St Peter, Barnburgh / Barnbrough, Yorkshire, West Riding

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Feature Sets (3)


Barnburgh is seven miles west of Doncaster. The honey-coloured stone church stands high in a village of which the older houses are of the same stone. It has a chancel with a N aisle or chapel, nave with N and S aisles and a porch, and W tower. The tower has four stages, the lower part including ashlar walling with two windows with one-piece heads; it is buttressed to the height of the S aisle, the roofs battlemented. A plan of the church is in the Borthwick Institute (Fac. 1869/2).

The earliest work inside the building is the nave N arcade of two bays with octagonal imposts and pointed arches. The base to pier 1 is the nearest to Romanesque forms.

Apart from two simple windows in the tower, the Romanesque remains are the two reset fragments of a sculpted pillar, formerly outside the church and now erected close to pier 1 in the N arcade.


The vill is in Domesday Book but no church is mentioned.  Henry I granted a church here to Nostell priory 1119-1129 (Farrer 1916, 128), and in a confirmation of 1121-7 the king confirmed to Nostell the churches of ‘St Oswald and Aydanus of Bamburg’ as Algar the priest once held them.  Could ‘Aydanus’ represent a dedication to St Aidan, brought to Northumbria by King (St) Oswald?

A dispute was resolved between Hickleton and Barnbrough c.1170-1177 which established Hickleton as the mother church.  The suit mentioned the clerks of Barnbrough; ‘This shows that the church was divided between two or more secular clerks…this may have been a survival of one of those small secular communities which were abundant in the 11th century and were usually of pre-Conquest origin’ (Thompson and Clay 1933, 25).


Exterior Features


Windows in tower

The lower window is blocked; outside, it has a slit  with a one piece head and inside, a large splay. Another similar window, not blocked, exists at a higher level; this has a larger stone used for the window-head. 

Interior Features

Interior Decoration


Shaft: 1. E face

The shaft is in two pieces, joined. It has been erected in the N arcade with its E face close to the W side of the pier

The shaft is not quite square in section, being slightly wider on the W and E faces. Its overall form is architectural, there is a moulded plinth and each angle has a base, column, necking and elongated capital surviving, though decayed. The shaft tapers slightly until just below the top, where foliage and architectural detail swell to emphasise the termination.

The remains lack the very top, which is worn but looks unlikely ever to have been flat. There is loss also where the two stones have been joined about half-way down; here it can be seen from the discrepancy in the pattern on the W face that about 0.07 to 0.08m (3 inches) is missing. This loss reduces the solemnity of the standing figures on the N and S faces, and makes the worn remains on the E side even harder to evaluate.

The E face is generally the most worn, though at the bottom the survival of the foliage pattern is very good. At the top of the E face is a tall cross with splayed arms and foliage in the quadrants. Between the cross and the foliage at the bottom, Ryder identifies a standing figure in a long gown. The loss at the break here cuts through the neck and chest of the standing figure.

Measurements are taken from Ryder 1991.

Height as seen 2.0m
Plinth 0.38m x 0.34m

Shaft: 2. S face

The composition is similar to the N face with a standing figure in the top two-thirds. The cowl is thrown back and the head bare; he has a tonsure. Above the head are two units of a pattern like that on the W face; these have foliage designs in them. A stole, or the border of a robe, is shown crossing the breast. The man holds a book resting open on his left arm and the right hand lies in on the open pages; the hand is small, and was never large. Below the break, the skirt of his long robe is shown, and two small feet pointing downwards. A three-strand plait, arising from mouldings below the pillar bases, fills the shaft below this figure. The spaces in the plait are filled with foliage fans or domes. The carving survives well here and the forms are rounded and bold.

Shaft: 3. W face

This face is entirely filled with a pattern of two interwoven wavy bands. There is symmetrical foliage in the central spaces, and more foliage at the sides. The discrepancy in the join of the two stones is noticeable but difficult to quantify accurately.

Shaft: 4. N face

Like the S face, this has a standing figure above a symmetrical foliage pattern; above the head is more symmetrical foliage perhaps arranged in the quarters of a cross. The foliage is a common type, fluted clusters of leaves often graded in length with the smallest one curled round. The head appears to be tonsured and to be wearing a hood or cowl which loosely encircles the face. The torso and arms are worn and broken, while details of the body below the break are entirely worn away.


Sir Stephen Glynne (Butler 2007, 79) visited ‘Barnbrough’ in 1860 and does not mention seeing it. Collingwood (1915, 135) dates it as late Norman. Brown discusses this shaft and the three others in the area (1937, 146-47, pl. XXXXIX 1, 3).

Drawings and description are given in Ryder (1982, 103) where he calls it a ‘thoroughly Romanesque piece’ and compares it to similar remnants at Thrybergh and Rawmarsh. He says the two pieces were found in the churchyard in the 19th century and erected in the church early in the 20th century.

In the opinion of the fieldworker (RW) it was not necessarily a cross-bearing shaft, for it shows no reliable sign of being developed into a cross at the top, or of being able to bear one there. The shaft is slender at the top, it is shaped and not flat: another stone above is unlikely. It is suggested that the top may have been developed into a low pyramidal shape, perhaps as a ‘roof’ supported above the architecture on the angles. Further, there is a large cross carved on the upper part of the E face. The face with the cross was almost certainly the principal one since it is wide, and the other wide face has no figure sculpture but a continuous foliage pattern. It is not known what purpose stones of this kind served, nor where this one stood; it may or may not have had a similar function to the items at Thrybergh and Rawmarsh. If the figures are tonsured clergy and the origin is local, perhaps these are Augustinians of Nostell, or saints of interest to them - however, this is speculation.

The stone is Magnesian limestone, and the shaft, when unbroken, could be compared to the coffin-shaped memorial in St Peter's, Conisbrough, which is 1.76m long and 0.6 by 0.4m at the head end. Thus the shaft is longer than the memorial but 60 per cent of the volume. The sculpture on the shaft would be thought ‘better’ than that on the memorial by a purist since it is all in one style, and accomplished. Figure sculpture in high relief is unusual for the period and this region. There is a worn figure on a slab in the porch at Conisbrough church which also has very small hands, using a mannerism of the period in which the heads of figures are much enlarged but bodies, hands and feet much reduced (Wood 2004, 98, 105). Free-standing figure sculpture exists at Nun Monkton, and was used on the lost Romanesque W front of York Minster; a fragment from there was recorded in the report for Private Collection 1. There are remnants of shafts, and a socketed base, associated with Pontefract Priory.

Morris 1919, 96: ‘At the W. end of the N. aisle – hollowed-out stone, with traces of having been closed by a brass, or iron, plate. It can hardly have been a reliquary in this position.’ From its diagonal placement and rather fancy outline, this item does not appear to be Romanesque, but if it were laid flat it would definitely recall the rectangular recess in the top surface of the old altar slab in the N aisle at Bolton Priory. 


  • Borthwick Fac. 1869/2 includes a plan of the church.

  • G. B. Brown, The Arts in Early England, vol VI part II, Anglo-Saxon Sculpture. London 1937.

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

  • W. G. Collingwood, ‘Anglian and Anglo-Danish Sculpture in the West Riding’, Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 23 (1915), 129-299.

  • W. Farrer, Early Yorkshire Charters 1-3, Edinburgh 1915-1916

  • J. S. Large, A History of Barnburgh. n.p., 1999.

  • J. E. Morris, The West Riding of Yorkshire.  2nd ed. (1906) 1919.

  • N. Pevsner, revised by E. Radcliffe, The Buildings of England: Yorkshire, The West Riding.  Harmondsworth 1967.

  • P. F. Ryder, Saxon Churches in South Yorkshire. South Yorkshire County Council Archaeology Monograph No.2, Sheffield 1982.

  • A. H. Thompson and C. T. Clay, ed. Fasti parochiales 1 part 1 [Deanery of Doncaster part 1], Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series 85 (1933), 25-28.

  • P. J. Wilcox and M. Wilcox, St Peter’s Church Barnburgh church guide, n.p., n.d.

  • R. Wood, ‘Not Roman but Romanesque: a decayed relief at Conisbourgh church’, Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 76 (2004), 95-112.

The Church from the SE
The W tower from the S
The village from the SW
Relic cavity


Site Location
Barnburgh / Barnbrough
National Grid Reference
SE 484 032 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Yorkshire, West Riding
now: South Yorkshire
medieval: York
now: Sheffield
medieval: St Peter (Raine 1873)
now: St Peter
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Barbara English, Rita Wood 
Visit Date
28 May 2010