Friday, 17 January 2020

Sheffield Cathedral - The Exterior


A general view of Sheffield Cathedral in March

My trip to Killamarsh to see St. Giles’ church didn’t take as long as I had envisaged and, after returning to Sheffield on the tram, I decided to have a look at Sheffield Cathedral - the parish church before it was raised to this rank when the Diocese of Sheffield was created in 1914. 

A general view of Sheffield Cathedral in July

The original C12 church, built by William de Lovetot, was rebuilt in the Perpendicular Gothic style from c.1430 but, apart from the tower and crocketed spire, the external fabric seen today is the product of several phases of rebuilding that took place during the C18 and C19, with further additions in the C20. 

The crocketed spire

With so little of the original fabric being retained, it hasn’t been a priority for exploration since starting my archaeological investigation of mediaeval churches in 2016. Its stonework is not entirely without merit and, having briefly visited it several times, I have found various points of interest for readers of this Language of Stone Blog

Various views of a pair of grotesques on a gate post

Entering the churchyard from the south-east, a magnificent collection of grotesques adorn a set of four gateposts that were removed in the 1960’s and replaced during the Gateway Project. They always make me smile and I have photographed them several times in different lighting conditions, the last being to provide some inspiration for a ceramic project at the Art House - along with those that I have seen at All Saints church in Youlgrave.

A ceramic grotesque made at the Art House in Sheffield

The latest additions to the cathedral, completed in 1966, are built in a medium grained gritstone that has an extremely uniform buff colour, which is a characteristic of stone quarried from the Ashover Grit in Derbyshire - such as Stoke Hall, Stanton Moor and Darley Dale; however, the western part of the St. George’s Chapel uses stone that has a distinct light pink tinge, which is a probably a variation from within the same quarry. 

20th century additions to Sheffield Cathedral

The extensions added between 1936 and 1948 are again built of uniformly buff coloured medium grained sandstone, with its cross-bedding being exposed by differential weathering, which is not a feature of the 1960’s extension. Sometimes, the accumulation of dirt on sandstone after abrasive cleaning can generate a similar pattern but I have not yet examined the stonework in detail. 

Cross-bedding in the Rivelin Grit 

The Victorian and earlier elements of the fabric, at least to the east of the south transept, are built in the much coarser grained Rivelin Grit, which is seen in many of Sheffield’s older buildings and the Wicker Arch and associated railway viaduct. Geologically, this is the same as the gritstone that form Burbage Edge and Higger Tor, where the formation is better known by the more recent name of Chatsworth Grit

A detail of the Rivelin Grit

Sheffield Cathedral was also one of the stop off points on the field trip for the Sheffield U3A Geology Group, when investigating the building stones of Sheffield, when they had a good look at the Rivelin Grit and also the plinth to the statue of James Montgomery, which is made of grey granite from Cornwall/Devon

The statue of James Montgomery

A particularly interesting feature, which is tucked away at the rear of the cathedral, is a tomb slab made of alabaster. This was once inside the cathedral, but was taken outside in the 1960’s and, being exposed to the elements, and this rock form of the soluble mineral gypsum has been deeply weathered. Looking closely, the sides are incised with sharp furrows that have an appearance of a badlands landscape in miniature.

An alabaster tomb slab

Saturday, 11 January 2020

St. Giles' Church in Killamarsh - Part 2


A general view of the east end

Continuing my exploration of St. Giles’ church in Killamarsh, the chancel was rebuilt in the 1840’s using a light brown/orange Coal Measures sandstone, with some iron banding but, apart from the large window with reticulated tracery, there is not much of interest. 


A general view of the north elevation

The entire north side, built in pale cream coloured Magnesian Limestone, was added in 1895 and the walling is rock faced with sawn quoins and dressings. The windows to the vestry are square headed in the Perpendicular Gothic style, with those of the north aisle being arched with ogee headed lights, with tracery that has elements of both Perpendicular and Decorated Gothic styles.


A date stone with a floriated cross on the north aisle

The buttress to the north-west corner of the north aisle has a date stone comprising a panel with a floriated cross carved into it with a date of 1895, which commemorates the building of the new aisle and vestry, but there is nothing else of interest on the north side. 


The Norman south door

Entering the porch, the Norman origin of the church is evidenced by the round arched south door, with double chevron decoration, a single order of colonnettes, and foliated capitals. The surrounding walling is plastered, however, and there is no evidence of this being in its original position or reset.


A general view of the interior showing the north arcade

Once inside the church, I was disappointed to see that it was completely plastered and painted white, with the only exposed stonework being the five corbel brackets that are set into the wall of the north aisle. Each is carved into the head of a saint – Mary the Virgin, Giles, Mary Magdaline (sic), Chad and Cecilia. 


Carved corbel brackets in the north aisle

The most interesting stonework feature is the C12 font, which the guide book says was retrieved from a cobbler who had used it for soaking leather. The large octagonal bowl is quite unusual in that it is made from local Coal Measures sandstone, with Liesegang rings and numerous iron nodules, and the rim is marked where a knife has been sharpened. 


A detail of the font

Having finished a very quick look in the interior, I briefly looked at the mediaeval preaching cross in the churchyard, with its C19 wheel cross head, before having a quick look around the vicinity to see if there was anything interesting. 


The mediaeval cross

Apart from the church and the cross, only three farm buildings in Killamarsh are listed and, after looking at a few examples of walling and photographing the sandstone escarpment to the east of the church, I headed back into Sheffield to have a good look around Sheffield Cathedral.


Views of the landscape and walling stone

St. Giles' Church in Killamarsh - Part 1


A general view of St. Giles' church 

After my day out to Barlborough, my next trip was to Killamarsh, originally a small agricultural settlement next to the River Rother, whose fortunes were changed by the industrial revolution. Its coal seams supplied the steel industry of Sheffield, a forge exploited local iron ore and the Chesterfield Canal opened up further commercial opportunities. 

A view of St. Giles' church tower from Kirkcroft Lane 

St. Giles’ church is set on a ridge of Pennine Middle Coal Measures Formation sandstone about 500 metres from the modern town centre. Approaching from Kirkcroft Lane, after a leisurely journey that included the Supertram from Sheffield city centre to Halfway, I was immediately struck by the stone used in the C15 tower. 

Churches with towers in mottled Rotherham Red sandstone

It is a red/yellow mottled, medium grained, cross bedded sandstone that is just like the variety of Rotherham Red sandstone used to build All Hallows church in Harthill, the towers of St. Peter and St. Paul in Todwick and St. John the Baptist in Wales and for alterations to the original aisleless nave of the latter. In Harthill, which is just 3 km to the east, several old quarries have been identified in the village – which once had a thriving grindstone industry – but I have not yet seen a source of mottled sandstone.

The west elevation of the tower at St. Giles' church

Looking closely at the towers of these churches, the windows to their belfries look almost identical and their angled buttresses, castellated parapets and the position of their gargoyles are very similar – except those at Wales were removed during the remodelling of the parapet during its late Victorian restoration.

The church towers in Harthill, Todwick and Wales

When exploring the mediaeval churches of South Yorkshire and Derbyshire, I have relied on the Pevsner Architectural Guides, Historic England listings, church guides and any other information that I can find on the internet. There is rarely information on the precise dating of any phase of construction, except relating to Victorian restorations, and at best this often seems to be an educated guess. 

The restored west window to the tower

I don’t know enough about the history of mediaeval church building, or whether documentation exists to support this but, in this instance, there are so many similarities between the aforementioned churches – which are all close together - to suggest perhaps that one master mason was responsible for the design and building of the C15 parts of all of them. 

A general view along the south elevation

Walking clockwise around the church, the south wall of the original nave is presumably the C14 element referred to in the Historic England listing and it is built out of the local sandstone, with its typically light brown colouration.

A restored Decorated Gothic window

To the left of the porch, there is a restored Decorated Gothic window with Geometric tracery but there are two unusual triangular headed windows ion the right hand side of the porch. These are identical to those seen in the south wall and the north chapel of St. James’ church in Barlborough and are considered to be late Perpendicular Gothic by Pevsner. 

A restored Perpendicular Gothic window

In both churches, these windows are not original and have been presumably been inserted during the major work that took place from 1894-1899 at St. James', by an unnamed architect, and in 1895 at St. Giles', by J.M. Brooks, who added the vestry and north aisle. 

A general view of St. Giles' church from the south-east

Sunday, 5 January 2020

St. James' Church in Barlborough


A general view of the south elevation

The church of St. James the Greater is set on the southern edge of the spur of the Magnesian Limestone escarpment that is occupied by the old village of Barlborough, which dates back to the C5. It is listed in Domesday Book as Barleburg, with a priest and church, although the oldest part of the current church dates back to the C12, with C14 alterations and a period of substantial rebuilding between 1894 and 1899. 

A general view from Church Walk

From the north-east end of the churchyard, at the start of Church Walk, it is possible to determine a change in the pattern of the dolomitic limestone in the tower, at about a third of the way up the second stage – at about the same level as the top of the clerestory windows. 

The west elevation of the tower

The lower section comprises walling built in thin courses, with large quoins that are typically double the bed height of the latter, but the masonry above has general walling and corner stones of the same size. From the second to the third stages of the tower, the pattern changes yet again with a reversion to the use of larger quoins and – looking very closely – the blocks are more regularly shaped and, although show irregular courses, suggest a later date. 

A detail of the west end of the tower

Arriving at the church, a large lancet window in the west elevation of the tower and a smaller lancet in its south elevation are good indicators of the Early English Gothic style, with the belfry windows in the third stage of the tower being late Perpendicular Gothic

A view of the tower from the south-east

The castellated parapet and the few courses of stone beneath the stringcourse are again quite different in character, being composed of very well squared ashlar blocks, and it is therefore highly likely that this forms part of the Victorian restoration, to which Pevsner also attributes the clerestory and the south aisle. 

The south aisle and clerestory

Taking a quick look at the south elevation, whilst sheltering from the heavy rain under the trees, I could see that the chancel is predominantly built of local dolomitic limestone, with occasional blocks of sandstone, which show deep cavernous decay

The south elevation of the chancel

Its windows, with triangular heads, are described by Pevsner as being Perpendicular Gothic but their sharp profiles indicate that these have been restored. Further evidence of this phase of restoration is seen below the eaves to the roof, where two mediaeval gargoyles have been reset into masonry that comprises two courses of long stones. 

An old gargoyle

A particularly interesting feature is the set of four escutcheons that are set into the south chancel wall. I know nothing about the subject but, as demonstrated at St. Lawrence’s church in Hatfield, an expert in heraldry would probably be able to assign a reasonably accurate date to the chancel - based on these coats of arms.

Escutcheons in the south wall of the chancel

Moving clockwise around the church to the C19 vestry, whose north window matches those of the clerestory, the door surround is built in what is obviously White Mansfield stone – with its fine green clay beds being weathered out. 

White Mansfield stone in the vestry doorway

By this time, the rain was falling so hard that I could only scamper around the rest of the north elevation to take a few record photographs, whilst sheltering under various trees, before exploring its interior, which was open for the annual flower festival

A general view of the north elevation

On the day of my previous trip to Old Brampton, it had been so hot that the rubber grip of my Canon Powershot G16 had become detached and I had to use my old Canon EOS 400D on this occasion - only to subsequently discover a problem with a strong colour cast that I could not correct in Photoshop.

An adjusted photo of a C12 capital in the north aisle

Saturday, 4 January 2020

An Exploration of Barlborough - Part 1


A detail of an ironstone nodule in sandstone walling

When working from the Chesterfield office of the District Valuer/Valuation Office in the mid 1980’s, my patch was North East Derbyshire – a part of the county that is underlain by Coal Measures strata and whose landscape was dominated by pit heads, coal waste tips and associated iron foundries, chemical works and engineering industries. 
Even after the closure of the collieries and the landscaping of their waste tips, I hadn’t considered it to be worth visiting; however, when passing through Eckington and Barlborough on the Stagecoach No.53 bus on my day out to Bolsover, I noticed their churches and some interesting historic buildings and decided to investigate Barlborough a week later. 


A general view along High Street

With rain falling by the time that I arrived, I only undertook a very quick exploration of the old centre of the village, which stands on the edge of the Magnesian Limestone escarpment, and realised that I would have to come back another day for a better look. 


The Memorial Gateway

Although many of the vernacular buildings are built in cream/pale yellow dolomitic limestone, there is also a lot of Carboniferous sandstone. The Memorial Gateway on High Street, built in 1897, has laminated Carboniferous sandstone for the walling stone with massive sandstone for the dressings and the village cross, at the junction of Park Street, is also constructed of sandstone, although I didn’t closely examine it. 


The village cross

Barlborough Old Hall, built in 1618 with a design attributed to both John Smythson and Robert Smythson, has been described in an estate agent’s sales particulars as being built in sandstone that came from the Hardwick Hall quarry, 13 km to the south. 


The south elevation of Old Barlborough Hall

Having encountered Hardwick stone more than 25 years ago, when advising English Heritage on a stone suitable for restoring the Little Castle at Bolsover Castle, I recall that it is like very many minor sandstones found in the Pennine Middle Coal Measures Formation – full of iron oxides, not especially durable and essentially only really suitable for local vernacular buildings. 


A general view of Barlborough Old Hall from the north-west

Studying the few general photos of the fabric that I took very closely, the sandstone is generally highly weathered, has cavernous decay in many places and most of the quoins and dressings have been restored. 


The north elevation of Barlborough Old Hall

What interests me most about this house, however, is the sandstone used in the west end of the north-west wing, which I am pretty sure is the variety of Mexborough Rock known as “Rotherham Red Sandstone”, whose nearest source is the village of Harthill, 4 km to the north. 


A detail of the sandstone in the wall opposite Barlborough Old Hall

Opposite Barlborough Old Hall, the walling to some simple agricultural buildings exhibits the high content of iron in the Pennine Middle Coal Measures Formation sandstones, which once provided the raw materials for various foundries that were important industries in the towns of Eckington and Staveley, a few kilometres to the west. 


The lodge to Barlborough Hall

The C19 lodge to Barlborough Hall is built with pale orange/pink sandstone ashlar of no great quality and, returning to the main road, the dolomitic limestone used in 1 Church Street is slightly pink in colour and contains thin irregular beds of very fine sediment that is preferentially weathered to leave a texture that looks like old wrinkled leather. 


1 Church Street

This is similar to that seen in the sandy variety of the Cadeby Formation known as White Mansfield stone, which contains fine beds of green clay, but it is highly unlikely that stone would be brought such distance to build a simple cottage. 


A detail of 1 Church Street

Although there is no mention of sandy dolomitic limestone in the geological memoir for the area, calcareous mudstone is found at the base of the Cadeby Formation around Barlborough, as at Bolsover. To the east of the village, pink variation was reported in Gipsyhill Quarry, with lenses of sand and silt occurring in outcrops a little further to the south in Clowne. 
By this time, the rain had become quite heavy and I headed down to the church of St. James the Greater, which is set on the edge of the escarpment. A large post at the corner of the churchyard again is built out of a stone that stands out from the typical dolomitic limestone, with its occasionally deep pink colour, and deserves further investigation.


A large post on church street