and Butterfield's use of coloured materials predated its advocacy in Ruskin's The Seven Lamps of Architecture, albeit not by much.  He quickly became its supreme exponent too, for only Street proved a serious rival.  Mocked in later years for his 'streaky bacon' or 'holy zebra' style, it was his misfortune to have many of his buildings ruined by subsequent generations, sometimes by the insertion of heavy stained glass in the windows, which prevented his colourful interiors from being seen in good light, or, more usually in the twentieth century, by whitewashing over them by those who thought them garish, as at St. Mary's Hitchin (Hertfordshire).  Some survive in good heart however, and while Butterfield's churches illustrated on this web-site include a number of relatively minor buildings, they also feature  a few examples of his best.



Butterfield retained the detached mediaeval tower when he rebuilt this church in 1853.  It rises in three stages, supported by diagonal buttresses and stands on the western boundary of the churchyard where Butterfield repurposed it as a gatehouse by cutting a passage through the lower stage and inserting a quadripartite vault underneath, with flat-chamfered ribs.  He also added the broach spire, with its single tier of gabled lucarnes facing the cardinal directions, but the bell-openings are mediaeval, formed of two lancet lights and encircled quatrefoils in the heads.  The date of this work is probably c. 1300, which matches the First Pointed style of Butterfield's new building, situated twenty yards (18 m.) away to the northeast.


This is formed of a chancel with a N. organ chamber, and a steeply-pitched aisled nave with a S. porch and typical Butterfieldian N. chimney (for the heating system).  Windows, as expected, are in geometric style.  The nave W. wall is pierced by two windows separated by a buttress, with trefoil-cusped lights and pointed trefoils beneath Y-tracery (as illustrated, top right).  The two-light N. and S. windows to the aisles all differ slightly from their neighbours, while the clerestory consists of trefoils or quatrefoils in circles, sometimes set vertically, sometimes at an eighth of a turn.  The chancel E. window is formed of three lights with a lower central light to create space in the head for a rounded triangle containing a sexfoil with three pointed and three rounded foils.  The porch is windowless but has another quadripartite vault within.  Constructional colour is largely absent, both outside and in.


Inside the church, the nave arcades are formed of three bays plus one, with the narrower westernmost bay separated from the others by short intervening wall pieces.  It is difficult understand why this arrangement was considered necessary but one possible explanation is that it was intended to emphasize the entrance bay.  All these arches are double-flat-chamfered and the arcade proper is supported on thick octagonal piers in the centre and narrow semicircular shafts at the ends.  The inner order of the chancel arch is supported on corbels and the arch between the chancel and organ chamber is single-flat-chamfered only.  Roofs are a little odd:  the chancel roof has very deep ashlar pieces and is framed in six cants, and the nave roof (illustrated above right), pitched at Butterfield's favoured angle of 60˚, is tied together solely by collars, crossing between purlins halfway up the pitch.  It has clearly entirely adequate for purposes of construction, but it does look flimsy and one wonders whether Butterfield designed it as a deliberate provocation to anyone insolent enough to challenge its safety.  Finally, furnishings in the church amount to very little, but the octagonal font is also curious though not without ingenuity, for although the octagonal bowl is perfectly simple, with cardinal faces decorated with floral patterns in squares, the stem is cut from a single block of stone from which the shafts have been only partially defined, giving the (almost certainly deliberate) impression carving was interrupted before the work was complete.



[Other churches by Butterfield featured on this web-site are Hitchin Holy Saviour in Hertfordshire, Etal in Northumberland, Baldersby St. James, Dalton and Sessay in North Yorkshire, Babbacombe in Torbay, and All Saints Margaret Street in the City of Westminster.]