Lancashire Churches

Christ’s Church in Glasson

A characteristic 1840 church by the Lancaster architect, Edmund Sharpe.

Christ Church, Glasson, sits by the towpath of a branch of the Lancaster Canal, a stone’s throw from Glasson Dock. It serves a settlement that began life in the late C18 as Lancaster’s port, and which developed further in the C19 with the arrival of the canal.

The church was built by Edmund Sharpe in 1840, a date that is something of a turning point in C19 English church architecture. This building exemplifies many of the characteristics commonly seen before the impact of the antiquarian revival initiated by Pugin, the Cambridge Camden Society, and other reformers.

The original church was a simple shape – an aisleless nave, no porch, a west door and a bellcote for a single bell. Did this building have a separate chancel? Probably not: the altar was often placed under the east window and a space reserved in front of it. This type of church was often called Lancet Style, after the window shape. However, there was little attempt to accurately follow the C13 precedent of what came to be called Early English, and at Glasson this is certainly the case. The deeply set windows are grouped in stepped threes along the nave, with single windows towards the west ends. There are narrow buttresses between the windows – another common feature of the Lancet Style. The west front is completely symmetrical with a simple, centrally placed doorway, flanking lancets, and a further lancet above. Even the bellcote uses the lancet form. Angle buttresses mark the west corners. In urban settings, and in earlier examples of the style, this type of church was often finished in smooth ashlar. Here, however, the stonework is more rustic, perhaps in acknowledgement of the location, or as a nod to the coming changes, but probably because it was cheaper.

Inside the church is a single space with a west gallery. This now houses the organ, but it is unlikely to have done so when it was first built. The space under the gallery was enclosed by glazing and timber in 1988, and now forms a separate room. Most of the nave woodwork is simple pine, with more elaborate pieces reserved for the chancel. The chancel itself (and the vestry) was added in 1931-2 by Austin and Paley. It tries to be in keeping with the original design, and uses lancets (two with cusps) exclusively. Internally the addition works quite well, but why did it have to be apsidal? Externally there are too many projections and shapes that detract from the simplicity of the original building. It is a bit of mess from a practice that did so much excellent work right across Lancashire.

Other Lancaster firms contributed to the church. The east windows are spanned by a design by Joseph Fisher of Shrigley & Hunt. It dates from 1979 and depicts Christ in a vesica piscis. Local themes include oystercatchers and a lighthouse, as well as more traditional iconography. The design is clear, bold and busy. Other windows have interesting C19 glass. Probably the best is on the south wall, and has three panels with Christ flanked by angels. The deep, rich colours and sinuous lines show the clear influence of Morris and Burne Jones. The north wall window with Christ, St John and St Paul (dedication 1892) may also be by Shrigley & Hunt.

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