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All Saints, Kilham, Yorkshire, East Riding

(54°3′55″N, 0°22′32″W)
TA 064 645
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, East Riding
now East Riding of Yorkshire
medieval York
now York
  • Rita Wood
17 Jul 2002, 20 Sep 2005, 26 Feb 2008, 30 Mar 2016

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Kilham is a large village in the East Riding of Yorkshire, about 5 miles W of Bridlington. It was a busy market centre until being surpassed by Driffield in the late eighteenth century. The church has chancel, aisleless nave and W tower. According to John Bilson, it was one of the largest of the earlier Wold churches and the wide nave is on its Norman plan, without aisles or chapels (1898, xviii). Traces of an impressive Romanesque church survive. Sculptural remains from this period include the spectacular gabled S entrance with doorway of six orders, an elaborate series of sculptured corbels on the N and S nave walls, some fine reused voussoirs in the interior tower walls, and a cylindrical font.


Much the largest estate (30 carucates) in Kilham was held before and after the Conquest by a king’s thegn, Ernuin or Earnwine the priest who was a large landholder in the Riding. This estate reverted to the king probably soon after Domesday, and certainly by 1100 when with another smaller estate it formed the royal manor of Kilham; at the time of the survey the king had had eleven carucates. Another landholder in 1086 was Odo the Crossbowman (Otes Arblaster, VCH ii). At the time of DB, almost all is termed waste.

By 1166 the Arblaster’s lands were part of the Chauncy fee. Jordan Folioth gave land to St Peter’s hospital in York in 1160-70, and Walter of Warter gave a toft to the hospital between 1190-1210.

The church and its assets were given by Henry I to the archbishop of York: this happened some time between 1100 and 1108. That church was not necessarily, or even likely to be, the present one represented by the nave (see Comments on date). Archbishop Gerard passed the church and its assets to the Dean and Chapter of York; Jennings 1990, 6, considers 1107 a likely date for this. The rectory was appropriated by the Dean in the thirteeenth century. (VCH, II, 251-9; Jennings 1990, 5-6).


Exterior Features



Exterior Decoration

String courses
Corbel tables, corbels

Interior Features

Interior Decoration




Loose Sculpture


Comments are grouped into three sections: 1. general (date and comparisons), 2. individual features (as listed in the report) and 3. teaching content of the sculpture (entrance and corbels).



A church at Kilham was given by Henry I to the archbishop between 1100 and 1108; Jennings suggests most likely 1107. There are many comparisons with other churches in the Riding, and a strong Augustinian content in the sculpture, but the priories were not established until a decade or so after the king's gift. Kilham belonged to the York chapter and not the Augustinians, but the priories were encouraged by the archbishop, so they shared a policy of regularising parish work, beginning with baptism. The importance of Kirkburn as a centre for baptism suggests it would have been among the earliest parochial churches built by the Augustinians. Kilham has one of the most ambitious decorated doorways in the Riding and it too is related to baptism. Its date is uncertain, but is likely to be around 1130; it might even have preceded Kirkburn.

Malcolm Thurlby compares several architectural features with work at Durham, Selby Abbey and two churches in Jumieges; also the fourth order capitals of the S doorway to capitals in Lessay abbey (Thurlby 2014, 86,86); he suggests that the common inspiration of these similarities would have been one or other of the large churches in York being built in the 1090s, St Mary's Abbey and York Minster. If this is so, perhaps some of the fabric of the church remains from the church given by Henry I to the Minster.

For more on the dedication, see Jennings 1990, 12-15.


The continuous strip making loops at each corner of a square, on the impost of the 3rd order, L, might be compared to the pattern on the chancel arch at Great Givendale.

The imposts of the three outer orders are moulded, very different from the three inner orders, but resembling imposts on the chancel arch at Aughton or Goodmanham, and though the profiles are not identical they are equally sophisticated. It might be thought that they were the work of restorers, except for the damage here and there.

The man holding ‘sticks’ on the L capital of the 6th order might be compared with the figure at the apex of the Kirkburn doorway, a Wise Virgin with torch, who holds up a similar bunch of ‘sticks’. See also a drawing reproduced in Terence Wise, The Wars of the Crusades, and something fairly similar on the Bayeux Tapestry, scene 46, where Normans set fire to a house.

The mole is not only spread out as in the bestiary drawing, but it is in a circular border, just as illustrated by T. H. White from Cambridge, University Ms li 4.26 (1984, 95). For the hair of the possible woman in the adjacent ring, compare Eve carved on the doorway at Riccall. When the fieldworker first saw this carving around 1990, it was easier to recognise the head.

Chevron rows alternately hollow and convex as in the spandrels are seen on the font at Carnaby and chancel arch capitals at Goodmanham.


Gable Comparisons are inevitable with the later gabled entrances at Newbald, and even at Adel (West Riding). The gable at Newbald has Christ seated in a mandorla; it has been reconstructed at some period. The chapter of York were the builders of Newbald church. The doorway at Adel is ringed by vibrant chevron orders, with Christ and the four evangelists in the gable; the church was connected to Holy Trinity Priory, York.

Corbels, nave N wall. It is suggested by the fieldworker that the iconograhpy of the corbels on both sides of the Nave may be that of the the Second Coming, and the reactions to that event (see Iconograhpy, below).

NN 4 Compare Kirkburn corbel NN26, where it is a man seated with his hands on his knees. A novel depiction of the ‘watching’ theme.

NN7 Stepped squares are also used at Birkin (YW).

NN21 Two animals symmetrically placed. As animals, they are rather like the dogs on NS25. Animals placed symmetrically and vertically like this occur at Kirkburn, corbel NS14, where they are perhaps lions.

NN26 The central fish is larger, but the three may be a figure for the Trinity?

NN28 In Ambrose (De Sacramentis) and St. Paul, wrestling is a metaphor for the internal spiritual struggle.

NN 29 This is reminiscent of the decayed tympanum at Croxdale, Co. Durham, (Keyser Tympana and Lintels (1927), pl. 93 and RCHM photo A45/1867). That has a face in the uppermost fruit: Christ as the Tree of Life.

Corbels, nave S wall:

NS 2 Compare Kirkburn corbel NS25, also Kirkburn corbel NS17.

NS 3 Such images are usually only show the arms coming from behind. It looks like a human hand on the L, so this is probably an image of bridling animal passions (Wood 2003, 21), whether by one's own will, or explicitly with the help of an angel. Compare Kirkburn corbel NN4.

NS 6 It is doubtful that the arrow is meant to be fired at the stag because 1. there are a number of armed men in these corbels and 2. the man and the stag are carved by different hands. This is one of several violent armed men on the corbels here.

NS 13 He seems to be holding a bow; or, since he stands in an arched surround something like a doorway, perhaps he is one of those figures who are shown in windows or ‘houses’ on corbels at Kirkburn, e.g., NN3, and Adel. In that case, the bow might be a musical instrument, or a curtain. It is not possible to see the L side of the corbel because the porch is in the way. It might be that he is a bell-ringer, a subject which also occurs on a corbel at Kirkburn and on the Hutton Cranswick font.

NS18 It is possible that the R side of the corbel had a woman’s figure; there are numerous corbels at Kirkburn, Eastrington, Selby Abbey, etc., showing couples, their expressions ones of amazement or shock. Compare NN8.

NS 19 Compare NN12, and also the falling people at Healaugh, West Riding, as well as the shocked couples referred to re NS 18: the lustful guilty on Judgment Day. An overturned armed man is on one of the capitals from Holme-on-the-Wolds that were reset at Etton. A pacifist theme at Kilham, and not one pleasing a worldly patron.

NS 29 A resurrection. Contrast Kirkburn NN17, no muzzle, teeth closed.

NS 31 Compare Kirkburn NN12, and Kirkburn NN25 for a similar head, but one not characteristic of sculpture at Kirkburn. A decayed corbel at Kirkburn NN10 has several heads, some of them perhaps falling.

Slab carved with cross

This resembles a similar cross on the W face of the tower at Hunmanby. It might also be compared to the possible consecration cross near the chancel arch at Kirkburn, or to a cross pattern at Bilton-in-Ainsty on the exterior of the late twelfth-century porch. While all these might be consecration crosses, a large number of square slabs with cross designs are found reset at North Dalton; there they are found high on the tower, and behind the altar under the later E window.

Nave windows and corbel-table

The reset capital in the E exterior wall of the porch may have come from a shafted window. The corbels appear to have been close to the head of the blocked window in the E bay of the nave S wall. At Kirkburn there are two courses between the top of the shafted windows and the corbel table. At Halsham, a row of corbels apparently in situ actually coincides with the head of a shafted window.

With relevance to the interior aspect, Bilson 1898 remarks on the original windows being placed very high in the walls, and the aisleless nave and the high windows that seem to have existed at Kilham recall the present state at Newbald.

Re-set voussoirs in tower walls

Pevsner notes that ‘Quantities of zigzag are built into the tower. They suggest a Norman tower arch, equally spectacular [as the entrance]’ (Pevsner & Neave 1995, 575). However, if there had been a twelfth-century tower, nothing seems to have survived at Kilham. (There was no tower at Kirkburn until very late in the century). It is more likely that these re-set voussoirs are perhaps part of the chancel arch. The first chancel arch was replaced in the Decorated phase; the tower was built in the subsequent Perpendicular style.


The wide, non-architectural arches are reminiscent of the font from Wharram Percy now at Hull, St Michael and All Angels, where the mixture of weak setting out and nailhead ornament might suggest two periods of working. Other fonts in the Riding with both arcading and cable pattern are at Butterwick and Wold Newton. The font at Sherburn-in-Harford-Lythe has arcading with some double pillars, also cable pattern. The recutting recalls fonts at Folkton and Sutton-on-Hull. How fortunate 'restoration' was limited to the font.


The didactic scheme at the entrance

Following a detailed investigation into the use of geometric patterns in England in this period, the author was able to suggest an interpretation of this entrance (see Wood 2001, 26-28). It is suggested that the gable depicts heaven in which the three circles suggest the presence of the Trinity (compare tympanum at Wold Newton). The string course of star-pattern represents the firmament. Zigzag and chevron patterns were used to represent light, particularly God’s power and glory, or spiritual light more generally. In the entrance, these patterns of light appear to radiate out of the church, and to come vertically down from heaven. The small motifs on the capitals of order 6 can be related to baptism. The man probably carries one of the lights like those lit in the baptism service of the Easter Vigil, a service carved on the font at Kirkburn. The ring on the angle of this capital contains a mole, a creature that lives in darkness. The mole represents the state of the unregenerate man who, according to St. Augustine in Sermon 136 and its variants, is born blind but is illuminated by a profession of faith and baptism; in his time baptism was described as ‘illumination’. Augustine does not use the allegory of the mole, and it was the end of the twelfth century before they are pictured in surviving bestiaries. Moles are often shown in circular medallions as here, pre-dating the standard bestiary representation. The two heads above rectangular shapes in the capitals of the doorway can be compared to the child in the font in the baptism scene carved on the font at Kirkburn. The two motifs at Kilham appear to represent adults in fonts, which may nuance our understanding of baptisms in this period.

Theme of the corbels: It is suggested that a theme for corbels identifiable here and at Kirkburn is the expectation of the Second Coming, for which believers were told to watch and pray (Matt. 26:41). This theme would account for those human heads, or pairs of heads, that look up and around; also for those who sit, or those who rest their heads on their hands (as if having waited a long time). Raising of the the dead might be represented by the animals that show human beings emanating from their mouths; the fear of Judgment would account for the frightened or amazed expressions of the violent men in the corbels at Kilham, and for the one man who sheathes his sword, smiling (Wood 2003, 14-25).

The site of the church may well have a longer significance: a Roman road running through the village linking York to Bridlington makes a kink round the churchyard (Jennings 1990, 5). The market place was immediately to the E of the churchyard.

Bilson gives the nave as 70 by 27 feet or approximately 21.3m x 8.2m. This is comparable to, perhaps just slightly larger than, Kirkburn’s nave. It is not a perfect rectangle: ‘the nave is wide and pulled in towards the tower’ according to Pevsner and Neave 1995, 575. The N wall is unbuttressed, but there are pilasters on the S side, perhaps because of the sloping ground there. The stone used is the local Jurassic limestone, and extensive patching was done in the 1990s. The chancel with its sedilia dates from the end of the thirteenth century; the chancel arch is Decorated; the tower, Perpendicular. The present large windows in the nave date from 1818-21. As can be inferred from the survival of this pleasing Regency Gothic tracery, there was no major Victorian restoration. There was limited restoration of the chancel (Ewan Christian) and nave (G. Fowler Jones) around 1865-6.


J. Bilson, 'Kilham Church', Transactions of the East Riding Antiquarian Society 6 (1898), xviii.

L. A. S. Butler (ed.), 'The Yorkshire Church Notes of Sir Stephen Glynne (1825-1874)', Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series 159 (Woodbridge, 2007).

B. Jennings, A History of the Church and Parish of Kilham (Grimsby, 1990).

N. Pevsner and D. Neave, Yorkshire: York and the East Riding, 2nd. edn. (London, 1995).

M. Thurlby, ‘The abbey church of Lessay (Manche) and Romanesque architecture in north–east England', Antiquaries Journal, 94 (2014), 71-92.

Victoria County History: East Riding of Yorkshire II (London, 1974).

Victoria County History: Yorkshire II (London, 1912), in modern reprint (London, 1974).

R. Wood, ‘The Augustinians and the Romanesque Sculpture at Kirkburn Church’, East Yorkshire Historian, 4 (2003), 3-59.

R. Wood, ‘Geometric Patterns in English Romanesque Sculpture’. Journal of the British Archaeological Association 154 (2001), 1-39.