St Lawrence, Gnosall, Staffordshire

Download as PDF

Feature Sets (3)


St Lawrence's is a cruciform church begunc.1100 with substantial later additions. Three-bay aisles were added to the nave in the 13thc.; the arcades have pointed, double chamfered arches carried on octagonal piers with moulded capitals. The W doorway and the triple lancet above it are also 13thc., as are the small lancets in the W walls of the aisles, so it is possible that the length of the church was changed in the 13thc. too. The S doorway is 13thc. too, now under a 19thc. porch (by Lynam, 1893). The 12thc. chancel has been drastically remodelled, but the original shallow buttresses remain on the N wall. The five-light E window is a spectacular example of mid-14thc. flowing tracery. A Lady Chapel was added on the S side of the chancel c.1500. It has tall three-light windows and a parapet, and a view of the E end serves to point up both the ineptness of the addition and the contrast between the sinuous Decorated tracery of the chancel and the austere late-Perpendicular work of the chapel. Also Perpendicular is the eastern chapel added to the N transept. The most recent addition is the new N vestry, designed by Ian Henderson of Horsley, Huber and Associates of Stafford and dedicated by the Bishop of Stafford in 1994. It is linked to the N nave aisle doorway by a passage containing a lavatory and an outer door, and thus combines the functions of porch, vestry and washroom.

What makes Gnosall one of the most important Romanesque churches in the county, however, are the transepts and crossing. The N transept has been substantially remodelled, as can be seen from the exterior. Its roofline has been lowered and the pitch reduced, and a 13thc. double lancet inserted in its end wall. The interior is largely inaccessible, being filled with a large 19thc. organ, but was apparently also remodelled in the 13thc. The S transept retains its original exterior form, more or less, although it has been refaced, and diagonal buttresses and a new façade window added, all in the 14thc. Within, its W wall retains many of its 12thc. features. It has a wall passage above and blind arcading below, now disturbed by the addition of an arch to the S nave aisle. Curiously the N transept has a quadrant arch to its nave aisle. All four crossing arches survive; the most elaborate sculpture being, as usual, on the W side of the W arch. The 12thc. W tower rises just above the nave and chancel roofs outside, but all above this is 15thc., with diagonal buttresses, traceried bell-openings, a frieze of cusped saltire crosses, gargoyles and an embattled parapet with eight pinnacles. The 12thc. church was liberally embellished with string courses; some of which survive in-situ and some as re-set sections. A problem in recording them is that some string courses that were originally outside are now inside, owing to the construction of later aisles and chapels. The editors have taken the view that they should be recorded in their present locations, so that the entry can function to some extent as a church guide. Antiquarian views, now in the William Salt Library and all dating from the 1830s and early '40s generally show the church much as it is today. A SW view by J. C. Buckler of 1842 (SV-VII.9a) shows a W porch that has since been removed, and no S porch (where one has now been added). An interior view of the crossing of 1841, also by Buckler, shows box pews in situ, and a gallery inserted in the nave (both now gone). The other two views are by T. P. Wood.


In 1086 the Clerks of Wolverhampton held 2 hides and 3 virgates of land in Gnosall and there were 4 ploughs in lordship. No church was mentioned, but it can be presumed that there was one. By 1117 the bishop of Coventry and Lichfield was overlord of the land and patron of the church. In 1193 there were four prebends. It has been argued that Gnosall was never collegiate in the conventional sense; nevertheless by 1549 the vicars had a house of 'four little chambers' built for them by Leonard Harcourt. Accordingly, from about the time of the Conquest or before, and at least until the 16thc., a community of four clerics was based at Gnosall. (Meeson).


Exterior Features

Exterior Decoration

String courses

N transept E wall/Chancel N wall

The junction of the N transept and the chancel has a section of a string course that originally ran along the E wall of the transept and continued along the chancel wall. Later rebuilding has left only this short section. It is chamfered at top and bottom with carving on the central vertical face only, very badly worn but originally consisting of some form of zigzag.

N transept N wall

The string course is well below window sill level, only eight courses above the ground, and is set to cap a plinth course, with a chamfer facing upwards. The vertical face only is decorated with a sawtooth design in which both the upper and the lower triangles are decorated with a triangular spiral.

S transept W wall

The string course is placed just above halfway up the wall, and continues inside the later S nave aisle (see IV.5.b.(ii)). It is chamfered with decoration on the vertical face only consisting of directional chevron (nested vees) with a horizontal axial groove.


Directional chevron string course block.

A short block decorated as III.3.a.(i) and IV.5.b.(ii).

l. of block 0.29 m
max. h of block 0.20 m

Pellet string course block

A block chamfered along the top edge and carved on the face with two rows of syncopated round pellets. This design is not seen on in-situ material elsewhere on the building.

l. of block 0.87 m
max h. of block 0.20 m

Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches

E crossing arch

Round-headed, single order to E and W.

E face

The imposts continue from the W face of the arch, ending where the chancel walls begin. The jambs are square sectioned, and the arch plain with a step.

W face

The jambs have nook-shafts in the W angles. Both shaft bases are inverted block capitals with an angle ridge emphasised by a thin roll and directional chevron (nested vees) pointing upwards on each face. Unlike the corresponding W tower arch bases, the necking is not carved. The N capital resists a complete analysis since most of the main angle is lost. It is of block type with sinuous trefoil shields outlined in relief on the faces, and foliage motifs in the spandrels. The surviving lower part of the main angle has a feature in relief – possibly the snout of a beast. The S capital has also lost most of its main angle, but interpretation is easier since it is covered with basketweave. Neither capital has its necking, but both carry chamfered abaci with a roll on the angle. Above the abaci are the impost blocks; the N with a male mask on the angle, with oval eyes, straight nose and drooping moustache. The impost itself is chamfered with dart foliage on the face and the notched panel ornament on the chamfer. The S impost is quirked chamfered with a plain chamfer and the face chip-carved with a row of stars in squares. The arch has a nook-roll on the angle.

N crossing arch

Round headed, single order to E and W. The jambs have nook-rolls on their southern angles only, shared with the E and W arches and described there. The capitals and imposts they carry are also shared with the E and W arches, and described with them. The S face of the arch has a fat nook-roll on the angle.

S crossing arch

Round headed, of single order to E and W. The jambs have nook-rolls on their northern angles only, shared with the E and W arches and described there. The capitals and imposts they carry are also shared with the E and W arches, and described with them. The N face of the arch has a fat nook-roll on the angle. The S face is plain and square-sectioned.

W crossing arch

Round headed. The jambs have two orders to E and W, while the arch itself has three orders and a decorated label to the W and two to the E. The jambs especially are badly damaged, and have been repaired with brick.

First order

The broad reveals of the arch have applied half-columns towards the W. The N base is gone and the S base is badly damaged. There is a broad vertical loss in the centre of the front face of this base, and the upper part of the remaining W section is lost, along with the lower part of the E face and any necking it had. What remains indicates a bulbous block-shaped base decorated in low relief with double-roll profile interlace that forms closed knots at the corners of the main face. The half shafts rise to cylindrical capitals, the N slightly bulbous. This N capital is carved with an overall design of narrow, irregular vertical reeding that cover the necking as well as the bell, but is interrupted around the centre of the bell by a horizontal design that appears to grow from the reeding towards the centre of the capital, forming a symmetrical interlace with knotwork terminals. Above the bell are three parallel horizontal reeds, and above this a chamfered impost with a parallel pair of horizontal nebuly fillets running along it. This N impost continues along the walling to E and W. The S capital is similar but not identical. The semi-cylindrical surface is carved with thin grooved straps, some forming loops rising from the necking and others forming loops descending from the upper edge. They interlace with one another in an untidy zone just below the midline of the capital. The upper loops are clasped. The necking is carved with a row of directional chevron, with a central groove. The impost is a continuation of the notched panel string course described at 5.b.(i) below. In the arch is a fat soffit roll, the same width as the half-column supports.

Second order, E face

Again there are nook-shafts at the angles of the piers, and again their capitals are lost, but both bases survive. The S base is the better preserved, and is an inverted block capital with angle ridges, carved on each face with directional (nested) chevron rolls pointing upwards; the design continuing over the roll necking. There is a loss to the decoration at the top of the N face. The N base is apparently similar but has lost its necking and the entire S face, and the base has been crudely repaired with brick and mortar. The imposts continue from the first order, forming the imposts of the lateral crossing arches. On the S side it then continues into the transept as the string course described at 5.b.(i) below. On the N it then ends, the transept having been rebuilt. The arch above has a fat nook-roll on the angle.

Second order, W face arch

The arch has two shallow orders and a label, all resting on the imposts to either side. The inner arch order is carved with five rows of centrifugal stepped chevron, lateral to the face and of square profile. The inner angles of the vees on the four inner rows have small triangular wedges pointing inwards. Each voussoir of the second order is carved with a symmetrical foliage motif in relief, consisting of a short central stem with two pairs of spiral-ended stems issuing from it near the ends in saltire fashion. Between the pairs of side-stems to either side is a small flat boss. The label has a slight chamfer at the intrados, and the main face is carved with flattened arcading running right around the arch. The round arches are carried on flat shafts with conical bases and capitals, and each bay encloses a large flat disc in relief.

Second order, W face jambs

Attached nook-shafts, partly en-delit and much repaired. The bases and capitals are lost, but the imposts continue from the first order, around the western angles of the piers. On the N side, there is a large loss to the impost above the angle; on the S the impost is complete to the angle but cut back flush with the wall on the W face of the pier. The northernmost block of the impost, below the label of the arch, is carved with a different design: directional chevron.

Wall passages/Gallery arcades


S transept, W triforium passage

There are two bays separated by plain walling, each with a double round-headed opening with plain, narrow arch heads supported by a heavy central cylindrical shaft and attached half-shafts at the sides, all cut en-delit.

N bay central support

The base is plain and conical with a single cable necking. The capital is a cushion with angle tucks and recessed shields carved in relief; the front face with a winged dragon with a double-looped tail and the side faces with simpler foliage motifs. The necking is single cable and the impost is chamfered with a thick and a thin roll in low relief on the face.

N bay, N support

The base is conical with a row of loose three-strand interlace in low relief on its surface and a thin roll necking. The capital is a plain double-scallop with a single cable necking and a quirked chamfered impost.

N bay, S support

The base is conical and slightly bulbous with a row of loose two-strand interlace in low relief on its surface and a thin roll necking. The capital has a wimpled female face at the main angle with strands of curving foliage issuing from either side of the top of the head and terminating in triple leaves. The necking is single cable and the impost quirked chamfered.

S bay, central support

The base is tall and bulbous with a single cable necking. The capital is a cushion with angle tucks and a plain necking, and the impost is chamfered with a thick and a thin roll in low relief on the face.

S bay, N support

The base is bulbous with a grooved necking. The capital has angle volutes and a single cable necking and the impost is quirked chamfered.

S bay, S support

The base is tall, conical and slightly bulbous, with a thin roll necking and vertical rolls of similar size running up the base at the angles. The capital is a double scallop with angle tucks and recessed shields framed by thin rolls. It has a plain roll necking and its impost is quirked chamfered.

Interior Decoration

Blind arcades

S transept W wall arcade

Originally four bays of round-headed arcading carried on cylindrical en-delit shafts (those at the two ends nook-shafts) with plain round-headed arches. The wall was pierced and an arch inserted when the nave aisle was added in the 13thc., and all that remains of the blind arcade now is the complete N bay and the S support of the S bay.

N bay, N support

The base is tall and bulbous with roll neckings at the top and the bottom. The capital is practically identical to that of the S bay, S support, except that it has a roll necking. It appears to be original rather than a copy. The impost is plain and chamfered with an incised groove at the bottom of the face, and may be a replacement.

N bay, S support

The base is tall and conical, the surface divided into two registers, of which the lower is generally plain (but see below), and the upper is carved with a band of chip-carved lozenges. The square plinth is carved from the same block and is decorated with a row of sawtooth around its upper edge. In the centre of the front face of the base, a vertical row of 1½ lozenges crosses all three registers of the base. The necking is plain with a rebate at the top. The capital has angle volutes and fans of leaves between the volutes at the top centre of each face. The volute design is overlapped by three large flat triangles on the visible faces of the capital that rise from the chamfered necking to points halfway up each face. The impost is chamfered with a low roll at the bottom of the face.

S bay, S support

The bulbous base has been roughly tooled, presumably when the arch to the nave aisle was inserted. The capital is block-shaped with a projecting angle mask in the form of a triangular beast head with bulbous oval eyes and wrinkled brow lines. The surface to either side is carved in relief with grooved intersecting stems with hooked ends, related to Ringerike-style carving. The necking is chamfered and the impost a late replacement.

String courses

N nave aisle, angle of E wall and arcade wall.

This string course was external before the N nave aisle was added, running along the W wall of the N transept and round the corner onto the N wall of the nave. The string course is chamfered with decoration on the vertical face only consisting of a row of lozenges in relief.

N transept, W wall.

The string course runs the length of the W wall of the transept at a level between the blind arcade and the wall passage, and continues as an impost around the SW crossing arch. It is chamfered on the lower edge and decorated on the vertical face only, with a row of small vertical panels in relief, carved with vee-shaped notches at the bottom. A different design is carved on the southernmost block of the string course; with directional chevron (nested-vees) with a horizontal central groove. This design appears at 5.b.(ii) below.

S nave aisle, E wall

This string course was external before the S nave aisle was added, running the length of the W wall of the S transept. The string course is chamfered with decoration on the vertical face only consisting of directional chevron (nested vees) with a horizontal axial groove. It continues on the exterior (see III.3.a.(i)).


Professor Prentice's examination of the stone at Gnosall throws an interesting light on methods of work in the 12thc. The main fabric of the church appears to have been constructed in fairly local stone, whereas all the carved stones are of the same type and were brought at least 30 km from the Grinshill quarry. The chief decoration at Gnosall is in the great variety and quantity of the imposts and string courses, there being no less than 15 distinctly different decorative treatments. The original Gnosall font is lost to us, but work similar to that on the Gnosall string courses may be seen on the fonts at Church Eaton and Bradley nearby. The stone of the font at Church Eaton has not been examined, but that at Bradley is probably from Grinshill. The sculpture in the transept, with its tall, bulbous bases, fat shafting and scallop, cushion and volute capitals, should be datedc.1100 or slightly later. The Ringerike foliage on two of the blind arcade capitals points to a continuity of tradition from before the Conquest, as does the interlace decoration seen on two of the triforium bases. The cushion capital with a dragon in the triforium has a parallel in Anselm's crypt at Canterbury (c.1096-1100), and must ultimately derive from an Italian (e.g. Como) or a German model. The crossing arch decoration is much less mainstream, especially the capitals of the W arch; of a type and decoration which has no local precedent known to the authors. The W face of this arch is more conventionally decorated; with chevron and flower motifs of the mid-century, and arch orders that do not correspond to the jamb orders. It is here suggested that the arch was remodelledc.1150. GP goes further than RB in suggesting that the tower collapsedc.1150, necessitating this work, but admits that there is little other evidence to support the theory.


  • Victoria County History: Staffordshire. IV Cuttlestone hundred (W), (1958).
  • J. Prentice. Report on stone at Gnosall church. Personal communication, JP to GP, 1994.
  • Staffordshire County Council, Staffordshire Views Collection nos SV VII 9a, 9b, 12a and SV IV 218. Available online at http://www.staffordshire.gov.uk/portal/page?_pageid=47,71124and_dad=portaland_schema=PORTAL
  • C. Case and J. McGregor, St Lawrence Church Gnosall. A Guided Tour For Visitors. Gnosall 2002.
  • R. Meeson, A Report on the Church of St. Lawrence, Gnosall including plan and drawings of sculpture.
  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Staffordshire. Harmondsworth 1974, 135-36.
Exterior from SW.
E facade.
Exterior, nave and transept from NE.
Chancel from N.
Interior to E.
Interior to NE.
Interior to W.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
SJ 830 209 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Staffordshire
now: Staffordshire
medieval: Lichfield (to 1075); Chester (to c.1086); Coventry and Lichfield (to 1541)
now: Lichfield
now: St Lawrence
medieval: St Lawrence
Type of building/monument
Parish church, formerly collegiate church  
Report authors
G. L. Pearson, Ron Baxter