Study day 2017 Part III: Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Heptonstall

Written by Dan Edmunds

Following on from the visit to Heptonstall’s Wesleyan Methodist Chapel and Sunday school, the group made its way up to the village’s twin churches of St. Thomas. Upon arriving at the Church of St. Thomas the Apostle (1850-1854), the Churchwarden, Graham Kidd, gave us a brief context of the building.

The church is a good example of reflective and progressive approaches to architectural development. Features such as the stained-glass windows and the clock from the Church of St. Thomas a’ Becket (c.1260) were reused in the initial construction, and gave an interesting glimpse into the importance which was placed upon associating the new church with its predecessor. In contrast to this, the internal fixtures were aesthetically modern. Following an outbreak of dry rot in the 1960s, the more formal, orderly layout of pews typical of a Victorian church was abandoned. The new layout was demonstrative of the developing need for flexibility in the use of the space, and despite its modernity, managed to complement the historic aesthetic of the church. Despite having a ‘marmite’ quality when first installed, the 1960s design has now become an authentic part of the church, and has been continued in the recent construction of the kitchen pod.

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View of the abandoned Church of St. Thomas a’ Becket (c.1260) and Heptonstall, as seen from the 13th flight of scaffolding at the top of the tower of Church of St. Thomas the Apostle’s tower. Photo by Dan Edmunds

Whilst the internal elements of the building were very interesting, the most memorable aspect of the visit was the descent of the church tower via the external scaffolding – a new (and slightly unnerving) experience for some of us. During our descent, contractor Peter Jamieson of Aura Conservation illustrated the works which were being conducted to secure the tower from further water ingress and other effects that the merciless Pennine weather has had upon the structure and will likely become more pressing in time due to the warmer but wetter UK weather predicted to endure as a result of climate change. Evidence of historic interventions and methods that had previously been used were particularly eye opening, especially where mastic had been used in lieu of mortar. Unfortunately, we had little time to visit the ruins of St. Thomas a’ Becket, but the views from the top of the scaffolding of St. Thomas the Apostle gave a spectacular vista of the ruined church in its context with the village and valley below.

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A marriage of new (the reordered interior layout in pine dating from the 1960s) and old (original mid-C19th fabric of the Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Heptonstall). Photo by Duncan Marks

The YCAA would very much like to thank the stewards, churchwardens, contractors, the Reverend Cathy Reardon of St. Michael’s Church and, above all, Richard Storah for organising such a wonderful day and being so welcoming of us. Thank you.

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