St John, Halifax, Yorkshire, West Riding

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Feature Sets (4)


'The largest parish church in the W parts of the West Riding' (Pevsner 1967, 229) is a mostly 15thc. building with only traces of an earlier structure. It was restored in 1879. The church has a five-bay nave with aisles, a W tower, a small N porch, a larger S porch, and a S chapel (Holdsworth chapel); the aisled chancel is also of five bays and has a N chapel (Rokeby chapel). The nave altar is currently in the fourth bay of the chancel.

For general illustrations and plan, see Ryder (1991, 75-77; fig. 89; plan in fig. 155).

The 12thc. remains are fragmentary, and sometimes puzzling.


No pre-Conquest stones are recorded in Coatsworth (2008). 

The manor of Wakefield was granted to William, second Earl de Warenne by Henry I, probably in 1106. The Warennes gave the church to Lewes Priory, a gift confirmed in 1147 by the third earl. The church was granted to Hubert Walter c.1170-1186; he became archbishop of Canterbury in 1193 (Faull and Moorhouse 1981, 385-386).

According to John Lister, the grant to Lewes was made c.1116-1121 (Crossley 1939).



Exterior Features

Exterior Decoration


Nave N wall features both interior and exterior.

In the N aisle, a series of shallow pilasters is seen, with a plain and chamfered string course at their top. The exterior of this wall in part has an ashlar surface of stones that could be of 12thc. dimensions; at the top this area has what could be the remains of a string course.

Interior Features

Interior Decoration


Reset voussoirs etc.

Only four fragments were found by the fieldworker, although many more are mentioned in the literature. All four had a similar chevron pattern, but only two were close at hand and easy to see in the lighting conditions. They were not boldly moulded nor regularly drawn, and even allowing for the wear they have endured, they are not thought to be work of the later 12thc. 

Fragment 1, nave S clerestory wall, bay 3. Located against the moulding of the arch. One stone with two shallowly-carved 'zig-zags' formed of a roll, three narrower steps and another roll. This stone may have a slight curvature at the top, indicating a section of label.

Fragment 2, nave S clerestory wall, bay 5. Located midway between the centre of the bay and pier 4, and halfway between the ground and the roof. A single unit of chevron, profile as before. 

Fragment 3, Holdsworth chapel, E wall. Located below the window and is visible across the altar table. One unit of chevron, set sideways and similar to the previous two. Yellowish gritstone. 

Fragment 4, N aisle, N wall. Located at the base of the westernmost window, just outside the lower L corner of the mouldings.  Two zigs on one stone. Fine-grained, light grey, micaceous gritstone.

Fragment 3, h. 0.195m
Fragment 3, max. w. 0.205m
Fragment 4, h. 0.195m
Fragment 4, w. 0.27m



Some are 'loose', but, according to Ryder, (1991) more fragments, less easily seen, were built into the fabric.

Ryder identifies six grave-slabs that appear to be of 12thc. date (1991, 25-26), and many other remnants that could be of the same period.

Ryder's slabs 1-4 are fixed by metal brackets to the wall of the S porch.



Slab 1. h. 1.68m
Slab 1. max. w. 0.62m
Slab 1. thickness 0.06m
Slab 2. h. 1.61m
Slab 2. max. w. 0.41m
Slab 2. thickness 0.11m
Slab 3. h. 1.055m
Slab 3. max. w. 0.46m
Slab 3. thickness 0.11m
Slab 4. h. 1.21m
Slab 4. max. w. 0.5m
Slab 4. thickness 0.12m

Slab 1

Slab 1. W of the doorway into the nave. Solid cross patee, central bored hole, background sunken slightly; circular head, stem and two steps outlined by incised line. Shears to right outlined.

Slab 2

Slab 2. E of the door to the nave. Similar to slab 1, but no additional motif.

Slab 3

Slab 3. W of the outer door. Top 2/3 of slab only, also broken on R side. The cross head has arms ending in three-fold foliage (or two leaves and a bud), within a sunken ground. The stem of the cross is made by incised lines as before.

Slab 4

Slab 4. E of the outer door. Foot and upper L corner of slab missing. Edges of the slab are chamfered more finely than the others, perhaps the finder fabric allowed it. Pattern formed by pairs of parallel incised lines, except the stem where the lines appear to taper towards the foot.  The head of the cross is formed by a diagonally set square developed from the stem, interwoven with a four-fold loop.

This slab Ryder says 'may be more precisely dated to the third quarter of the century' (1991, 26).



According to Bilson, the W wall of the crypt below the N choir aisle shows Norman ashlar and marks the E limit of the 12thc. church (see Barber 1917). The crypt was not seen by the fieldworker.

Nave N wall.  Dr A. Hamilton-Thompson, if not Dr. J. Bilson before him, suggested that 'the interior face of the N wall of the nave aisle had been the exterior face of the S wall of a Norman Church that stood further to the north of the present site' (Hanson 1953, 30). According to H. E. Wroot the ashlar on the present exterior surface is of gannister in the lower courses.

Reset chevron stones.  John Bilson inspected the fabric and his comments may be found in full in Barber 1917. He thought the chevron profile of the scattered remnants (of two angular fillets between two rolls) would date from 1120 or after.  E. W. Crossley (1939, 1-3) described finding some of the chevron stones after plaster had been removed from W end of N aisle wall, high up on the N face of the S clerestory wall towards the W end of the arcade, and built into the E wall of the Holdsworth chapel. From a ladder, he saw "other stones similar, but dressed down" around fragment 2.  Ryder 1993, 155, says there are 'a large number of reused 12th-century architectural fragments and carved stones scattered all round the building.' Only stones 3 and 4 were easy to see, they were not boldly moulded or regularly drawn. Even allowing for wear, it is not thought that they can be work of the later 12thc..




  • Barber, F., Halifax Parish Church, 1876, reprinted as 'The architecture of the Church of St. John the Baptist, Halifax', in Halifax Antiquarian Society Record Series 3 (1917) with notes by J. Bilson.

  • E. Coatsworth, Western Yorkshire. CASSS vol. VIII, Oxford, 2008.

  • S. Crabtree and G. Washington, Halifax Parish Church, St. John the Baptist. Halifax, 1994.

  • E. W. Crossley, "Halifax Parish Church: The Chevron Mouldings.", Halifax Antiquarian Society Transactions (1939), 1-3.

  • M. L. Faull and S. A. Moorhouse, eds., West Yorkshire: an Archaeological Survey to 1500, Wakefield, 1981.

  • T. W. Hanson, 'Halifax Parish Church: The Norman Era.', Halifax Antiquarian Society Transactions (1953), 21-30.

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

  • P. Ryder, Medieval Cross Slab Grave Covers in West Yorkshire, Wakefield, 1991.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
SE 097 252 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Yorkshire, West Riding
now: West Yorkshire
medieval: York
formerly: Wakefield
now: West Yorkshire and the Dales
now: St John
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Barbara English, Rita Wood 
Visit Date
29 Jul 1997