Thursday 27 November 2014

Slow and Steady Wins the Pace

The renowned ecclesiastical architects Pace and Sims were prolific. Both were involved in a wide range of projects, from restoring Castle Howard, to designing memorials at churches and cathedrals, and constructing imposing new buildings such as Keele University chapel. During our work experience project, we unfortunately did not see any of the plans for the new builds. However, we were lucky enough to get the opportunity to catalogue renovations and extensions, which showed their subtle skill in combining modernism with medievalism. Indeed, Durham University’s Palace Green library bears witness to this. Another aspect revealed through the archives is the careful, methodical way in which they worked; it often took many years for projects to be completed for they were known for working at a slow pace. In fact, George earned the nickname ‘Snail’s Pace’ for this very reason! 

The firm became one of the Europe’s most productive ecclesiastical architecture practices in Europe, with over 700 churches and cathedrals being built, extended, and updated by Pace and Sims. This is certainly reflected in the Borthwick’s collection. Whilst they did work for larger and more famous churches such as Armagh and Newcastle cathedral, the majority of their work focussed upon the parish church, like St Mary’s, Beverley, St Giles’, Copmanthorpe, and St Mary’s, Northchurch. 

St Mary's Northchurch Church Elevation
St Mary’s, Northchurch has an ancient history; the church claims to be one of the oldest in Hertfordshire. It is believed that a Saxon church was on the site and some Saxon stonework can still be seen in the west and south walls. The majority of the building is related to the 13-15th century, which matches the parish church expansion pattern seen nationally, as well as some Victorian additions (a vestry, a porch and a new north aisle). Sims was involved in quite a radical alteration of the interior of the church: the choir stalls and organ were moved from the north transept to the west end of the church. This significantly altered worship as it affected the acoustics and the procession. However, the changes did not end here as a new nave altar was built underneath the crossing. The Victorian interior was thus heavily impacted upon by Sim’s efforts. The simple but robust style effortlessly blends into the sensitive Victorian-cum-Medieval d├ęcor. 

Copmanthorpe Church in York has a similarly extensive history with its Roman and Saxon roots. It began life as a Norman single cell church but slowly expanded over time; its plain outside does not continue inside as the elegant beamed roof adds a touch of symmetrical sophistication. St Giles’ church required some more modern features and hence, Sims was called upon. He designed a new vestry and kitchen. Whilst searching through the archive we discovered extensive sketches and photographs of what the interior was to look like as well as being treated to a photograph of the finished product. 

St Mary's Beverley floor plan 1985
 In Beverley stands the beautiful church of St Mary’s, called by Sir Tatton Sykes in the 19th century, “Lovely St Mary’s, unequalled in England and almost without rival on the continent of Europe!” It has undergone numerous building phases. Indeed, in the medieval period building work was almost continuous. This is reflected in a plan, from 1895, catalogued by us whilst on the placement, which dates each section of the church. Both Pace and Sims worked on the Beverley church but the archive contains plans from Leslie Moore and John Bilern too. Therefore, we were able to see the metamorphosis of the interior and exterior over a period of 100 years. The new roof for the south chapel in its rich blue effortlessly works alongside the stained glass and other decorated ceilings. 

The Pace and Sims archive therefore allows the transformation of churches to be investigated, illluminated, and inspected. By just briefly analysing three parish churches, it is possible to notice how much of an impact, whether subtle or sublime, both architects made upon the ecclesiastical fabric of England.  

This post was written by students from the University of York on a work experience placement.

You can read more about the experience of earlier students on the work experience programme and the Pace and Sims Archive at Keeping Pace and Keeping up the Pace (and Sims) at the Borthwick

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