Tuesday, 24 April 2018

The Church of St. James the Great


A view of the church from the southeast entrance

Entering the churchyard of St. James the Great in Norton from the southeast - on the last day of March - various blooming trees and large shrubs were obscuring the east end of the church, and my first view of this very interesting church was its squat tower and the crenellated parapet to the C15 clerestory that is attached to it.

The south elevation

Moving closer to the south chancel chapel, dated 1524, a change in the building stone - from local Carboniferous Grenoside Sandstone to Permian dolomitic limestone - can be quite clearly seen here. Built with fine ashlar in a late Perpendicular style, with very simple windows, the masonry details still appear sharp and it contrasts strongly with the coursed rubble sandstone in the south aisle.

The chancel

Like the late addition to the tower at St. Helen’s church in Treeton, it is a strange architectural anomaly – especially given the distance and the difficulty of terrain between Norton and the nearest source of dolomitic limestone, which is at least 20 km away as the crow flies.

Variation in the colour of masonry in the tower

Looking at the masonry of the south elevation as a whole, the colours, shapes and sizes of the various blocks used in the south aisle and the lower part of the tower are all very similar. Nearly halfway up the tower, there is a sharp change in the overall colour of the masonry, with it now containing a greater proportion of distinctly yellow/orange stone.

Detail of the upper section of the south elevation of the tower

Except for the west window, which is considered to be a later C15 addition, it doesn't appear that there have been any changes in block size, course height etc that normally indicate a phase of later extension or rebuilding - and it is quite possible that the colour change reflects some variation in the source of the Grenoside Sandstone used here.

The Perpendicular style west window of the tower

Historic England and Pevsner refer to the tower as being of essentially Early English Gothic or C13, as well as making comment on the unusual window tracery in the aisles, but there is very little mention of their dates – with Historic England only referring to a C13 style of the outer doorway and Pevsner producing a very sweeping statement to say that the rest of the exterior is Perpendicular in style.

A general view of the east end

Walking anticlockwise around the church, the east elevation to the C19 clergy vestry provides another example of the colour variation in the Grenoside Sandstone and it is clearly different to that used in the Perpendicular style end of the chancel, which it adjoins.

Weathered coats of arms on the dolomitic limestone chancel

I didn’t study the external fabric at any length, but I noticed a few other interesting features, including a blocked up doorway, eroded coats of arms to the chancel, ornate rainwater heads that provide a record of the restoration in 1710 - and a few gargoyles.

A rainwater head and a gargoyle

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