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Doncaster Features: 1858: The New Church of St. George, Doncaster

The Illustrated London News Oct 30th 1858

The New Church of St. George, Doncaster

This church being the most stately ecclesiastical edifice erected in England during the present century, and one of the most notable productions of the great revival of our national architecture, which, during the reign of our present Sovereign, has been making such extraordinary progress as to have received the appropriate title of “Victorian,” it naturally demands something more than the passing notice which we are usually able to give to new churches.

Shortly after the destruction of the old church, and while its ruins remained undisturbed, the committee who had been appointed to superintend the rebuilding made choice of Mr George Gilbert Scott (to whose lot it had fallen to rebuild the Church of St. Giles at Camberwell, and that of St Nicholas at Hamburg, under very similar circumstances) as their architect in carrying out the great work of reconstruction. Before entering upon the consideration of the new design Mr. Scott set about a careful and elaborate investigation of the remains of the ancient structure, the result of which he threw into the form of a paper, which was read before the Oxford Architectural Society, on June 6, 1853, and will be found at length in the Rev. J.E.Jackson’s history of this church.

It had from the first been judiciously prescribed as the one condition on which the architect was to work that the church should in its leading outline conform itself to that of the previous structure. It was, therefore, the style rather than the form which had to be considered. To make the new church like the old one would be impossible, as it had been the result of a series of alterations and the growth of ages. To make it conform with the earliest structure would not be to preserve in any great degree its former aspect; and to select the style of any of its later portions would have been to adopt one of the inferior phases of Gothic architecture, for a church whose scale and cost ought to render it one of the first of its age.

It was, consequently, determined to build it in what is known as the “Early Decorated” or “Early Middle-pointed” style, or that of the end of the thirteenth century, as that whcih has generally approved itself as having on the whole the strongest claims to be made the foundation of the revival. The architect, however, felt disposed, as a tribute to the merits of the ancient tower, to reproduce its design; so that, had this intention been carried out, the church would - like York, Beverley, Hedon, Howden, and many others - have had a tower later in style than the mass of the structure.

This has, however, been all along reserved as an open question, and, eventually, the tower has been made to conform in style with the building itself, though in outline and general aspect with the old one.

The outline and the style having been determined on, the next question was that of scale, and this involved considerable difficulty, for, in the first place, the old church having aisles of a width quite disproportioned to the nave, it became essential to adopt an increased fundamental scale, so as to bring them into proportion without diminishing the entire width; and, in the second place, the necessity of adding a high-pitched roof, without making the new clerestory less in height than the old one, rendered it necessary to add considerably to the height of the tower.

This was, however, by careful calculation successfully effected, the width of the nave from the centre to the centre of the columns being increased from 26 feet 6 inches to 31 feet 6 inches, and the parts worked out in due proportion, so that the height of the tower exceeds the old one by about 20 feet, and the entire length of the church by about the same dimensions.

Mr. Scott and others wished to have added a bay to the length of the nave, but difficulties occurred which rendered it impracticable to do so. The dimensions of the church as carried out are as follows:

Total internal length: 168 feet 9 inches
External ditto, exclusive of buttresses: 177 feet 3 inches
Internal width across the transept: 92 feet
Ditto across nave and aisles: 64 feet 6 inches
Height of tower: 170 feet
Ditto of roof: 75 feet

The details of the church have been executed to the full scale of richness usual to the best structures of the period, and, though not overdone with ornament, nothing necessary to their full amount of effectiveness has been spared. Externally the windows are, as usual, the great elements of architectural effect. Those to the nave-aisles are of three lights, and are rich in tracery on the south side, and somewhat bolder and more solid on the North, conforming in this respect to the general architecture tone of the two sides. The clerestory windows of the nave are of two lights, each bay of the nave having two windows, and the whole forming a continuous and extremely rich arcade of ten windows, the unbroken effect of which tends much to increase the apparent length of the building.

The great end-windows of the nave, the transepts, and the chancel, are respectively of seven, six, and eight lights, and are of majectic proportions, particularly the east window, which is probably the largest modern window in this country, measuring in the clear 22 feet 6 inches by 47 feet 6 inches. Its design is believed to be unique, for, though it was first suggested to the architect from seeing the great west window of the Cathedral at Metz, he has worked it out in a manner differing probably from that of any existing window. It contains a great circle of about 15 feet in diameter, which is filled in with a border of twelve smaller circles, with radiating compartments in the central space very similar to the great western circular window at Chartres, and to that carried out by Mr. Scott in the south transept of his church at Hamburg, a mode of filling in which was suggested by Mr. Denison (so well known as connected with the church) in preference to the radiating form first proposed and shown in the view given in Mr. Jackson’s History. On the whole, it is generally thought that this may be pronounced the finest window of modern times, though that in the north transept of St Nicholas’ Church at Hamburg is larger, being about 25 feet by 70 feet in the clear.

Below the east window is a very rich reredos, with shafts of red Spanish marble, the wings of which are continued by arcaded seating along the flanks of the eastern bay, over which are two exceedingly bold and beautiful windowlike apertures of three lights, opening into the side chapels.

The southern chapel is, both within and without, the most richly-decorated portion of the church. It has been erected at the sole cost of W.H.Forman, Esq., as a memorial to his brother, the late T. Seaton Forman, Esq., who was interred in the old chapel occupying the same site in 1850. It is vaulted with stone, and the walls below the windows are decorated with rich arcading, with shafts of Cornish serpentine. The windows are, for their size, the richest in the church, and the whole is carried out in a manner exemplifying the magnificence of its noble-minded founder.

The interior of the church has a general air of stately grandeur rarely attained in modern buildings. The boldly-proportioned pillars and arches, the rich and continuous clerestory, the massive oak roof, with its widespread and aspiring arched principals, the bold and lofty piers and arches which support the tower, culminating in a lantern story which rises 100 feet from the pavement, the richness of the sculptured decorations, and the imposing dimensions of the east and west windows, constitute a tout ensemble which has not probably been equalled by any modern ecclesiastical edifice in this country.

The exterior is proportioned in dignity to the interior, its southern side being remarkable for richness of decoration, and its northern for simple grandeur; while the mighty tower one of the largest of modern date, is seen from the whole surrounding country majestically presiding over the good old town.

The work is carried out in materials worthy of their object. The walls are of course of freestone, both within and without (the majority being of the beautiful magnesian limestone from Steetley, near Worksop). The roofs are all of oak, and covered with lead; and the internal fittings of the finest wainscot. The structure is a masterpiece of masonry, and reflects the highest credit upon the builder, Mr. Ireson, of Northampton, who has carried it out in the most perfect manner in the face of of a very severe loss; while the woodwork will tend to confirm the well-earned fame of Mr. Ruddle, of Peterborough. The sculpture is by Mr. Phillip of London, and has been executed with the utmost care and skill. It is chieflyfounded upon natural types, and is one of the finest specimens of architectural carving of our day. If open to any criticism, it would be on the ground of somewhat undue elaboration.

The chancel and Mr Forman’s chapel have very fine floors of Minton’s tiles, consisting of a beautiful intermixture of encaustic patterns with plain red, and green tiles - some dead and some glazed - a variety which produces a particularly pleasing effect.

The font is Cornish serpentine, and stands (certainly not very consistently with ritual property) in Mr Forman’s chapel. It is the gift of Professor Selwyn, of Cambridge. The organ will be one the finest in the kingdom. It is being built by the celebrated Herr Schultze, of Paulinzelle, in Thuringia, under the general direction of the accomplished organist, Mr Rogers, and his gifted friend Mr Hopkins, the organist at the Temple Church. It will occupy a large portion of the north chapel.

The gas fittings are particularly beautiful, and have been executed by Mr Skidmore, of Coventry. The warming of the church is successfully effected, by means of the ‘Gill Stove’, by Mr Smith, of Sheffield. There are some stained glass windows in the church. Those in Mr Forman’s chapel, and a few others, are by Mr Wailes, of Newcastle; one window by Mr Holland, of Warwick; and two by M. Capronniere, of Brussels.

It would be wrong to close our account of this noble production of modern ecclesiastical art without a tribute to the noble heartedness as well of the Corporation and inhabitants of Doncaster as of the people of Yorkshire generally, as shown in the generous and spirited manner in which they have come forward to repair the loss they had sustained; nor would it be right to omit an honourable mention of the unwearied exertions of one talented member of the committee, Mr E.B.Denison QC, had it not been for which the committee could hardly have ventured on carrying out the work in the perfection in which we now see it completed. The beautiful ring of bells (cast by Messrs Dent) its construction, in a great degree to the versatile genius of that gentleman; and if in his Doncaster lectures, and through the local press, he has made bold claims upon architectural as well as campanalogical and horological knowledge, we make no doubt that Mr Scott will willingly yield him all due deference, himself content to have devoted his best talent’s to restoring to Doncaster her lost church, and well knowing that the public wil lnot deny him the honours due to the architect of this great and important work.

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