Helmsley & Hawnby…not quite Damascus

Nikolaus Pevsner describes All Saints Church, Helmsley as ‘big and self confident, in the C13 style’.

It is always a good sign when the church entrance looks like this.

Stepping into the church is a joy, there are beautiful, bright, colourful murals everywhere.

The Victorian restorers of the church not only retained elements of the earlier church, they also added to them. The beakheads and outer order of the chancel arch are modern as are many other ‘romanesque’ features both within and on the exterior of the church, Rita Wood calls them ‘Heavy handed Victorian additions’, I quite like them.

The capital on the left side of the chancel arch has three heads carved on it, one creature emitting foliage and two small human heads, one wearing a pointy cap. The capital on the right side of the arch has a tiny head carved between the angle of the volutes.

This 10th century Hogback is a bit knocked about, the motif on the top is quite a rare design to find on a Hogback, it is known as a Key Pattern.

There are two chapels within the church, the south chapel is dedicated to Columba and has an altar made of what looks like Swaledale Fossil Limestone and may have come from the quarries at Barton. The North Chapel is dedicated to Aelred and has an altar made with Frosterley Marble from Weardale.

This striking painting is in the north chapel, it’s by Gabriel Max and is called St. Veronica’s Handkerchief. When I first saw the painting, the image was of Christ with his eyes closed, when I looked again his eyes were open. I found this rather disturbing, I was raised in a strict catholic household but have been an atheist, with the odd lapse into heathendom, for the past 45yrs. Was this to be my moment of conversion? was the shepherd calling me back to the fold?…then I read the notice beside the painting … ‘was painted in the middle of the 19th century, it is a form of art with a little trick, where the eyes of christ can be seen either open or closed‘…I laughed, relieved but also feeling slightly unnerved by the experience.

On reflection, I quite like the painting, it was inspired by a miraculous handkerchief that contained a perfect image of the face of Christ. As usual with these sort of Medieval relics, there were three in existence, all claiming to be the original. I suppose most religions have to rely on some form of smoke and mirrors when it comes to dealing with the supernatural.

All Saints is a wonderful church and well worth a visit if you are in the area. The history of the district is written all over its walls often in bold bright mural form. Architecturally it has embraced and built upon its past and is currently undergoing further exterior renovations. The church is open for visitors from 9-5 daily.

Postscript

Driving home I remembered that in her book, Romanesque Yorkshire, Rita Wood compared the tiny carving of a man in a pointy cap to a carving in the church at Hawnby. Hawnby wasn’t too far from Helmsley so I decided to seek it out.

The Church at Hawnby, All Saints, can be found to the west of the village on the Kepwick road. The little church sits in an overgrown churchyard down by the River Rye, the setting is beautiful. The church is picturesque but architecturally fairly unremarkable, Pevsner describes it as ‘basically Norman‘. I found the carving located just inside the church door, it is lovely. Rita Wood thinks that it probably came from the chancel arch, who knows?

Sources

The Buildings of England. Yorkshire, The North Riding. Nikolaus Pevsner. Penguin Books. 1973

Romanesque Yorkshire. Rita Wood. Yorkshire Archaeological Society. Occasional Paper No.9. 2012

Yorkshire A Gazetteer of Anglo-Saxon & Viking Sites. Guy Points. Rihtspell Publishing. 2007

Orm’s Church

Tucked away in the secluded valley of the Hodge Beck is the ancient church of St Gregory. It is thought that there may have been a church on this site as early as the eighth century. A number of early crosses have can be seen built into the walls with further loose remnants held within the church including a quern

Above the south doorway is a sundial that reads, Orm Gamal’s son bought St. Gregory’s Minster when it was all broken down and fallen and he let it be made anew from the ground to Christ and St. Gregory, in Edward’s days, the king, and in Tosti’s days, the Earl. This is day’s Sun marker at every tide. And Haworth me wrought and Brand, priests. The sundial dates to just before the Norman Conquest, we know this because Tosti refers to Earl Tostig, Tostig Godwinson, the Earl of Northumbria from 1055-1065.

The church was restored in 1907 by Temple Moore, of the greatest Victorian church architects. A few elements from the early church can still be seen including the beautiful, tall, narrow Saxon south door, which was once an entrance but now leads into the tower, and a wonderful waterleaf capital.

Just across the valley from the church is the site of the famous Kirkdale Hyena Cave, a place of some significance in the history of the study of geology and evolutionary science. More of that another time.

Map – National Library of Scotland

Jellinge to the Jacobean

St. Andrew’s church at Haughton-le-Skerne is the oldest in Darlington and probably stands on the site of a previous Saxon Church. The church is essentially Norman and has a collection of early medieval carved stones.

I walked up to the porch, it was locked, my heart sank, I walked around to the west door, a big smile, not only an open door but a beautiful plain Norman arch and tympanum.

On entering the church things just got better, I was given a very warm welcome into the church by two lovely attendants who were sat in the baptistry on either side of this handsome font. The original font has gone but the beautiful Frosterly Marble base survives. We had a chat about this and that and I was shown around the church then left to wander.

In the nave there are a number of early medieval stones that have been built into the walls. The stones were found during the 1895 restoration. One of the carvings (bottom picture) stands out as being exceptionally good.

This piece establishes that the best carving from this site occurs with the most purely Scandinavian ornament. The ribbon animal panel on A is closely linked in style with Sockburn 8 and should date from an early stage after the introduction of the Jellinge-type style. It is possible that this piece was carved elsewhere, since it is the only piece from the site in this stone.

Another simple arch and plain tympanum leads into the porch and more remnants of carved stones including some knotwork and fragments of cross slabs. A blackbird has made its nest on a shelf, she watches me but does not move.

Back in the nave, the amount of 17th century woodwork is quite overwhelming. I’m told that this style is known as ‘Cosin woodwork’ named after Bishop Cosin of Durham. This style is unique to County Durham and is now quite rare. Nikolaus Pevsner dates the woodwork to the 1630’s and writes that ‘the church gives a very complete picture of that date.’

The chancel arch is Norman, its single-step simplicity reflects the entrance and porch arches. Below the arch on the left of the picture is a squint or ‘hagioscope’ designed as a viewing point between the nave and the chancel. Below the arch on the right side is a niche with the remains of an original pre-reformation fresco painting. This niche may have housed a statue of the Virgin Mary.

Displayed on a shelf in the south transept are a number of sheets of lead. These were removed from the tower roof. All date to the eighteenth century, three are outlines of shoes, one is a hand and another is an etching of a fully-rigged ship. All of the sheets are initialled, presumably by the craftsmen who repaired the roof at various times.

I would encourage you to visit this beautiful church. This Grade one listed church is warm and welcoming and proudly displays its rich history and heritage. The church is open for visitors every Wednesday 10am-4pm June til November.

Sources

The Buildings of England. County Durham. Nikolas Pevsner. 1953. Penguin Books.

Visitors booklet – available within the church.

The Corpus of Anglo Saxon Stone Sculpture.

Cross shafts to concrete

I took a trip over to Darlington to have a look at some old stones in St Cuthbert’s Church. The website states that the church is open from 11-2… it was wasn’t.

Plan B. Next door to the church is the Town Hall. Designed by Williamson, Faulkner Brown and Partners in collaboration with Borough Architect, A. E. Torbohm. The building opened in May 1970.

The sculpture in front of the building is the work of John Hoskin and is called Resurgence.

Walking the boundary of the building, in parts under the eye of the security guard, I found a pair truncated posts made of Shap Granite. I’m always chuffed when I find a lump of this beautiful stone. I then noticed that half of the market place is paved with the stuff.

After wandering around the town I returned to the church, it was still locked.

An Awayday – Centre Point

In London, I had some time on my hands so decided to have a wander around Charing Cross and the Centre Point tower, located at the junction of Charing Cross Road and New Oxford Street. I’ve passed this building many times, its name has remained in my memory since childhood. Despite my love of modernist architecture, I’ve always viewed Centre Point as a place that has a certain darkness hanging over it.

From the Middle Ages to the 15th Century this busy crossroads was the site of a gallows and a cage for prisoners.

I found an account from 1761 of a bricklayer called John Duke who was buried beneath the crossroad with a stake driven through his body. Duke had murdered his wife and then committed suicide. In the past, suicides were often buried at crossroads, this was to confuse their wandering souls. The stake was used to ‘earth-fasten’ the body.

‘..buried in the centre of a quadrivium, or conflux of four roads..with a stake driven through his heart, And over him drives the ever uproar of unresting London’

Iain Sinclair. Lud Heat. 1975

Up until the 19th century the area was the site of a ‘Rookery’, a term used to describe the poorest of slums. The St. Giles Rookery, nicknamed ‘The Holy Land’, was a notorious place, a network of alleyways occupied by the lowest strata of society, the destitute, criminals and prostitutes. The St. Giles Rookery was the location for William Hogarth’s 1751 engraving, Gin Lane.

This 1870 engraving by IR & G Cruikshank also depicts the Rookery. Its title, Tom & Jerry Masquerading it amongst the Cadgers in the Back Slums of the Holy Lands.

The slums were eventually cleared during the 19th century to make way for New Oxford Street. In 1964 work began on the Centre Point tower. On completion, the 36 storey building became London’s first skyscraper. Ernö Goldfinger called it ‘London’s first pop art skyscraper’.

Developer, Harry Hyams wanted to lease the building to a single occupant and allowed the building to remain empty for a number of years. Hyams was happy to leave the building unoccupied, sitting on his investment as it escalated in capital value. Being empty, the building was not liable for the payment of rates to the local authority.

In 1974 London housing campaigners organised a successful occupation of the building to draw attention to the housing crisis in London.

In the 1980’s the building became the headquarters for the Council for British Industry (CBI) called by some, ‘the bosses organisation’. It has also been the HQ for the Saudi national oil company, Aramco, and the Chinese oil company, Petrochina, amongst others.

In 2015 work began to convert the building from commercial to residential use, the building became ready for occupation in 2018. A combination of unsold flats and flats being bought by overseas concerns have meant that few flats show signs of occupation, this is most noticeable on an evening when much of the tower is in darkness. The tower has joined the growing list of London’s ‘ghost towers’.

The tower became a Grade II listed building in 1995

1, 2 & 3 bedroom apartments are currently on sale with a price range of between £1.8m – £8.5m. The current price of a penthouse is undisclosed. In 2018 the Guardian reported the cost of a penthouse as £55m.

The housing crisis in the capital continues to worsen. In 2021 The Evening Standard reported that 250,000 Londoners were on waiting lists for council homes.

Postcript

I was discussing my thoughts on the tower with my friend and native Londoner, Clive Martin, his thoughts on the area.

Charing Cross in general feels like a bit of a dark portal, no matter what they do to it… There’s this walkway near the station, that was home to this slightly sinister magic shop for yonks. The Paul Daniels posters only added to the eeriness.

Sources

Hidden London

Londonist

Wikipedia

Lud Heat. Iain Sinclair. 1975

Occupation Image via Working Class History

The Guardian – How Centre Point attracts the rich and sidelines the poor 2018

The Evening Standard – London is ‘epicentre’ of housing crisis as 250,000 Londoners await council homes. 2021

Historic England

Clive Martin

Maps

National Library of Scotland

Library of Congress