St John the Baptist, Knaresborough (ch), Yorkshire, West Riding

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Feature Sets (3)


Knaresborough is 4 miles E of Harrogate, North Yorkshire.  The large church stands on much the same level as the castle above the gorge of the river Nidd.  The church would seem to be linked to the layout of the town, rather than an adjunct of the castle.

The compact plan has aisled 4-bay nave with S porch; a central tower enclosed within a further bay of the nave; chancel with N and S chapel and NE vestry.

Of the twelfth-century church, only parts of the early twelfth-century chancel walls remain, and parts of the later piers of the crossing and archways by the transepts. The chancel walls have been cut into, and no old windows remain. Lunn 1870 describes the church just before restoration, which was completed by 1872. The four piers supporting the tower were raised and largely remade at this time. Sculpture consists of a string course, reset fragments and two or three capitals of the crossing.


Gibson writing in 1923 says the church is mentioned as belonging to Nostell Priory in 1114. 


Exterior Features



See Interior Decoration, Miscellanous re chancel walls.

Exterior Decoration

String courses

String courses in situ

The exterior walls of the early or mid-century chancel had a decorated string-course running under the windows. Remains can be seen on the exterior E wall of the chancel; in a passage near the vestry; in the NE vestry; and in the S chapel.

There are two reset fragments of string-course in the N wall of the chancel, interior, between the vestry door and the NE corner of the chancel. See Interior Decoration, Misc.

1. E wall of chancel

Two lengths of string course remain on the E wall of the chancel. These have two patterns: beaded cable below and dentation above. N of the E window; the greater length of string course is original up to the vertical junction where the vestry was built on. S of the E window, a short length of a similar pattern remains, and shows the bold profile, rounded below and sloping above. (Length not measured, as access awkward).

2. in narrow passage near vestry, and Slingsby chapel

The old exterior N wall of the chancel continues to the W of the present vestry door into a narrow passage space: here are two lengths of string-course. The profile is bold and rounded, with horizontal chevrons curving over the surface. One of these lengths is illustrated by Lunn. As he shows, the pattern returns into the wall, which itself resembles a pilaster in this area. The length of this piece is 0.37m. The same pattern is on the second length of string-course in the passage space, and is also found in the chapel to the W, where it is cut off by the frame of a memorial to one of the Slingsbys. The lengths are approx. 0.8m and 0.185m respectively.

3. in NE vestry

A length of string-course is preserved in the vestry, formerly the exterior N wall of the original chancel. This length is the longest remaining intact, approx. 2.95m.The height of the moulding is 0.125m. It again is of a bold section, though the top has been masked by a concrete filling between the stonework and the charity boards above. The pattern on the vertical face is two interwoven rows of zigzag moulding, the diamond shape in the centre being hollowed out by a horizontal slash; on the lower face, a row of billet. Below the string is a course of ashlar with tooling and two mason’s marks still clear.

4. in S chapel

A short length of string-course is found in the S, Roundell or St Edmund’s chapel. The wall represents the exterior S wall of the original chancel. The piece is approx. 0.4m long, but too high to reach for accurate measurement. 

The section is again bold: plain below; patterned with a close row of domes and chip-carved zigzag on the vertical face; perhaps rounded profile above. 

Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches

Tower arches

As noted by Lunn 1870, 41-2, these bases, piers and arches were renewed and heightened in the 1872 restoration. Their original date is estimated at c.1200 by Leach and Pevsner 2009, 375.

Tower arches are pointed, but on tall piers  and capitals with Transitional features. No original bases remain, but the base of the SW pier was photographed from within the crossing. Although the pillars include older stone (often pink, perhaps attributable to fire, but perhaps may be in dolomitic Magnesian limestone which is sometimes this colour), only two capitals may be original. One of these is illustrated by Lunn, top left.  

A further capital of c.1200 is in the S chapel.

Nave arches

Arch from S chapel into S nave aisle

On the E face, this arch includes an original capital like those of the crossing, a late waterleaf style. Alongside it in the first order is a restoration capital. The other capitals here and on a similar sequence on the N side of the church are restorations. This original capital is also illustrated by Lunn.

Ring roughed out round; capital has Transitional volutes on strap-like stalks, with small leaf central at the bottom, on each face; upright within capital. The course ends at this point, above which is a heavy double impost made up of two keeled layers - restoration.

ht. of original stonework 0.33m

Interior Decoration


Indications of windows and string-course

No obvious trace of windows is visible outside, but in the E wall of the chancel on the inside, on either side of the later glazed window, two similar outlines of half an arch can be seen. These lie very close to the angle with the N and S walls, and might represent a blank arcade flanking a window or windows. A pair of parallel vertical lines in the face of the N wall may represent a blocked splayed window. Its top is hidden by the painting.

All these windows or blank arches stand on the line of the string-course. Traces of a former interior string-course visible on N wall of interior of chancel by observing the shallower height of the course. This line runs on to the E wall at the height of the present base of the E window, and also meets the outline of the blank arcading/blocked window.

Re-set fragments inside

There are three fragments re-set in the N wall of the chancel between the vestry door and the E wall.

A. a battered piece of string-course, in the same pattern as the piece in the S Chapel. The upper part is not rounded but seems to have slight horizontal grooves.

B. a short piece of the string-course pattern as on the N exterior wall of the original chancel.

C. a sunken compass-drawn cross in a incised circle. 

h. of slab with cross 0.33m
ht. of piece like N wall exterior string-course 0.124m
ht. of piece like that in S chapel 0.115m
w. of piece like N wall exterior string-course 0.147m
w. of piece like that in S chapel 0.247m
w. of slab with cross 0.3m


Reset fragment C may be the stone mentioned in the anonymous Illustrated Handbook of 1893, which says on p.34 “Inside the altar rails in the north-east corner is a stone bearing a Trinitarian cross, said to have been brought from the Priory.” This may be just hearsay, and it could simply be a consecration cross.


  • A. A. Gibson, 'The Parish Church of St John the Baptist, Knaresborough', Journal of the British Archaeological Association New Series 29, part II (1923), pp. 79-83.

  • A. Kellett, Historic Knaresborough (Otley, 1991).

  • Anon., Illustrated Handbook and Official Guide to Knaresborough (1893).

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

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

The church from the SE within the churchyard.
The church from the castle grounds.


Site Location
Knaresborough (ch)
National Grid Reference
SE 347 572 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Yorkshire, West Riding
now: North Yorkshire
medieval: York
formerly: Ripon and Leeds
now: West Yorkshire and the Dales
now: St John the Baptist
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Rita Wood 
Visit Date
23 March 1999, 08 Mar 2010