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All Saints, Pocklington, Yorkshire, East Riding

(53°55′51″N, 0°46′37″W)
SE 804 490
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, East Riding
now East Riding of Yorkshire
medieval York
now York
  • Rita Wood
10 June 2003, 26 July 2018

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This is a large cruciform church of Gothic appearance (plan in Leadman, 1897, 88). There is a large W tower, modern extension on N aisle, S transept, N transept with an E aisle and a Lady chapel in the angle with the chancel. The S porch was rebuilt during the restoration of 1884. The church was also restored by John Bilson in 1901-2.

The features of interest are the mid-12thc fragments reset in the S porch, the sculpture on the late 12th- or early 13thc arcades (some of it perhaps also reset), and a Transitional font bowl.


At the time of the Domesday Book Pocklington had a church and a priest, and belonged to the king (Leadman, 1897, 85). Leadman refers to early Norman stonework at the N pier of the chancel.

In 1100 × 1107 King Henry I granted Pocklington church, together with six other major minster churches, to York Minster (Farrer, 1914). Since a letter of Walter de Gray, archbishop of York, dated 1252, establishes that nine other churches were dependent on Pocklington church, this church was evidently a minster church of wealth and status throughout the twelfth century (Raine 1872, 211--214, no. lxxvi).


Interior Features



Interior Decoration




Loose Sculpture


N arcade:

There is a strong mixture of Romanesque and later features. It seems likely that the faces of the men on pier 2 and of the creature scratching its head on pier 1 were made by the same man that carved the S arcade capitals at Huggate which is c.1190, according to Pevsner and Neave 1995, 497.

Corbels and label stops in the arcades:

In the ‘full C13’ S arcade, there are three beakheads used as label stops, but these would seem to have been inserted during one of the modern restorations: they do not fit cleanly and show the remains of the standard mouldings of a voussoir. On the earlier N arcade the corresponding stops might once have been corbels. Photos were not taken of those since they were a little too accomplished for our period – but perhaps we should have photographed them as the motifs belong to 12thc. There are two more heads, at the apices of the arches over bays 1 and 3 of the N arcade.


There are few late 12thc fonts in the Riding, and this one is distinctive also because of the stone used. When dry it is a pale bluish grey, and when wetted in the lower part which is still smooth, the matrix becomes a deep greyish blue with occasional sections through whitish shells of bivalves some 2-3 cm across and a few random brownish-red patches. Prof. Prentice suggested I contacted Dr Ron Firman, and, luckily, we were able to arrange a meeting at the font. He declared the stone to be Purbeck marble, indicating the crowd of little snail shells on the upper, roughened part. It is these small freshwater snails that are the distinguishing character of a Purbeck marble. According to his latest information (2003), this is the only Purbeck marble font north of Norfolk; there are coffin-shaped slabs in the material in Yorkshire, but even these may be 13thc (Leach, 1978, 1-3, 81).

There are many 12thc fonts on this website made of Purbeck stone, and some have similarities to this one at Pocklington. The font at St Mary de Haura, Shoreham-by-Sea, has a similar unlined basin; the font at Burham-on-Crouch possibly shows a similar change in the lithology. Original supports were often very simple columns and slabs, though the elegant shaping of the lower parts of the Pocklington example may suggest something more developed.

N arcade, capital to pier 1:

Perhaps the two creatures should be taken a little more seriously than they are usually. A Romanesque wyvern would often be represented as a snake in its new skin, thus alluding to resurrection. Hence the combination with serpentine foliate tails in the Romanesque can be used to signify a 'new creature' in heaven. A human-reptile hybrid would make sense in this context. The gesture of the creature - the scratching of the head - is rather puzzling.

N arcade, capital to pier 2:

If it were fully Romanesque, the two pairs of men on this capital could be interpreted as:

The Wrestlers – the theme may recall a man struggling with himself as St Paul describes in Galatians 5.17 and Romans 7.22, 23. As the text was expounded by Augustine, there is a possible reason for the interest in the motif at this church, which had a collegiate pastoral structure (see Lawton, 1842, 364; Stapleton 2002, 1) and was in an area of strong Augustinian influence. Jim Lang mentioned wrestlers occurring in pre-Conquest sculpture. The gripping of the belts on the Pocklington capital suggests the nature of the figures' activity – wresting. Wrestling men occur in a programme on the doorway at Foston, North Riding (see Wood, 1997).

The Fruit-Pickers can relate to the Wrestlers since they tend to be represented as two men (each successful in their struggle with themselves in earthly life) claiming the new life (foliage, grapes) of heaven. Their determined expressions are very like those of crowned heads on the W respond at Huggate.

N arcade, capital to pier 3:

It is reasonable to say this man is standing upright; the limited level of realism may invite symbolic reading. Horizontal orientation of standing people occurred in the Romanesque; at Healaugh on the imposts of the S doorway and at Kirkburn at the apex of the S doorway there are Wise and Foolish Virgins in this position. Perhaps a subjective reading of the figure would be to see it as a pilgrim going to heaven. A Gothic carving at Lincoln (they were selling off the old postcard when I was there once) represents such a standing pilgrim gazing up and gripping his pack. If the figure at Pocklington was indeed a pilgrim, the carving would be similar in intention to the nearby representation of the wrestlers on pier 2, that is, symbolizing a living man consciously aiming for heaven.


G. Christie, Some notes on the history of Pocklington Church, Pocklington 1974.

W. Farrer and C. T. Clay, Early Yorkshire Charters, Vol. 1, Edinburgh, 1914, 333-334, no. 416.

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, 360.

R. Leach, An Investigation into the use of Purbeck Marble in England. Crediton, 2nd ed. 1978.

A. D. H. Leadman, 'Pocklington Church', Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, 14 (1897), 85-132.

N. Pevsner and D. Neave, Yorkshire: York and the East Riding, 2nd. ed. London, 1995, 648-49.

Pocklington Parish Church: guide for visitors. 1924, revised 1931.

J. Raine, The Register, or Rolls, of Walter Gray, Lord Archbishop of York, with Appendices of Illustrative Documents, Surtees Society 66 for 1870, Durham, London, & Edinburgh, 1872.

H. D. C. Stapleton, All Saints Church Pocklington, 2002, typescript notes deposited at the York Minster Library.

R. Wood, ‘The Romanesque Doorway at Foston Church’, YPS Annual Rept. for 1996, (1997), 73.