This imposing twelfth-century church stands at the top of a rise just south of the village, a windy spot. It consists of a massive W tower, a normal-sized nave and chancel, with a nineteenth-century vestry. It is basically of the twelfth century, but it was restored and given a new chancel in 1856 by J. L. Pearson. The top of the tower is fifteenth-century. The medieval chancel is said to have fallen down in 1714 (VCH II, 221): at the Borthwick Institute, a catalogue entry summarises years of neglect with: ‘100 years without a vicar; no cup’.
Pevsner & Neave 1995, 434, say that J. L. Pearson rebuilt the chancel on the old foundations using some original features; among these are likely to be some of the corbels on the N side and the single window in the E gable. The chancel arch appears to be entirely new. The N wall of the nave was rebuilt and most of its corbels retained; the S doorway is largely new. The W doorway, though original, is deteriorating; the sculptural panel above it is mostly erased. The tower is buttressed, in contrast to Wharram-le-Street, but like Kirkburn and Kilham. The nave has pilasters, as for Newbald, Fangfoss and Kirkburn, etc. The solidity and position of the church recall Weaverthorpe.
The church is visited for its rich Victorian interior, especially since the wall-paintings by Clayton and Bell have been restored as a memorial to Nikolaus Pevsner. However, there is much of interest for this Corpus, particularly the W façade and the corbels in the nave. There is an internal doorway to the tower stair, and the jambs of a tower arch, which was tall even before being heightened later.
In 1086, the various estates all seem to have been ‘waste’. Landholders in Garton included the count of Mortain and the Archbishops of York and Durham; in the summary, the Archbishop of York held 9 carucates and the Count of Mortain 17 or 25 carucates. By the 1130s, Mortain’s lands were probably held by Walter Espec, to be inherited in 1157-8 by Robert Ros.
There was a church here in 1086, listed in the lands of the Count of Mortain (VCH II, 226). Walter Espec gave it, together with a carucate of land called ‘St. Michael’s flat’, to Kirkham Priory which he had founded c. 1122 on the advice of his uncle, William Espec, rector of Garton then a canon of Nostell (VCH II, 220-1; Burton 1995, 2). This gift may have been made as late as 1133-39. William Espec became the first prior of Kirkham. It seems likely that the church was built following the gift to the priory (Pevsner and Neave 1995, 432). The church at Garton is described as a minster in the foundation document of Kirkham Priory: having a more than local importance may account for its monumentality and spaciousness.
See under 'Interior Features: doorway to internal stairs'.
This is a restoration by Pearson in 1856-7. The effect is less austere than the W doorway, but there are a few original elements that validate the degree of elaboration: the impost and label include original stonework.
The doorway is of four orders and label, with gabled projection having flanking colonettes on its angles.
|approx. height of opening||3.16m|
|width of opening||1.8m|
The capitals throughout resemble those of the W doorway, but are not so high.
The impost throughout has a pattern not seen elsewhere, but on the E face is an original stone to vouch for it. It is based perhaps on repeated pairs of simple leaves set diagonally, which when meeting/confronted form a four-sided motif with a central vertically-set cross. This pattern somewhat resembles the pattern used on the string-course between the window and the sculptural panel on the W facade, but is more elaborate.
In the arch, there is chevron frontal to the soffit near the angle, and in the centre of the soffit is a hollow row. On the face are rows of steps parallel to the chevron moulding, these are centrifugal.
As for orders 1 and 2, though perhaps a little heavier or stronger.
The label is chamfered, and plain on the face; the three patterns used are grander versions of those on the label of the W doorway. It is difficult to be certain that there is anything really old in the present label despite the discolouration and decay of some of it: one or two stones have lost almost all their billets, while the small arches at the outer edge of the same stone are very sharp, and so regular as to suggest machining.
The unusual feature here is the shafting on the angles, both above and below the level of the impost. Below the impost, the shafts are the same dimensions as the shafts of the orders of the doorway itself, and the dimensions are similar above. The shorter upper shafts end just below the sloping roof of the pediment. No original stone is included.
The doorway is part of a design for an impressive W facade; above it is the relief with St Michael and two angels, and then a large window. See VCH II, plate opposite p. 129 for a view in 1971, when there was noticeably more of the sculptural panel. Described in the present report under the separate headings of doorway, window, string courses and sculptural panel, it was meant as a unity.
The W doorway is of four orders and a label. The course containing the capitals is unusually deep/high for this relatively early time in the 12th-century; it would be more characteristic of Transitional work in this region.
|approx. height of impost block||0.14m|
|height of capital and ring||0.3m|
|height of opening||2.78m|
|width of opening||1.3m|
The bases throughout are very worn, but approximate to a plain plinth with medium-to-shallow base. The first order has a half column. There are plain rings throughout. There is a large single scallop capital on both L and R. The impost throughout is chamfered (with perhaps the slightest of hollows); just above the angle is a rounded moulding between two quirks. Above that on the upright is a row of chip-carved saltire star pattern. This impost continues beyond the doorway as a string-course and ends at the pilaster on either side.
This consists of bases, free-standing shafts (now lost), and capitals and imposts that are similar to those for the second, third and fourth orders. Rings are plain; the capitals are unemphatic shallow double scallop with small knobs for volutes, the shields cut back at the curve just enough to catch the light. The impost is as for the first order. In the arch, the profile is not distinctly right-angled as the soffit and face, but the soffit is rounded or angled so that the chevrons spread continuously from soffit onto face.There is a row of centripetal chevron on the angle, one step to the inside and two to the outside of the row.
In the arch, the sharpness of the angle of the profile is softened again, but angled or chamfered rather than rounded. There are two rows of chevron, with plain spandrels to the second order, two steps between the rows and one step outside.
Modern work has replaced about one third of the arc. The profile is chamfered and plain. On the chamfer against the fourth order there is a double row of billet; on the plain surface there is a row of chip-carved star-in-square, and on the outside is a series of little sunken arcs in pace with the stars.
The windows are graded in importance.
Those to the chancel date from the 19th century restoration and it cannot be known what preceded them.
The windows to the nave are of comparable size (both the window in the gable and the N nave windows are about 8 courses high in the jambs).
The windows to the tower stair are slits.
The W window on the tower is the most elaborate of all surviving windows.
On the E wall, the three windows are restoration; only one window on this wall may be original, that at the top centre of the gable. This is of one order, flush with the wall; it has a narrow chamfer, and in the arch on the face an inner border of sunken triangles, or dentation.
The two small blank oculi flanking that window have no known parallel in the Riding and no authenticating detail or fragment is incorporated, but a vesica window at Askham Bryan (YW) has similar knobs on the chamfer. The central window seems genuine and is probably reset from the original chancel, as it has a patterned windowhead (in contrast to the original nave windows).
A triplet of windows occurs quite commonly on a chancel E wall, old or new. Pearson may have had evidence here, or perhaps Bishop Wilton was in his mind; when he restored that church in 1858-9, there were traces of the two flanking windows though the central one had been lost. The present appearance of the oculi is rather heavy and probably largely due to being a Victorian restoration.
These are plain tall round-headed windows, on the S and (rebuilt) N wall. They are flush with the wall surface and have a narrow chamfer. There is no string-course at their sills.
These are narrow slits, except for ones on the N and S sides of the tower which are as wide as the nave windows but not so tall. All are plain and flush with the wall surface.
The window of two orders and hoodmould stands on the star-patterned string-course. The first order is plain in jambs, with no capital or impost but the semicircular head has a row of centrifugal chevron, with two steps outside it and one inside. The second order has a plain plinth, renewed on the L; the bases are similar to the doorway below. The shaft is free-standing, with a plain ring and a capital with two spiral volutes on the W face, see Comments/Opinions. The impost is integral, plain and flush with the volutes and wall surface. The impost projects in the usual way on the internal faces of the capitals. In the arch, it is plain in the soffit; on the face, a row of centrifugal chevron with two steps outside it. The spandrel at the angle has two canted sections. The label is plain and chamfered on both sides. It continues as a string-course round the pilasters and onto the other walls of the tower.
1. On the W façade, immediately below the window and within the pilasters, is a string-course slightly deeper than normal. It has a wide vertical surface and an upper and a lower chamfer. The upright is cut with a pattern of saltire crosses, each made of four narrow lenticular excavations or ‘petals’. There does not seem to be any evidence for the central arris added to the ‘petals’ in the restored sections.
2. The chamfered impost of the W doorway continues up to the pilasters as a string-course with a saltire star pattern, chip-carved as usual.
3. On the tower, as the continuation of the hood mould over the W window, this string-course is plain and chamfered. It runs over buttresses and across N and S faces of the tower; it is continuous with the corbel-table. Pearson takes it across the E face of the chancel so, in a sense, it is complete all round the building.
Internally, there is none to see.
N wall of chancel
CN 1: A mask with big eyes, open mouth, and tongue hanging out.
CN 2: Restoration.
CN 3: Probably original: a human head.
CN 4: Restoration.
CN 5: Original: a mask.
CN6: Two human heads looking out. See NS8.
CN8: Original: a man’s head.
CN9: A mask restrained by small hands from the side holding the lower jaw.
CN10: A grinning or leering beast.
CN11: An animal with flat face and perhaps two hands. Or is it a small animal sideways? As at Drax and Selby?
CN12: A mask with a lot of teeth.
CN13: Perhaps a human face, turned sideways and looking upwards.
N wall of nave
NN1 and NN2: Animal masks with plenty of teeth; NN1 has its teeth apart, NN2 shows its tongue between them.
NN3: A human-like face, but with pointed ears, compare NN2. Two delicate hands clasp the mouth or neck.
NN4: A head similar to CS 1.
NN5: A mask similar to NN2, but with mouth shut.
NN6: A mask with open mouth.
NN7: A muzzled mask.
NN8: A mask with mouth perhaps held open by two small hands and arms. It has no teeth and something in its mouth. Tongue? Human face?
NN9: The main face shows an animal coming from the L, with its two front legs across the stone, and a lance coming from upper R to enter its mouth. The E face of the corbel shows the animal complete, it is a winged dragon, perhaps with further coils of its body on the downward face of the corbel. The W face of the corbel shows an armed man, forcing the lance into the mouth of the dragon and holding a conical shield in his L hand. There could be a wing on his back; the clothing is odd, he could be almost naked, except the raised R arm has a wide sleeve. This corbel could have been copied as CS11.
NN10: The figure of a man facing R extends over the main face and the downward face of the corbel. He appears to be naked, and perhaps he has his mouth open, as if shouting. He has his R arm raised, this is on the E face, where an animal faces away from the man and towards the church. On the W face, the other hand of the man is also raised, it is holding a small roundish object. An animal with two round ears, two front paws and perhaps two back legs, not clearly preserved, faces the man.
NN11: A mask
NN12: On the main face, a man with an axe leans over from the L; he stands on the E face wearing a tunic. At the bottom of the main face and on the downward surface, are the legs and bodies of two people, which continue onto the W face, where they embrace.
NN13-16: Masks. NN16 has an odd chin, is it a beard, or something hanging out of the mouth?
NN17: A symmetrical pattern formed of sparsely foliated trails.
NN18: A mask with pointed head.
S wall of chancel
CS1: An old corbel; a grinning mask; a human lion?
CS2: Possibly a ram’s head; if so, perhaps representing a leader of the flock, that is, an apostle, teacher or priest.
Corbels CS3 to CS8 are restorations.
CS9: May be original.
CD10 and CS11: Modern; the latter looks like a copy of an original figurative scene, but the stone has split. Compare NN9.
CS12: Probably medieval; a man’s face looking disconcerted, one hand to his chin. From the W, an animal’s tail curls up onto the face and the expression is one-sided. Compare NS11.
S wall of nave
NS2: A disc on edge.
NS3: A mask with a toothy grin.
NS4: A mask restrained by little hands.
NS5: Another disc on edge.
NS6: A mask.
NS7: A bearded man with perhaps his hands on his hips.
NS8: A variation on two heads watching. These are on the angles of the corbel; the one on the L has his tongue hanging out a little, the R head is lost. On the downward face is the top half of a small man, as if looking out of a window. On the W face, an animal faces L but turns its upper body and forepaws outwards to the man’s face on the angle. This animal resembles the animal on the E face of NN10. A triangular shape is at the top to the R of the animal’s head. The E face of the corbel has flaked off, unfortunately.
NS9: A mask
NS10: The block is shallowly cut with a number of motifs. On the main face, an armed man faces R; he seems to have a sword and shield but the remains are worn. On the W face, a man (or a standing animal) faces an animal with a long tail; this animal is twisted round to face N. The downward face of the corbel has a row of four arches in the bottom half and perhaps a larger arch above enclosing them. On the E face, an animal confronts the armed man on the main face. This animal has its mouth open (as on corbels NN10 and NS8); it has a tufted tail.
NS11: An animal mask, with two hands coming from behind (on the under surface) and holding its mouth closed. Compare CN9; contrast CS12.
NS12: A man’s face looking up and grimacing? To the R and below, the ashlar seems to contain a re-used mass-dial.
NS13: A horse-like mask with open mouth.
NS15: Disc on edge.
NS16: Not possible to read
NS18: Mask with some detail round the mouth broken and not legible
NS19: Disc on edge
NS20: At the E end of nave, beyond the pilaster, is a mask perhaps with a face showing in its mouth.
Sculpture on the W façade of St Michael, the dragon, and two angels
The carving is between the doorway and the patterned string-course and shafted window. The sculpture appears as one panel, one scene, but is on three stones, two squarish ones at the sides and a central one which is of similar size but has an arched top. Such a relief is unusual for a village church in this region.
There is/was an angel in the side panels to L and R of St Michael; they are symmetrical and were presumably identical (so far as the 12th century ever could achieve or wanted to achieve perfect repeats). They have long narrow lorus-type robes (or wings?) crossed over their body, curved wings raised above their heads and hands lifted in orant position. The dress of the L angel ends above the ankle in a broad border with saltire star pattern.
The archangel stands on a dragon, his right arm raised at the top of his spear, his left hand in the middle of its shaft, his head tilted to the R to look down at the dragon and the spear in its mouth.
Apart from its having a wing and being on its back, there is not a lot that one could say about the dragon because of its decayed state, but it was probably no more complex than the one on the doorway at Riccall.
The photographic record is scanty. There is a photo in the Conway Library, of the 1940s, ref. 39/47(16); this was used for Wood 2003a, fig. 4b. A photograph of c.1900 in the Thelwell Collection (vol. 2, p.17) illustrates the whole W façade, but with only enough detail to prove the carving is now very decayed. An image of the W face of the tower is in VCH II, plate opposite p. 129 (1971). Now there is less than ever to see. On the visit in 2016, the angel on the R had disappeared; the dragon is hardly more than a hump, only recognisable by comparison with earlier photographs. The sculpture has recently been conserved.
c. Miscellaneous: internal doorway
The four corners of the tower are buttressed, the SE corner containing the stair. The square-headed doorway opens off the nave W wall and seems to have been flush with all surfaces. The jambs, up to the last course, are chamfered. Three rows of scale pattern are incised in the lintel, not very accurately.
|height to lintel||1.75m|
|width of opening||0.61m|
The jambs and capitals of the tower arch remain but have been raised later and given a pointed arch. Even at first the tower arch was tall and wide, though the arch was probably not highly decorated, to judge by the capitals. The opening is of two orders. The first order has: a plain plinth; on the side to the nave a base with a double torus; coursed half-column; to the tower, a plain pilaster. The ring and capitals to N and S are the same: a cable ring; a double scallop capital to N and S, and a single scallop to E. These scallops are even less pronounced than those on the W doorway. The impost seems to be original, and, again like the W doorway, it has the merest hint of a hollow chamfer; there is a quirk on the angle and plain above. Higher work is later. See Comments/Opinions.
|width of opening at ground level||3.1m|
J. Burton, Kirkham Priory from Foundation to Dissolution. York 1995.
G. Lawton, Collectio rerum ecclesiasticarum de diocesi Eboracensi; or, collections relative to churches and chapels within the Diocese of York. To which are added collections relative to churches and chapels within the diocese of Ripon, New edition, London 1842.
J. E. Morris, The East Riding of Yorkshire. 2nd ed. London 1919.
N. Pevsner & D. Neave, The Buildings of England: Yorkshire: York and the East Riding, 2nd ed. London 1995.
D. Stocker and P. Everson, Summoning St Michael: early Romanesque towers in Lincolnshire. Oxford 2006.
Thelwell Collection: ‘Photographs of East Riding churches’, 4 vols (2, 5, 6, 7). Bridlington Public Library. [Archive of original prints of photographs]
Victoria County History: East Riding of Yorkshire. II (Dickering Wapentake). 1974.
R. Wood, 'The Augustinians and the Romanesque font from Everingham, East Riding', Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 83 (2011), 112-47.
R. Wood, 'The Augustinians and the Romanesque Sculpture at Kirkburn Church', East Yorkshire Historian 4 (2003a), 3-59.