All Saints, Earl's Barton, Northamptonshire

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Feature Sets (3)


The well-known Anglo-Saxon W tower, which is profusely decorated with raised flat bands (lesenes), may originally have formed the nave of the church. The present nave is essentially Norman, but has added aisles with late-13thc. or early-14thc. arcades and Dec. windows. The chancel is also Norman, but was lengthened in the 13thc. Romanesque features described here are the blind arcading and sedilia within the chancel, with their associated stringcourses and some re-set chevron voussoirs or jamb-stones; the south nave doorway and the tower and chancel arches.


Earl's Barton was held by Countess Judith in 1086, when it was called Bartone or Burtone. No church was recorded at that time. Judith married Waltheof, son of Siward, Earl of Northumbria who in 1065 became Earl of Northampton, and by 1261 the manor had picked up its prefix.


Exterior Features


S Doorway

Opens into a late-13thc. aisle and must be re-set. Round headed, of three ornately carved orders. The inner order is continuous, while the second and third are carried by bases, en delit shafts and capitals. The label is cusped.

h. of opening (ignoring top step) 2.73 m
w. of opening 1.28 m
First order

The continuous inner order is carved with lateral face chevron (roll-hollow-roll), with spheres, heads and other small motifs nesting in the inner vees.

Second order

The arch is carved with 21 beakheads, all gripping a fat angle roll. The wide variety of head types includes one like a fox, one like a horse, and another with two rabbits (cf: chancel blind arcade capital N1). The W shaft is carved with a spiral cable motif. On its capital, a frontal bird bends its head to peck at the necking on the angle of the capital. On each face is an outspread wing, its feathers depicted as incised scales and fan-like striations (cf: a peacock), and a leg, similarly incised with scales, its claws planted on the necking. The design can be compared with chancel blind arcade capital N5.

The E shaft is carved with a spiral cable motif. Its capital is of cushion form, with an angle volute supported by a small V-shaped cone (cf: W1; chancel blind arcade capitals N6 and S6). The shield of each cushion is carved with an almond-shaped leaf motif, and the main cones with upright stems issuing larger almond-shaped leaves (again, cf: W1 and various chancel blind arcade capitals).

Third order

the arch is carved with lateral face chevron (roll-hollow): strangely, the fifth voussoir from the W is also carved on the soffit, producing a single unit of lozenge chevron. The embrasures have simple moulded impost blocks (cf: W tower arch and chancel arch) and plain attic bases on square plinths. They are decorated as follows: The W shaft is hexagonal, carved with beaded chevron. Its capital is a cushion form, with an angle volute supported by a small cone (cf: E1; chancel blind arcade capitals N6 and S6), in the manner of a trefoil capital but without symmetry. The shields are defined by a beaded band. That on the E face is carved with almond-shaped leaves, as are the major cones to S and E. The E shaft is hexagonal, with chevron motif. Its capital is of volute type, with banded, striated volutes (cf: chancel blind arcade capital N3), and almond-shaped leaf motifs in the centre of each face.

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Chancel arch

The wide chancel arch has been damaged by the insertion of an elaborate screen. At embrasure level it comprises two orders but the pointed arch, which appears to represent an enlargement, comprises three orders. The embrasures are of pale limestone; the arches of ironstone. The embrasures are plain, of square section, and house shallow attic bases, en-delit colonnettes in several sections, plain cushion capitals and simply moulded imposts. The outer capital on the S side has been cut to receive the screen; the outer one on the N has been replaced.

Interior Decoration

Blind arcades

(N and S sides of chancel)

The chancel blind arcades have plain en-delit columns with attic bases on square plinths with chamfered corners. The base of the westernmost column on the N side (N1) is carved with almond-shaped leaves in the scotia, and has spurs. The plinths stand on a raised sill. The capitals (described individually below) and impost blocks are carved from the same blocks, and carry round-headed arches of a single order, carved with face chevron (roll-hollow-roll). There are five full arches, plus the springing of a sixth, on the N; there are six full arches on the S. A window intrudes into the W end of both arcades; a priest's doorway has been fashioned out of the third arch on the S side, and an aumbry fitted into the sixth. The easternmost arch on each side shows signs of re-assemblage and re-cutting. In addition, three sedilia (see below) on the S appear to have been composed of elements from a dismantled section of the arcade. The arcades have no labels.

average distance between columns 0.70 m
h. of arcade from top of plinth 1.56 m
h. of capitals (incl. imposts) 0.22 m
Capital N2 Double scallop capital

Capital N3 Volute capital, with bands around stems sprouting volutes, and inverted three-leaf motif in centre of main face. Six -leaf plant on E and W faces.

Capital N4 Double scallop capital

Capital N5 The SE angle is carved schematically with a frontal beast. Striations and leaves in centre of main face, and on W face, indicate crude palm trees. The E side is plain and may be recut. The necking overhangs the colonnette. Capital N6 Scallop capital, asymmetrically carved with minor shield and cone on W side, possibly recut. Necking overhangs colonnette.

Capitals on N side (from W to E)

Capital N1 Carved with heads (in lieu of volutes) on both angles: that on W defaced; that on E a rabbit. Inverted seven-lobed leaf in centre of main face.

Capitals on S side (from W to E):

Capital S1 Double scallop capital. Capital S2 Cushion, or single scallop, capital. Capital S3 Cushion capital. Capital S4 Double scallop capital. Capital S5 Scallop capital, with three shields on main face. The two westernmost shields are cared with foliage motifs; the easternmost is re-cut. The necking overhangs the colonnette. Capital S6 Scallop capital, asymmetrically cut with minor shield on W side (re-cut, cf: N6). Necking overhangs colonnette. Capital S7 Cushion, or single scallop, capital.

String courses

Jambstones, re-set in chancel

Above the easternmost arch of each blind arcade is a vertical band of face chevron (roll and hollow), resembling the jambs of a doorway (cf: inner order, S doorway) or large window, but showing no sign of returning to form an aperture head. The individual blocks of stone appear to be slightly splayed. Possibly from a dismantled doorway, perhaps the 12thc. N doorway.


On S side of choir, E of the S blind arcadeComprises three arches with stepped sills, en-delit columns with attic bases and plain cushion (or single scallop) capitals with integral impost blocks. The two westernmost arches have round heads carved with chevron (roll-hollow-roll), while the easternmost has a late-medieval lintel carved with a four-centred arch. The central arch is acutely stilted. Probably composed of elements from the blind arcade.


A study of the Norman sculpture of Earls Barton reveals a tradition of preservation and reuse throughout the 13thc. and 14thc., demonstrating that the 12thc. decoration of the church was highly valued in the later medieval period. Formally, the earliest Norman sculptures in the church are the plain cushion capitals of the chancel arch, which was probably built in the early 12thc. as part of a campaign comprising a single nave and chancel. Unusually, a programme of sculptural enrichment in the third quarter of the 12thc. does not seem to have been accompanied by significant construction work. That programme produced the chancel blind arcading and the S doorway. There are sufficient parallels between the two ensembles to demonstrate that they are the work of the same sculptors. The doorway must have been carefully re-set in the late-13thc., when the S aisle was added to the Norman nave. The idea of a single Norman nave with opposing N and S doorways receives some support from the vertical 'jambs' of chevron now illogically situated in the N and S walls of the chancel: these may come from a N doorway which was dismantled when the 14thc. N aisle was added. The awkward fifth and sixth bays of the blind arcades may have been assembled slightly earlier, when the chancel was extended in the 13thc. Their stones, and those forming the stepped sedilia, may have come from a continuation of the arcade along the E wall of the chancel. Finally, when the W tower arch was given a pointed shape in the 13thc., the masons reused Norman voussoirs to form the outer order and label. Taking into account patterns of reuse throughout the rest of the building, it seems likely that these stones originally came from the W tower arch, and date from the mid 12thc. The beakhead on the S doorway is accomplished and very distinctive. Elsewhere in the county, the beakhead ornament is also found at Pitsford and Roade but all three appear to be by different workshops.


  • RCHME Report, uncatalogued.
  • Victoria County History: Northamptonshire, iv (1937), 118-22.
  • 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, 138-39.
  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Northamptonshire, Harmondsworth 1961, rev. B. Cherry 1973, 195-196.
  • G. F. Townley, All Saints Parish Church: Earls Barton, Church Guide.
Plan of St 's Church, 198. (c) Crown copyright. NMR.
Exterior from SE.
W tower from S.
W tower, W doorway.


Site Location
Earl's Barton
National Grid Reference
SP 852 638 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Northamptonshire
now: Northamptonshire
medieval: Lincoln (Dorchester to 1085)
now: Peterborough
medieval: All Saints (1516)
now: All Saints
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Kathryn Morrison