St Oswald, Farnham, Yorkshire, West Riding

Feature Sets (3)


Farnham, Yorkshire, is a village 2 miles N of Knaresborough.  The church is large for a village, built in a fine sandstone which is grey for the tower but goldish in the remainder. There is a nave with aisles, porch, tower included within the nave, and a rarity, a late twelfth-century chancel. Church restored by G. G. Scott, 1854 (Pevsner (1967), 195-6; Leach and Pevsner )2009), 248; see also Lunn (1870), 35ff, with plan p.41).  Sculptured items include the shafted capitals of the nine chancel windows inside and several interesting external features.


DB says ‘King Edward had this manor in demesne. Now it is under the King’s hand and is waste.’ (VCH vol ii, 199); also in Farnham, Gospatric had 3 carucates of land. There was a priest there, and a church (VCH vol. ii, 283).

The manor of Farnham was included in King Henry I’s lordship of Knaresborough, and at the time of Stephen was given or confirmed to Swain, the supposed descendant of Gospatric (VCH vol. ii, 184).  Raine discovered the dedication (1873).


Exterior Features


N doorway to chancel.

This is blocked. It has a plain and chamfered continuous order and then the label continuous with the string course as described for S doorway. The ht. of the blocked opening is measured from the plinth which runs round the chancel.

h. of opening 2.25m
w. of opening 0.82m

S doorway to chancel

See drawing by G. Rowe in Lunn (1870), opp. p.35, dated 1869. Doorway of one order with free-standing shafts, renewed. The capitals have one tall hollow chamfer on each face. Only the bases remain from the original shafts, these have a plain plinth; a round base of the same dimension; convex and concave zones and a ring. The label is a continuation of the string course which runs round the whole chancel.


The height of opening is reduced by a ‘bridge’ which has been built across the drainage channel to give a more even access from the churchyard. (Compare N doorway)

h. of opening 2.17m
w. of opening 0.85m


Small windows in upper part of E gable.

The two windows in the upper part of the E wall, recessed internally, are linked by their plain and splayed first, and only, order. No shafting. 

Windows of chancel.

Chancel is 32’6” x 20’9” according to Lunn in 1870 [presumably an interior measurement]. This converts to metric as approx. 9.9m by 6.3m, and is in a proportion of about 3:2. The chancel roof is high and steep in pitch (with a barrel-vaulted wooden roof inside); corbels remain on N and S walls. The plan, form and stone fabric are largely original, and in this structure are eleven original windows, three on each wall and two slits above the three on the E wall. Outside, all windows are edged by a continuous narrow chamfer, having plain flush voussoirs round the head and coursed with the walling at the sides. The nine windows stand on the string course without any embellishment of plinths, bases etc. For inside, see IV.5.d.

Exterior Decoration

String courses

String course on chancel.

The string course on the exterior runs round the whole chancel, also rising to make the label over both doorways. The nine windows stand on it. Its form is unusual, having no sharp edges to shed water (dogma triumphing over reason). The upper surface has a slightly convex slope, which rolls over and under in an almost circular section.

Corbel tables, corbels

Corbels, corbel table, on chancel.

The N and S walls of the chancel have the original corbel table and corbels.  The corbels are all the same. They bulge out below and have a horizontal rounded fillet at the top. The bulge is chamfered at the sides. The cornice has a hollow chamfer and then upright.


Plinth on chancel.

The chancel faces E to quite a slope, and soil-creep over the years necessitated digging out the base of the wall and making it well-drained during the restoration. This has exposed the 12th-century plinth cleanly. Plain course, plain and chamfered plinth. The drainage channel is assumed to be restorer’s work.

Interior Features

Interior Decoration

String courses

String course in chancel.

The string course runs, as outside, at the foot of the windows, here forming a continuous sill at the foot of their splays and carrying the bases to the intervening shafts. This course has all been ‘restored’. The complex profile used, having hollow chamfer, smaller and larger roll mouldings, does not seem consistent with the rest, but its relative complexity might refer to the importance of the chancel.


The arcade linking the nine windows.

Inside, the nine windows are linked by an arcade which is formed of their second order arch and a base, column and capital shared with the adjacent window(s). As with the string course, the bases have been restored; they resemble those of the S doorway. The shafts are also new.

First order: plain and splayed to the glass.

Second order, renewed bases, detached column and original capital, arch chamfered and plain, finishing flush with the wall.

The ten individual capitals are numbered from L to R on each wall; with NE and SE capitals in the corners.

The condition of the capitals varies, the best surviving one is S1. All the capitals retain some patchy plaster and most have suffered abrasion or actual breakage. Consequently, detail is often obscure or even missing. Unusual for truly Romanesque work is the unity of form throughout the series. The model as in S1 seems to have been used for all the capitals with the exception of N2. There may be some slight difference in handling or proportion as of individual workmen, but this series is remarkably uninventive for Romanesque work. On the other hand, the waterleaf design used is more elaborate than many.

All capitals appear to have integral ring, capital and impost. The ring is rounded, of a squarish section except for the suggestion of a hollow in the vertical part. The impost is of a slightly hollow chamfer, then a one-sided groove near the bottom of the plain upright.

N1 is in poor condition, abraded and masked by plaster. It is probably the standard design, but at present looks more like a softer version of waterleaf, perhaps without the ornament in the centre of each face.

N2 . This capital is distinct from all the others, being formed simply as a deep hollow chamfer. Not a circular profile, but parabolic. 

All other capitals follow the pattern of S2. This is a waterleaf capital, the corner leaves having flat and smallish volutes, a central v-shaped groove as mid-rib on the angle. In the centre of each face, the leaf edge is concave, narrowing towards the ring and leaving an arched space in the middle of each face. This space again shows an incised midrib, which belongs to a small narrow leaf which raises its tip above the waterleaves. There is a horizontal ledge running all round the capital between the volutes and above all the leaves: at Selby Abbey (for example) a similar form is used, but it appears as separate tongues on each face, not as a continuous disc. There is a space between this feature and the vertical face of the impost: this hollow chamfer sets off the leaves. 

ht. from floor at N doorway to springing approx. 3.8m
ht from sill to springing of 2nd order approx. 2.42m
ht. from sill to tiled pavement approx. 1.41m
w. of splay of a window: 1.53m


In its effect, the chancel is surprisingly intact, but in detail its S doorway, the interior shafts, sill and string course are all renewed; the N doorway is blocked, and later windows have been inserted W of the doorways. The twelfth-century chancel arch has gone (the new one, 1854). The N aisle is said to be c.1200; fabric of the Norman W wall is said to remain. Inspection and photography of those parts was restricted because there was work going on not only outside on the apex of the E gable, but also in the W part of the nave inside and out.

String course, exterior Compare Ripon cathedral, the small length of string course on the pilaster at the height of (similar) corbels. There is also a similarity with arch mouldings on the transept doorways at Ripon.

Capital N2. This plain hollow chamfer may be compared to capitals at Ripon cathedral, in the crossing NW pier, and another, in the S bay of the N transept there.

Waterleaf capitals. The closest at Ripon are in the Library (exterior wall of S choir aisle, second level). 

Corbels, in being all the same as if chopped from an extruded moulding, these are comparable to those used Ripon and Selby Abbey in the 1170s. See especially Ripon, YW60(22). The bulging, rounded profile is not found exactly, but is similar to those used at Ripon, not only in some corbels, but in the pendants in the S choir aisle and N transept.

Sir Stephen Glynne (writing after a visit in 1863, after the restoration by Scott) described the chancel as ‘a very fine specimen of good Norman… partially reconstructed.’ Butler illustrates Lunn's exterior view of the church, and a sketch of the interior of the chancel (Butler 2007, 175).

Even Pevsner gives the ‘Norman’ chancel the rare accolade of ‘beautiful’.

According to Lunn 1870, 35, ‘the dedication of this church is unknown: it is described in the Liber Regis as a Vicarage or Curacy, belonging to the Priory “de Bello Valle,” in Lincolnshire…’ Apart from the difficulty of identifying this priory, the Cistercian appearance of the chancel at Farnham could be due just as much to the proximity of Ripon cathedral and Fountains Abbey.


  • L. A. S. Butler (ed)., 'The Yorkshire Church Notes of Sir Stephen Glynne (1825-1874)', Yorkshire Archaeological Society Records Series, 159 (Woodbridge 2007).

  • P. Leach and N. Pevsner, Yorkshire West Riding:Leeds, Bradford and the North (Yale, 2009).¬†

  • J. R. Lunn, The Ecclesiology of the Rural Deanery of Knaresborough (York, 1870(.

  • N. Pevsner, Yorkshire: West Riding. The Buildings of England (Harmondsworth, 1959), 2nd. ed. revised E. Radcliffe (1967).

  • Victoria County History of¬†Yorkshire, vol. II, 2nd edn. (London, 1974).


Site Location
National Grid Reference
SE 347 605 
now: North Yorkshire
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Yorkshire, West Riding
formerly: York
now: Ripon and Leeds
now: St Oswald
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Rita Wood 
Visit Date
30 May 2000