St Peter, Old Edlington, Yorkshire, West Riding

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Feature Sets (4)


The small church stands near the crest of a hill, surrounded by houses of the village of Old Edlington on three sides, with fields to the N and NW. To the N in the valley are the village and estates of New Edlington. The church consists of a nave, chancel, tower and a N aisle.

The chancel, nave and lower part of the tower are Romanesque, with a Perp. tower and the majority of the windows. The S doorway, chancel arch and corbels are fine examples of Romanesque carving. This was the first church to be vested in the Redundant Churches Fund [now Churches Conservation Trust]. The roof was removed by the diocese in 1966 when the building was subject to constant vandalism. A demolition order for all but the tower was recommended at vesting [in 1971] (Anon., 1990). Fortunately this was avoided and the church is now roofed and well maintained, although past and present damp remains a problem.

The Romanesque sculpture is chiefly on doorway, corbels, a window, chancel arch and string course. There are corbels on the N and S walls of both nave and chancel; they are in their original position but the walls have been heightened above them for the battlements. The corbels on the N side have been covered since the building of the N aisle (c.1200) and N chapel (date uncertain; possibly late 13th c.). An unusual feature of the corbels at Old Edlington is that several of the animals are gagged with a sausage-shaped soft-looking pad, rather than being muzzled (though there are muzzled examples).


The vill is in Domesday Book but no church is mentioned. The vill was in 1086 held of the Percies by Malger, ancestor of the Vavasours. The advowson of the church is mentioned temp. Henry II (Thompson and Clay 1933, 106) and by 1249-50, if not before, part of the advowson was in Vavasour’s hands (Raine 1872, 108).


Exterior Features


N doorway to nave

This is a pointed doorway of one order and label, date c.1200 according to Pevsner. It is to be associated with the 2nd phase of 12th-century work on the church, which comprised the N arcade and the tower. 1st order plain on the face, a slightly rounded chamfer on the angle marked off by an arris from the plain face. The label profile was probably rounded outside and chamfered inside; the stops are worn but had some simple prominent ornament.

Height of opening 2.12m
Width of opening 0.90m

S doorway to nave

Round-headed doorway of 2 orders and a label. Detailed, competent, covered with carving, but the condition is very poor, with breakage, erosion and wear interrupting the patterning. Bases sunk below paving level, but left visible. Very decayed, but their structure seems to have been a broad chamfered plinth, and then the lowest block of the jambs in both orders starting directly (1st) or plain for a short height (2nd) on top of that.

Height of opening to modern step, additional 0,155m exposed to base 2.12m
Width of opening 1.01m
1st order

This is continuous from base throughout, with no indication of capital or impost. Plain in the soffit. On the face, a bold chevron roll; a row of hollow chevron; an arris and a less prominent chevron row then plain to the second order. On the angle, a row of prominent balls cut into rounded units, probably grape; few of these remain except at the top of the arch

2nd order

This order is again continuous. Every voussoir has a beakhead biting the roll moulding. These seem to have been a standard kind for the region, with ‘feathered’ heads and plain beaks. 


This is broad and flat, edged outside with billet moulding. The main face is unusually highly-carved, and altogether this was not a very practical hoodmould to shelter the rest of the doorway. The pattern is a row of medallions and ellipses, the spaces between these larger units filled with sprays of foliage. In the medallions is a ring of beading, then a ring of cusps and then a roundel with a raised conical centre. The ellipses have their long dimension on the radius of the arch; they contain a symmetrical leaf with round-tipped leaflets arranged up the mid-rib. Ellipses seem to be placed particularly to make up the space at joints in the long stones; medallions are not split. The sprays have 3 pointed leaves to both inside and outside, and are bound in the centre with a strap. Label-stops are remnants of what are likely to have been two pairs of men’s heads; a detail of an eye remains on the inner head on the R side.


N and S windows in the tower

These are of the usual plain, splayed kind.

Nave S wall

A round-headed window of one order and no label, much decayed and patched with new plain stone. There are no bases to the detached shafts, which rest directly on a chamfered sill shaped at either end to take a square base or plinth. Judging by the various wear on the cylinders forming the shafts, there have been several periods of replacement. The only remaining section of original shaft is on the L side at the top, this appears to have had a small pattern of trellis type. Capitals indecipherable, to the extent that it cannot be determined if they had been scallop or waterleaf; in the arch, four centrifugal chevron voussoirs remain. Inside, the plain window splay has been recut, the head enlarged. See Comments, Thompson 1909; fieldworker.

Exterior Decoration

String courses

Stringcourse on tower

String course on all 4 sides of the tower, at the top of the earliest work. This course projects rather than forming a set-back, and was probably near the top of the late 12th-century tower. The vertical face is cut into a series of semi-circular scallops, which are separated by a little more than one diameter of plain upright. At the corners of the tower, two semicircles touch, to make a form that somewhat resembles a scallop capital. The chamfered lower face of the string-course supports cylindrical extensions behind the semicircles. There is no indication of any further carving on the vertical face of the scallops.

Corbel tables, corbels

Corbels on Chancel N wall

Seen from inside church, chancel N aisle (or chancel N chapel). The full run of corbels survives in this section (but not on the Nave N wall).

1. a billet moulding on a stepped series of layers.

2. a muzzled animal with the tip of its tongue showing in its mouth. The upper part of the corbel, the narrow upright, here has an incised zigzag pattern.

3. a billet block, as before.

4. two men’s heads, looking in opposite directions; the man looking NW has his tongue hanging out, the man looking NE has his mouth closed.

5. a billet block.

6. a man’s head, fattish, worn. We thought, perhaps a woman, but not certain.

7, 8 and 9: billet blocks.

Corbels on Chancel S wall

Described from L to R. These corbels are the most weathered:

1. gagged beast with ears.

2. indecipherable; worn bulk with two projecting knobs.

3. a man’s head, tapered, apparently expressionless.

4. a man’s head, square and with his tongue out and drooping, or the corners of his mouth turned down.

5. muzzled mask with pointed head.

6. a man’s head with large eyes (a drain-pipe where there would have been a corbel).

7. muzzled mask with pointed head.

8. animal head.

9. a squarish animal head with pointed ears, and a small row of teeth showing in the downward surface.

10. possibly a man’s head, he may be holding something on the E side (compare NS 9 and NS18).

11. squarish mask, gagged.

12. an animal?

13. a mask, gagged (drain-pipe).

14. the remains of a gagged beast.

15. a man’s head.

16. two men’s heads.

Corbels on Nave N wall

1. two heads: that on the L broken; that on the R similar to CN4 but lips closed.

2. broken – a mask with pointed ears.

3. beakhead biting a roll moulding or billet. The crown of the head is unusual, covered with compact domes, perhaps conventional curly hair?, while the beak has bored holes all over it.

4. This complex subject is interpreted as two men standing, their heads on the angles and looking diagonally outward. They smile. They hold two spears in the centre of the N face of the corbel. Like the crosier held by the corbel NS9, the lower part of the spear-shaft is curved under the corbel. The legs are not distinguishable.

5. a billet block There is a long gap in the series until the penultimate corbel at the W end (no. 6)

6. a ram’s head.

Corbels on Nave S wall

1. large mask with open mouth.

2. two horses, sharing one gag.

3, 4, 5: masks with gags. It is hard to tell whether there is a narrow tongue coming out of the mouth, a single central fang rising from the lower jaw, or a hook from elsewhere holding down the jaw and keeping the gag in place. The form is wider at the bottom, tapering upwards to a point. (porch roof interrupts the sequence).

6. mask with two of the same tangs or tongue; no gag.

7. muzzled animal with pointed ears and its tongue showing in the slightly open mouth.

8. symmetrical face-to-face wyverns, their heads still just legible, their tails looped round in the lower part of the corbel. Suggestions remain of their forearms, but no wings.

9. a bishop, since he has a crosier. His face placid, with perhaps a slight smile.

10. animal with pointed ears, horns. No teeth, no gag.

11. a ram’s head, compare NN6.

12. symmetrical design with small masks on the angles, emitting strands which loop and are bound together at the bottom, or connect across the front of the corbel.

13. looks like an angel, but this would be highly unusual, and there are no arms. Probably foliage.

14. symmetrical foliage design; the design at the top of the S side of the corbel could be a lion’s face (there seem to be pointed ears), and so the foliage may all be emitted by it, a large fluted leaf to the sides of a central stem.

15. mask with mouth agape and tongue hanging out. 16. muzzled animal with pointed ears, its tongue showing between the jaws.

17. two heads, one with pointed ears (?the other human); they share a gag.

18. a man’s head, he holds a horn in his left hand and looks to his right.

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Chancel arch

Round-headed arch of two orders and no label. The arch stands on a plain plinth or wall about 1.3m high.

1st order, common to E and W

First order to nave and chancel: Plain and square plinth; round bases convex below, concave above. Coursed half-column. Plain roughly-rounded necking. The capitals, of a very simple shape, are covered with delicate patterns. The L capital has larger and smaller beaded interlaced semicircles with symmetrical fluted foliage in every space; the R capital is a shade more sophisticated, with only large reeded semicircles and very elegant symmetrical foliage patterns. Impost with plain (or slightly hollow in some cases) chamfer; two quirks a little above the bottom of the upright. Impost continues to N and S walls in chancel. In the arch, in the soffit, a row of hollow chevron; on the face, a row of centripetal chevron of which the outer margin is bounded by a double row of centripetal arrises of arched outline. This produces unusual movement in the pattern and forms.

2nd order

Second order to nave only: Plinth and bases as before. Detached shaft. L necking perhaps once cable pattern? L capital has symmetrical foliage patterns similar to those used on the adjacent capital of the first order. Imposts as before. R necking plain, capital a double scallop with darts between the cones. Impost as before, it continues to the side walls on both N and S. In the arch, in the soffit as for first order. On the face, a row of centripetal chevron, with narrower rows of hollow chevrons and chevrons outside that. No label.

Tower/Transept arches

Tower arch

Pointed arch of 2 orders with wide chamfer in the arches. The details of interest for this Corpus are the "plain, big-shaped corbels designed on the model of Roche" (Pevsner 1969, 192). These support the 1st order of the arch. They have a plain cone, a plain coursed column interrupted by a rounded moulding which continues into the walling to R and L; an impost of rectangular plan on the L, octagonal on the R; a further rounded moulding on the R, absent on the L; an impost decayed but simple. The chamfer begins by scooping out the angle within the first course of the springing.



Nave N arcade

Arcade of 2 bays, dated to c.1200 by Pevsner. Bases throughout of similar form, that is, chamfered and plain plinth in one block; fat double torus. Round respond pillars and pillar of pier 1. Necking and capital integral with impost and all similar, having plain rounded ring, deep hollow chamfer; upright, quirk and hollow chamfer; upright with quirk. Arches pointed, the chamfer is less wide than on the tower arch.


Piscinae/Pillar Piscinae

Piscina in N aisle of nave, S wall, on the stub of the nave

This alcove may be late 12th century; basin renewed. Its position probably indicates that the N aisle of the nave was added some time before that of the chancel. Projecting square basin with the typical four-sided bowl. 


Thompson and Clay (1943, xxvii) assigned the building of the church to the 3rd quarter of the 12th century, enlarged ‘later’ by a N aisle. Earlier recorders (Hunter 1828, 95; Keyser 1909,180; Thompson 1909,127), all comment on the S doorway with its beakheads as their prime interest. Charles E. Keyser (1909,180) remarks "Very fine S doorway with, on the label, which terminates on 2 heads on either side, a row of 14 beaded circles enclosing roses, a course of billet on the upper side with leaves between. On the outer order is a row of 33 beakheads, carried round the arch and down the jambs to the ground. These are very large and in excellent state of preservation. On the inner order is a double band of zigzag, also continued to the ground; the inner row has the fir-cone or ornamental pellet within the chevrons. There are no caps or imposts." He discusses beakheads elsewhere in Yorkshire, sometimes only on the arch, sometimes down to the ground as at Old Edlington. Thompson (1909, 127) gives a shorter description of the S door. Thompson remarks on the ‘rounded headed window of unusual length, with a band of zigzag fringing the entire opening, and an outer covering arch with small angle shafts’ in the S wall. Thompson also remarked ‘The supporting shafts of the chancel arch, instead of coming down to plinths near the floor, stop at half the height of the jambs, the lower parts of which serve as a pedestal for their bases. For this arrangement post-Norman he says see Osmotherley, for Norman parallels see Swaton in S. Lincs. and Ston-Easton in Somerset. There are local 12th-century comparisons, see comments below Fieldworkers’ comments.

Doorway: chevron order with grape domes on the angle. This design occurs at Stillingfleet on the N doorway, which is a medieval rebuild using material probably from the 12th-century chancel arch.

Doorway: medallions. Rings of cusps occur on large flat medallions resembling pom-pom dahlias at Birkin; the motif with the raised conical centre occurs separately at Riccall, Stillingfleet (both YW) and Bishop Wilton (YE). The medallions represent stars; the ellipses and filling sprays are foliage, subjects relevant to heaven and paradise respectively.

Doorway: 2 heads as label-stops also seen at Kirby Wiske YN, and Horton-in-Ribblesdale, YW. Single heads are used as stops on the doorway at Harswell (YE). Two heads together are common as corbels, as on corbel CS16 and CN4, NN1 at Old Edlington. Occasionally one may be a beast or mask (Alne YN; Horton YW) but the residual knobs at Old Edlington look of human shape.

Window in the S wall of the nave: This has been unsympathetically rebuilt since described in Thompson 1909, and no longer conforms to his description: little of the zigzag band remains, and there is no label. Windows shafted externally are not common, but Campsall and Birkin have several; these have a plain order against the window opening, with the second order shafted and perhaps decorated in the arch. At Birkin two of the apse windows have chevron mouldings. The degree of decoration on the window at Old Edlington is more suited to a chancel, and it may perhaps have been reset from there at some time.

Tower string-course: The pattern recalls similar uses of this form, where there is a full circle, which is carved with something like the pattern in the medallions of the label of the S doorway, for example, at Riccall (label of S doorway). Medallions at Birkin, some of which have star patterns as on the doorway, have the cylindrical form behind the face of the medallion.

Corbel CN4, the man with his tongue hanging out. There are various possibilities for interpretation of the tongue. The muzzled animals often show the tip of the tongue, probably this is an observation of natural life, not meant to have further significance (an animal must be able to open its mouth enough to breathe when it is wearing a muzzle or halter). A tongue hanging out can depict other natural situations: exhaustion, tiredness; breathing or panting. These situations can have diverse spiritual interpretations, such as defeat; desire for or actually inhaling the new life of paradise. Since the man is one of a pair who are watching, it is perhaps panting that is shown, signifying a desire for the coming of the End.

Corbel NN4. It is suggested these are full-length watchmen, similar in their interpretation to the paired heads NN1 and the single, solemn, men’s heads and bishop outside, also NS18. They all watch for their lord’s Second Coming (e.g. Matt. 24:42). NS 12 and 14. The lions in these symmetrical patterns would not be bestial, but would represent Christ or believers; they emit foliage, that is, have everlasting life. NS 18. This is another watchman, ready to wake the sleepy.

Corbel with gagged horses, NS2; gagged masks. The horse is used in the same way as a beakhead, biting the roll-moulding around two windowheads, as in Saintonge, France, (see Henry and Zarnecki 1957-58, 11 and pls. VI.2, VII.4). At Edlington, horses on corbel NS2 are gagged in the same way as numerous masks on corbels at this church. The round pad or the roll moulding is a gag or bit, restraining the animal passions or destructive temptations represented by the horses and the beakheads.The source of this symbolism is probably Jeremiah 8:6, a description of the horse that rushes into battle bearing its rider away to chaos, as an allegory of passionate, reckless, impulsive actions.

Chancel arch: raised plinths. Other examples have been recorded for the Corpus in YW at Frickley, Healaugh YW10(13) and Rossington. This example at Old Edlington has probably the lowest plinth.

Chancel arch: stonework Peter Ryder on a visit in May 2011 wondered if the Victorian restorers had tampered with the plinth and column bases, since the diameter of the columns is markedly less than the bases on which they stand, and new stone has certainly been used to repair the plain plinth-wall below. However, the forms at the junction of the columns and round bases are similar at Healaugh and Rossington (perhaps more accomplished at Frickley), and are comparable to column bases of the first two piers in the S arcade of Selby Abbey. It is therefore thought that the present structure broadly retains its original form.

N arcade. Stops used for the arches might be compared to those at Wadworth. The arcade is included not for any obviously Romanesque features it contains but as it seems to be associated with the tower arch, and hence perhaps with the work at Roche abbey, much of which is given a date of 1170-80.


  • Anon., Churches in Retirement: a gazetteer.  Redundant Churches Fund.  HMSO, London.  1990.

  • F. Henry and G. Zarnecki, ‘Romanesque arches decorated with human and animal heads’, JBAA 20-21 (1957-58), 1-34.

  • J. Hunter, South Yorkshire, Deanery of Doncaster 1. Nichols, London.1828.

  • C. E. Keyser, ‘The Norman Doorways of Yorkshire’, in T.M. Fallow, ed. Memorials of Old Yorkshire, 1909, 180-1. 

  • 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 West Riding of Yorkshire. 2nd ed. (1906) 1919.

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

  • J. Raine, The register, or rolls, of Walter Gray, Lord Archbishop of York.  Surtees Society 56. 1872

  • A. H. Thompson, ‘The village churches of Yorkshire’, in T. M. Fallow, ed. Memorials of Old Yorkshire, 127-8. 1909.

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

  • A. H. Thompson and C. T. Clay, Fasti parochiales 1 part 2, Yorkshire Archaeological Series 107 [Deanery of Doncaster part 2]. Leeds 1943.

Church from SE.
The church and houses from the W.
The church and houses from the W.


Site Location
Old Edlington
National Grid Reference
SK 532 973 
now: South Yorkshire
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Yorkshire, West Riding
now: Sheffield
medieval: York
now: St Peter
medieval: St Peter
Type of building/monument
Redundant parish church  
Report authors
Barbara English, Rita Wood 
Visit Date
21 July 2011