Monthly Archives: October 2015

The Queen of Holderness

St Patrick's Church, Patrington, East Yorkshire

St Patrick’s Church, Patrington, East Yorkshire

St Patrick’s Parish Church in the distant Holderness parish of Patrington is one of the most perfect of English medieval churches.

The “Queen of Holderness” was ranked by Sir John Betjeman as “one of the great buildings of England”.

Sir Nikolaus Pevsner comments that it has “a unity of exterior and a unity of interior, a calm perfection in both which one never ceases to admire”.

Built in a single sequence from about 1300, interrupted by the hiatus of the Black Death, and hardly altered since its completion in the following century, the church is an inspiring keynote in the flat East Riding landscape.

The scale of the building comes as a surprise to the modern traveller, even after passing the other great Humberside churches at Howden, Beverley, Hull and Hedon.

One explanation for its magnificence lies in the changing geography of the adjacent coastline:  in the fourteenth century Patrington was the market centre for the hinterland of the lost port of Ravenser and such other townships, long since eaten away by the sea, as Frismarck and Therlesthorp.

In addition, the manor belonged to the Archbishops of York, several of whom are known to have visited and transacted business from Patrington.  These same archbishops were engaged in the great rebuilding of York Minster which was finally completed in 1474.  Robert of Patrington was master mason at York Minster in 1369;  two other named members of the family, Ralph and another Robert, worked in York in succeeding generations.

Within the church are many treasures – the twelve-sided fourteenth-century font, the fine sedilia, piscina and Easter sepulchre in the chancel, and the Jacobean pulpit, dated 1612, part of the major post-Restoration pewing of the church, of which some benches survive in the South Transept.

The upper chamber of the two-storey south porch provides a dramatic view across the church, from which all the entrances to the nave are visible to the sacristan who was responsible for the treasures and documentary records of the church.

This chamber, known in the seventeenth century as the God-house, was used in that period as the twice-yearly meeting-place for the head jury of the manor.

There’s no more magnificent building in the wide open spaces of Holderness.

A visit to Patrington Church is included in the tour Humber Heritage (September 5th-9th 2016).  For further details, please click here.

Poet and pedant

Martin Jennings, ‘Sir John Betjeman’, St Pancras Station, London

Martin Jennings, ‘Sir John Betjeman’, St Pancras Station, London

I’ve long been a member and admirer of the Victorian Society [http://www.victoriansociety.org.uk].

It’s difficult now to imagine the uphill battle the founder-members of the Society faced in the early 1960s, when Victorian art and architecture was widely regarded as a joke.

The latest edition of the Society’s journal, Studies in Victorian Architecture & Design (Vol 5, 2015), celebrates the life and work of one of the most significant figures in twentieth-century architectural history, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, a Jewish-German emigré of Russian ancestry, whose writings identified “the Englishness of English art” (the title of his Reith Lectures, 1955).

One of Pevsner’s many attributes was that he was an assiduous scholar whose background was firmly aligned with the modernist tradition, yet he applied his analytical insights to recognising and promoting the significance of British architecture of the nineteenth century:

…[the] cities themselves are Victorian monuments. It was that age that made them. It was in that age that they and the whole of Britain prospered more than in any age before or after. If we let the buildings of that age go, we destroy the visual record of the period of Britain’s leadership of the civilised world.

The Victorian Society famously lost its first two great conservation battles – the propylaeum known as the Euston Arch in 1961 and the Coal Exchange the following year [http://www.buildingconservation.com/articles/savingacentury/savingacentury.htm] – but its success in saving St Pancras Station and the Midland Grand Hotel in 1967 has been resoundingly vindicated by their transformation forty years later.

Two of the leading figures in that campaign were the architectural scholar Nikolaus Pevsner and the popular poet John Betjeman – temperamental opposites each with the talent and authority to face down the conventional attitudes of the artistic and political establishment of the time.

Sir John Betjeman is commemorated on the concourse of St Pancras Station: his statue, appropriately slightly larger than lifesize, by Martin Jennings shows him, in gabardine mac and trilby, gazing up at Barlow’s train-shed.

I think it’s a pity there isn’t also a statue of Sir Nikolaus Pevsner at an appropriate distance.

End of the line: Rowsley

Rowsley Old Station, Derbyshire (1978)

Rowsley Old Station, Derbyshire (1978)

The Manchester, Buxton, Matlock & Midland Junction Railway, the little railway with the long name, was an ambitious project to connect the East Midlands with Lancashire, starting at a junction with the North Midland Railway at a place called Toadhole which the railway renamed Ambergate.

The MBM&MR opened in 1849 through Cromford and Matlock as far north as Rowsley, where the Duke of Devonshire’s Chatsworth estate bounds the Duke of Rutland’s Haddon estate.

The intention, had there been sufficient capital, was to continue up the Derwent Valley, tunnelling beneath Chatsworth Park, towards Baslow, Edale or Castleton and Chinley to Cheadle.

The 6th “Bachelor” Duke of Devonshire was in favour of this route.  The company chairman was the Duke’s cousin, Lord George Henry Cavendish, and he was succeeded in 1854 by the Duke’s agent, Sir Joseph Paxton.  (Paxton’s original sketch for the Crystal Palace was in fact drawn on a sheet of MBM&MR blotting paper during a directors’ meeting at Derby.)

The 6th Duke died in 1858, and his successor had no intention of letting a railway through Chatsworth.

As it happened, the 5th Duke of Rutland died in 1857, and his successor was prepared to allow the Midland Railway to build a cut-and-cover tunnel at the back of Haddon Hall which was at the time practically derelict.

The Midland line to Manchester consequently went up the Wye Valley, through Monsal and Miller’s Dales on its way to Chinley.

And the original Rowsley station, designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, was left at the dead end of an unbuilt main line, made redundant by a new Rowsley station a few hundred yards away.

The old building survived as the goods office for sidings known as ‘The Old Yard’, and was the very last rail facility to close in Rowsley in July 1968.

After the railway closed the Old Yard was occupied by a construction company, and in 1999 the old station became a feature of the Peak Village shopping outlet:  http://www.peakshoppingvillage.com.

The original MBM&MR track is now operated from Matlock to just short of Rowsley by PeakRail, with the ultimate intention of extending the heritage railway through Haddon to Bakewell and beyond.

The 56-page, A4 handbook for the 2010 Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

End of the line: Hornsea

Former Hornsea Railway Station

Former Hornsea Railway Station

It’s appropriate that one of the best preserved Victorian buildings in Hornsea is the former railway station of 1854 designed by Rawlins Gould of York, a former assistant to the North Eastern Railway’s architect, the better-known George Townsend Andrews.

Hornsea grew as a seaside resort entirely because of the construction of the Hull & Hornsea Railway, promoted by a Hull timber-merchant, Joseph Armytage Wade (1819-1896) and constructed between 1862 and 1864.

It was at Wade’s insistence that the line was extended from the planned terminus at Hornsea Mere as far as the sea front, increasing the cost of the whole project from £68,000 to £122,000.

Like the comparable line from Hull to Withernsea, this line stood no real chance of success as an independent branch railway, and was taken over by the North Eastern Railway in 1866.

Commuter traffic was significant:  times were adjusted to benefit businessmen working in Hull, and services gradually increased to the end of the nineteenth century, from seven weekday return trips and one on Sunday in 1870 to nine on weekdays and three on Sunday by 1890.

Day trippers filled the resort, particularly at bank holidays:  on Whit Monday 1890, two thousand excursion passengers were recorded.

Visitor censuses consistently indicated that the majority of visitors were from Hull and most of the rest from the West Riding.

The railway closed in 1964, exactly a hundred years after it opened, and the station, after a period of neglect, was redeveloped as housing in 1987.

The Humber Heritage (September 5th-9th 2016) tour briefly visits Hornsea.  For further details, please click here.

Elite cinema

Former Elite Cinema, Nottingham

Former Elite Cinema, Nottingham

Diagonally opposite Nottingham’s Theatre Royal, the town’s prestige entertainment building of the mid-nineteenth century, stands the Elite Cinema, aptly and no doubt deliberately named as the city’s premier picture palace of the early 1920s.

This huge building, clad in white Hathern faience with an elaborate display of statuary on its parapet, was designed by James E Adamson of the architectural practice Adamson & Kinns.

The foyer welcomed patrons with a roaring open fire in the winter months, and there were two “swift and soft-running passenger elevators” to the upper levels.

The auditorium, a confection in the style and colouring of Wedgwood ware, with trompe l’oeil arches and portrait medallions, brought a new level of quality and luxury beyond the picture palaces that had opened before the Great War.

The Elite had a magnificent Willis & Lewis organ, “the largest and most complete instrument that has been built for any cinema in the British Isles”.

The building was intended not only to show movies, but to build a separate reputation as a social and business venue.  A suite of dining spaces offered catering for individuals and groups.

The Louis XVI Café, white, green and gold, decorated with tapestries, contained a Soda Fountain “of the latest pattern”.  The larger of two cafés on the second floor was decorated in Jacobean style.  On the third floor there was another large room in Georgian style, “a thoroughly joyous room” decorated in a “daring” white and yellow scheme, and a smaller companion called the Dutch Café, “adorned by a very attractive hand-painted frieze illustrating scenes from favourite fairy tales”.

The entire building was cleaned by a Stuyvesant Engineer centralised vacuum cleaner, “sucking up ravenously every particle of dust and small refuse and depositing it all, via a suction hose, in a central dustbin”, and in the aftermath of the Spanish Flu epidemic, the heating and ventilation system was designed so “that the ubiquitous influenza bacilli and their kin will have a difficult task to make both ends meet”.

It opened on August 22nd 1921, and became part of the ABC circuit in 1935.  Though repeatedly refurbished in the 1950s, it gradually lost its prestige as the years went by.

Much of the décor survives because the Elite was listed as long ago as 1972, and was subsequently upgraded from Grade II to Grade II*.

The auditorium and café areas are described in the English Heritage listing [http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-457422-elite-building-#.VgQggDZdHcs],

The fact that the Elite went over to bingo in 1977 helped to keep the place in good order, and after the demise of bingo in the 1990s the auditorium became a night-club.

The building was advertised for sale at a price of £4¼ million in June 2015.

Free time in New York: The High Line

New York City:  The High Line at Gansevoort Street

New York City: The High Line at Gansevoort Street

One of the most relaxing ways of wandering in a green setting in Lower Manhattan is the High Line, an elevated walkway created from a redundant railway viaduct running the length of the Meatpacking District and almost into Greenwich Village.

When the first railways were laid into Manhattan, the built-up area of the street grid extended hardly as far as 23rd Street.  The Hudson River Railroad, built 1846-51, brought its tracks across the Harlem River at the Spuyten Dyvel Bridge and all the way down Tenth Avenue at grade level, with obvious dangers and inconveniences to street traffic.

In 1871, most passenger services were diverted by the Spuyten Duyvil & Port Morris Railroad, originally built in 1842, along Park Avenue to became the Grand Central Terminal.

Because the Hudson River Railroad west-side line remained useful for bringing freight into lower Manhattan, it was grade-separated between 1929 and 1934 as part of the West Side Improvement Project.  The resulting elevated railway was aligned along the blocks on either side of 10th Avenue, sometimes running through buildings such as the Bell Telephone Laboratories Building at 463 West Street and the Nabisco building between 15th and 16th Streets, now Chelsea Market.

The line became redundant from the 1960s, and the last train, apparently delivering a load of frozen turkeys, ran in 1980.

The track-bed became derelict and overgrown, though the steelwork remained entirely sound, and in the 1990s local residents began to campaign for its retention as an unlikely amenity.

Supported by such luminaries as the fashion designer Diane von Fürstenberg, and sponsored by a range of high-end companies, the viaduct was reopened as the High Line [http://www.thehighline.org/visit], a greenway modelled on the Parisian Promenade plantée (1993), in phases between 2009 and 2014.

It runs from 34th Street to Gansevoort Street, south of Little West 12th Street and adjacent to the new Whitney Museum of American Art (Renzo Piano 2015), encompassing wild planting, wooded groves and a lawn, with a range of amenities such as seating, artworks and catering facilities.  There is level access at 34th Street, and elsewhere there are five wheelchair-accessible entrances with elevators and a further five staircases at intervals.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture The Big Apple:  the architecture of New York City, please click here.