CROSBY RAVENSWORTH, St. Laurence (NY 148 628),
WESTMORLAND & FURNESS.
(Bedrock: Carboniferous Dinantian Subsystem, Alston Formation.)
A substantially rebuilt but nonetheless interesting church in the east Cumbrian dales,
chiefly notable for the alterations and additions of 1811 by Sir Robert Smirke,
in the Gothick, 'pre-archaeological ' phase of the Gothic Revival.
Crosby Ravensworth is one of a number of delightful little villages nestling quietly in the relatively unvisited dales of eastern Cumbria, but its church is also surprisingly big, suggesting the parish was once of greater importance than it could claim to be now. The building consists of a W. tower, a nave with N. and S. lean-to aisles, cross-gabled transepts and porches, and a chancel with a Victorian N. vestry formed of two distinct parts. The tower rises in three stages, supported for the first one and a half by diagonal buttresses, and contains the only genuinely mediaeval feature now visible outside, namely its three-light Perpendicular W. window with supermullioned tracery, for St. Laurence’s is one of several churches in this region whose interior tells a different and much earlier story than its exterior. Here, with the exception of the lower stages of the tower, everything else outside is nineteenth century in date, yet this is by no means without interest for it is the product of two separate building phases, of which the first was undertaken around 1811 (as inscribed above the outer doorway to the S. porch (as seen below left), together with the initials of the masons who constructed it), in the earliest 'pre-archaeological' stage of the Gothic Revival, before the studies of Thomas Rickman (1776 - 1841) in particular, enabled mediaeval architecture to be better understood. The architect here was Sir Robert Smirke (1781 - 1867), whose most important contributions were the S. porch, the priest’s doorway in the S. wall of the chancel, and the tower bell-stage. Smirke was the architect of a number of dramatic country houses, of which Lowther Castle (built 1806-11) between here and Penrith was probably the most important, but he seems to have struggled to convert his grandiose domestic schemes into something appropriate for a church. That his work is curious rather than successful is evident in his extraordinary treatment of the priest’s S. doorway, which in the Middle Ages was usually a modest – even inconspicuous - affair, provided solely for reasons of practicality, but which in Smirke’s hands has been elevated into an entrance better suited to a Renaissance villa, with its deep round-headed arch creating a second, shallow porch, distinguished by a bold inscription above declaring 'Ecce sponsus venit' ('Behold the bridegroom cometh') and by massive angle buttresses which terminate in crocketed pinnacles and make this appear the principal feature on the south side of the entire building. (See the photograph below right.) As for its style, this is probably best described as 'Classical-Gothic' for considered in isolation, it is neither one thing nor the other. It altogether outdoes the S. porch, further to the west, which is also very strange but designed on a more modest scale. Finally the tower bell-stage features another of Smirke’s 'fortified mansion' inventions in the form of the little stair turret corbelled out at the northeast angle, which rises to a conical roof.
This leaves all the later nineteenth century work at St. Laurence’s - which includes the aisles, transepts, chancel and vestry – to the credit of J.S. Crowther of Kendal (1832 - 1893), joint author of The Churches of the Middle Ages (London, George Bell, 1857), who appears to have produced his designs in the 1850s or soon after, in what is - after a fashion - a First Pointed or pseudo-Early English style. Yet Crowther’s work cannot claim much historical authenticity either, for while most of his windows are lancets or designed in geometrical style (frequently decorated around the arch heads and connected at the springing level by a line of dog-tooth ornament), there are a good many oddities, such as the rather ungainly wheel windows in the gables of the transepts or the four curious dormer windows in the roof over the nave, one on either side of the N. and S. transepts.
However, the real antiquity of the building is only revealed inside, where the remains of a cruciform Norman-Transitional church are to be found. The north, west and south crossing arches and somewhat later nave arcades, survive in their original form, the latter each composed of three double-flat-chamfered arches supported springing from quatrefoil piers with fillets (see the photograph of the S. arcade, left), dated to c. 1220 by the nailhead on one of the S. arcade capitals. Yet the three surviving crossing arches can hardly be later than c. 1200-10 for although they are also pointed, their three flat-chamfered orders spring from responds formed of two orders of shafts with the most primitive of capitals, which curve out sharply to meet wide rectangular abaci. (The photograph, below left, shows the crossing viewed from the nave.) The renewed east crossing arch is presumably by Crowther but an arch like the other three (although shorter now) between the N. transept and N. aisle (below right), could be the original arch re-used. In contrast, the arch between the S. transept and S. aisle, is narrower (in fact, lancet-pointed) and composed of two flat-chamfered orders above renewed circular responds. Perhaps this is contemporary with the nave arcades and the S. aisle S. doorway (inside the porch), which carries a series of rolls and dog-tooth moulding above responds with two attached orders of colonnettes. This may also be the date of the tower arch to the nave, which was surely erected for an earlier tower than the present one, judging from its crude construction and the single flat chamfer that continues all the way round, without capitals.
Finally, almost all the church's other internal features appear Victorian or later. They include the blank arcading round the internal walls of the S. transept, the internal detailing of the windows, the roofs throughout the building, the sedilia and piscina in the S. wall of the sanctuary, the stone pulpit, and all the remaining woodwork.