St Cuthbert, Fishlake, Yorkshire, West Riding

Feature Sets (2)


Fishlake is now a satellite village of Doncaster, but in the 12thc. it was a small settlement in the vast area of fen around the Humber. Drainage works from the 17thc. onwards mean that the River Don no longer threatens to undermine the church as it did in times past, and a high dyke now overlooks it. 

St Cuthbert’s is spacious, with a W tower, nave and aisles and chancel, with a mainly Perpendicular fenestration. It is almost entirely late Gothic, but retains its Romanesque nave doorway, which is recognised by Pevsner as 'perhaps the most lavishly decorated in Yorkshire'. There is also a plain S doorway to the chancel but no other visible 12thc. remains. During re-roofing work on the S aisle some time after 2001, the lowest parts of a row of window openings in the S wall of the nave could be seen; these could have been Romanesque, and recalled the situation at Hatfield (West Yorkshire).


The lordship of Conisbrough in 1086 included Fishlake. William de Warenne II granted Conisbrough and its dependent churches to Cluniac Lewes Priory during the last decade of the 11thc. (Hey 1979).

In medieval times the River Don ran close to the church. The site would thus have been convenient for the bringing of Magnesian limestone some 17-20km down river from the outcrop at Conisbrough. From the 13thc. onwards, the church was enlarged and altered on the N side, away from the river.


Exterior Features


Chancel S doorway

Round-headed, of one order. Magnesian limestone. No bases, plain, square, continuous; narrow chamfer in arch and jambs. Both this and the nave doorways may be in their original positions, since at least 2 m² of rubble walling is in place above the chancel doorway and the adjacent outer surfaces of the pediment and the porch walls seem to show two phases of rubble construction.

Height of opening 1.87m
Width of opening 0.70m

S doorway to nave

The S nave doorway is round-headed, of four orders, in Magnesian limestone. The doorway projects from the wall of the S aisle, no doubt formerly having a gabled pediment like Adel (West Yorkshire) or Stillingfleet (East Yorkshire). It has lost the gable and the label, and the sculpture is very worn in places. The bulk of the pediment seems to be of rubble, with the limestone used for facings and sculpture.The remains of the doorway are covered by a later porch. The rubble side-walls of the porch butt up to and obscure part of the 12thc. doorway, including some sculpture on capitals on the L side. The paving may conceal a lower course of plinths of the doorway.

Regarding the condition of the doorway, drainage works have moved the watercourse away from the settlement but the area is, of course, still low-lying and liable to mist and fog. This constant dampness, combined with the position downwind of industrial Yorkshire, has provided acidic atmospheric conditions most harmful to stonework. Further, at some date before the earliest description (Ornsby, c.1850), the S doorway had been robbed of its protective gable and label. Rainwater had penetrated easily among the voussoirs over a long period before an adequate porch was provided, so that gaps in joints as wide as a finger are numerous. 

1st order L capital width of E face 0.26m
1st order L capital width of S face 0.235m
1st order R capital width of S face 0.225m
1st order R capital width of W face 0.25m
2nd order L capital width of E face 0.25m
2nd order L capital width of S face 0.24m
2nd order R capital width of S face 0.247m
2nd order R capital width of W face 0.23m
3rd order L capital width of E face 0.235m
3rd order L capital width of S face 0.235m
3rd order R capital width of S face 0.25m
3rd order R capital width of W face 0.235m
4th order L capital width of S face 0.38m
4th order R capital w. of W face 0.265m
Average height of capitals including necking 0.245m to 0.25m
Average height of capitals without necking 0.215m to 0.22m
Door: Height of opening 2.17m
Door: Width of opening 1.50m
L capital width from centre of pilaster to angle 0.235m
L capital width of E face 0.24m
R capital width from centre of pilaster to angle 0.235m
R capital width of S face 0.342 m
1st order

No visible plinth. In the reveal, two half-columns divided by an arris. Corresponding to each column is a small capital with integral necking which is cable moulded on the L and possibly was also on the R, although this is now indistinct. The arris between the columns continues through the necking and between the capitals. The capitals merge together under the sculpture on the reveal but that on the angle is less boldly cut on the S face, and then plain on the S face to the second order. L capital has a pattern of foliage with beaded stems rising from clumps of upright leaves. The arrangement of foliage is symmetric in the E face. R capital W face hints at a double scallop form, but sheathed by folds on the cones and emphasised by beaded trails with leaves in the shields. 

The impost is hollow chamfered followed by a rounded angle then an upright with a quirk near the bottom. This profile was used throughout.

The arch consists of 14 voussoirs of varying width. The soffit has a wide fillet between two angle rolls, echoing the profile of the reveal. On the face of each voussoir is a slope between the angle roll and a narrow fillet against the second order. On this slope, each voussoir is carved with a different foliate design. The designs are symmetrical and often resemble little trees, with a clump of roots against the angle roll and a short length of trunk, as follows:

1. (bottom L) In the centre is a spiky threefold leaf (not a trefoil leaf).  A circular stem encloses this, and two stems with leaves spring across this ring from the centre. Other detail is vague - the lower angles perhaps each had a trefoil leaf in a palmette

2. A row of upright leaves, fluted and with scalloped tops, form a mound at the inner edge. From the top of this mound rises a single beaded stem, which soon bifurcates, forms a heart-shaped field and rejoins at the outer centre.  Within this field is a heart-shaped palmette with fluted leaflets, hanging from a small annular node at the junction of the two stems.  On each side of the heart-shaped stem side-shoots spring, they terminate in a pair of fluted, furled leaves  drooping over the fluted mound.  On either side of the heart towards the joint parallel fluting fills the space.

3. A narrower voussoir with a design similar to 2, but the field defined by the bifurcating stem is spade-shaped, that is, the previous shape is inverted - a common device to give variety. The palmate leaf rises from a node at the bottom of the encircling shape. The parallel-fluting is omitted.

4. Similar to 2, but not identical.

5. A wider voussoir so more elaboration is possible. Fluted mound as 2 and 4 with a short thick stem rising from the centre.  This bifurcates halfway up the face, the two stems curling down and terminating in large, fluted, furled leaves.  From a node in the fork rises the familiar symmetrical leaf with fluted leaflets, and smaller leaflets rise behind it like ears. At the outer corners of the voussoir a pair of parallel flutings fill the space (as in 2).

6. Similar in design to 5, but the fluted mound is surrounded by a semicircular beaded border.  The central leaf is more triangular than before and the parallel flutings at the outer edge have been turned so that they emerge from the fillet at the outer edge of the voussoir.

7. As 6, but the central leaf is a trefoil similar to a clover-leaf.

8. A wide voussoir at the apex of the arch. Similar to 2, but the mound has a beaded border like 6 and 7, parallel fluting is omitted, and the side shoots each bear a pair of leaves rather than a single one.

9. As 2, but the mound has a semicircular border.

10. Similar to 3 but there is no mound and no central stem, the lower furled leaves simply issuing from either end of the main spade-shaped stem.  On the left of this is a side shoot bearing a fluted, furled leaf, and on the right parallel flutes.  At the outer left of the field is a fern-like frond, or a leaf with the edges serrated and folded together (as seen in North Italy).

11.  Similar to 8.

12.  A narrow voussoir, worn. The central fluted mound is present and from it rises a pair of intertwined stems which grow apart and terminate in a pair of furled leaves pointing inwards.  A second pair of similar leaves hang downwards.

13.  A mound with semicircular border. The main stem has two side-shoots and a terminal bud. Side shoots have a trefoil leaf and a palmate leaf. Some very fine detail of the leaf bud at the tip is not quite legible.

14.  As 5, but the mound has a semicircular border.

2nd order

Single-roll bases, detached monolithic nook shafts (possibly renewed).  The capitals have integral necking.  This is worn away on the R, but on the L, cable-moulded necking, alternating one thick and two thin strands may be seen.

capital: On the S face, a biped, its lower body dividing into beaded foliated stems. The creature has a lion-like head in profile at the top of the angle and is similar to one on the fourth order R capital (W face).  On the E face a heavily weathered carving of a centaur, with a pronounced foliate tail, is found.  The centaur aims an arrow at the creature on the S face. 

capital: A double-bodied lion with its head, or what is left of it, on the angle. Beaded stems with foliate terminals are found below the lion and a fluted band above. See Comments section below.

Arch: There are 20 voussoirs of varying width. The profile is a wide fillet in the soffit; a thick angle roll followed by a sloping plane on the face, followed by a thin fillet against the third order. Carving extends across the slope and onto the roll moulding. Each voussoir has, on the roll, a palmette outlined by a pair of originally beaded stems coming down from ledges above. On the ledges on the slope are small human or beast heads. Most voussoirs have a pair of heads to L and R of the palmette.  Voussoirs 2, 3 and 11 have a single centrally-placed head, and voussoir 10 has an individual design.

The heads are of three main types:

1. Masks (Voussoirs 1 and 9) 1a has ram's horns; 1b, pointed ears; 9a is doglike with bared teeth, while 9b, also doglike, is muzzled.

2. Human heads (voussoirs 2-6, 13, 15, 17, 18). All appear to be male.  Some are perhaps crowned or wear helmets or conical hats (eg. 5b) and both bearded and clean-shaven heads occur. The head on voussoir 3 fell off some time in the 1980s or 90s; it is still there in a Conway Library photo thought to have been taken in the 1920s. It was a man's head of the kind wearing a pointed hat or helmet.

3. Seven pairs of human-like heads (voussoirs 7, 8, 12, 14, 16, 19 and 20). These are male, perhaps with moustaches but not beards. Their hair is parted in the middle and stands on end in two triangular tufts.

Voussoir 11: The single head is tonsured, and the head and neck emerge directly from the leaf, whereas other heads are placed separately beside their leaf, distanced by a stalk.

Voussoir 10 is carved with the Visitation, called the Salutation by Keyser (1909). The two women have braided or bound hair, and wear long flowing garments.  The woman on the L has a cloak and the one on the R wears a long tunic with folds of drapery gathered over her L arm; the L hand is held so that the first finger is extended, the same detail is seen on order 4, voussoir 22, one of the seated figures in a medallion. Each woman reaches up to embrace the other, putting the right hand round the neck (under the hair). The R arm of the L woman wears a hanging cuff at the wrist. This is surprisingly-like a maniple, but worn on the wrong wrist.

3rd order

Base and columns as second order.

Capitals integral with neckingcable moulding is found on the L necking and nested "V"s on the R.

Capital: The S face is carved with a man in a boat, early descriptions state "a boat or ship, with two hooded figures in it" (Ornsby) and a "a monk rowing in a boat, a head at the angle" (Keyser 1909). This suggests the second figure was standing at the prow of the boat. The E face of the capital has symmetrical interlaced foliage, incorporating a spiky threefold leaf similar to that on voussoir 1 of the first order

capital: A demon with a spiky backbone and clawed feet on the W face disputes with a flying angel on the S face over a small naked body. Foliage with beaded stems springs from a fluted mound on the angle as do three conventional blossoms on thick stems. The cups of the blossoms have furled tips and enclose shorter central lobes, there are no fruits or flowerlike parts. This is the only instance of 'Byzantine blossom' on Yorkshire sculpture known to the fieldworker. It seems likely that a source or style in ivory was in mind or to hand, compare the very fine surface detail which survives on the S face of this capital.

The arch is made up of 25 voussoirs, nos. 12 and 13 being particularly narrow. The arch is square in section, with a small roll on the angle, and plain soffit.  The sculpture is carved in relief and is very worn, even so some fine details survive, such as the hair on the flank of a bull on voussoir 7, together with what could be patches of yellow ochre paint. The detail of hair on the back of a lion's neck, on voussoir 14, also survives.

A long-stemmed leafy plant extends around the arch.  This begins on the angle of voussoir 25, continues as the fine angle roll with further stems and leaves sprouting from it, and terminates on voussoir 1 in a palmette. On voussoirs 16 and 22, large shoots divide one subject from another.  On voussoirs 12 and 14, small shoots embrace the object on voussoir 13. Elsewhere on the arch the leaves support the creatures above them.

Voussoirs 1-3: On voussoirs 1 and 2, a demon with clawed feet and a two-pronged fork. The terminal leaf points toward the demon. On voussoir 3, a coffin (a rectangular form, now fractured) with a figure falling from it. This is likely to be a miser with money bags. The form on the R was, according to Keyser (1909), another human being, but is a second demon, having a large head, clawed feet and a rake.

Voussoirs 4 and 5: A slender animal which appears to run up the arch, its haunches high on voussoir 4 and legs trailing behind as if leaping.

Voussoirs 6-8: A fine bull in profile, its posture similar to the smaller animal on voussoirs 4 and 5.         

Voussoirs 8-10: A lion with its face turned toward the viewer. It has a foliate tail, and is running along the arch.

Voussoirs 11-12: A crouching goat.

Voussoir 13: Indistinct, a block with a 'shelf' above it.  Described by Keyser (1909) as "perhaps an altar".

Voussoirs 14-16a: A larger lion with a larger foliate tail, its head at the apex of the arch and facing the other animals so far described. One raised paw touches the object in voussoir 13. Behind the lion, a foliate stem crosses voussoir 16 to separate it from the following carving.

Voussoirs 16b-18: An animal with a ragged coat, biting its paw. It is controlled by a leash held by a man who holds a knife (a cleaver) in his other hand.

Voussoirs 19-20: A large running dog with its head turned back and holding an animal in its jaws. The animal, which hangs limply, appears to be a goat as it is bearded like that on voussoir 12.

Voussoirs 21,22: A pair of dogs running, following the above. A beaded, leafy mound - or canopy - divide the dogs from the next subject.

Voussoirs 23,24: A long-haired, standing male figure in a tunic.  In his L hand he holds a stick and in his R a short leash attached to a small animal, apparently tied by the front paws. The shape of the head suggest that this animal could be a young hare. The cuffs of the figure's dress may be compared to those in voussoirs 2 and 24 in the fourth order.

Voussoirs 25: Two leaves and fluted area. The base of the tree.

4th order

Bases as before but not fully visible, being covered by the stone seating along the walls of the porch. The S face has twin nook shafts coursed with the masonry of the jambs and separated by a wide fillet which continues into the capitals. The capitals and necking are integral.  The necking is weathered, but traces of nested "v"s survive on the E ring at the extreme R and L. 

capital: on the S face, two mounted combatants are confronted, the heads of the horses touching above the thick fillet. The L figure is lost or hidden beneath the porch wall; the R figure holds a lance in his R hand. Bands of fluting fill spaces above and below the combatants. The hindquarters of the R horse extend onto the E face of the capital, which additionally has scrolling foliate ornament. 

capital: winged bipeds with curling foliate tails, confronted at the angle.  That on the W face is smaller, and similar to that on the second order L capital (S face).  The larger beast has a palmette in the loop of his tail, and what could be an inverted blossom is among the foliage.  Perhaps a small creature, or more likely foliage, is on the S face on the extended fillet.

Arch: The sculpture has suffered extreme erosion and decay, recourse to old photos is desirable. Unusually, the cross-section of the arch is a flattened quadrant so that the carvings face diagonally into the porch.  Voussoirs have pairs of seated figures within beaded roundels, with the exception of voissoirs 1-2, 12 and 24-25.  The lower figures are circumferential to the arch, but those on voussoir 11 and 12 are radial and those of voussoirs 9-10 and 14-15 are turned to an intermediate axis. The quadrant section and the varying orientations give a quality of motion to the scene.

Voussoirs 1 and 2: Two women, facing symmetrically, each spearing a dragon.  On the L, against the arch, is a band of scrolling foliate ornament with a beaded stem.

Voussoirs 3 and 4: Two seated figures, weathered.  A palmette remains in the lower L corner outside the medallion.

Voussoirs 5 and 6: As above, weathered, although the folds of drapery below the knee are still clear.

Voussoirs 7 to 10: No detail discernible

Voussoirs 11, 12, and 13: Little surviving detail.  From Conway Library A65/621 it is clear that voussoir 11 contained a pair of seated figures set radially. The figure on the R holds a pair of keys and a book, and inclines toward a bearded haloed Christ, holding a cross and perhaps a book, carved on voussoir 12.  Voussoir 13, at the apex, is very narrow and appears blank. 

Voussoirs 14 to 23: As before, each pair of voussoirs contains a pair of seated figures, bearded and holding books, unfurled scrolls or scrolls coming from boxes. Voussoirs 22 and 23 have the best-preserved pair.

Voussoirs 24 and 25: another pair of women spearing dragons, the dragon on the R has been forced halfway down a hole.


This has been lost. It shared the impost and supporting jambs described above for the fourth order.


General remarks

It is noteworthy that the doorway is made of relatively small stones, the many joints presumably once disguised under plaster and paint. It is rare for carved figures elsewhere in Yorkshire to cross joints between stones as they persistently do here. The quality of some of the carving is unusually high, though there were at least two craftsmen at work. Heads in the second order, together with the paired seated figures in the fourth order, are perhaps the most sophisticated sculpture of this period surviving in Yorkshire. Compare heads on the inner doorway at Barton-le-Street (North Riding), which are the closest comparison and better preserved.

The doorway expresses a complex theological programme (Wood 2000), briefly as follows: In the first order, the tree motif relates to the Tree of Life as shown on tympana in the SW midlands, a particularly close comparison is the tympanum at Buildwas, Keyser (1927), fig. 29F. Repeated, the tree motif becomes a symbol of paradise. Foliage is appropriate at the door to the church interior, which should resemble paradise according to Theophilus. Orders 2-4 are a sequence of time past, present and future; they make a history of Salvation. The second order depicts the publication of the First Coming (the Salutation) interpreted largely by typological subjects; the third order shows the contemporary work of the church: five topics, using among other things a Cluniac text and bestiary creatures. Fourth order has a more unified design probably suggesting the arrival of Christ for his Millennial reign. 

First order of the nave doorway

Leafy foliage is a feature of the doorway. The leaves are usually either the palmate leaf or palmette, and the fluted, furled leaf. These are best understood as two views of the same thing, or two states of growth. The palmette is the symmetrical apical leaf of a fully expressed shoot; the furled leaf is a subsidiary leaf seen in half or profile. The individual leaflets of the palmettes radiate from a small ring at the end of the stem, a feature not seen in other Yorkshire School work even where that leaf type occurs. The furled leaf is common in Yorkshire work, note that at Fishlake the scalloped leaf is raised on a surrounding continuous ledge: this is not always the case. There are also clover-like trefoil leaves at Fishlake, these are not common elsewhere but occur at Barton-le-Street.

Second order of the nave doorway

R capital of Second order. The animal was seen as a double-bodied griffin by Charles Keyser, but he thought the lion's tails were wings; his observation does at least attest to the nature of the animal's head.The lion's head is largely gone now, but a similar lion is carved in related work on the chancel arch at Steetley, a small church just inside Derbyshire.

Voussoir 3 of the second order has broken off, flaking away naturally and not from a deliberate blow. Despite this relentless decay, there are still a few places where the original surface, and its very fine detail, can be seen.  Restoration work has been minimal, though some is planned. The detached columns of the second and third orders are probably replacements. Mortar and other filling materials are very evident. The sculpture is marked by the droppings of bats which inhabit the church and are a protected species.

Fourth order of the nave doorway

W capital: A very similar mounted combat is complete but extremely worn on the tomb-cover in Conisbough church, see Wood 2001. The various ‘winged bipeds’ at Fishlake have their fellow at Conisbrough in a fire-breathing dragon.

Label of the nave doorway

The lost label may have resembled designs used at Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire. The outer archways of the south porch there are of quadrant cross-section like the fourth order. They are bordered by a label with a small plain chamfer, then a broad fillet with a foliage pattern (pairs of furled leaves off a central stem running round the arch). Intermediate arches between quadrant orders have geometric patterns of a type local to Aquitaine, which do not occur in Yorkshire. There are numerous links with the (earlier) sculpture of the S porch at Malmesbury Abbey, see Wood 1998, 53-56.


  • D. Hey, The Making of South Yorkshire, Ashbourne. 1979.

  • Jos. Hunter, South Yorkshire: the history and topography of the Deanery of Doncaster, in the diocese and county of York. 2 vols. J. B. Nichols & Son, London, 1828-31.

  • C.E. Keyser, Tympana and Lintels. 2nd. ed., 1927.

  • C.E. Keyser, ‘The Norman Doorways of Yorkshire’ in T. Fallow (ed.) Memorials of Old Yorkshire, 1909.

  • G. Ornsby, ‘Fishlake Church and Parish’, Yorkshire Architectural and York Archaeological Society, Archaeological Papers 1850-60, Vol IV: 1857-8, pp. 91-106.

  • N. Pevsner and E. Radcliffe, Yorkshire: The West Riding. The Buildings of England, 2nd. ed., Harmondsworth, 1967.

  • J. Tomlison, History of Hatfield Chace and Parts adjacent, Doncaster, 1882.

  • R. Wood, ‘Malmesbury Abbey: The Sculpture of the South Entrance’, Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine 91 (1998), 42-56.

  • R. Wood, ‘The Romanesque Doorway at Fishlake’, Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 72 (2000), pp. 17-39.

  • R. Wood, ‘The Romanesque Memorial at Conisbrough’, Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 73 (2001), pp. 41-60.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
SE 655 132 
now: South Yorkshire
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Yorkshire, West Riding
now: Sheffield
medieval: York
now: St Cuthbert
medieval: not confirmed
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Rita Wood 
Visit Date
23 Oct 1995; 26 May 1996; 15 June 2001