English Church Architecture.
RAVENSTONEDALE, St. Oswald (NY 722 043),
WESTMORLAND & FURNESS.
(Bedrock: Carboniferous Dinantian Subsystem, Scandal Beck Limestone Formation.)
A well-preserved eighteenth century church in a very attractive rural position.
Attractively situated in a large churchyard which in April is full of daffodils, this is almost a wholly eighteenth century building, notwithstanding the deception perpetrated by the tower battlements. The bell-openings, however, are formed of three stepped, uncusped round-headed lights to the south, and similar but equal lights to the north, while the west wall is blank save only for the W. doorway with a semicircular pediment above a segmental-arch with a central keystone. The nave and chancel are constructed as a single unit, without structural division, apart from the addition of small N. and S. porches at the W. end of the nave, and a narrowing of the building at the junction with the sanctuary where, internally, a wide double-flat-chamfered arch supported on semicircular responds, of probable thirteenth century origin, has been re-set. (See the photograph of the church interior, below left, viewed from the west.) Apart from this and the re-used pointed outer doorway to the S. porch, the dates for the building are apparently 1738 for the tower and 1744 for the rest, which place it all firmly within the lifetimes of most of the principal seventeenth century Palladian architects and populists, including Robert Boyle, Third Earl of Burlington (1694 – 1753), William Kent (1685 - 1748) and Roger Morris (1695 - 1749). Here at Ravenstonedale, the architect/builder appears to have been a local man, John Martin of Newbiggin, who in all likelihood never visited any of these gentlemen's creations and whose awareness of fashionable architectural developments may have derived at second or third hand, but the influence of Palladianism is certainly apparent in the austere N. and S. fronts to the nave and chancel, punctuated only by the eight tall, single-light, round-headed windows with modest keystones in their heads (see the photograph of one of the south windows, below right), and in the large areas of blank wall around and between, which were formerly covered in stucco (until the early 1970s according to notes in the church). The sanctuary has no side windows and only two to the east. The porches are entirely windowless and decorated solely with ball finials at the apices and sides of the gables.
Inside the building, it is a surprise to discover the box-pews laid out transversely as in an Oxbridge college chapel and it is pleasant to find that almost all the furniture appears to be contemporary with the masonry, even though the notes in the church state that the three-decker pulpit (illustrated below left) was re-used from the earlier building. If so, then it cannot have been there long, for surely this is Hanoverian Protestant woodwork of a dramatic but characteristic kind, rising in steeply-inclined stages from a clerk’s desk to a reader’s desk and an exceptionally high pulpit with octagonal tester, from which the preacher could harangue the congregation below, the weary hour long. Inevitably also, the church has a gallery to the west, and it is into the corridor-like space behind it that the porches give entrance. Consequently, the church today is a beautifully-preserved history lesson in early Georgian ecclesiology and a delight to the visitor, though it must provide challenges for its present-day congregation.
Finally, it is necessary to add a brief note on the churchyard, for to the north of the church can be seen the excavated foundations of former cloistral buildings. Although, in Pevsner’s phrase, 'they are not very telling' (The Buildings of England: Cumberland and Westmorland, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1967, p. 285), they once belonged to a little cell of the Gilbertines, a small English monastic order for monks and nuns together, established in 1131 at Sempringham in Lincolnshire, but perhaps dating from the following century here.