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Doncaster, St George's Church
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The Independent Culture
Some years ago, the late Alec Clifton-Taylor presented a television series on English towns. All the towns featured were, without exception, the standard "picturesques": Ludlow, Chichester, Stamford, Saffron Walden.

But the real delights of Britain are surely to be found in places where a tourist is regarded with the kind of bewilderment that presumably greeted missionaries in Victorian times. Doncaster exemplifies this "Unloved Britain".

It has both a football and a rugby league team which neither promise nor deliver, and the St Leger race (named after a local general) is not the social event it was. The decline of the railway engineering works once responsible for the Flying Scotsman has hit local employment and a recent fire made a mess of the Victorian market buildings.

So much for the minuses. Abundant pluses include Doncaster's wonderful surroundings. It is no surprise that Sir Walter Scott wrote much of Ivanhoe when he was in the district, using Conisbrough Castle as a suitably romantic setting. Above all, the town boasts one of Britain's finest religious buildings. Site Unseen has steered clear of churches but there are exceptions to every rule, especially when a combination of the names Doncaster and George Gilbert Scott ensures that St George's remains unknown and ignored.

The medieval church had been destroyed by fire in February 1853, and the architect Gilbert Scott, who designed the Albert Memorial, St Pancras and hundreds of churches around the country, was commissioned to rebuild it. It is not just the overall grandeur of St George's - completed at a cost of less than £50,000 - that is so impressive, but rather the specific details. Most notable is the glorious East window which depicts the life of Christ and fully merits the description of stained glass as the "Poor Man's Bible".

My favourites, however, are the carvings of the sculptor John Birnie Philip. Walk slowly along the pillars in the nave. On the south side are exquisite representations of an ivy, marshmallow, thorn, fig, shamrock and columbine. To the north, enjoy the strawberry, maple, buttercup, thorn and vine.

But nothing beats the delicacy of a caterpillar which is quietly minding its own business on the carved foliage of the stone reading desk.

It is this consummate craftsmanship and attention to detail which makes places worth visting. Anything Ludlow and Stamford can do, Doncaster can easily match.

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