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English Church Architecture -

Northumberland.

 

ETAL, St. Mary (NT 929 394)     (June 2014)

(Bedrock:  Carboniferous Tournaisian Series, Ballagan Cementstone Group)

 

 

This little church (shown above, from the northwest, and below, from the southwest) is the result of a commission in 1855 from Lady Augusta FitzClarence for a mortuary chapel in memory of her late husband, Lord Frederick, who had recently died in India, and of the couple's only child, Frederica Augusta, who had outlived him only by a matter of months (church guide).  Lady Augusta's chosen architect was the London-based William Butterfield (1814 - 1900), who was then overseeing the construction of his sumptuously designed All Saints', Margaret Street, Westminster, which was intended to illustrate the Ecclesiologists' "model" church.  Perhaps there was insufficient money available to make much of a show here on this furthest-flung border of England or perhaps he was simply too preoccupied with his responsibilities elsewhere, but Butterfield certainly appears to have treated St. Mary's as very much a "bread and butter" job, and it would be interesting to know whether, in fact, he ever paid this distant, rather inaccessible spot a visit.  The plan of the building is compact and sensible enough, formed of just a nave and chancel without external structural division, a N. porch, a N. vestry, an independently-gabled S. chapel divided internally into two parts and extending neither the full length of the nave to the west nor of the chancel to the east, and a bellcote over the nave, roughly halfway along the ridge line.  What is lacking is any real sign of originality, let alone anything truly characteristic of its author, unless that might be the excessively steep roofs or the very modest nod at structural polychromy, with exterior walls constructed of buff coloured sandstone banded with pale grey, a contrast even less striking in practice than it sounds in theory.  The crazy-paving effect of the mortar around the chiselled sandstone blocks of the interior walls is spurious, since these were originally plastered.  Still more surprising is the lack of interest Butterfield shows in the arrangement of the floor tiles, which he usually built up in complexity and richness from the west end of a church to the east but which never rise above the commonplace here.

 

Butterfield fenestrated his building with a mixed bag of trefoil-cusped lancets with ogee points to the north and the south, a two-light window with a trefoil in the head in the chapel W. wall, a round window formed of a large ogee-lobed quatrefoil in a circle, high up in the chapel E. wall, a three-light window with a large lobed cinquefoil in the head in the nave W. wall, and a three-light window with conventional curvilinear tracery in the chancel E. wall.  The last is a clear indication of the church's early Victorian date, for such flexible Decorated traceries contravened all notions of "correctness" after Ruskin prejudicial theorising had had time to take effect (notably in The Seven Lamps of Architecture, published in 1849).  The porch is windowless but the outer doorway is double-chamfered above an order of shafts with fillets and circular capitals, and the inner doorway carries a complex series of mouldings including a hollow chamfer and a couple of rolls above another order of shafts.

 

 

Inside the building, a single arch towards the east separates the nave and the chapel, but the chapel appears more open than that suggests, due to a two-bay stone screen between the  chapel and the chancel, formed of three-light, originally unglazed openings, with very large trefoils in their heads.  They match the style on a grander scale of the piscina and aumbry recessed in the sanctuary S. wall beyond.  The arch between the two halves of the S. chapel, consists of a single, wide flat chamfer above semicircular shafts, and the eastern section is largely given over to a plain tomb-chest in the dead centre, of grey stone, decorated only by a sword and a cross in shallow relief and laid seemingly at random on the ridged top.