Mr. Street was one of the first architects of the Revival who showed how effective Gothic architecture might be made where it simply depends for effect on artistic proportion. In this respect he brought about a great and useful reformation in the practice of his art. If Pugin and his followers could decorate their walls with carved panels, fill their windows with tracery, crown their buttresses with crocketed pinnacles, and enrich their porches with canopied niches, they made a showy building. But shorn of such details it cut a sorry figure. Now, if Mr. Street were limited to the arrangement of four walls, a roof, a couple of windows, a door, and a chimney shaft, on the distinct 'understanding that none of these features were to be ornamented in the slightest degree, we may be quite sure that he would group them in such a fashion as to make them picturesque. Nothing can possibly be simpler than his works at Cuddesdon and East Grinstead — he first a college, the latter a convent. They have literally no architectural character beyond what may be secured by stout masonry, a steep roof, and a few dormer windows. But there is a genuine cachet on each design which it is impossible to mistake. They are the production of an artist hand.
Perhaps there is no better test of an architect's originality in design than when he has co deal with the design of a very small village church. It must have its sanctuary, its porch, its pulpit, and its belfry, but it must be spanned by a single roof, and the picturesque subdivision of nave and aisles is of course out of the question. How can such a building as this be made to express its purpose, to look interesting, and avoid conventionality? Mr. Street has shown us how to do this in his design for Howesham Church. He gave the chancel an apsidal end, decorated its windows with escoinson shafts, cusped the chancel arch, reduced the pulpit to a little quadrant in plan (which was just the thing for a corner), planned a snug little porch with a lean-to roof for the west end, and carried up a picturesque belfry turret by its side. The effect of the whole is charming. Nothing better could have been devised. It is simplicity itself, but simplicity with meaning and effect.
Church of St. Philip and St James. [Click on thumbnail for larger image.]
In his larger works Mr. Street is equally successful. Of all the churches which he has built there is scarcely one which is not remark- able for some originality of treatment. And this originality is always secured by legitimate means, without an approach to that license which with the less accomplished designer results in extravagant proportions or bizarrerie of detail. It is by slight and temperate departures from ordinary types of form and decoration that this architect frequently ensures a novel grace without startling by oddities of design. Thus in the Church of SS. Philip and James, at Oxford, the tower which rises over the intersection of the nave and transepts is a little broader in plan from north to south than it is from east to west. The division of the clerestory windows does not exactly coincide with the division of the nave arcade. The fenestration of the north transept differs from that of the south. The building is enriched with natural colour, not by covering it over with stripes like a zebra, but by introducing bands of reddish stone at rare intervals and by marking the voussoirs in the same manner. The nave of this church is of unusual width in relation to its aisles, but the easternmost bay of each arcade slopes slightly inwards to meet the piers which carry-the central tower. This forms a peculiar and by no means an uninteresting feature. The nave roof, instead of being open timbered and of the ordinary type, is ceiled internally and takes the form of a pointed arch, decorated at intervals with bands of colour. The picturesque grouping of the aisle windows, the rich inlay and carving of the reredos (heightened in effect by contrast with the plain wall lining and simple wood fittings of the chancel), even the iron-work of the screen — are all full of character, and that type of character which if verbally expressed would only be a synonym for artistic grace. Once, and once only, in this building does the architect appear to have drifted into random work, and that is in the design of the circular window which lights the western gable. But even here the result is rather quaint than distasteful. The best view of the exterior is certainly from the east end, where the central tower and spire, rising from the crux with an octagonal turret at the south-east corner, form with the chancel and transepts an admirably composed group, in which two architectural features constantly adopted by Mr. Street — viz. the round apse and the louvred belfry windows — are conspicuous. [323-25]
Eastlake, Charles L. A History of the Gothic Revival. London: Longmans, Green; N.Y. Scribner, Welford, 1972. . [Copy in Brown University's Rockefeller Library]
Last modified 5 February 2008