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St Mary, Kippax, Yorkshire, West Riding

(53°46′2″N, 1°22′7″W)
SE 417 303
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, West Riding
now West Yorkshire
medieval York
now Ripon and Leeds
  • Barbara English
  • Rita Wood
08 Mar, 01 May 2001; 24 Mar 2014

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Kippax lies some 9 miles E of Leeds. The nave, rectangular chancel and west tower of the medieval church survive; the porch and vestry are modern. Original windows remain on the N side, but these are coated with cement on the exterior, so no original surface can be seen. The plan of the church, and an unusually large proportion of the wall fabric, is original and is thought to date from the early post-Conquest period. The churchyard is immediately adjacent to the remains of a ringwork castle; the visible earthwork may have been a hollow motte and the bailey may have extended into the area now occupied by the churchyard. Both castle and church are placed high and have wide views.

The walls are in herringbone stonework. In this technique the stone is not trimmed square but it seems to be left much as the slabs came from the quarry or field. The local magnesian limestone is slabby and thus well-suited to this technique. These stones are laid slanting and coursed, and opposed in successive courses, but there is the occasional horizontally-laid course too (all exterior views).

The herringbone fabric is extracted above the windows that were inserted later. It extends high into the tower, with a suggestion of the roof line on the east face. The church does not seem to have had unusually tall proportions. There was a restoration in 1875-6, which affected the interior and was not detrimental to the exterior, if we accept the additions of vestry and porch as necessities.

The label and label-stop of the blocked N doorway have some ornament, probably billet and chequer patterns. This is the only Romanesque sculpture.


A late Anglo-Saxon cross-shaft fragment survives inside, to the right of the chancel arch; illustrated in Kirk (1933). Coatsworth (2008 182-83) says it is 10thc., whereas Ryder (1993) dates the building to about 1100.

Faull and Moorhouse say Kippax was an important settlement pre-Conquest, belonging to Earl Edwin. In DB, Kippax, Ledston and Barwick-in-Elmet were grouped together, and are described as having three churches and three priests. They were granted to Ilbert de Lacy. The advowson of the church was given to Pontefract Priory by Robert I de Lacy, son of Ilbert, before 1129 (Kirk).

Even though the church is sometimes described as 'St Mary and St Nicholas', Kirk (1933) says that the dedication is 'without ancient authority'.


Exterior Features



Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches

Ryder dates the building to ‘around 1100, when Kippax was an important administrative centre, and when the adjacent ringwork castle was built’. Both Bilson and Kirk favour 1125 as the most probable date for the oldest work, and Kirk says that the walls are thicker than they would be if they were Anglo-Saxon: 0.91m, and 0.95m in the tower (3ft; 3ft 1½ ins).

Ryder (1993, 26) calls Kippax ‘probably the most dramatic example of the Yorkshire group [of churches with herringbone fabric] … of substantial size, standing on a hilltop close to the earthworks of a castle (probably wooden) of c.1100’. He adds that ‘the original windows were small and round-headed, and in the Anglo-Saxon tradition of being set high in the wall; there was a pair of opposed doorways towards the west end of the nave.’ Ryder maintains that a severe fire around 1300 caused all openings on the south side to be replaced. The original tower arch survives but is decayed, perhaps having also suffered in the fire (Ryder 1993, 26, 161). Kirk, who is usually good on documentary evidence, does not mention a fire, so the style of the replacements may constitute the only evidence. Kirk gives a plan.

Pevsner (1967, 285) in his usual disparaging tone says ‘a complete Norman church …. characterized by the excessive use of herringbone masonry everywhere.’

Comparisons of site and building may be made with Barwick-in-Elmet, and perhaps Aberford.

The colour variation in the stonework is a natural occurrence in this limestone, which can range from the usual light yellow, or greyish white, to pale pink and a darker purplish pink. Such dark stones show up randomly in the photographs in every wall, and are sometimes set in rows including some at ground level. Thus the colour variations were not caused by the fire.

The blocked S doorway in the chancel may be one of the c.1300 replacments after the fire.


E. Coatsworth, Western Yorkshire, CASSS vol. VIII, Oxford 2008.

M. L. Faull & S. A. Moorhouse, eds., West Yorkshire: an Archaeological Survey to 1500, Wakefield, 1981.

G. E. Kirk, A short history of the Parish Church of St Mary, Kippax, Leeds 1933.

N. Pevsner, Yorkshire: West Riding. The Buildings of England, Harmondsworth, 1959, 2nd. ed. revised E. Radcliffe. 1967.

P. F. Ryder, Medieval Churches of West Yorkshire, West Yorkshire Archaeology Service, Wakefield, 1993.