The church is in the centre of a busy town but in a relatively quiet and open situation with a large churchyard, a formalised park, to its south and south east. It has been largely rebuilt in various post-medieval Gothic styles: the tower dates from 1785, the remainder from 1823, 1884-5 and 1895. The north and south arcades of the nave were spared demolition and are of 13th-century date (Pevsner 1967, 178-9), having clustered piers with annulet rings, waterholding bases and pointed arches. A small area of Anglo-Saxon wall remains above the north arcade.
Around 1995, the east end of the church was converted into meeting rooms, a chapel, refectory and an heritage centre in the former south transept. In the heritage centre the Anglo-Saxon and Romanesque sculpture which was largely found in the walls as the medieval church was demolished is displayed. The nave was re-ordered in 1996 so that the congregation faces the main altar at the west end, and the former nave and aisles are open, with chairs and no screens (Middleton 2006, 4, 24).
Four grave slabs and a headstone in the Heritage Centre are possibly of twelfth-century date, according to Peter Ryder (1991, 20-22); a further fragment illustrated by him is reset in the wall of the vice in the west tower, now accessed from the vestry behind the main altar.
The ‘Minster’ status was revived in 1993, (Middleton 2006, 5), but the current edition of Crockford’s Directory does not use this title, only All Saints.
Middleton (2006) suggests that the very large ancient parish of Dewsbury (some 400 square miles) implies a former Minster status. Middleton reports that Bede mentioned a 7th-century monastery in the kingdom of Elmet, which might be either Dewsbury or Leeds. When Leland visited Dewsbury, there was a standing cross with an inscription which read ‘Hic Paulinus praedicavit et celebravit’. Parts of several pre-Conquest cross shafts are now in the church heritage centre.
According to the Domesday Book there was a church and a priest at Dewsbury, which belonged to the king (Williams et al. 1987-92, f.299v). The king presumably granted the church to the Warennes, as part of their large fee in Yorkshire, as between 1091 and 1097 William, 2nd Earl of Warenne, granted Lewes priory a number of Yorkshire churches which included Dewsbury (Thompson and Clay 1933, 68). Lewes priory held the rectory until the reign of Edward III (Page 1973, 64-71).
The so-called ‘Consecration Stone’, a re-set stone (details from Ryder 1991, 9) is built into the internal wall immediately to the right of the doorway at the foot of the stair to the west tower. However, as no key was available, it was not seen by the fieldworker. It is almost certainly the upper half of a cross slab since a fragment of the shaft remains, and is probably of 12th-century date. The spiral stair to the bell tower is said to date from Norman times (Middleton 2006, 27) but also was not seen.
Ryder 1 (ref. from Ryder, 1991): ‘An intact stone… an impressive monument… probably late 12th century’. This is in sandstone, blackened by exposure to industrial pollution, but not broken. Small spots of the black coating are flaking off but wholesale decay does not seem imminent. The relief is bold, and most of the surface is inventively worked. It includes an inscription at the head end, but the design, of a stepped cross, is a common one. The head of the cross has a ‘bracelet-derivative’ form. Facing up towards the cross head on each side is a wyvern with longish pointed ears laid backwards (not to be mistaken for the beak of a backward-turned head). Their mouths are open and their tongues reach for the foliage which sprouts on each side from the upper part of the shaft. The shaft and the stepped foot of the cross are themselves patterned. At the head end, in the corners and flanking the inscription, is, on the right side, a muzzled beast’s head, and on the left side, a man’s head. The man appears to have a tonsure, and is not bearded or moustachioed.
|Height at foot end||0.215m|
|Height at head end||0.25m|
|Width at head end||0.54m|
Ryder 2 (ref. from Ryder, 1991): A brown sandstone slab in three pieces. ‘On the right of the cross shaft is a sword and on the left is a puzzling emblem which might be an acolyte’s stole or a musical instrument. Probably late 12th century.’
|Width at head end||0.44m|
Ryder 6 (ref. from Ryder, 1991): Another complete slab with an incised design. ‘Cross head within a circle, each arm being expanded into a disc…shears… 12th century.’
Ryder 7 (ref. from Ryder, 1991): A discoidal headstone; the negative sunk cross on the reverse cannot be seen as the slab is fixed to the wall. Possibly 12th-century.
W. P. Baildon, Court Rolls of the Manor of Wakefield 1., Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series 29. Leeds 1900.
The Yorkshire Domesday, A. Williams et al. (eds.), Alecto Historical Editions, 3 Vols. London 1987-1992.
W. Page (ed.), A History of the County of Sussex 2 (Victoria County History), London 1973.
Fasti Parochiales , A. H. Thompson and C. T. Clay (eds.), I part I (Deanery of Doncaster), Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series 85 (1933).
R. A. Middleton, The Church at Dewsbury: a History of the Ancient Parish of Dewsbury and a Mother Church of West Yorkshire, 3rd edition, Huddersfield 2006.
N. Pevsner, revised by E. Radcliffe, The Buildings of England, Yorkshire, The West Riding, Harmondsworth, 1967.
P. F. Ryder, Medieval Cross Slab Grave Covers in West Yorkshire, Wakefield 1991.