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St Nicholas, Newbald: North Newbald, Yorkshire, East Riding

(53°49′3″N, 0°36′58″W)
Newbald: North Newbald
SE 912 366
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, East Riding
now East Riding of Yorkshire
medieval York
now York
  • Rita Wood
19 Jul, 13 Oct 2005; 13 Jan 2016, 23 Jan 2016

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North Newbald is a village in the East Riding of North Yorkshire, about 3.5 miles S of Market Weighton. The village is near the Roman road from Brough to Malton. The name means ‘new build’ and is an Anglian place-name recorded in the 10th century.

The church of St. Nicholas, which is partially hidden behind large trees, is a large, plain, cruciform building, but contains a significant amount of high-quality sculpture. It has an unaisled nave, central tower, N and S transepts, chancel with N vestry. The tower is Romanesque to the chamfered string course just above the roofs.

There were restorations in 1864, 1875 and 1891-2 (Pevsner and Neave 1995, 622). The church as it was in 1864 is shown in Bilson 1911, pl. 3. The elevation drawings in his article show the low roofs of late medieval date; the nave and transepts had their roofs returned to the original height in 1875 and 1892 respectively. The S doorway to the nave was restored in 1875; this work included the building of the rectangular surround to the mandorla and extensive renewal of the figure of Christ.

The twelfth-century chancel, which had probably been apsed, was later replaced by a Perpendicular one. In the same period the transept chapels and their original apses were removed, the entrance arches were blocked up, and windows inserted. As far as the lost E end is concerned, John Bilson is content to compare the remains to the surviving example of an apsed church at Birkin, ‘an almost contemporary church’. Internally, there is a break in the masonry just W of the crossing, but no change of design except in the detail of the string course. With one’s back to the traceried W window, the 6-bay nave now appears largely as when it was built. The effect of the high plain ‘dado’ and the indirect lighting directs the eye eastwards.

There is sculpture on the four doorways; inside there are chevron arches at the crossing, string-courses, windows, and also a font.


According to the DB, ‘A church is there, and a priest’. At some time, it was two townships but one parish.

The place-name was the equivalent of simple ‘Newbald’ in DB, and the present distinction of two Newbalds, North and South, may have arisen with the division of the estate and the establishment of the prebends of North Newbald and South Newbald, perhaps in the later twelfth century. The 28 carucates at Newbald and other property later endowed the two prebends.


Exterior Features



Exterior Decoration

String courses
Corbel tables, corbels

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches
Tower/Transept arches

Interior Decoration

String courses




General comments

The village lies at the foot of the Wolds scarp and on the dip slope of the Jurassic limestone outcrop, which widens here. Limestone was available from quarries to the west of the village near the York road: having this stone so near, together with the Archbishop and Chapter controlling the complete estate, no doubt helps to explain the building of such a fine large church.

Sir Stephen Glynne visited in 1863, before the Victorian restorations. He remarks on ‘four very good Norman arches’ at the crossing, and the uniformity of the transepts. At the time of his visit, only the nave was in use for services and it was partitioned off from the crossing, but in an interior view by George Arnold (1817), the view eastward is open. Glynne probably could not see very well inside the south porch, which he says was out of repair, but describes ‘within it a very noble Norman doorway, the arch of four orders. Some of the shafts have perished, but the capitals have varied sculpture… over the door is a vesica, surrounded by chevron moulding, and containing rude sculpture, apparently a representation of a bishop.’ He says that ‘some parts have good corbel tables externally’ (Butler 2007, 304-6).

John Bilson thought the simplicity of the church exemplary, and praised its ‘clear and logical expression of structure [and] simple straightforward use of materials’. His paper includes comprehensive plans and elevations by C. Ll. R. Tudor (son of a former incumbent), and also valuable photographs, especially those by J. V. Saunders (Bilson (1911). Joseph Morris (1919, 259) called Newbald church ‘perhaps the most interesting Norm. church in the whole East Riding, not even excepting Kirkburn.’ Pevsner and Neave (1995, 621), say it is ‘the most complete Norman church in the Riding.’

Comparisons to architecture elsewhere

Newbald church and York Minster: It was suggested by Christopher Norton during a public lecture (Norton 2001; the lecture was in November 2000) that Newbald church might have been conceived in emulation of the Norman Minster of Archbishop Thomas of Bayeux. That building was still in use in the first half of the twelfth century but is now only known from excavation; it was cruciform with short apsed chapels in the transepts, an apse at the east end, a crossing tower, and its long nave was without aisles (Franklin 2012). Bilson likened Newbald to churches in Normandy, illustrating an eleventh-century example (1911, 4). An earlier church in the Riding built by the archbishop, or dean and chapter, of York, at Kilham, similarly has a spectacular gabled entrance, but that otherwise seems to have had only nave, chancel and W tower. See below, 'Scallop capitals'.

Comparisons to sculpture elsewhere

Nave S doorway: first order, L capital, the mask on the angle: its big eyes, lack of teeth and lower jaw and its position on the angle recall a capital at St Denys’, York, which is now sadly decayed. In the York example, there is not quite such free foliage as at Newbald, but a leaf rises onto the upright above the bell there too; as it does on a capital at Healaugh, c.1150, this feature also occurs on a capital of the chancel arch at Adel. On the capital at Newbald, if the masks are conquered evil forced to yield up everlasting life, the little lion may be one of the redeemed looking up gratefully at the Saviour in the mandorla. This capital is the only one on the church with creatures carved.

Nave S doorway: Spiral arch of fourth order. Were these gouged lines cut in situ? When compared to spirals at St Margaret’s-at-Cliffe, Kent (N doorway) and at Southwell Minster (crossing, etc.), this is very fine.

S transept doorway: first order arch. This chevron order is similar to the first order of the nave S doorway at Lockington, as is the carving of foliage on the inside of the capitals against the door.

Chancel arch: There are comparisons with capitals on the chancel arch at Lockington, also Goodmanham and Hunmanby.

Bridlington priory: Bilson remarks on the leaf design on the S doorway, between the scallops of the R capital of first order (Bilson 1911, Fig.25; 30): this scallop capital, he says, has ‘a refined bit of scroll and leaf carving [between the cones], which seems to me to indicate that the twelfth century had entered on its last quarter when this carving was worked.’ In a footnote he compares it to a detail in a capital, then loose, thought to be from the destroyed cloister of Bridlington priory; capitals from both reconstructed arcades show foliate details between cones. Thurlby 1989 dates the Bridlington capitals to 1170-80; this period is extended to 1160 by Franklin 1989; the assemblage has been re-assessed by Stuart Harrison (Harrison 2006, 111-116).

Scallop capitals: The scallops on the S nave doorway overhang their cones very slightly, emphasizing the form. This sort of subtle treatment is discussed by Bilson in relation to the capitals of the crossing (1911, 8). On the R capitals of orders three and four, the curve is emphasized by a slender raised edge, as also on the S transept doorway. See Thurlby 2014, 84-6, 89, where he names a number of churches around York that used the same forms of scallops, and suggests that the motifs derived from earlier work still then to be seen at York Minster and St Mary’s Abbey.

Carving on internal face of first order capitals of the four doorways. This feature is most elaborate on the S nave doorway, and least so on the N transept doorway, as might be expected. Both S doorways have foliage in this position, and in both cases a leaf overlaps onto the shield of the scallop. The N nave doorway has volutes turning onto the interior face as on the E side of the main doorway; the N transept doorway merely continues the scallops with raised edge, as on its exterior faces. Decoration in this position is unusual, but has been noted on the doorway at Lockington. Ornamental arches with patterning that continues onto the interior face occur at Bishop Wilton (south doorway), Kilnwick Percy (former main doorway) and Selby Abbey (N doorway into N porch).

Comments on gable and figure over S nave doorway

Bilson describes the figure in detail (1911, 32-5), pointing out that it is cut from a single oblong slab which reaches higher than the head and includes part of the plait border. It must be said that important parts of the figure are unreliable, though the pose is a standard one. The fieldworker would suggest that only the chest of the figure (shoulders, robes, etc) and its lower right arm have survived, sheltered from weather and damage. Drapery on the legs is worn, replaced or recut.

Bilson suggests the carving shows Christ seated, ‘with a rainbow round about the throne’, (Rev. 4:2-3; 5:1), that is, the mandorla is this rainbow. He saw traces of red paint on the mandorla but none on the figure, from which he said ‘considerable parts’ had been cut away. He compares its present state to a Buckler drawing in the British Museum (Add. Ms. No. 36433, fol. 160), which he says leaves blank the lower right parts of the figure, and where the head is shown by outline only, with ‘indications of the ears and lower edge of the beard but without any [of the] features which are now to be seen.’ He says the drawing indicates the long tress of hair on each shoulder; there is no nimbus. The book and hand are in the drawing, but have since been replaced by new stone. Bilson considers the present head to have been entirely reworked in old stone. The triangle of stone near the knee is also a replacement. (Bilson 1911, 31-2; 35). The raised right hand is definitely modern.

Engravings mounted and framed in the church were published in the Antiquarian Itinerary, and dated 1815. They are by J. Greig from paintings by George Arnold, ARA; see also Butler 2007, 305, 306. In the 1815 engraving, the entrance was still under a large porch, and the mandorla was set back behind the plane of the doorway but with little supporting stonework. On the seated figure the drapery is complete in the lower right parts, and the head has its features, is round and without noticeable cap, hair or beard – but much of this could be wishful thinking. The main work on this area was in 1875.

Bilson 1911, 32, suggests the mandorla was originally in the same plane as the doorway and that ‘if the vesica was ever complete at the bottom, there would have been just sufficient space for it between the string over the doorway and a gable of about the same pitch as that of the main roofs.’ The horizontal string-course is itself close to the semicircle of the head of the doorway. It must have been spectacular - the play of the two circular forms, and the floating of the mandorla balanced on a thin horizontal line. Did it in this way represent the imminence of the Second Coming and Judgement? Christ appears in a vibrant mandorla in Spanish Beatus manuscripts, over crowds expecting Judgement. There are also parallels with the composition of the S entrance at Kilham church, despite the difference in visual language (there geometric) and subject (there the enlightenment of baptism); both designs have this thin line of string-course separating gable from doorway, heavenly from earthly levels. Kilham church also belonged to the York Chapter and may date from around 1130. The gable at Adel in the West Riding (subject, Judgement) might date from c.1150. The position of Christ, recessed in a mandorla over a main doorway, recalls the figure standing in a rectangular recess within a mandorla on the W front of Notre-Dame-la-Grande in Poitiers, which may be dated 1130 to 1150.

When complete, according to Bilson’s estimate, the gable would have had about the same pitch as the main roofs; the vesica would have been approximately 7’ 11” in height (2.4m). The height of the seated figure would be about 1.37m, almost life size. (Bilson 1911, 32, 33, fig. 21). This is only slightly smaller than the figures in the porch at Malmesbury Abbey, which are thought by the fieldworker to date from around 1150. As architectural components perhaps, rather than for sculptural style, Bilson (1911, 34, n.5) compares the sculpture to the standing figures from St Mary’s Abbey, now in the Yorkshire Museum. Although small passages might resemble each other, for example, the drapery on the right shoulder of Moses, as a general comparison the Newbald figure hardly looks so Gothic, the upper body is firm and Romanesque, the drapery on the chest is formalised and linear, not naturalistic.

General remark on corbels

‘Many’ of the corbels are modern; ‘some’ are original, according to Bilson (1911, 26). It is hard to decide what is original, because there may not only have been recutting of old corbels, for example, the single heads of men, but those corbels which seem to be genuinely old (because of their more hesitant workmanship, or because the corbel was reused broken) are in a style not seen at other churches. Though some of the Victorian corbels are all too obvious from their extravagant shaping, their subjects are worth listing as some have comparisons locally, while a few are unique and perhaps derived from what was here; there are original and copied versions of some designs. It is assumed, unless indicated, that all corbels are reworked or renewed.

N Transept, N doorway

It looks as though two types of stones were used on this doorway; here, even more clearly than on the other doorways, the inner parts are golden and the exterior and walls are whiteish. Although another part of the quarry might have been used for the specialist carved areas, it is also possible that the same stone was used throughout, but exposure could have had a whitening effect, perhaps from the growth of algae, or chemical change at the surface.

E Crossing arch

This arrangement is described by Bilson (1911, 8) as ‘not of the earliest type… the bases of these shafts are moulded, as elsewhere throughout the twelfth century work here, with a shallow hollow above a flat quarter-round, and stand on a chamfered plinth. The plinth is returned round the base of each shaft, not a single plinth under the three shafts as is common in earlier work, but the course below the plinth is brought out to the square, and does not follow the recessed plan of the plinth above’.

In the fieldworker's opinion, the variation of chevron spacing is not evidence of shoddy workmanship, but may be deliberate and produces a lively optical effect.

Comments on Font

A late Transitional font, according to Morris. Bilson believes the font would logically follow once the church was built, and that though its bowl is like 12th-century work, the design of the support indicates the early years of the 13th century (Bilson 1911, 35).

Observers notice a stylistic discordance between the bowl and the support, and it is possible to resolve this unease by suggesting that the bowl is the reworking of an early twelfth-century font, which was then set on an early thirteenth-century stem. It seems very likely, from the known policy of the bishop in encouraging parochial work by regular canons and from the spatial provision here, that the church was intended to have a parochial function; it would surely have had a font for some decades before the building was finished. That first font would probably have been the local type, a cylinder standing on the floor on a simple circular plinth. The lowest layer of plinth here is more worn than the smaller plinth grouping the circular cluster of columns; it is held together by metal staples, and it could have been the plinth of an earlier cylindrical font as seen, for example, at Burnby. Further, all dimensions of the bowl apart from its height are in the middle of the range for the cylindrical fonts of the Riding.

We might suppose that, towards the end of the twelfth century, a cylindrical font was inverted, perhaps reduced in height, rounded and marked to fit the eight column tops of the fashionable stem. Eight swellings match the columns; this sort of shaping can be seen, for example, on the four-sided Purbeck marble basin in Pocklington church.

The styles of foliage on the bowl look back to the Romanesque, even if the stem is in a 13th-century architectural fashion. The leaves in the horizontal band of pattern use an outline of fluted leaflets that is common in the mid-century, but the form of the stem itself is not familiar, namely the tapering triple sheath from which the leaves diverge. There is something like it on the label of the W doorway of St Mary’s, Shrewsbury, but both might have come independently from manuscript drawings.

The more or less symmetrical leaf designs on the bulge above each of the eight columns are varied in a Romanesque manner, and include some details which are echoed (but not closely) in work at Bridlington. Three of the foliage patterns on these lowest parts of the bowl include club-like growths (buds?) standing among leaves. They are built up in the same way as a detail on the ‘linen-fold’ capital from the cloister at Bridlington, but are in another style. It may be something an old hand copied from Bridlington, or it may be a Romanesque form not common in Yorkshire and the two examples have a common source elsewhere.

It has not been possible to compare the precise stone types used for lower plinth, stem and basin. They might all be the same but, if different, that variation might support the postulated reworking outlined above. Following visits to 13 fonts in the Riding in 2004, Dr Martyn Pedley thought that the best match for samples from churches at Speeton and Weaverthorpe was sandstones in the Middle Oxfordian Stage, Coralline Oolite formation of the Jurassic of E and N Yorkshire, and of that, with the Birdsall Calcareous Grit member. Fonts were likely to be from the same general rock horizon as the building stones, though of superior quality. Fonts particularly would require thickness of strata and well-sorted grain-size. The outcrops of Coralline Oolite around Malton would be a possible source for the stone used for cylindrical fonts. Market Weighton was the most southerly of place visited by Dr Pedley and the fieldworker in 2004; it was thought that the stone for the font and base there had come from further north, and was a Deltaic Middle Jurassic sandstone. Thus, if the font bowl at Newbald had been a standard cylindrical font, it might have a different lithology from the stem, which was presumably made of stone from the Newbald quarries.

The re-set arched stone in the vestry

The window-head is only a 'possible' example of mid-century glazing. Photos were shown to Sarah Brown (University of York), who says that glass was the exception rather than the rule in the 12th century, but that the archaeological evidence certainly looked like glazing; Stuart Harrison said the groove could have been cut in later. Theophilus (Dodwell 1961, 47-58) has much to say on glass, and making lead cames, but finishes with setting his glazed panel in a wooden frame and fixing it to the opening with nails; Dodwell suggests a date for the text as 'towards the first half of the twelfth century'.

The curvature of the arch, not at present a full semicircle, would give some idea of the width of window openings in the lost chancel, or perhaps in one of the apses, but it has not been estimated.

I would like to thank Mr Mike Allderidge of Newbald for his expertise and assistance in following up the speculations on the font and also the window-head.


On the start of building, and assuming an apsed E end, Bilson says ‘from comparisons with the known dates of similar work, its commencement cannot be put earlier than c.1140, and may well be somewhat later’ (Bilson 1911, 4). This is based on the reasonable assumption that the lost east end resembled that at Birkin, ‘a nearly contemporary church’. This comparison would have been familiar to his audience; otherwise he suggests comparisons in Normandy, even churches of the eleventh century.

On the gable figure, Bilson (1911, 35) comments that ‘it is impossible to attribute this statue to an earlier date than the last quarter of the twelfth century… this period is also indicated by some details of the south doorway itself [that is, a detail between the cones of the R capital of the first order]. We may conclude that the church was begun somewhere near the middle of the twelfth century, and that its erection occupied a considerable part of the second half of the century.’ On the nave N doorway, 2nd and 3rd orders, he says, ‘The zigzag of these two orders is of a rather more advanced type than those with convex general profile’ on the transept doorways (Bilson 1911, 27). He says that the capitals of the first order of the nave S doorway, are of ‘more advanced character than [those] of the S transept’ (Bilson 1911, 30). The belfry stage of the tower, with larger stones, belongs to the 13th century.

It may be seen as presumptive for the fieldworker to contest with someone such as John Bilson, but it is reasonable to be cautious on extending the date for completion of the building into the last quarter of the twelfth century. Regarding the supposed advanced nature of the figure in the mandorla, there is very little that is genuine left of it. One exceptional sculptor might have been imported to achieve that, and to bring the technical expertise to make the successful spiral of the 4th order arch below. There is little sculpture here apart from the foliage capitals of the two south doorways (as compared with architectural refinements by the craftsmen on the nuances of scallop capitals). The font, which Bilson implies was a finishing touch to the church, might not have been altered until well after the church was finished, if its history was as suggested above.

As mentioned above, Christopher Norton has compared the plan of the completed church to that of the early post-Conquest York Minster built by Archbishop Thomas of Bayeux in the 1090s. The plan was continued when work was resumed after the break just W of the crossing, and the aisleless nave was built (Bilson 1911, 23-4). That so apparently old-fashioned a style would still be followed in the second half of the twelfth century by the canons of St Peter is not so odd, if the prevalence of unaisled naves in churches served by regular canons is acknowledged: the plan had a long history, was in use at other churches in the region, for example, probably Bridlington priory, and was suited to the work of regular canons (Franklin 2014, especially 78, 81, 86-7).

There are comparisons for the S nave doorway capitals at Lockington and Goodmanham. The L capital of the first order recalls particularly work at Stillingfleet and at St Denys, Walmgate, York; these churches elsewhere use motifs seen, for example, at Etton in the East Riding. These are not late twelfth-century buildings.

Perhaps all that is required to give the feel of later work to a building of the mid-century and third quarter is for the Chapter to have engaged master craftsmen for a few remarkable details and the figure.

Bilson’s article is illustrated with photographs of sculptural detail that highlight the decay that has occurred in the intervening century, the stone sometimes coming off in chunks, ‘overnight’ as the churchwarden said in 2005. The quality of what remains is high, and its surface is still pure and crisp, though rough after solution of the matrix; this surface attracts grass mowings like no other church. There are cracks opening in the walling, notably of the S transept, probably due to settlement on the slope or the sapping of the massive trees (they have also changed since Bilson’s plate 3 was taken). Some renewal of stonework of the plinth of the S transept was done in 2011. The doorway and mandorla have recently been restored, largely due to water getting into the upper structure and leaking out through the arches. Some voussoirs, imposts and bases have been renewed; the stone matches very well. In 2016 the arches of the S transept doorway had deteriorated. The corbels are largely Victorian replacements.


J. Bilson, 'Newbald Church', Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 21 (1911), 1-44.

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

C. R. Dodwell (ed. and trans.), Theophilus, De diversis artibus. (Oxford, 1961).

J. A. Franklin, 'Bridlington Priory: an Augustinian Church and Cloister in the Twelfth Century' In British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions 1983 (Leeds, 1989), 44-61.

J. Franklin, 'Augustinian and other Canons’ Churches in Romanesque Europe: The Significance of the Aisleless Cruciform Plan' In Architecture and Interpretation: Essays for Eric Fernie, ed. J. A. Franklin, T. A. Heslop and C. Stevenson (Woodbridge, 2012).

S. A. Harrison, 'Benedictine and Augustinian cloister arcades in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in England, Wales and Scotland', Journal of the British Archaeological Association 159 (2006), 105-130.

G. Lawton, Collectio rerum ecclesiasticarum de diocesi Eboracensi (London, 1842).

J. E. Morris, The East Riding of Yorkshire, 2nd edn. (London, 1919).

C. E. Norton, 'Archbishop Thomas of Bayeux and the Norman Cathedral at York', Borthwick Papers 100 (York, 2001).

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

M. Thurlby, 'Observations on the Twelfth-Century Sculpture from Bridlington Priory' In British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions 1983 (Leeds, 1989), 3-43.

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. IV (London, 1979).