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English Church Architecture.


SEDBERGH, St. Andrew  (SD 658 921),


(Bedrock:  Silurian Ludlow to Pridoli Series, Kendal Group.)


A large but heavily restored town church that presents many difficulties

in its precise interpretation.

Sedburgh is a pleasant little town that was in Yorkshire until 1974, when it was moved to the newly created county of Cumbria.  Anomalously, it is still in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.  The church stands in the centre of the town at a bend in the road and comprises a modest W. tower, and a nave and chancel without structural division, with aisles and chapels all together forming a perfect rectangle, although there are also small N. & S. porches and a modern extension of the S. aisle alongside the tower which incorporates a kitchen. The nave has a clerestory above the aisles, but the chancel does not, notwithstanding Pevsnerís comments to the contrary (Nikolaus Pevsner & Enid Radcliffe, The Buildings of England: Yorkshire West Riding, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1967, p. 433).  The exterior of the building, like that of many of the local churches, has been substantially renewed, but here the interior also - although still of considerable interest - has undergone many alterations, and neither Pevsner nor the church guide give a proper account of these or seem even to recognize their full extent. The following entry can be found in the Annual Report of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings for June 1886, however, which will be quoted here in full:

'The Committee has done its utmost to save this church from the destructions of "restoration", and nothing now remains for it to do but to record a complete failure.

'As the town possesses a public school and consequently many men of high education, there were good reasons for hoping that here at least history would be valued and its evidence respected.  It was therefore with some confidence that the Committee, after carefully considering the survey made by one of its professional members, sent a detailed report to the Vicar and Churchwardens.  Beyond the beauty given by age there was but little to attract attention, although the church has a history of exceptional interest.  It must at one time have been of considerable importance, as it possessed, previous to "restoration", the remains of no less than five screens.  Two of these screens ran across the south aisle, and must apparently have formed two chapels, one beyond the other - an arrangement which we believe to be unusual.

'With a little ingenuity, the remains, for they were only remains, of these screens, some of which formed part of seats, might have been saved.  We might have forgiven their destruction had it not been for the way in which the S. arcade of the church was dealt with.  The Vicar stated in the local papers that he was strongly opposed to the taking down of the arcade, but he finally agreed to it upon the statement of the Architects that the foundations of the piers were bad, and on receiving a promise that it should be rebuilt stone for stone. This has resulted in an entirely new base of a new design being substituted for a six-clustered Early English base, and in the arcade being provided with a new label, although originally no such label existed.  Had the Vicar known of the ease with which the piers could have been underbuilt, he would probably have held his ground.  Of course all the old clear glass and all the old plaster were removed.

'We may also relate what happened to the N. aisle.  The carpenters found their new pitch pine roof did not fit the old corbels, so the upper part of the wall was taken down and rebuilt, in order that the corbels might be lifted high enough to come under the jacklegs of the roof.

'It is to be feared that this is one of many instances where the Architect is entirely to blame.  The new work is well and carefully designed, but there has been a want of appreciation of the old work, and possibly no knowledge of what was being done.'


In the light of this then, considering the outside of the building first, the tower is of curious appearance since the bell-stage is corbelled out (see the photograph, left, taken from the northeast), making it wider than the stage beneath;  it is buttressed to the west only and rises to three-light square-headed bell-openings, battlements, and pinnacles at the corners.  The aisles and chapels are embattled, and windows here and elsewhere (including the nave clerestory) are mostly square-headed with three or four uncusped round lights of Tudor appearance, though a few with trefoil-cusping are possibly somewhat earlier. Nevertheless, it seems possible that extensive restoration work was carried out on the church in the course of the sixteenth century as well as the nineteenth and this should probably be borne in mind when the interior is considered.  The porch doorways are round-arched, with two flat chamfers on the outer doorways and single hollow chamfers on the inner:  they were considered by Pevsner to be Norman, but they probably are not, for neither their neatly-cut voussoirs nor their mouldings look commensurate with such a date, and so it seems likely that these are Tudor too, or else restored or modified in that period, though disentangling what may or may not have been done then or later, presents no small challenge.    


Inside, the nave and chancel arcades would surely be problematic enough to interpret without the additional complications revealed above.  One might have expected these difficulties to be eased by virtue of the fact that (a) the arcades continue alongside the nave and chancel without division and (b) the piers along their entire length are circular and most of the arches, round-headed, with only a single flat-chamfered moulding!  Yet within these circumscriptions, the variations are legion, for in the first place, the N. arcade consists of eight bays and the S. arcade of six, even though they are almost the same length, and secondly, each arcade divides visibly into a number of distinct sections.  They must thus be considered systematically, in turn, and such conclusions as may be drawn must remain highly speculative.


First, therefore, the eight-bay N. arcade falls into three parts, comprising: (i) the two westernmost bays, which are followed by a short wall piece; (ii) the next four bays, which continue to the chancel steps; and (iii), the two easternmost bays, which divide the chancel from the N. chapel.  None of these have hood-moulds and the first six bays are round-headed, but if any have a genuinely Norman basis (which they may not), it is surely only the first two, which are narrower and taller than the others, with rougher masonry and octagonal abaci.  By contrast, the next four bays (shown right, from the west) have square abaci with just the corners chamfered off, and are constructed of the most accurately-cut stones with the finest mortar joints between, of any in the building, suggesting they comprise the latest work. Three blocked rectangles immediately above were presumably once clerestory windows (probably quatrefoils), but, needless-to-say, the windows comprising the Tudor clerestory make no reference whatever to the positions of the arcade aches below.  Finally, the two bays of the arcade between the chancel and N. chapel are pointed with circular abaci.       


The S. arcade, if it can be trusted at all, consists of six wide bays entirely out of synchronization with their northern counterparts, which itself suggests that nothing on this side is precisely contemporary with anything opposite.  This arcade also falls into three parts, of which the four bays between the tower and the chancel steps (the last two of which are illustrated below left) are round-arched and carry a narrow single flat chamfer, the fifth (also shown in the photograph) is round but has two wider flat chamfers, and the final bay is pointed and single flat-chamfered.  All these arches, as stated above, have nineteenth century hood-moulds (labels) and this feature, together with what seem likely to be wholly renewed capitals, probably ensures that any attempt to order them chronologically is doomed from the outset.   The western respond (below right) is old however, and unlike any other in the church as this is a compound affair, formed of two orders of shafts, the inner of which is keeled.  This appears to be early thirteenth century work, perhaps of c.1200-20, so whatever the age of the round arch above, it is unlikely to have been earlier.


Interpreting these small stylistic differences and disentangling them from the falsifications of later years, is inevitably full of danger, but in the opinion of this writer, Pevsnerís ascription of all these arches originally to two periods in the thirteenth century, is almost certainly too simplistic.  A twelfth century date would probably fit the two western arches of the N. arcade, though they may subsequently have been altered, but the next four arches on this side are surely Tudor or later replacements, while the two eastern arches seem likely to represent a mid to late thirteenth century extension of the arcade alongside the chancel.  The wall piece between the second and third bays on this side, could either represent a break in construction, as Pevsner suggested, or be the creation of the restorers when the four central bays were rebuilt.  The first four arches to the S. arcade may once have been earlier than the two eastern bays of the N. arcade but later than its two western bays, suggesting the decision to add a S. aisle was made after the original N. aisle had been completed, but in the absence of drawings made before the Victorian work was undertaken, it is futile to pursue this further.


Fortunately after all this, the other internal features of the building can be described very briefly.  The tower arch is steeply pointed and carries a single flat chamfer, suggesting it is thirteenth century work and earlier than the tower with which it now communicates.  The pulpit seems to be the only significant piece of woodwork in the church, being, in all likelihood, Georgian, and formed of two tiers of panelling, the lower featuring linenfold.  Finally, the building contains a number of minor wall monuments, set in the spandrels of the arcade arches, one of which to the south (between arches three and four) is signed by Robert Siever (1794 - 1865).  It commemorates John Dawson (d. 1820) and features a bust looking northwest.