St Mary, Etton, Yorkshire, East Riding

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Feature Sets (4)


Church with broad W tower, nave, chancel (Chantrell 1844-45) and S aisle (rebuilt 1867-68); porch and vestry on S side of the building added during 1891 restoration. The church stands up on a hill at one end of the village. Of Romanesque date are, on the exterior: the blocked W doorway; the lower part of the tower including plain N and S windows; and a reused window-head in the S wall of the S aisle, which has an incised pattern. Inside there is a blocked door with plain tympanum (once to a stair) in the NW angle of the tower; a magnificent tower arch of four orders; and five pieces of sculpture from the demolished church at Holme-on-the-Wolds, reset here in 1951 (see IV 5.c.)


Robert, Count of Mortain, held the manor in 1086; by the end of the 12thc. the Fossards held it. The Archbishop also had some land in Etton in 1086 (VCHER, pp. 106, 107). Another landholder was Hugh, son of Baudry, and the Stutevilles seem to have been involved (VCHER, p. 107). In about 1200 a rector was mentioned. 'The advowson generally descended with the Stutville's overlordship in the Middle Ages' (VCHER, p.111).


Exterior Features


Chancel S doorway

Round-headed, two orders in jambs, three in arch. The doorway appears entirely 19thc., and may be an approximation to the original priest's doorway by Chantrell, or a remodelling by him or the architects in 1891, based on the W doorway (see III.1.ii, below). Faculty papers of 1891 include the plan and elevation then existing, from which it can be seen that the chancel S doorway was then situated just W of the midway point along the chancel wall, and on a slight projection with a horizontal 'roof' immediately below the level of a string course, which continued to the window heads. According to the plan, the label of the imposts ran W and E to the sides of the projection. It was an unusually elaborate doorway for a chancel- the doorway appears shafted and of two orders. It was repositioned and perhaps altered in the 1891 restoration (which was not done quite as the plans show). One worn double scallop capital (second order, left), similar to those on the W doorway, may be original.

Internal W tower doorway

Round-headed with tympanum. Blocked. The doorway is set diagonally across the NW angle of the tower. It no doubt gave access to a staircase to which there is now no entrance. The opening is very narrow and the lintel is deep. It has a plain tympanum set in a plain order chamfered on the inner edge and flush on the outer edge.

d. of lintel 0.29 m
h. of blocked opening 1.54 m
h. of doorway 0.48 m
w. of opening 0.62 m
w. of tympanum 0.55 m

Tower, W doorway, blocked

Three orders and label, generally in a poor state.

First order

Bases almost lost but they could be like those on the tower arch. Half column jamb supports. The N capital has three plain scallops on the main face, with those on the angles making a slight overhang, as if the stone had been prepared for a volute, but this was not proceeded with. S capital decayed. In the arch, an angle roll with a series of flat, beaded medallions standing proud of it on the arch face. In all but two of the medallions is a central, radial, inverted stem having two leaves which fill the semicircles. Two of the medallions have a star of flower-like form. This has six to eight radial, contiguous divisions and a central peak. (Much the same form recurs at Riccall and Stillingfleet; the latter church also has similar medallions.) From each of the medallions an inverted tree of a stem and two leaves 'grows', this curves with the roll moulding in towards the opening. Impost (here the best preserved): plain chamfer, fairly heavy upright with double scored lines at bottom. In the restored parts, a curved moulding is between the two lines.

Second order

Bases as before. Endelit nook-shafts; S capital plain double scallop, necking seems to have been plain. N capital is similar, its necking crossed by a zigzagging incised line so that flattish triangles are formed above the line but prominent knobs below it. In the arch is an order of beakheads over an angle roll. These have keeled beaks with hollowed sides, which is unusual. Their eyes are comma-shaped; a curved teardrop outline. The heads have a variety of patterns: as well as the variations of feathers, there are tile-like scales on the first from N and a square grid on the third from N. Beakheads towards the S have parallel vees following the outlining of the eyes. The sides of the heads have long inverted feathers or leaves.

Third order

Bases as before. Endelit nook-shafts. Capitals: S remade; N capital, plain double scallop, its necking decayed but perhaps cut like the second order L. In the arch, over an angle roll, is a motif, which has been described as 'beaker clasp' by Heslop (these are not, however, true beakheads). The platforms are ridged radially and have a central stack of vees, with semicircles at the outer edges. Compare Stillingfleet, where the platforms carry figurative sculpture and not only patterns.Label: Convex with fine circumferential ridges and a row of billets spaced their own length apart. There are label stops in the form of small heads, very worn but possibly human. The 1891 restoration put heads in this position on the vestry doorway.


Reset window, S aisle

The faculty for the 1891 restoration mentions moving a window from the N wall of the nave to the S wall of the new vestry, but the vestry was built much smaller than planned, and the window, or part of it, is presumably what is to be seen in the adjacent window of the S aisle, which itself had been rebuilt earlier in the 1860s. The window head or spandrel has rows of incised zigzags as on a voussoir at Fangfoss. The remainder of the window, round-headed, imitation Norman, and of two lights, is restoration work.

Tower, N and S windows

Round-headed. Plain, flush, in the lowest storey.

Exterior Decoration

String courses


The string course near the top of the tower looks original as on the exterior of Fangfoss and Kirkburn, but is mostly restoration work. There is a small section, at the NW angle of the tower, which is so decayed it may be original. The pattern is the upper one, flat diamonds left in relief by cutting away the background. Billet is used on the W doorway label.

Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches

Tower arch

Round-headed, four orders to E, two orders to W.This is a magnificent arch, more interesting than many chancel arches. Bases are similar throughout, a plain plinth of two courses resting on what may be original paving; base ring composed of a rounded lower half and a concave upper half separated by a slight step. This is a very common form.

h. of impost above floor level 2.71 m
h. of opening (approx.) 4.44 m
w. of opening at floor level 3.465 m
First order, shared

Coursed half-column with double width capital, the same design to N and S, that is, three scallops to sides, five on main face. These are about half the height of the capital and have the curve of the scallop emphasised on the angle by an incised line. The cones project on the N and S sides, but are more upright on the E and W sides. Necking on S side, cut in lozenges with lower edge curved (as on W doorway) and on the N side, flatter lozenges, double-outlined and with small domes in the spaces. Impost deep, plain chamfer, upright with two lines not close but marking about half and three-quarters of the height. In the arch, angle rolls to E and W, with a hollow between marked by slight ridge or stepped moulding. On the W face to the tower, chamfered and plain; on the E face to the nave a hollow runs circumferentially round the order, bordered by deeper steps. Spaced motifs stud this hollow - most of them are bosses criss-crossed like bunches of grapes but occasionally something else is carved - two men's heads and a pair of stars.

Fourth order, E face

An order of chevron, with a chevron angle roll with a lateral chevron hollow on the face and a frontal chevron hollow on the soffit. The order finishes flush with the W wall of the nave.

Second order, E face

Bases as before. Engaged (coursed) nook-shaft. Neckings both cut in diamonds, capitals as for second order to tower. Impost as before. In the arch, point-to-point chevron meeting on the angle, the same on face and soffit. Plain outside the chevron roll.

Second order, W face (in tower)

N capital: This has a necking cut in elongated diamonds and an undecorated scallop capital. The S capital has a necking with a horizontal division. In the arch, plain and flush.

Third order, E face

Bases, shafts, neckings, capitals and imposts as second order. In the arch, the basic profile is flat on the face, turning into the soffit as a roll and finishing with a plain band adjacent to the second order. On the arch face and roll, a pattern of arches has been cut. The arches are outlined by two parallel grooves. The arches make a pointed apex on the joint between voussoirs. Their inner terminals, centred on each voussoir, are very varied in treatment. Occasionally ending in a simple point, more often the grooves continue to curve round and meet others on the joint or as a flat bar on the circumference, thus making a sort of horseshoe arch. Beading is used at '11' and 'one o'clock'. Foliage is often used in the outer spandrels of the pattern, in a form like that on the W doorway, and there is an enlarged central motif which is foliate. Terminals in the centre of a voussoir may be geometric motifs such as the 'daisy' radial stars in the lower left. This motif occurs at Riccall, Stillingfleet and Bishop Wilton, etc. There is a lion showing a short length of its tongue, a hare with long pointed ears and a figure described as an acrobat. This figure has a moustache, and what seem definitely to be legs and knees. It is an amazing - but just about possible - pose.

Interior Decoration


Re-set fragments to the left of the S doorway

These five carved stones are all from the medieval church of St Peter at Holme-on-the-Wolds, which was demolished in 1862 with the exception of the chancel (although this was later demolished in 1989). The chancel arch was blocked and a door inserted there. The three large panels (fragments 1 - 3), which had originally been located in the W wall of the nave, were reset around the former chancel arch and thus exposed to the weather from 1862 until 1951, when they were taken to Etton and reset inside (Whiteing 1952-55). There are no faculty documents at Borthwick for this work. There is no published record for the two capitals (fragments 4 and 5) but, fortunately, definite provenance has been established from photographs taken by two residents, Mr Geoffery Creaser and Mr Harold Hall. Chevron voussoirs at Holme, mentioned by Morris, have not been found at Etton.

1. St Peter:
h. 0.7 m
w. 0.49 m
2. St Paul:
h. 0.73 m
w. 0.48 m
5. Capital with scallops:
diam. of necking 0.25 m
h. of capital (incl. necking) 0.28 m
w. of face with scallops and star pattern 0.205 m
w. of face with spiral 0.195 m
3. Harrowing of Hell:
h. 0.69 m
w. 0.40 m
Fragments 1 - 3

The three larger pieces are carved with very competent figures of an almost Gothic fluidity but are still sufficiently solid to be Romanesque. Two of the three panels are shaped to fit in the spandrel between the arches - the steep sides of a Gothic arch would not be too hard to imagine. (Unfortunately the pieces are set too high to allow an adequate assessment of the curvature.) The third piece is squarer. The subjects are St Peter with key, St Paul (seated) with a sword, and a Harrowing of Hell. Morris's (p. 193) suggestion that the seated figure with a sword (St Paul) has two smaller people on either side is most likely a misinterpretation. It is now generally accepted that the two areas in the upper corners are foliage. The depiction of St Paul with a sword is not found very often in Romanesque sculpture in England.

Fragments 4 and 5 (capitals)

The two capitals, neither of which is set in the proper orientation, get very little attention in the records or the guide (1997). However, they date from the first half of the 12thc. and would make a suitable pair for the S doorway at a village church. One, fragment 4, depicts a swordsman, and the other, fragment 5, has scallops on one face and chip-carving on the other.



White and Thomas suggest that part of the present font (the lower shallow bowl) may be a remnant of the 12thc. font.


Comparisons may be made between the N doorway at Stillingfleet and the tower arch at Etton, in the first order, which has similar domes of grapes, and the occasional other motif, such as a star and foliage. The W doorway at Etton has foliate motifs in a ring and hoop pattern comparable to those on the outer order of the S doorway at Stillingfleet. It is salutary to compare a current photograph of the tower W doorway with Plate 7 in an article of 1909 by Charles Keyser (see ). Keyser's illustration shows the two inner arches and all the columns of the doorway black, that is still with a thin coating of pollution deposit; the outer arch and label are light grey, that is, they show the natural colour of the stone. We now see that the carvings on the formerly lightest parts have become almost indecipherable, while those black a hundred years ago are in their turn shedding the protective skin together with the original surface and are about to decay at a fast rate. The stone used at Etton is a Jurassic limestone; the process is even faster in the Permian Magnesian limestone, as used at Stillingfleet.

Better preserved examples of the beaker clasp motif are among the stones of the chancel arch at Bishop Wilton, and one voussoir mounted in the display of fragments from St Mary's Abbey in the Yorkshire Museum, York.

The quality of the three large reset panels contrasts with the rest of the known fabric of Holme church. It is unlikely that such panels had originally belonged in a poor church in a village. South Dalton's medieval church may have belonged to St John's Beverley. It also was poor and often rebuilt and patched up with brick. It was demolished in the 1860s. Perhaps the three panels came from a demolished church or monastery in Beverley.

The reset capitals from Holme should be compared with capitals in situ at Lockington. There are similar spirals in low relief, similar tongue-like foliage, and the little men in both have the same almond-shaped eyes with a horizontal ridge. It is likely that the capital with patterns was on the left and that with the swordsman on the right. The main star patterns would thus face each other and indicate the interior of the church was to be thought of as heaven. The horizontal posture of the man might indicate violence was overturned here. Leaves on both S faces may represent Life victorious over Death.


  • Victoria County History: Yorkshire, East Riding. IV (1979), 106-11.
  • A. J. Barker, History of St. Peter's Church, Holme on the Wolds, n.p.,c.1990.
  • C. E. Keyser, 'The Norman Doorways of Yorkshire', in T. M. Fallow, Memorials of Old Yorkshire, pp. 165-219. London 1909.
  • K.J. Allinson (ed.), A History of the County of York East Riding, iv, Oxford 1979.
  • T.A. Heslop, Norwich Castle Keep, Romanesque Architecture and Social Context. Norwich, 1994.
  • Borthwick Institute holds Faculty papers: Fac.1891/11 restoration for Lord Hotham, still the patron. Fac. 1868/8 also has a plan, but the work seems to have involved the NW corner of the tower, perhaps blocking the doorway to the stair-vice. This is when the main W doorway was blocked. NO papers for the installation of the five reset pieces.
  • J. E. Morris, The East Riding of Yorkshire, 2nd ed. (1906), 1919, p.193.
  • N. Pevsner and D. Neave, Yorkshire: York and the East Riding, 2nd. ed. London, 1995, p. 409.
  • R. H. Whiteing, '12th century figures from Holme-on-the-Wolds church', Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 38, (1952-5), pp. 6-7.
  • G. M. White and P. Thomas, An Introduction to St. Mary's Church, Etton. After 1993, n.p.
General view from SW.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
SE 981 435 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Yorkshire, East Riding
now: Yorkshire, East Riding
medieval: York
now: York
medieval: St Mary
now: St Mary
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Rita Wood