Tuesday, 28 February 2017

St. James' Anston - The Interior

A detail of the Decorated Gothic tracery to the chancel window

As a Grade I Listed building, it is surprising to find that the entrance to St. James' church via the mediaeval porch is hidden by a substantial late 20th century extension, albeit built in sympathetic materials; however, once inside the nave, there is a good opportunity to observe the various phases of construction.

A view of the nave from the chancel

It is thought that virtually all of the Norman church would have stood in the area now comprising the nave but, apart from fragments of masonry recycled in the tower, the oldest part of the church is the north arcade, with its octagonal columns and simple capitals which have been variously dated by the church guide as being 13th century and by Pevsner as being no later than c.1350.

Octagonal section columns and capitals in the north arcade

The columns and the moulded capitals to the south arcade are quatrefoil in plan and are considered to be typical of the Decorated Gothic style and of a later date, but the double chamfered arches to both arcades all appear to be consistent, which suggests that these may have been built at the same time as the chancel arch. In this respect, it has similarities to the nave of Wakefield Cathedral.

Quatrefoil columns with moulded capitals in the south arcade

Looking at the stone used for the architectural elements described above, apart from the responds to the chancel arch, which are Rotherham Red sandstone, pale cream dolomitic limestone has been used throughout; however, looking more closely, the blocks of limestone used in the south arcade and the chancel arch are extremely variable in colour, with Rotherham Red sandstone used for recent restoration.

A detail of various types of stone used in the south arcade

Without documentary evidence to support an investigation of the construction history of any mediaeval church, an archaeologist, architectural historian, or geologist has to rely on his/her observational skills and, at St. James' church, the building stones used in the clerestory provide clear evidence of a new phase of building.

A general view of the clerestory and chancel arch

Here, although the remnants of a thick coating of limewash obscures much of the masonry, very large blocks of irregularly coursed blocks of Rotherham Red sandstone and yellowish limestone – which contrasts strongly with the pale cream coloured variety used elsewhere - can be seen.

Norman chevrons and a 14th century effigy

Various other details that can be found inside St. James' church include a part of the canopy in one of the niches that can be seen in both of the aisles, a fine example of a 14th century effigy, a fragment of stone with Norman style chevrons and the chancel window, which has fine Decorated Gothic style tracery.

Part of an ornate canopy in Rotherham Red sandstone

St. James' Anston - The Exterior

A view of the south elevation

The parish of Anston comprises the settlements of North Anston and South Anston - separated by Anston Brook - which marks the course of a fast flowing river that once cut through the escarpment of Magnesian Limestone in the Quaternary Period to form a steep sided gorge that is now occupied by Anston Stones Wood.

A view of the north elevation

Although both of these villages, like the nearby Thorpe Salvin and Laughton-en-le-Morthen, are recorded in Domesday Book as being held by Roger de Busli, the church of St. James - which occupies high ground in South Anston - contains only a few fragments of recycled fragments of Norman masonry in its interior.

A view of the east elevation and chancel window

The church, as seen from the exterior, is essentially 14th century Decorated Gothic in style, with a 15th century Perpendicular Gothic tower and clerestory and later restorations and additions from the 19th and 20th century respectively.

A view of the west tower

The entrance to the churchyard was built in 1920 as the Memorial Gatehouse in the form of an embattled lych gate with gables and crosses and contains war memorials dedicated to those who lost their lives in both WWI and WWII.

General views of the lychgate and its war memorials

Walking around the church, the tracery to the chancel and the heavily weathered head stops to the clerestory are the most interesting details, but it is the Westmorland slate roofs and the use of Portland limestone and Rotherham Red sandstone in the north aisle that is of interest to geologists and restorers of historic buildings.

Weathered headstops to the clerestory

With several dolomitic limestone quarries in the vicinity, it is surprising that the north aisle has been essentially rebuilt in Jurassic Portland limestone from Dorset and that various phases of repair have used Rotherham Red sandstone, neither of which would be considered to be a good match for restoration work.

Portland limestone used to restore the north aisle

To the north elevation of the chancel, there are also a series of large memorials, of a type normally seen inside a church, and grey granites – fashionable in the Victorian period – are mixed with dolomitic limestone here.

Various monuments to the north elevation of the chancel

Saturday, 25 February 2017

The Chapel of Our Lady on the Bridge

A general view of the west elevation

Having spent a very full day exploring the historic architecture of Buxton, I once again returned to my investigation of the mediaeval churches of Rotherham and took advantage of one the monthly open days at the Chapel of Our Lady on the Bridge – one of only five remaining in England.

A general view of the east elevation

Built in 1483 using local Rotherham Red sandstone as part of a new bridge over the River Don and, although simple in design compared to the one found in nearby Wakefield, much more of its original fabric remains.

A general view of the interior

The chapel was originally used by travellers, who used it to pray for a safe journey, or to give thanks for a safe arrival in Rotherham but, following the Act for the Dissolution of Colleges and Chantries in 1547, it was closed as a chapel and by 1595 had been converted into an almshouse. In subsequent years, it was further used as a jail, a private house and a tobacconist's shop before being reconsecrated in 1924.

A general view of the interior

Forming an integral part of the structure of the bridge, which has been altered over the years to accommodate the widening of the river here, it has survived various periods of dilapidation and its present form dates back to 1927, when the modern road bridge was built and part of the river channel has since silted up – enabling details of the vaulting of its arches and an altered cutwater to be seen close up.

Views of arches and vaulting to the mediaeval Rotherham bridge

Although the town of Rotherham would probably not be on the list of places for tourists to visit in South Yorkshire, the Chapel of Our Lady on the Bridge - together with other churches in Treeton, Harthill, Laughton-en-le-Morthen and others previously described - is well worth visiting by anyone who has interests in the ecclesiastical heritage of England.

Views of the crypt

Friday, 24 February 2017

Ashford Black Marble & Blue John

Inlaid Ashford Black Marble thermometers

During a day out to Buxton, to explore its historic stone built architecture, a particular highlight was my visit to Buxton Museum & Art Gallery and, although its displays were being reorganised for the current refurbishment, I was particularly interested to discover that two of the Peak District's most interesting products -  Ashford Black Marble and Blue John – are well represented in its collections.

A pair of inlaid Ashford Black Marble urns

Ashford Black Marble is the name given to a dark grey and chert rich variety of the Monsal Dale Limestone, without shelly beds, that is found at Ashford-in-the-Water near to Bakewell, which can be highly polished and was once widely used as an ornamental stone for monuments and tombs.

Inlaid Ashford Black Marble birds

This stone is probably best known for its household objects – urns, obelisks, candlesticks, thermometers and tabletops etc. - which have been inlaid with various other semi-precious stones and, as an industry promoted and financially supported by the Duke of Devonshire, these can be found in Chatsworth House and many other country houses owned by the nobility during the Regency period.

An inlaid Ashford Black Marble bowl

Blue John is a unique variety of banded fluorite that is formed in mineral veins within the Carboniferous Limestone, which were mined for lead, and is only found in Castleton in the Peak District National Park. Although there are references to its production in the 1760's, like Ashford Black marble, it became popular during the Regency period and was used to make vases, urns and various other ornaments. Fine examples are displayed in Buckingham Palace, Chatsworth House and various museums - including the Natural History Museum in London and Clifton Park Museum in Rotherham.

Examples of Blue John in a display cabinet

Although the industry declined in the second half of the 19th century, small quantities are still being produced to make jewellery and gifts and the Treak Cliff Cavern is now one of the four show caves in Castleton that are a great attraction to tourists.

A detail of a Blue John ornament on a light box

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Buxton Museum & Art Gallery

A general view of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

When the Romans founded Aquae Arnemetiae – apart from the geothermal springs – they also exploited the various mineral resources that are found in this region and the underlying geology has since played an important role in the development of towns such as Buxton and Bakewell within the Peak District National Park.

Books for sale at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

It is therefore not surprising to discover that Buxton Museum and Art Gallery possesses an excellent collection of specimens that relate to its geology, which includes Blue John, Ashford Black Marble, various cave deposits from the Pleistocene period and a gallery dedicated to the work of Sir William Boyd Dawkins.

A view of some of the objects collected by Sir William Boyd Dawkins

As a combined museum and art gallery, I was also very interested to see that some of the artwork on display also had a geological theme and I particularly liked the depictions of dragonflies, which once flew around the Carboniferous swamps, and the interactive event produced by Peak Puppets - where children were able to enact a scene from a Jurassic sea.


When I visited the museum, its contents were being catalogued in preparation for its current refurbishment - as I have previously experienced when working at Clifton Park Museum in Rotherham - and I wasn't able to see it at its best; however, I was very impressed with the collections that I did see - and its architecture too. Originally built as a hotel to serve visitors to the spa, it still possesses some fine architectural details – especially the stained glass.

Stained glass at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Historic Churches in Buxton

A detail of the roofline at the church of St. Mary the Virgin

Although the spas in Buxton were popular in the Elizabethan period and frequented by Mary, Queen of Scots, when under the charge of the 5th Earl of Shrewsbury and Bess of Hardwick, there are no mediaeval buildings in the town but, during my investigation of its Georgian and Victorian architecture, I encountered a few churches that are worth seeing.

A general view of St. Anne's church

St. Anne's church, set in the part of the town around the market square is considered to be the oldest building in Buxton, with the church – dated to 1625 – incorporating an earlier building. On the exterior, its walls are rough cast rendered and apart from the flagstone roof, window jambs and gritstone blocks to the doorway, there is little masonry to be seen, with only the gable bellcote forming any kind of elaboration.

General views of the interior of St. Anne's church

I had expected it to be closed but, when I arrived, I discovered that it is one of the places on a formal heritage tour of Buxton and, although it is the structural timbers and the various furniture and fittings – including Stations of the Cross, wall monuments and decoration in the William Morris style - which are of principal interest, it also has a Saxon font of unknown origin.

The Saxon font at St. Anne's church

Located on the periphery of the old town centre, it is the church of St. Mary the Virgin that I most wanted to see. Although locked as expected, it is the rooflines in the style of the  Arts and Crafts Movement that makes it worth the effort to get their. Built in 1915 to the design of P. Currey and C. C. Thompson – the former being the son of Henry Currey, the designer of the Royal Devonshire Hospital and the Palace Hotel – the eyebrow dormer windows are exceptional. 

Eyebrow dormer windows at the church of St. Mary the Virgin

Although English Heritage have described the roof as being constructed of Westmorland slate, to my eye they lack its distinctive green colour and, when looking at a distance, the colours of the stone slates blend with those of the walls, which comprise Millstone Grit built in a roughly coursed and squared rubble style, and it is probable that they were quarried from flaggy beds that are found in this rock formation.

A general view of the church of St. Mary the Virgin

The church of St. John the Baptist was not on my list of historic buildings to visit on my day out to Buxton but, as an example of Georgian church architecture, dated 1802-1811, its plain Tuscan style is noteworthy and contrasts in design to the churches already seen.; however, with it being locked, I wasn't able to explore its interior and with other places still to visit, I stopped only to take a few photographs.

A general view of the church of St. John the Baptist

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Historic Architecture in Buxton

A view of the Devonshire Dome from The Slopes

When planning my day out in Buxton, due to the timing of buses and the total travel time involved – which necessitated a return journey to Sheffield via Bakewell – I had less than 5 hours to explore its architecture and, with a long list of places to see, this account only briefly highlights points of interest and, to fully appreciate this very attractive town, a weekend is needed.

A view of the Crescent from Buxton War Memorial

St. Ann's Well
Arriving on the bus at the east end of town, a short walk along the High Street brings you to the Crescent, built 1780-1784 by John Carr. Modelled on the Royal Crescent in Bath, the architect – who also worked at Wentworth Woodhouse and Clifton House in Rotherham - selected local Millstone Grit for its construction, a coarse and durable sandstone that has been used in Buxton to build a wide variety of other historic buildings of all shapes and sizes.

Although the Millstone Grit has a good reputation as a building stone, Buxton is frequently subjected to deep frosts in winter and, having briefly visited the town when living in Bakewell several years ago, I noticed that many architectural details were deeply weathered.

When I visited Buxton, the Crescent was wrapped in scaffold and the area around St. Ann's Well was part of a building site and, without the opportunity to take another good look at this magnificent building, I moved on to the Pavilion Gardens and the Opera House

The Pavilion Gardens and Opera House

Opened in 1871 and 1903 respectively, they both deserve detailed description but it is the Devonshire Dome - a former stable block that served the needs of the residents of the Crescent and upon which the largest dome in the world was added – which forms the largest and most prominent landmark in Buxton.

The Devonshire Dome

Subsequently converted into the Devonshire Royal Hospital and now a campus for the University of Derby, I only had time to take some general photographs of its facades and - when a private function was being arranged - a few quick snaps of its interior.

A view of the interior of the Devonshire Dome

Next to the Devonshire Dome is the Palace Hotel, built in 1868, which forms another imposing landmark and alongside this are the remains of the west end of the old railway station, with its ornate cast iron fanlight.

The Palace Hotel and Buxton Railway Station

Walking back to the Pavilion Gardens and up to The Slopes, another public garden which is set on rising ground formed by the underlying Carboniferous Limestone, the facades of the Old Hall Hotel – like many others in this part of the town - hide an older building.

The Old Hall Hotel

Stopping briefly at the War Memorial, to eat a packed lunch, I then continued up the hill past Buxton Museum & Art Gallery, before having a quick look at the area around the old market place, which is overlooked by Buxton Town Hall – completed in 1888.

A detail of Buxton War Memorial

Friday, 17 February 2017

A Day Out in Buxton

Buxton Railway Station

Having finally managed to visit St. Peter's church in Thorpe Salvin, as part of my investigation of the mediaeval churches in and around Rotherham, I decided to have a long day out in Buxton - a spa town founded by the Romans under the name of Aquae Arnemetiae that, with an elevation of 300 metres above sea level, is the highest market town in England.

A Google Map view of the topography between Treeton and Buxton

Its geothermal springs were further exploited by the Duke of Devonshire in the late 18th century, who used profits from his copper mines to develop the town into a fashionable resort, and its popularity and regional significance was further enhanced by the Victorians, especially after the arrival of the railway in 1863.

A geological map of the area between Treeton and Buxton

Set on the edge of the White Peak, like Bakewell, the centre of the town occupies low lying ground on the Bowland Shale, where two branches of the River Wye converge and which has since been landscaped to form the Pavilion Gardens. To the north, the high ground comprises the Corbar Grit and the Roaches Grit of Upper Carboniferous age and, to the south, it is formed from the Monsal Dale Limestone Formation of Lower Carboniferous age.

A bridge over the River Wye

Buxton is now a major tourist attraction for its gardens and various fine examples of Georgian and Victorian architecture, but the surrounding area is a major source of industrial limestone in England and the quarrying industry still contributes significantly to the local economy. Although the despoiled parts of the landscape have been excluded from the Peak District National Park, old quarries at Calton Hill and Hillhead are still of great interest to geologists and the quarrying, construction and recycling industries.

A view of the landscaping in the Pavilion Gardens

As the crow flies, the distance from Treeton to Buxton is about 40 km and, according to Google Map, a typical journey by car would take 1 hour and 6 minutes, providing that the weather conditions are good and various roadworks and traffic jams aren't encountered; however, by bus or train it takes no less than 2 hours and 25 minutes.

The Crescent

On a hot and sunny Saturday day in August, I was not to be deterred and being well prepared for an early start and a late finish to the day, I discovered that - like on the No. 272 -  a day out on the No. 65 bus provides another great introduction to the geology and landscapes of the Peak District National Park and that it is well worth the effort to make this journey.

A view of St. Anne's church in Miller's Dale from the No. 65 bus