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St Oswald, Hotham, Yorkshire, East Riding

(53°48′0″N, 0°38′38″W)
SE 894 346
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, East Riding
now East Riding of Yorkshire
medieval York
now York
medieval St Oswald
now St Oswald
  • Rita Wood
22 June 2006

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The VCHER IV describes the village as lying ‘on the Jurassic hills’, that is, on the limestone outcrop at the foot of the Wolds which, from Market Weighton southwards, forms a low but noticeable line of hills to the west of the chalk escarpment. Limestone was still quarried near the village in the 19th century. The church is in West End, close to the Park; the market was on the main road. Hotham Hall is just in North Cave parish.

The church has a chancel, nave with north chapel, west tower, vestry and porch. The nave was widened to the N but no arcade was built. The tower is ashlar-faced, the remainder of small limestone rubble. The VCHER IV, 121, says the ‘late twelfth-century church, though small, was characterized by workmanship of high quality’. If the church is small, then the broad tower is even more striking.

There is a faculty dated 1904, but the precise extent of the work is uncertain. ‘A major restoration and rebuilding was undertaken in 1904, when the chancel, much of the nave, the northern extensions, the porch and the upper stage of the tower were rebuilt’ (VCHER IV, 122).

Twelfth-century features are the lower parts of the W tower with W doorway; the inner face of the S doorway, and the tower arch.


In 1086 the bishop of Durham had 3 carucates in Hotham as soke of Welton manor. In the mid twelfth century, the bishop granted 3 carucates to Ralph son of Ralph son of Ulviet (Wulfgeat), a family long tenants of the bishopric. Another estate, of 4 carucates 5 bovates, went to Robert count of Mortain, whose tenant was Niel Fossard; another 7 bovates, which were soke of Welton, were also held of Mortain by Fossard. The Hotham family also almost certainly held an estate in Hotham in the twelfth century, when Durand son of William held two knight’s fees of William Fossard (VCHER IV, 116).

The church is undocumented until 1261 when the patronage was disputed unsuccessfully by Geoffrey, son of Jordan, against John of Hotham (VCHER IV, 120).


Exterior Features



Exterior Decoration

String courses

Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches

The stonework around the large W window and the W doorway is re-arranged. The W doorway was reset below the fifteenth-century window, according to VCHER IV, 122; perhaps it was reduced in size (in number of orders, or height) for the sake of the window. The drawings in the 1903 faculty papers show the window already immediately above the door as now. Lower courses of the W face of the tower have been refaced.

The tower arch is of high quality with close similarities to the work at Newbald church, only 2 miles away and probably using the same Jurassic stone. The form of bases and the bulging drop in the scallop capital of the first order, L, are found in the crossing arches at Newbald. A similar chevron pattern, though in a simpler form, is used on the N nave doorway. For resemblances to Etton, see below.

The string course on the tower has ‘a kind of zigzag band’ round N, W and S sides at approx. 3.6m up according to Morris 1919, 197. His words seem to suggest some doubts, and the projecting moulding is so clean of damage that it does raise questions. The junction with the window on the W face was not neatened, however. Stones have irregular length, so that the span of the zig gives a lively line, and that is a point in favour of the age of the stones of the string course. On the other hand, I have not seen another string course like this, proud of the general surface, but would have expected something like the one on the tower at Everingham church, that is, carved within the usual plain-and-chamfered profile. It is unfortunate that the tower at Etton, otherwise so similar in proportion and visual effect, does not have its original string courses.

Where string courses survive throughout a building, it is seen that a distinction is made between patterns on the chancel and on the nave, compare for example at Stillingfleet and Barton-le-Street (geometric; foliage) and Fangfoss (two kinds of geometric pattern, richer on the chancel). It looks as though this large tower was being marked out as spiritually or liturgically important – more important than the nave, one might guess. This may have been because it had a special W doorway, or a special liturgical function, or both. It would have been approximately 13 feet or 4m square inside.

‘The tower arch inside is likely to be the reset chancel arch...’ Pevsner & Neave 1995, 483. This seems to be a misreading of the west end of the building: the arch is centrally placed in the E wall of the tower and coursed with it; also the nave view is central and as wide as was possible. The faculty plans show the preceding chancel to have been a lightweight construction, with a screen (probably wooden) at its entrance; the tower arch was in place as now. The chancel arch probably disappeared when the nave was widened in the 13th century. The massive tower and the unusually elaborated tower arch is like, but lesser than, that at Etton, where there is also a west doorway.


Borthwick Institute faculty papers Fac. 1904/3.

P. Carver, The parish church of St. Oswald, Hotham. No place, 1973.

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 East Riding of Yorkshire. 2nd ed., London 1919.

N. Pevsner & D. Neave, The Buildings of England: Yorkshire: York and the East Riding, 2nd ed. London 1995.

Victoria County History: East Riding of Yorkshire, IV (Harthill Wapentake, Hunsley Beacon section). 1979.

Victoria County History: Yorkshire, II (General volume, including Domesday Book). 1912, reprinted 1974.