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Church of St George

A Grade II* Listed Building in Castle, City of Leicester

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Coordinates

Latitude: 52.6345 / 52°38'4"N

Longitude: -1.1267 / 1°7'36"W

OS Eastings: 459199

OS Northings: 304436

OS Grid: SK591044

Mapcode National: GBR FJK.6H

Mapcode Global: WHDJJ.N1PP

Entry Name: Church of St George

Listing Date: 14 March 1975

Last Amended: 12 August 2013

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1299776

English Heritage Legacy ID: 188790

Location: Leicester, LE1

County: City of Leicester

Civil Parish: Non Civil Parish

Unitary Authority Ward: Castle

Traditional County: Leicestershire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Leicestershire

Church of England Parish: The Resurrection

Church of England Diocese: Leicester

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Summary

Commissioners’ Church predominantly in the Decorated style built 1823-1827 to designs by William Parsons, with chancel added in 1879 by Sir Arthur Blomfield, and nave rebuilt in 1912-14 by W. D. Caröe.

Description

Commissioners’ Church predominantly in the Decorated style built 1823-1827 to designs by William Parsons, with chancel added in 1879 by Sir Arthur Blomfield, and nave rebuilt in 1912-14 by W. D. Caröe.

MATERIALS: sandstone ashlar with stone and cast-iron window tracery. The pitched roofs are clad in Welsh slate with the exception of the north slope of the nave which is covered in Swithland slate.

PLAN: the church consists of a nave, north and south aisles, a west tower with porches on each side, and an east chancel flanked by a chapel on the south and a vestry and kitchen on the north.

EXTERIOR: the church is large and impressive, predominantly in Decorated Gothic but with elements in the Perpendicular style. The aisles have a crenellated parapet and are divided into seven bays by gabled buttresses in three stages, the gables terminating in tiny carved medieval-style heads or foliage, whilst the top gable is surmounted by a Latin cross. It has diagonal buttresses at the corners, surmounted by crocketed spire-like pinnacles. The tall pointed arch windows have three lights with cusped ogee heads in two stages, the upper stage having rectilinear tracery. The windows have a hollow moulded surround and a hoodmould with headstops in the form of medieval-style heads. All the window tracery in the aisles and tower is cast iron.

The three-stage west tower has panelled diagonal buttresses in three stages which have the same decorative treatment as the aisle buttresses, with the addition of crockets. It has a pierced parapet and four corner spire-like crocketed pinnacles. The elaborate Decorated doorway on the west front has four shafts with moulded bases and capitals. The pointed arch above has alternate rounds and deeply cut hollows with a crocketed ogee arch hoodmould. The panelled timber door is decorated with intricate gothic tracery. The second stage is lit by a large pointed arch window which has four cinquefoil headed lights with a round multifoil in the window head, and a surround of alternating rounds and deeply cut hollows. The third stage has a round clock set in a panelled frieze. Above, there are twin ogee arch windows embellished with crockets and finials. They have Y-tracery and moulded and recessed surrounds similar to the other windows. The porches on the north and south sides of the tower have crenellated parapets and corner buttresses surmounted by finials, with the same treatment as those on the tower. The doorway on the north and south side of the respective porches has a pointed arch surround with a single shaft and alternate rounds and hollows. The hoodmould has headstops in the form of human heads, and the double-leaf panelled timber door is embellished with Gothic motifs. The west side of both porches is lit by a two-light window in two stages with a crenellated transom and an upper stage and surround similar to the aisle windows. The east side of the aisles is lit by similar windows.

The chancel has a pitched roof with crenellated parapets on the north and south sides, and diagonal buttresses which are in three stages, the first and third are gabled, and the second has an off-set. These are surmounted by fairly plain pinnacles, whilst those rising from the angle between the nave and chancel are crocketed. The large pointed arch east window has seven cusped lights with curvilinear tracery in the head. All the windows in the chancel have stone tracery. The chancel is flanked by small projections – a chapel on the south side and vestry and kitchen on the north, both of similar design. They have a mono-pitched roof with moulded parapet, a diagonal buttress and a one-light, cusped window on the east side. The south side of the south chapel is lit by a pair of cusped ogee arch two-light windows with a straight-headed hoodmould. The north projection (now used as a kitchen) has, on the north side, a similar three-light window followed by a pointed arch timber door with a chamfered surround and hoodmould. Between this and the nave is the double-height gabled vestry with organ loft which is lit at ground-floor level by another straight-headed three-light window, and above by a tall pointed arch window with two cusped lights and hoodmould. There is a small, flat-roofed C20 extension in red brick in front of the ground-floor window.

INTERIOR: the seven-bay nave, rebuilt in 1912-14, has tall piers which give a marked sense of height now that the galleries are no longer in place. The round piers, which have fillets and rest on broached bases, rise to form an arcade of pointed, moulded arches. Some of the piers are embellished with cusped or ogee arch canopied niches with sculpted religious figures, and one has a series of square panels with carved religious symbols. The nave and aisles have timber-clad ceilings with decorative timber trusses. The moulded tie-beams across the nave, which have spandrels pierced with cusped panels and carved bosses, rest on stone corbels carved in the form of angels. The principal doorway at the west end of the nave is quite spectacular in its size and decoration. The moulded and chamfered stone surround has foliate capitals and the soffit and jambs are carved with trefoil arch panels. The doorway is almost completely filled by the tall timber screen and incorporated door, installed in 1912-14, which is covered with intricately carved Gothic panels and is surmounted by brattishing. A cantilevered timber beam projects from the top of the screen to support the mechanism for lifting the cover off the highly elaborate font below. The west doorway is flanked by prominent arched doorways to the north and south porches which have moulded stone surrounds with carved spandrels, panelled jambs and double-leaf timber panelled doors.

At the east end the large moulded chancel arch has been fitted with a modern timber painted screen (which is not of special interest). The timber-clad chancel roof has pseudo-hammer beam trusses, resting on stone carved corbels, and wind braces. The marble altar is located against the east wall on a raised floor laid in black and pale grey marble. Above, the stained glass east window is flanked by the remnants of wall paintings depicting religious symbols, vines and other stylised foliage. On the right side of the altar, built into the south wall of the chancel, is a cusped ogee arched stone piscina. The north wall of the chancel is pierced by a tall stone archway containing the large timber panelled organ loft in which the organ player is accommodated in a balcony with pierced cusped panels. To the right of this are two stone archways, the first of which gives access through a timber door to the vestry and the second of which is blind. On the opposite south wall of the chancel are three moulded stone archways, the left one has blind tracery, and the other two are fitted with richly carved pierced timber screens with brattishing. The middle screen contains a doorway giving access to the south chapel but this has been boarded over and the chapel now has an inserted pitched ceiling.

FURNITURE AND FITTINGS: the fitted plain timber pews in the nave and aisles, probably installed 1912-14, have boarded backs and simple panelled rectangular bench-ends. At the west end of the nave, the font, dating to 1865, has an octagonal bowl with alternating buttresses and triangular canopies containing Gothic motifs, which rests on an octagonal stem carved with blind tracery. The timber cover is in the form of a crocketed spire with pinnacled flying buttresses, the detail of which is picked out in red, green and gold. Equally elaborate is the timber pulpit, dating to 1912-14, which is located at the east end of the nave. It has a hexagonal drum resting on four square legs which is reached via a flight of steps, all richly carved with blind tracery, vines and other stylised foliage. The four-seat timber sedilia in the chancel is similarly decorated and probably dates to the same period. The stained glass in the west window of the tower, depicting four saints, is thought to have been made by Ward & Nixon around 1835, making it the oldest C19 stained glass in the county.

History

St George’s was the first church built in Leicester since the Reformation. It was constructed between 1823 and 1827 with a grant of £16,600 from the Church Building Commissioners. This was a huge amount, given that nationally the average cost of a new church between 1800 and 1830 was £6,000, and it was the largest sum spent on any Leicestershire and Rutland church in the C19. Commissioners’ Churches are Anglican churches that were built with the aid of parliamentary grants administered by specially appointed Church Building Commissioners between 1818 and 1856. The first Church Building Act passed in 1818 granted one million pounds, and a second act, passed in 1824, granted a further half a million pounds. The churches were built in areas with expanding populations where the largely medieval churches had inadequate provision for new congregations. The new churches were intended to be spacious and economical with a substantial proportion of free seats for the poor. St George’s originally accommodated 801 people in pews and 999 in free seats. The architect was the County Surveyor William Parsons (1796-1857), a leading local architect who was also responsible for Leicester Gaol (the gatehouse of which is listed at Grade II), Leicestershire Lunatic Asylum (now the Fielding Johnson Building at Leicester University; listed at Grade II), and six Midland Railway stations in Leicestershire, including the Grade II listed Brooksby Station. Parsons has a total of eight listed buildings to his name.

A drawing made of the church interior c1827 shows that it had two raised pulpits at the east end of the nave, box pews, and galleries in the aisles which had plastered ceilings. A contemporary account also suggests that the nave may have been vaulted. In 1846 the tower was rebuilt by Parsons to a slightly higher design after a severe lightning strike. The font and cover by H. Goddard & Son was installed in 1865. In 1879 the west gallery was removed, and the small sanctuary was replaced by a large chancel with a side chapel and vestry to the designs of Sir Arthur Blomfield (1829-99), a prominent Gothic revival architect whose works include the Royal College of Music in London and Selwyn College, Cambridge (both listed at Grade II). In 1911 a fire broke out at the neighbouring spinning factory of R. Rowley & Co and burning material landed on the roof of St George’s, destroying much of the nave and damaging the chancel and tower. The rebuilding work was carried out by William Douglas Caröe (1857-1938) who had been appointed Senior Architect to the Church Commissioners in 1895. He was a pioneer of building conservation, restoring many churches as well as designing domestic and commercial buildings, many of which are listed, such as the Offices of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and Church Estates in Millbank, London (Grade II*). He also designed the First World War memorial that was unveiled in the churchyard of St George’s in 1921. Caröe’s drawings show that only the external walls and windows of the nave survived the fire. He rebuilt the arcade and the roof to a different design, and removed the damaged galleries. The tower was restored and a timber screen costing £400 was inserted but the spire was removed. The seating was replaced and a memorial pulpit costing £110 was installed.

After mid-C20 slum clearance in the surrounding area the congregation diminished and St George’s was closed for Anglican worship in the early 1970s. The Serbian Orthodox Church began holding services in the church in 1973 and the church is now in their ownership. The building has suffered from dry rot and water ingress throughout the second half of the C20 leading to much of the chancel roof and ceiling being replaced in the 1960s. The south slope of the nave roof was re-covered in Welsh slate in 1987. Further roof repairs to the nave are currently being carried out.

Reasons for Listing

St George’s, a Commissioners’ Church predominantly in the Decorated style built 1823-1827 to designs by William Parsons, with later C19 and early C20 alterations, is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: it is an especially elaborate example of a Commissioners’ Church in the Gothic style which has impressively proportioned elevations enriched with a multitude of stone-carved embellishments. One of the most notable features of the church is the use of cast iron for the window tracery, an important surviving feature of a rare architectural detail;
* Architects: the form and internal decoration of the church has evolved in the hands of three nationally important architects. Caröe’s finely detailed design for the nave ceiling and the lofty piers, unusually embellished with sculpted figures in niches, contributes significantly to the architectural distinction of the church;
* Quality of fittings: the pulpit, tower screen and font are finely carved, highly decorated examples of their kind. The font was designed by H. Goddard & Son, one of the most important Leicester-based architectural practices of the C19;
* Historic interest: Commissioners’ Churches not only represent the largest church building initiative since the Reformation, but constitute the greatest state-funded wave of church building ever seen in England;
* Group value: the church has group value with the churchyard war memorial, also designed by Caröe to commemorate those who fell in World War One.

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