Christ the Consoler, Skelton, by William Burges (1827-1881)

All photographs © Colin Hinson, of the Genuki: Yorkshire Genealogy website, who has kindly contributed them in large resolution. They should not be reused without his permission. Captions, text and formatting by Jacqueline Banerjee.

Christ the Consoler, Skelton-on-Ure, Yorkshire. William Burges. 1871-76. Listed Building. One of Burges's two celebrated Yorkshire estate churches, this stands in the grounds of Newby Hall, then the seat of the titled Vyner family. It was built like the other church, St Mary, Studley Royal, in memory of Frederick Grantham Vyner. Frederick was Lady Mary Vyner's youngest son, and he had been held to ransom in Greece in 1870, and murdered before the ransom could be paid. Like the other church, Christ the Consoler was built of local stone — grey stone from Cat Craig in the Borders, with stone from a nearby Yorkshire quarry for the dressings, and local white limestone in the interior. Again, like St Mary, it has a grey slate roof (see listing text). Yew trees line the approach and the church itself is partly obscured by the evergreens and by large beech trees, as seen above. These add to its generally "memorial atmosphere" (Jenkins 899).

Left: An illustration of the church in Victorian times (from Bogg 331). This more open three-quarter view shows the huge rose window at the west end, and the porch entrance. Right: A recent view of the south elevation from the west end. Peter Leach and Nikolaus Pevsner describe the church succinctly as "C13 English Gothic with occasional French imports," and in more detail as a "[p]icturesque composition of nave with aisles and clerestory, much lower chancel, and tower and spire over what would otherwise be the E bay of the N aisle, the spire with big Norman Gothic pyramidal corner pinnacles sprouting from its base" (700). Much of this is evident from these pictures. It is certainly much more "picturesque" than Burges's squat red-brick All Saints in Fleet, and even than the church at Studley Royal, which has been described as looking, in silhouette at night, like "a giant rhinoceros" (Jenkins 901)!

The interior of Christ the Consoler. Since the tall, narrow nave is followed by a low chancel, neither the chancel nor the east window itself provides the climax of the church. Instead, the amazing sculptural work above the chancel arch has the greatest impact. This was executed by Burges's "favourite craftsman" and usual stone-carver, Thomas Nicholls (Leach 7), and depicts the Ascension, with the figure of Christ at top centre, angels either side in the middle, and witnesses below. Also very prominent is the highly decorated, festive-looking organ case, which complements the mood of the chancel arch, bringing a note of hope into the solemn atmosphere.

Left: Closer view of the organ case, and the witnesses on the chancel arch. Notice the large corbels supporting the loft, carved as angels playing cymbals, and all the colourful stencilling and gilding; also, the changing postures of the witnesses to the Ascension, as they cluster between black marble shafts of different sizes over the chancel arch — Jenkins calls the chancel arch sculpture "a complete Adoration" (899). Right: The font. The font has a tall wooden Gothic cover like, for example, Pugin's font at St Augustine's Abbey Church, Ramsgate (see penultimate row of pictures there). The wooden part was carved by John Walden, a Covent Garden craftsman and furniture maker associated with Burges at Cardiff Castle and his own Tower House as well (e.g., see Tilbrook 34). In the middle is a sculptural representation of the baptism of Christ, and on the sides are beautiful carvings, all presumably by Nicholls, since they are not attributed to anyone else. For close-ups of these sides, and of James Redfern's glowing reredos, as well as the brilliant (in every sense) stained glass windows in the church, see the list below. It is not surprising that, in all, Christ the Consoler has been called "one of the most remarkable and beautiful churches of the 19th century" (Williams 7).

Related Material


Bogg, Edmund. From Eden Vale to the Plains of York: Or, A Thousand Miles in the Valleys of the Nidd and Yore. Leeds: Edmund Bogg, 1894(?). Internet Archive. Web. 2 December 2011.

"Church of Christ the Consoler, with Eleanor Cross to East, Newby With Mulwith." British Listed Buildings. Web. 2 December 2011.

Jenkins, Simon. England's Thousand Best Churches. London: Penguin, 2000.

Leach, Peter. St Mary's Church, Studley Royal. (Dept. of the Environment Official Handbook.) London: HMSO, 1981.

Leach, Peter, and Nikolaus Pevsner. Yorkshire West Riding, Leeds, Bradford and the North. The Buildings of England series. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2009.

Tilbrook, Adrian A. Truth, Beauty and Design: Victorian, Edwardian and Later Decorative Art.. London: Fischer Fine Art, 1986.

Williams, Matthew. William Burges. Norwich: Jarrold (Pitkin Guides), 2007.

Last modified 2 December 2011