Piece Croft, Threshfield, near Grassington, North Yorkshire
A clever design for a small rural church in a sensitive countryside location. Its bold modern forms are expressed with traditional materials and with an imaginative use of space, compact but not cramped.
During the 20th century a growing group of Catholics in the Grassington area heard Mass at a variety of locations and by the late 1960s there were 80-100 attending, prompting the Bishop of Leeds to establish a permanent Mass centre in Wharfedale. A site close to Grassington Bridge was refused planning permission but the present site was purchased in 1969 and permission granted. The death of the parish priest, Fr Lehane, at Skipton delayed the project, but revised plans were approved in May 1972 and building work commenced in August of that year, with completion in October 1973. St Margaret Clitherow, who struggled to keep the Catholic faith alive in the Dales after the Reformation, was canonised on 26th October 1970.
The church exhibits a striking conjunction of contemporary forms with traditional materials. A tent-like pyramid of copper-clad concrete beams provides the main structure, supported on piers of coursed limestone. Within this the main roof, clad in stone slates, describes a square. Its eastern slope is broken by a lead-clad wedge providing a large skylight over the altar and, on its eastern face, a large Celtic cross by John Ashworth and John Laker of LA Studios, London. Below the main roof the walls are in irregularly coursed limestone with flat-roofed projections to each face; small triangular projections on three sides, with high level horizontal slit windows and, to either side, heavy concrete framed windows’ floating’ within glazed frames, except on the north side where one of these is given over to the entrance with a pair of boarded doors. On the west side there is a more utilitarian square projection housing the meeting room or hall.
Inside, the main worship space has the pews set out in a semi circle and spatially feels quite different from the exterior. It is open to the underside of the roof but the quality of the space is still intimate. The eastern triangular projection houses the sanctuary. Within the light well above the altar is a large bas-relief depicting the risen Christ, flanked by the wheat and grapevines symbolising the Eucharist, once more by John Ashworth and John Loker. The large windows to left and right of the sanctuary are filled with richly coloured stained glass designed by Jane Duff (later Ayers) and made by John Hardman Studios. In the left-hand window recess is the Lady Altar with a limewood carving of Our Lady, whilst to the right is a limewood statue of St Margaret Clitherow. The southern triangular projection is divided internally to form the sacristy, whilst that on the north side is divided to form the porch or lobby. A partition on the west side (not taken to full height) screens of a gathering or meeting area which can be opened through to form part of the church as required. Stations of the Cross in brass, the figures in relief set within open circles. West of the fold-back screen the gathering space has a kitchenette and one end and a glazed screen separating it from the meeting room beyond.
Architect: Peter Langtry-Langton
Original Date: 1972
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed