Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Memorials & Inscriptions

Weathered "York Stone" and an oxidised brass plaque

In my study of St. Helen’s church, my aim has been to identify the stones used in its fabric – essentially Carboniferous Rotherham Red sandstone and Permian dolomitic limestone – and to investigate the styles of masonry, which help the archaeologist to unravel the construction history of an old stone building.

Rotherham Red Sandstone & Alabaster

Once accustomed to the levels of light available inside St.Helen's church, various monuments, memorials and inscriptions – found on both the walls and floors –  highlight Treeton’s history.

An inscription in York Stone

As would be expected, the interior is paved in “York stone” - a generic description of the very durable, fine grained Upper Carboniferous sandstones from the Pennine region of Yorkshire - once prized by both road builders and fine letter cutters.

Portland limestone, Italian white marble and Carboniferous sandstone

Deep in the shadows, there are also fine examples of alabaster, Ashford Black marble, white Italian marble and Portland limestone in various states of physical condition and cleanliness.

A detail of the dolomitic limestone base to the pulpit

Thursday, 14 April 2016

A Few Architectural Details

A piscina

Having spent very many hours investigating St. Helen’s church, and closely examining the various building stones found in its fabric, I now have a much better understanding of the work that is undertaken by standing buildings archaeologists.

A door in the north aisle

Although I still have to learn much more about the styles and dating of arches, windows and the mouldings that decorate them – to further develop my interests in the construction and restoration of historic buildings - as a photographer I have progressed in leaps and bounds.

A change in the style of walling

For very many years, I have wanted to set up my camera and tripod in an old church and experiment with the light available.  Even when the sun shines brightly, St. Helen’s church is dark inside – partially the result of the blackening of the stonework and stained glass by the old Orgreave Coking Works – and the task has been quite challenging.

The south door

In every part of St. Helen’s church, there are dark corners which contain clues to the various phases of building and alteration that have taken place during the last 1000 years; however, many of these details can hardly be seen with the naked eye and need spotlights to illuminate them.

A detail of a modified window

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Inside The Chancel

General views of the chancel in St.Helen's church

Leaving the chancel arch and moving into the chancel itself, the windows to the north and south walls of the chancel have deep reveals of pale cream coloured dolomitic limestone, which show the immense thickness of the chancel walls. To the larger window, the reveals have developed a dirty looking patina and a close inspection shows that this is actually a Jurassic limestone similar to that used to restore other windows in the south aisle.

Permian dolomitic limestone & Jurassic oolitic limestone

Looking up at the roof, there is clear evidence of the rebuilding of the Rotherham Red sandstone walls immediately above the top of the window arches, which matches the change that can also be seen in the masonry to the exterior of the chancel

Rebuilding of the chancel roof during the 15th century

In places, there are remnants of the thick limewash that would have once covered the interior walling of the church, but which was not removed during the Victorian restoration and this, together with some bad quality repointing in sand and cement, obscures the details of the tool marks.

Old limewash and repointing

To the south wall, the dolomitic limestone sedilia provides another good example of figurative stone carving from the end of the 13th century, although the right hand figure is obviously a later restoration in Rotherham Red sandstone. The level of the head does not match the others and the arch just connects to the impost of the Brampton Chapel arch, with no apparent purpose. 

The sedilia

The guide suggests that there were originally 4 arches and not 3 as seen today, the missing part presumably being removed when the arch was inserted into the old chancel wall, where the organ now sits, but it is just yet another mystery of the construction history of St. Helen’s church - in Treeton.

A detail of the restored sedilia

Thursday, 7 April 2016

The Chancel Arch

A detail of the chancel arch

Looking at all of the walls inside St. Helen’s church, there are remnants of the thick layers of lime wash - removed during one of the restorations undertaken by the Victorians – which obscure a lot of the tool marks and other details but, once you get your eye in, it is possible to see evidence of the raising of the clerestory and other phases of repair.

A squint and corbel in St. Helen's church

The chancel arch wall appears to have been built in a single phase of construction; however, the 3 corbels, along with various others that can be seen in the walls above the arcades – especially in the south aisle – don’t seem to serve any kind of structural purpose.

The chancel arch

According to the Visitors’ Guide, the chancel arch wall is considered to be of the same date of the north arcade – Norman – but Pevsner thought that the arch itself was in the same style as the 13th century south arcade, although strangely narrow.

The east side of the chancel arch

Looking closely at the chancel arch, the imposts are made from Rotherham Red sandstone, as seen in the south arcade and tower, but they are not carved; however, they have provided the foundation for the square profiled dolomitic limestone capitals, from which the arch springs.

A detail of the chancel arch

A closer examination shows that various sections of the arch have been restored in a stone with a yellowish colour and banding. Standing at the top of a step ladder, with a 500w torch to illuminate an examination of the limestone with a hand lens, I could only stretch high enough to give a scratch test to this unknown stone...

A detail of the chancel arch