All Saints, Kilham, Yorkshire, East Riding

Feature Sets (5)


Kilham is a large village in the East Riding of Yorkshire, about 5 miles W of Bridlington. It was a busy market centre until being surpassed by Driffield in the late eighteenth century. The church has chancel, aisleless nave and W tower. According to John Bilson, it was one of the largest of the earlier Wold churches and the wide nave is on its Norman plan, without aisles or chapels (1898, xviii). Traces of an impressive Romanesque church survive. Sculptural remains from this period include the spectacular gabled S entrance with doorway of six orders, an elaborate series of sculptured corbels on the N and S nave walls, some fine reused voussoirs in the interior tower walls, and a cylindrical font.


Much the largest estate (30 carucates) in Kilham was held before and after the Conquest by a king’s thegn, Ernuin or Earnwine the priest who was a large landholder in the Riding. This estate reverted to the king probably soon after Domesday, and certainly by 1100 when with another smaller estate it formed the royal manor of Kilham; at the time of the survey the king had had eleven carucates. Another landholder in 1086 was Odo the Crossbowman (Otes Arblaster, VCH ii). At the time of DB, almost all is termed waste.

By 1166 the Arblaster’s lands were part of the Chauncy fee. Jordan Folioth gave land to St Peter’s hospital in York in 1160-70, and Walter of Warter gave a toft to the hospital between 1190-1210.

The church and its assets were given by Henry I to the archbishop of York: this happened some time between 1100 and 1108. That church was not necessarily, or even likely to be, the present one represented by the nave (see Comments on date). Archbishop Gerard passed the church and its assets to the Dean and Chapter of York; Jennings 1990, 6, considers 1107 a likely date for this. The rectory was appropriated by the Dean in the thirteeenth century. (VCH, II, 251-9; Jennings 1990, 5-6).


Exterior Features


S doorway to nave

S Nave doorway of six orders and label; the patterned spandrels and gable above the doorway itself are an integral part of the design. Because of the depth of orders, the entrance originally formed a projecting pediment with a gable. The remains of this entrance are now enclosed by a relatively modern, barn-like, porch. Jennings says a porch was first documented in 1593; it was of stone, and its remaining medieval fabric is seen from the inside only, being clad in modern brick outside. The walls of the porch butt onto the pediment and obscure a little of the sides and capitals especially on the E, but without these walls, and the old slate roof with intrusive cross-beams that topped them until recently, there would be little left of the stonework. The porch walls on the W side allow the motifs on the capital of the 6th order to be seen, but on the E side the porch wall and a noticeboard conceal two of the three corresponding motifs no doubt originally (and perhaps still) present.

The rustic restoration saved most of the original gable. The present tile roof has made the entrance façade visible again as a unit. The gable was patched with brick where corner-wise square panels had been lost. Unfortunately, even now, the gable lacks its full extent and majesty, having already lost about 0.5m of pattern and mouldings along the sloping sides before being roofed in. The scars can be seen on the S wall of the nave on either side; the apex of the pediment would originally have been in the region of the corbel table.

Several stones from the gable are reset in the walls of the porch. Outside, the side walls of the pediment still have some passages of vertical zigzag in situ; a single slab with a compass-drawn cross survives on the W face at the top, perhaps a consecration cross, probably reset. For these items, see section on reset fragments.

approx. ht. of capital and integral ring 0.22-0.23m
h. of doorway opening approx. 2.9m
w. of doorway opening approx. 1.765m
1st order

Bases decayed or broken. The first course is half-buried in the paving of the floor, probably a plain and chamfered plinth. The jambs rise straight from this layer, coursed, with an angle roll; perhaps other mouldings on the reveal; plain on the face. Capitals throughout appear to have had a plain ring. L side, the block is plain either side of an ornamented capital above the angle roll. The small capital is now very worn, but it still just shows that it had a man’s head as a volute and a flat spiral to the R of that; perhaps also to the L. These motifs are above two rows of chip-carved star pattern on the bell. The sculpture on the R capital is entirely lost, and the deep impost on both sides similarly decayed: though one might guess at star patterns on the L impost.

In the arch: In the soffit, touching the angle is a row of chevron with two steps on the inside; plain to the door. On the face, a row of centrifugal chevron with a step outside it. This chevron meets point to point with the chevron on the soffit at the joint.

2nd order

Bases. The first course of the base is in the floor. This and the bases of all subsequent orders are in poor shape. They had or have a square plinth and a steeply rising rounded base supporting a free-standing but apparently sectional shaft. Only half of these shafts survive, to orders 3-6 on the L and to order 2 on the R.

Capitals. On the L, both faces of the capital have a springing spiralling clump of vegetation in the centre; two of the spirals make notional volutes in the upper corners. On the angle are two linear star shapes, that is, a pentagram and a cross. R capital, unrecognisable. Only the L impost has motifs remaining, these are star patterns, probably eight-spoked chip-carvings.

In the arch: plain on the soffit; on the face, a row of edge chevron with a step outside it, that is, the basic right-angled profile of the order seems to have been chamfered off and then this angled face was carved with a row of chevron that has a step outside it. 

3rd order

Bases as for second order. On the R, lower parts lost to stone bench.

Capitals. The bell of the L capital is covered with approx. 5 rows of incised horizontal zigzag. Above this the capital is plain and there is the suggestion of a volute on the angle. In an upper spandrel of the zigs on the S face is a cross left in relief like that on the angle of the capital of the second order, L. The R capital is covered by a network of incised lines giving a tweedy effect. It may perhaps also have had many rows of incised zigzags, but have been damaged. Impost on L on the S face has a faint design of six flat bands crossing resembling a Union Jack; on the E face another pattern made from a flat band, here a continuous strip makes loops at each corner of a square. Impost on R lost.

In the arch: on the soffit, five steps running into a row of centrifugal chevron on the face. There is one step outside the row of chevron on the face, and then plain to the fourth order.

4th order

Bases as for second order. On the R, lower parts lost to stone bench.

L capital a plain smooth bell having three scallops at the top on each face; no cones. At the angle the scallops form a volute, and on the inner corners too there is a slight volute. All scallops overhang the bell a little, and their curve is emphasized by a double incised line. R capital the same. The imposts of this and the remaining two orders are the same. The profile is a concave band on the chamfer, a roll just above the angle and plain above.

In the arch: plain in the soffit. On the face, four rows of steps as for edge chevron, that is, on a chamfered profile; these rows fill the face up to the fifth order.

5th order

Bases as for second order. On the R, lower parts lost to stone bench.

L and R capital the same. Plain, smooth bell, upper part similar to order 4, but without the central scallop on each face; the three corner scallops plain unobtrusive volutes. Impost as order 4.

In the arch: on the face, a row of edge chevron, again a chamfered profile. Plain in the soffit; a row of centrifugal chevron at the angle and a step outside it; plain to the sixth order.

6th order

Bases and lower parts on R and L lost to stone bench.

L capital has three motifs on a smooth rounded bell. On the L, a standing man facing R. He has the tight-sleeved and full-skirted dress of a layman. In his L hand he holds up what looks like a bunch of five sticks, but is probably a flaming torch. The next two motifs are inside plain circular borders. The first ring, on the angle, contains a mole, very like those in later bestiaries. The second ring contains a carving which is not standard, and has been damaged. In the lower half is a plain rectangular form. In the upper half is a human head, two eyes can be seen. It could be a woman, if the shape to the R is understood as hair, and if there was more hair on the L side of the head where the capital is pitted. Some 14 years ago when I saw this first it was easier to recognise the head. The R capital appears to have had a similar carvings, but the second of them is hidden behind the noticeboard and the third is built into the E wall of the porch. All that can be easily seen is another motif in a ring like the one just described, that is, a plain rectangular object in the lower half and a head above. Again, two eyes can just be made out and a head which is tapered to the bottom in the manner of a bearded head – like the man in profile on the L capital would have. This carving has decayed even more than those on the L capital in the time since I first saw it. Looking down behind the noticeboard, a glimpse of the second motif, on the angle, can be had. This might be another mole as on the L capital. Impost as order 4.

In the arch: as order 4. On the R side, the arch is encroached upon by the porch wall.


The gable proper begins at the narrow string course with chip-carved star pattern. The prominent, if narrow, string-course separates the rectangle containing the doorway from the triangle of the gable. The area above the string course is partitioned by what resembles the woodwork of a coffered roof. It is interesting to note from the fragments reset in the porch walls that this may have been how the stonework was conceived, the protruding bars are separate from the recessed square panels. The bars are given a pattern of incised circles or domes, with larger circles containing radial star motifs at the intersections. The squares of the trellis grid are filled with larger geometric motifs, the lower row and the single upper panel that remains having fourfold stars, while the central row of three has large plain rings with no other ornament.


Label is covered by wall of porch on both sides near the bottom. It is unusual for its width and the degree of decoration; it makes a 7th order of chevron. The main face has an emphatic single row of centrifugal chevrons without any parallel steps. The row is remarkably ‘jerky’ in appearance, with each repeat spanning a variety of widths. The spandrel next to the 6th order is notched, perhaps alluding to a conventional chamfer.


Outside the semicircular arches of the doorway just described, and below the horizontal string course marking off the triangular gable, the wall is completely covered by a pattern of vertical chevron. The rows of the pattern are alternately hollow and convex, each row separated by a quirk and/or arris. There are reset fragments in the porch walls where the beautifully regular nature of this work can be seen, close to and relatively unweathered. 


Blocked window in bay 1 of S wall of nave.

The blocked Norman window in the S wall of the nave near the chancel ‘had a light 6 feet 6 inches high and 2 feet 6 inches wide’ (Jennings 1990, 3). The outline of the window can be seen in the easternmost bay of the nave, above the string course and just below the block of a replacement corbel. It appears not to have a perfectly semi-circular head, but that may be accident.

Exterior Decoration

String courses

On nave walls

Plain string courses with a wide vertical section remain on the N and S walls of the nave. On the S wall they continue over the pilasters; the N wall has no pilasters. These string-courses would, presumably, have run immediately below the windows.

The lower course is below present-day ground level, being seen in the ditch dug out by restorers. Its profile recalls the Durham-type string course used at Selby Abbey, there part of an elaborate plinth. It is prominent, chamfered above (and possibly below?) with quirks at top and bottom of the upright face.

Corbel tables, corbels

Corbels on N nave wall

There were 34 corbels on this side of the nave; the same as on the north side at Kirkburn. Many interesting examples remain, but some have been replaced by blank blocks. The blanks are numbered but not described below. 

NN4    A woman seated on a bench and looking outward, her hands clasped on her lap.

NN7    Stepped squares (a frequent device on this side of the nave). Here the central square is blank.

NN8    A couple holding hands, their heads turned outwards and upwards. They look surprised, jaws dropped.

NN9    A man’s head, with his mouth showing surprise.

NN10  A pig or bear? Complete animal faces L, that is, E.

NN11  Two small pigs, just the heads.

NN12  A man with round shield and a sword or stick raised over his head. He has a shocked expression, or he is shouting.

NN15  A man with a raised sword or stick, and shocked expression.

NN16  Similar stepped squares to corbel NN7, but there may have been something in the centre.

NN21  Two animals symmetrically placed. They are rather like the dogs on NS25.

NN22  Stepped squares with a central motif, animal head?

NN23  Stepped squares with human head in centre.

NN25  Stepped squares with nailhead or star in centre.

NN26  Possibly three fish tied together at the mouth (as for the two in a conventional Pisces representation).

NN27  An armed man (as so many on NS corbels), but he is putting his sword into its scabbard and smiling.

NN28  Wrestlers. 

NN29  A tree. It has bent and overlapping branches. There are small round fruits at the ends of the branches and a large one at the top.

NN30  A man’s head, again with a shocked expression.

NN31  Four stepped squares.

NN32  A standing man with a sword or stick, a helmet of a sort, with a glum or determined expression. 2016 photo shows decay in posture.

NN33  A stepped square with an animal head in the centre, almost smiling.

NN34  A stepped square with a man’s head.

Corbels on S nave wall

There were 32 corbels on this wall: almost half are now modern blanks. (For E end of the wall with corbels NS 24-32, see Feature on Windows).

NS 2    Two serpents symmetrically about a prominent dome.

NS 3    A monster with a bar held in its mouth by two (human or angelic) arms coming from behind.

NS 4    Very decayed, but probably a man’s head like corbel NS31.

NS 5    The antlered head of a stag, or an animal with leaves sprouting from its head.

NS6     A man with a bow, with an arrow fitted in it.

NS 8    A man in a large headdress (re-carved?), holding a crutch or crosier in his R hand, and his L hand to the side of the headdress. Unclear if he is kneeling or naked. His nose is like that of corbels NS 31 and NN27.

NS 9    Original but broken. Subject unrecognisable.

[Gable intervenes at this point]

NS 11  Subject unidentified.

NS 12  A pig, with small front trotters beneath the head.

NS 13  A large standing figure of a man holding a long curved object, perhaps a bow.

NS18   Only the L half of the corbel remains, with a standing or squatting man.

NS19   An upside-down falling man, holding a shield and sword, or sword and dagger.

NS24   Another armed man, but the top of the corbel has spalled off at his shoulder: he probably held a sword (compare NN15).

NS25   Two dogs running R (eastwards), with the trace of a roundel above, but broken.

NS29   A large bestial head is elaborately muzzled; a double strap can be seen horizontally just above two small eyes, also coming down to the mouth which is on the downward surface of the corbel. There is a single horizontal strap across the snout. The muzzle is crowned with a cluster of symmetrical foliage on each side and the front; this sticks up above the animal’s ears and fills the space to the top of the corbel. From the R or E, a man can be seen coming out of the jaws; his arms are up in the air.

NS31   Two men’s heads watching. These are long heads, exceedingly so, but they probably include a beard. There may have been a third smaller head in the centre.

NN32  A ram with a rather pig-like snout, but this is adjusted to the squared end of the block from which the corbel was carved.


Reset stones in walls of porch

Re-set stones in porch walls: both interior and exterior described together as a exterior feature.

1. capital, ht. of capital and necking 0.21m
1. capital, w. of E face 0.31m
1. capital, w. of stone, S face 0.165m
3. ht. piece in exterior E wall 0.19m
3. piece in interior S wall, ht. 0.19m
3. piece in interior S wall, width 0.175m
3. spandrel fragment, interior E wall 0.325m x 0.17m
3. w. piece in exterior E wall 0.27m
5. ht. of fragment with star and two circles 0.16m
5. w. of fragment with star and two circles 0.23m
6. square panel near noticeboard 0.27m square
1. Small capital

Outside on the E wall of the pediment is a reset capital with faint rows of zigzag across its bell. The design is comparable to the L capital of the third order of the doorway, but it is slightly smaller than the average capital on the doorway. Below the metal pipe that acts as a column is a work base of upright proportion which may have gone with the capital.

2. stone with cross motif

Outside on the W side high up is a cross design in a square-ish stone.

3, 4, 5. spandrel fragments

The spandrels of the entrance, between the label of the doorway and the horizontal course of star pattern, are covered by a vertical chevron design. Above the capital (1) above, the pattern is seen to continue on the S face of the pediment but not on its E face. Elsewhere in the porch are several reset blocks of this pattern.

3.Outside the porch on the E wall, is a reset block with the diagonal pattern.

4. Low down in the E wall nearer its centre is another block of the vertical zigzag pattern. Immediately to its right is a small block with two units of a delicate star pattern not seen in the gable.

5. Inside porch, a block with the vertical zigzags is on the S wall to the W of the outer archway.

7, 8. Gable framework

The square panels of the gable are sunk within, or held down by, a grid or framework of plain and chamfered lengths of stone; the concept imitates the panelling of a wooden ceiling. Three of the framing pieces are reset inside the E wall of the porch.

7.  Near the top of the E wall inside the porch are two sections of the trellis framework of the gable design, one with a row of four circles, and the other blank or inverted.

8.  Near the bottom at the lower right is another short length, on which two circles flank an 8-sided star; this was at an intersection of the grid. The stone is somewhat obscured by mortar.

9. Square panel from gable.

This block is just below the notice board to the R of the doorway. It is set square, but seems to have been one of the diagonally-set stones in the gable. Its pattern is not known from elsewhere, but perhaps was not completed; compare a four-loop cross on one of the imposts of the L side of the doorway. The central motif is symmetrical, but not identified, being slightly damaged.

Interior Features

Interior Decoration


Reset stones in tower

Re-set voussoirs in internal walls of the tower

There are about 22 voussoirs in the S wall of the first stage of the tower and 42 on the N, with one or two in the W wall. Most are too high to measure, but a block with two chevrons on N wall, lower R, was measured. No capitals were seen.

There are perhaps six chevron patterns, all similar to work on the doorway:

1. Centrifugal chevrons with an incised line parallel on the outer side; numerous; blocks are straight-edged on the angle.

2, 3. Centrifugal chevrons with two incised lines parallel. Some of these have a notched edge, some are straight-edged.

4. A few stones with three parallel incised zigzags.

5. Two stones with single row of chevrons, one of these stones appears to be rectangular, ie., a jamb stone, not a voussoir. These have a notched edge.

6. Three stones with a roll across a plain surface.

Block with chevrons 0.35m x 0.19m
Voussoir, radial ht. 0.215m



Font at W end of nave

This is one of the largest fonts in the Wolds, but unfortunately its original appearance is uncertain. It was seen by Sir Stephen Glynne in 1873, and recorded as being ‘rescued from standing in a garden; the bowl circular, surrounded by a range of semicircular arches on piers, of Norman character, the work rather shallow’ (Butler 2007, 243). Probably after this, the outer surface was totally retooled and the cylinder rounded off at the bottom. The design could be original: a six-bay arcade with formalised capitals and bases; columns double. The angle of the rim has been scored for a cable pattern with fairly wide strands; the pattern is marked on both the vertical and horizontal: Glynne does not mention a cable pattern. The drawing of the arcade is weak; the cylinder is large but imperfect despite the superficial neatening; its rim rises on one side, and the opposite side slopes in to top.

Depth of interior of bowl 0.357m
External diam. of bowl 0.85m
Ht. of font bowl 0.545m
Internal diam.of bowl 0.645m

Loose Sculpture

Loose corbel

This item was found in 2008. It is a broken corbel with the head of a goat near the top.  The stone was in good condition, unlike so many of the corbels still in situ.


Comments are grouped into three sections: 1. general (date and comparisons), 2. individual features (as listed in the report) and 3. teaching content of the sculpture (entrance and corbels).



A church at Kilham was given by Henry I to the archbishop between 1100 and 1108; Jennings suggests most likely 1107. There are many comparisons with other churches in the Riding, and a strong Augustinian content in the sculpture, but the priories were not established until a decade or so after the king's gift. Kilham belonged to the York chapter and not the Augustinians, but the priories were encouraged by the archbishop, so they shared a policy of regularising parish work, beginning with baptism. The importance of Kirkburn as a centre for baptism suggests it would have been among the earliest parochial churches built by the Augustinians. Kilham has one of the most ambitious decorated doorways in the Riding and it too is related to baptism. Its date is uncertain, but is likely to be around 1130; it might even have preceded Kirkburn.

Malcolm Thurlby compares several architectural features with work at Durham, Selby Abbey and two churches in Jumieges; also the fourth order capitals of the S doorway to capitals in Lessay abbey (Thurlby 2014, 86,86); he suggests that the common inspiration of these similarities would have been one or other of the large churches in York being built in the 1090s, St Mary's Abbey and York Minster. If this is so, perhaps some of the fabric of the church remains from the church given by Henry I to the Minster.

For more on the dedication, see Jennings 1990, 12-15.


The continuous strip making loops at each corner of a square, on the impost of the 3rd order, L, might be compared to the pattern on the chancel arch at Great Givendale.

The imposts of the three outer orders are moulded, very different from the three inner orders, but resembling imposts on the chancel arch at Aughton or Goodmanham, and though the profiles are not identical they are equally sophisticated. It might be thought that they were the work of restorers, except for the damage here and there.

The man holding ‘sticks’ on the L capital of the 6th order might be compared with the figure at the apex of the Kirkburn doorway, a Wise Virgin with torch, who holds up a similar bunch of ‘sticks’. See also a drawing reproduced in Terence Wise, The Wars of the Crusades, and something fairly similar on the Bayeux Tapestry, scene 46, where Normans set fire to a house.

The mole is not only spread out as in the bestiary drawing, but it is in a circular border, just as illustrated by T. H. White from Cambridge, University Ms li 4.26 (1984, 95). For the hair of the possible woman in the adjacent ring, compare Eve carved on the doorway at Riccall. When the fieldworker first saw this carving around 1990, it was easier to recognise the head.

Chevron rows alternately hollow and convex as in the spandrels are seen on the font at Carnaby and chancel arch capitals at Goodmanham.


Gable  Comparisons are inevitable with the later gabled entrances at Newbald, and even at Adel (West Riding). The gable at Newbald has Christ seated in a mandorla; it has been reconstructed at some period. The chapter of York were the builders of Newbald church. The doorway at Adel is ringed by vibrant chevron orders, with Christ and the four evangelists in the gable; the church was connected to Holy Trinity Priory, York.

Corbels, nave N wall.  It is suggested by the fieldworker that the iconograhpy of the corbels on both sides of the Nave may be that of the the Second Coming, and the reactions to that event (see Iconograhpy, below).

NN 4  Compare Kirkburn corbel NN26, where it is a man seated with his hands on his knees. A novel depiction of the ‘watching’ theme.

NN7    Stepped squares are also used at Birkin (YW).

NN21  Two animals symmetrically placed. As animals, they are rather like the dogs on NS25. Animals placed symmetrically and vertically like this occur at Kirkburn, corbel NS14, where they are perhaps lions.

NN26  The central fish is larger, but the three may be a figure for the Trinity?

NN28  In Ambrose (De Sacramentis) and St. Paul, wrestling is a metaphor for the internal spiritual struggle.

NN 29  This is reminiscent of the decayed tympanum at Croxdale, Co. Durham, (Keyser Tympana and Lintels (1927), pl. 93 and RCHM photo A45/1867). That has a face in the uppermost fruit: Christ as the Tree of Life.

Corbels, nave S wall:

NS 2  Compare Kirkburn corbel NS25, also Kirkburn corbel NS17.

NS 3  Such images are usually only show the arms coming from behind. It looks like a human hand on the L, so this is probably an image of bridling animal passions (Wood 2003, 21), whether by one's own will, or explicitly with the help of an angel. Compare Kirkburn corbel NN4.

NS 6  It is doubtful that the arrow is meant to be fired at the stag because 1. there are a number of armed men in these corbels and 2. the man and the stag are carved by different hands. This is one of several violent armed men on the corbels here.

NS 13  He seems to be holding a bow; or, since he stands in an arched surround something like a doorway, perhaps he is one of those figures who are shown in windows or ‘houses’ on corbels at Kirkburn, e.g., NN3, and Adel. In that case, the bow might be a musical instrument, or a curtain. It is not possible to see the L side of the corbel because the porch is in the way. It might be that he is a bell-ringer, a subject which also occurs on a corbel at Kirkburn and on the Hutton Cranswick font.

NS18   It is possible that the R side of the corbel had a woman’s figure; there are numerous corbels at Kirkburn, Eastrington, Selby Abbey, etc., showing couples, their expressions ones of amazement or shock. Compare NN8.

NS 19  Compare NN12, and also the falling people at Healaugh, West Riding, as well as the shocked couples referred to re NS 18: the lustful guilty on Judgment Day. An overturned armed man is on one of the capitals from Holme-on-the-Wolds that were reset at Etton. A pacifist theme at Kilham, and not one pleasing a worldly patron.

NS 29  A resurrection. Contrast Kirkburn NN17, no muzzle, teeth closed.

NS 31  Compare Kirkburn NN12, and Kirkburn NN25 for a similar head, but one not characteristic of sculpture at Kirkburn. A decayed corbel at Kirkburn NN10 has several heads, some of them perhaps falling.

Slab carved with cross

This resembles a similar cross on the W face of the tower at Hunmanby. It might also be compared to the possible consecration cross near the chancel arch at Kirkburn, or to a cross pattern at Bilton-in-Ainsty on the exterior of the late twelfth-century porch. While all these might be consecration crosses, a large number of square slabs with cross designs are found reset at North Dalton; there they are found high on the tower, and behind the altar under the later E window.

Nave windows and corbel-table

The reset capital in the E exterior wall of the porch may have come from a shafted window. The corbels appear to have been close to the head of the blocked window in the E bay of the nave S wall. At Kirkburn there are two courses between the top of the shafted windows and the corbel table. At Halsham, a row of corbels apparently in situ actually coincides with the head of a shafted window.

With relevance to the interior aspect, Bilson 1898 remarks on the original windows being placed very high in the walls, and the aisleless nave and the high windows that seem to have existed at Kilham recall the present state at Newbald.

Re-set voussoirs in tower walls

Pevsner notes that ‘Quantities of zigzag are built into the tower. They suggest a Norman tower arch, equally spectacular [as the entrance]’ (Pevsner & Neave 1995, 575). However, if there had been a twelfth-century tower, nothing seems to have survived at Kilham. (There was no tower at Kirkburn until very late in the century). It is more likely that these re-set voussoirs are perhaps part of the chancel arch. The first chancel arch was replaced in the Decorated phase; the tower was built in the subsequent Perpendicular style.


The wide, non-architectural arches are reminiscent of the font from Wharram Percy now at Hull, St Michael and All Angels, where the mixture of weak setting out and nailhead ornament might suggest two periods of working. Other fonts in the Riding with both arcading and cable pattern are at Butterwick and Wold Newton. The font at Sherburn-in-Harford-Lythe has arcading with some double pillars, also cable pattern. The recutting recalls fonts at Folkton and Sutton-on-Hull. How fortunate 'restoration' was limited to the font.


The didactic scheme at the entrance  

Following a detailed investigation into the use of geometric patterns in England in this period, the author was able to suggest an interpretation of this entrance (see Wood 2001, 26-28). It is suggested that the gable depicts heaven in which the three circles suggest the presence of the Trinity (compare tympanum at Wold Newton). The string course of star-pattern represents the firmament. Zigzag and chevron patterns were used to represent light, particularly God’s power and glory, or spiritual light more generally. In the entrance, these patterns of light appear to radiate out of the church, and to come vertically down from heaven. The small motifs on the capitals of order 6 can be related to baptism. The man probably carries one of the lights like those lit in the baptism service of the Easter Vigil, a service  carved on the font at Kirkburn. The ring on the angle of this capital contains a mole, a creature that lives in darkness. The mole represents the state of the unregenerate man who, according to St. Augustine in Sermon 136 and its variants, is born blind but is illuminated by a profession of faith and baptism; in his time baptism was described as ‘illumination’. Augustine does not use the allegory of the mole, and it was the end of the twelfth century before they are pictured in surviving bestiaries. Moles are often shown in circular medallions as here, pre-dating the standard bestiary representation. The two heads above rectangular shapes in the capitals of the doorway can be compared to the child in the font in the baptism scene carved on the font at Kirkburn. The two motifs at Kilham appear to represent adults in fonts, which may nuance our understanding of baptisms in this period.

Theme of the corbels:  It is suggested that a theme for corbels identifiable here and at Kirkburn is the expectation of the Second Coming, for which believers were told to watch and pray (Matt. 26:41). This theme would account for those human heads, or pairs of heads, that look up and around; also for those who sit, or those who rest their heads on their hands (as if having waited a long time). Raising of the the dead might be represented by the animals that show human beings emanating from their mouths; the fear of Judgment would account for the frightened or amazed expressions of the violent men in the corbels at Kilham, and for the one man who sheathes his sword, smiling (Wood 2003, 14-25).

The site of the church may well have a longer significance: a Roman road running through the village linking York to Bridlington makes a kink round the churchyard (Jennings 1990, 5). The market place was immediately to the E of the churchyard.  

Bilson gives the nave as 70 by 27 feet or approximately 21.3m x 8.2m. This is comparable to, perhaps just slightly larger than, Kirkburn’s nave. It is not a perfect rectangle: ‘the nave is wide and pulled in towards the tower’ according to Pevsner and Neave 1995, 575. The N wall is unbuttressed, but there are pilasters on the S side, perhaps because of the sloping ground there. The stone used is the local Jurassic limestone, and extensive patching was done in the 1990s. The chancel with its sedilia dates from the end of the thirteenth century; the chancel arch is Decorated; the tower, Perpendicular. The present large windows in the nave date from 1818-21. As can be inferred from the survival of this pleasing Regency Gothic tracery, there was no major Victorian restoration. There was limited restoration of the chancel (Ewan Christian) and nave (G. Fowler Jones) around 1865-6. 


  • J. Bilson, 'Kilham Church', Transactions of the East Riding Antiquarian Society 6 (1898), xviii.

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

  • B. Jennings, A History of the Church and Parish of Kilham (Grimsby, 1990).

  • N. Pevsner and D. Neave, Yorkshire: York and the East Riding, 2nd. edn. (London, 1995).

  • M. Thurlby, ‘The abbey church of Lessay (Manche) and Romanesque architecture in north–east England', Antiquaries Journal, 94 (2014), 71-92.

  • Victoria County History: East Riding of Yorkshire II (London, 1974).

  • Victoria County History: Yorkshire II (London, 1912), in modern reprint (London, 1974).

  • R. Wood, ‘Geometric Patterns in English Romanesque Sculpture’. Journal of the British Archaeological Association 154 (2001), 1-39.

  • R. Wood, ‘The Augustinians and the Romanesque Sculpture at Kirkburn Church’, East Yorkshire Historian, 4 (2003), 3-59.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
TA 064 645 
now: East Riding of Yorkshire
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Yorkshire, East Riding
now: York
medieval: York
now: All Saints
medieval: All Saints (Lawton 1842, 303) and St Laurence (1351, Jennings 1990, 12)
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Rita Wood 
Visit Date
17 Jul 2002, 20 Sep 2005, 26 Feb 2008, 30 Mar 2016