Building » Normanton – St John the Baptist

Normanton – St John the Baptist

Newland Lane (Wakefield Road), Normanton, West Yorkshire

A large church with an impressive interior. The architect Edward Simpson has created some unusual features (such as the southwest tower and nave roof) though some of his detailing is clumsy. 

Normanton expanded rapidly after the arrival of the railway in 1840 and the sinking of mines from the 1860s. A Catholic chapel had existed at Newland Hall to the south, owned by the Locke family who became mine owners. Jesuit priests from Pontefract and Wakefield began celebrating Masses here from 1876 at a newly-built chapel/school dedicated to the Sacred Heart at Normanton Green. Once a resident priest was appointed in 1885, a new chapel/school was opened in 1888 and in 1900 plans were begun for a new church. Edward Simpson was appointed architect and Bishop Cowgill blessed a foundation stone (to the right of the southwest door) on 3 May 1904. The church opened on 3 July 1905. It was dedicated to St John the Baptist as the Newlands estate on which the church was built had been a Preceptory of the Hospitaller Knights of the Order of St John before the Reformation.

In 2003-4, the church was reordered with a new social space created beneath the west gallery, the ceilings cleaned and the church totally redecorated. Disabled access to the southwest door and repairs to the west door have been completed, partly funded by Landfill Tax grants.


Edward Simpson’s church has a slightly Germanic exterior character, with its red brick walls, tall east and west transverse chapels breaking well above the aisle roofs, high polygonal apse with large clerestorey windows and curious southwest tower. However, the details are based on English mid-fourteenth century Gothic, for instance in the window tracery. The stonework has generally been painted, creating a harsher contrast than  Simpson intended, though the opaque yellowed polycarbonate coverings to all the windows are much more damaging to its appearance.

The slated nave roof is continued at a shallower pitch across the four-bay aisles between the gabled end transverse chapels. The two-light aisle windows are set high in the wall and the single elongated quatrefoil tracery unit at the head of each window is set in a curious polygonal shape. The chapels have very tall three-light windows, with similar tracery to the chancel windows under a normal arch. The west facade has undersized windows, an odd collection of a pair of two-light plate tracery windows beneath a quatrefoil roundel with split cusps (the latter is the only window with a hoodmould and uncarved stops). In the spandrel below the roundel is a 1905 date stone. Below is a box-like narthex that looks as though it has been added but in fact courses through. As well as the small arched west door below a gable, there are north and south doors and six small square-headed windows. The stepped string course above is missing on the north side, a lopsided effect accentuated by the white paint. The tower base is balanced on the northwest corner by a transverse gabled staircase to the internal west gallery.

Finally, the exterior is dominated by the distinctive, if eccentric, southwest tower whose bottom half is square and top half-octagonal, but with extra corbelled brick panels on the cardinal faces at parapet level above the single trefoil bell openings. It is roofed with a slated small spire and there is a large polygonal chimney rising up the northeast corner. There is a bell frame but the bells have not been rung for years.

The polygonal chancel has two straight bays, the westernmost with a cusped lancet window, the other with a three-light window like those in the three canted bays. As it is totally surrounded by sacristies, there are big brick ‘broaches’ below the diagonal bays at roof level. There is also another octagonal brick chimney rising up the middle of the south side, from a boiler house that heated the presbytery as well as the east end. The sacristies have large square-headed windows.

The interior is equally idiosyncratic. It has the form of a Germanic ‘hall church’ with very tall arcades directly supporting the roof, but the aisles are very narrow being little more than passages. An odd raised motif appears on the west responds, but otherwise the six bay nave arcades again have mid-fourteenth century detailing, with round bases overhanging octagonal plinths and an exaggerated vertical element below the springing point of the chamfered arches. A wall post rises from each spandrel, to support an oversized hammerbeam on the ends of which runs the wall plate for the four cant panelled ceiling.  This results in an open space between the trusses and the arcade wall plate, highlighted now by the modern lighting scheme. The nave ‘ceiling’ therefore, appears to be floating in front of the arcades and almost independent of the roof structure.

The huge nave space terminates at an east wall with a very tall central  pointed chancel arch, flanked by two much smaller arches to side chapels and with square doorcases leading from the nave aisles into the sacristies around the chancel. The chancel ceiling is also panelled and recently painted bright blue with much gold and black stencilling. The external ‘broaches’ at the diagonal corners of the sanctuary are expressed internally as triple arch squinches. All the arches in the chancel have continuous chamfered orders.

The west gallery has been glazed in and given a new timber front; the enclosed space extends into the narthex and through an original low arch that springs from floor level to connect the space to the aisles. There are WCs, a kitchen and tables for small meetings and social use; the gallery itself is flat floored. The work has been completed to a high standard.

There is coloured glass in the aisle windows and early twentieth century stained glass elsewhere. The brightly painted baldachins in the chancel chapels are modern; above the south sacristy door is a First World War memorial, copied in 2001 for the north door memorial commemorating the Boer and Second World War. The original font now stands in front of the north nave benches (which are also original).

Heritage Details

Architect: Edward Simpson

Original Date: 1904

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed