St John the Baptist, Wakerley, Northamptonshire

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Feature Sets (3)


St John's has a clerestoreyed nave with N and S aisles or chapels, just two bays long and situated at the E end, in what Pevsner calls a transeptal position. The arcades are 14thc.-15thc., and they have been pierced through 12thc. walls; on the S side a 12thc. window can be seen above the arcade pier. The chancel arch is now pointed, its arch decorated with chevron, but presumably it was originally round. The figural and foliage capitals are important sculptures by the Castor workshop. There are 12thc. blind arches to either side of the chancel arch, probably, according to Pevsner, originally reredoses for side altars. The chancel has been rebuilt, perhaps in the 15thc. At the west, the tower is 14thc. in its lower parts and 15thc. above, with a crocketed spire rising behind a battlemented parapet. Romanesque sculpture is found on the chancel arch; in the corbels now in the S aisle and more re-set outside in the E wall of the S aisle; and in sections of string course set in the interior of the S aisle and the exterior E walls of both aisles.


Wakerley was held by Eudo the Steward in 1086, and a priest associated with his holding implies the presence of a church at that date. William, persona (i.e. priest) of Wakerley witnessed the foundation charter of Fineshade (founded before 1208), and R, capellanus of Wakerley, witnessed a charter referring to Laxton (also before 1208). Richard Engayne was both founder of Fineshade and the author of the charter. The first institution to be recorded was in 1220 when the advowson was in the hands of the lord of Wakerley, where it remained throughout the Middle Ages.

The church is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.


Exterior Features


Nave S wall

A blocked round-headed window of the 12thc. unaisled nave is visible on the interior above pier 1 of the arcade. Of this the W capital, a cushion with plain necking and a chamfered abacus but no impost, and the W part of the arch, with an angle roll are all that survive.

Exterior Decoration

String courses

Re-set in the E wall of the S nave aisle

A length of string course of the same design, just one stone.

Re-set in the E wall of the S nave aisle

A length of string course of three unequal stones, chamfered on its upper and lower edges, the lower chamfer and central face each carved with a row of sawtooth.

Corbel tables, corbels

In the original S wall of the nave, now inside the S aisle.

The nine corbels support stones carved on their chamfered face with a large sawtooth design. The corbel table and corbels have been coated with a thick layer of whitewash. The corbels are numbered from L to R (W to E):

1. Geometrical. Vertical fillets to left and right supporting a central raised square.

2. Horse head with bridle.

3. Bat-like head with triangular pointed ears and wide open mouth, twisted to the right.

4. Beast head with small oval eyes and wide mouth, open with tongue visible. Above the head is a row of lozenges.

5. Human head with short nose, small smiling mouth offset to the right and a marked jawline. A row of fluting crosses the brow, and above this is a row of sawtooth, the two perhaps indicating a crown with hair below it.

6. Relief saltire cross with a row of cable above.

7. Human head with pointed beard, triangular nose and small oval eyes. A crown is indicated by a row of sawtooth.

8. Human head with broad jaw and a thin straight mouth with a moustache. The nose is triangular and the eyes oval. The hair or a crown is indicated by a row of sawtooth, now worn.

9. Monstrous head with large oval mouth with teeth shown, a small nose, and a heavy ridge above the eyes.

Re-set in the E wall of the S nave aisle

A length of corbel table supported by two corbels:

1 (S). Worn and lichen-covered beast head, broad at the top tapering to a snout cut off square, with mouth apparently gripping an object carved on the lower face.

2. Carved with three vertical rows of alternating billet.

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Chancel arch

Pointed, of two orders to W, one to E.

First order

Half-column responds with replaced sawtooth bases. The capitals are cushion-shaped. The N is carved with a pair of knights on horseback on the main face, leaving a castle shown on the E face and approaching a city shown on the west face. The S capital shows four monstrous creatures. On each side face is a wingless dragon with the forelegs of a lion and a long curling tail. To the right of the main face is a composite triton, perhaps best described as a representation of Capricorn. The head and forelegs are those of a goat, the torso and arms are human, and the creature has a long fish’s tail. This it holds up with its right hand, while brandishing an axe in the left. Capricorn turns to face another wingless dragon with heavy forelegs like those of a horse. A good deal of variety in surface treatment is used on these beasts; rows of beading, square lattice, sawtooth and wavy tufts of hair. Both capitals have cable neckings (two-strand on the S capital) and quirked hollow chamfered imposts. The first order arch has a fat soffit roll with angle rolls to E and W.

Second order, W face only

The order is carried on applied half columns on sawtooth bases, both original. The capitals have two-strand cable neckings and imposts continuous from the first order. The N capital is carved with a symmetrical design of Winchester acanthus. The main (S) face has a central leaf with a raised spine and veins incised to either side. The acanthus has ribbed or beaded stems and some furled leaves. The S capital has a large lion mask at the angle, with ribbed stems issuing from the mouth and terminating in a furled leaf (on the minor, west, face) and forming a loop of the main (N) face with furled leaf terminals and a flower on a side-shoot. The arch is carved with centrifugal lateral face chevron; two rolls with a pair of quirks between them and a cogwheel edge. The voussoirs towards the top of the arch are irregular and some appear to have been cut down, supporting Pevsner’s suggestion that the arch was originally round.

Interior Decoration

Blind arcades

E wall, nave

A single blind arch on the E wall of the nave, to either side of the chancel archThe arches are round-headed with an angle roll and face hollow. They are carried on en-delit nook-shafts on sawtooth bases, with cushion capitals with roll neckings and quirked chamfered imposts. The N capital and impost of the N arch, and the S capital and impost of the S arch have been replaced, presumably in the 19thc.

String courses

S wall, S nave aisle.

A length of double chamfered sawtooth string course of the same design as those on the exterior.


The chancel arch capitals are among the highlights of Northamptonshire Romanesque. The presence of the Castor (Hunts) workshop is indicated by the Winchester acanthus designs and the characteristic sawtooth bases, but the relief is much deeper at Wakerley than at Castor or at Sutton and Maxey, by the same carvers. This might point to a later stage in the development of the workshop, perhaps in the 1130s.


  • J. Bridges, The History and Antiquities of Northamptonshire. (Compiled from the manuscript collections of the late learned antiquary J.Bridges, Esq., by the Rev. Peter Whalley). Oxford 1791, II, 343-44.
  • Redundant Churches Fund, St John the Baptist Wakerley, London 1985.
  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Northamptonshire. Harmondsworth 1961, rev. B. Cherry 1973, 440.
  • RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Northampton, VI. Architectural monuments in North Northamptonshire, London 1986, 151-54.
  • RCHME Report, uncatalogued.
Exterior from NE.
Interior to E.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
SP 957 992 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Northamptonshire
now: Northamptonshire
medieval: Lincoln (Dorchester to 1085)
now: Peterborough
now: St John the Baptist
medieval: St John the Baptist (1517)
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Ron Baxter