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St Mary the Virgin, Mirfield, Yorkshire, West Riding

(53°40′46″N, 1°40′55″W)
SE 211 204
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, West Riding
now West Yorkshire
  • Barbara English
  • Rita Wood
27 Oct 2010

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The 12thc settlement of Mirfield was presumably around the Norman motte, which is in a high and open position just over two miles west of Dewsbury. In the 18th and 19thc, industrial development took place down in Calderdale, where the town centre is now. The motte survives immediately to the N of the Victorian church, across a deep ditch. There are extensive burial grounds and open fields to the N and E of the church; a footpath runs along the S boundary comparatively close to the old church and heads E in the direction of Dewsbury.

The present church was a new construction on the site of the medieval castle hall and was consecrated in 1871. This church replaced one of c.1825, which itself had been built on the foundations of a medieval church which had presumably developed from the castle chapel. These preceding buildings lay to the SE of the present church. Of the medieval church, only the tower remains in situ, with a little of the W end of the nave, and the lines of its walls enclose a garden of rest.

A reset pillar in the vestry of the Victorian church is possibly of c.1200 and there is a grave-slab of early- to mid-12thc date.


There is a 10th to 11thc grave-marker in the church (Coatsworth (2008), 214). However, there is no mention of a church or priest in Domesday Book, when Mirfield was in the fee of Ilbert de Lacy. The area seems to have been included in the parish of Dewsbury, perhaps as a chapel, and according to legend was created a parish church c.1261. The church was given to Kirklees nunnery in 1397 (VCH III, 170).


Interior Features

Interior Decoration





With so little evidence remaining, the chronology of the medieval church is a matter of debate.

The church pulled down in the 1870s, and its predecesor, are described in the Faculty papers (Borthwick Fac. 1825/2); with the legal documents is an undated descriptive note with attached watercolour of the church existing before 1825. The request for a faculty to rebuild does not give much clue to the medieval church, it says ‘besides it being very small and inconvenient for the great population of the Parish, it is also incommodious on other accounts. There are several very large Pillars inside… it is difficult for a tall person to stand upright in some parts of the present Gallery… the walls are mostly built of rubble stone, plastered outside and whitewashed…’. Plans with the application show a 4-bay N arcade, and indicate that the maximum bounds of the medieval church were used for the rectangle of the next one, whose internal dimensions are shown as 70’4” x 45’4” (approx. 21.4m x 13.8m).

The contemporary watercolour attached to the faculty papers is a view from the SE; the chancel has a round-headed doorway with two orders, capitals and label, elaborate for a chancel doorway.

Sir Stephen Glynne visited Mirfield in 1863, thus seeing the c.1825 church and able to examine it for vestiges of medieval work. He noted the tower as rather small and low; the lower part of it looked early and was unbuttressed. Part of the W end of the church was also ‘ancient’; he saw a small window that looked Norman, but does not mention the doorway shown in the watercolour. He thought the medieval church had consisted of nave, chancel and N aisle, with the tower off centre and not well arranged with the rest of the building (Butler (2007), 297).

Morris (1919), 358, supposes the nave was 12thc and the four-bay N aisle and the tower somewhat later; he considered the lower part of the tower to be late 12thc work. Pevsner (1967), 368, considers the round pier in the vestry to be of c. 1200; however, Ryder thinks the aisle was a 13thc addition. Ryder (1993, 167) says the tower is ‘probably of 13thc origin, though … later medieval towers [in the west of Yorkshire] have an almost vernacular feel, and lack details and ornaments that could be tied in closely with mainstream architectural development in the lowlands.’ According to Ryder, the old parish church of Mirfield consisted of a nave with a four-bay north aisle, west tower, south porch, and a chancel with a north chapel or vestry; the tower and aisle appear to have been 13th century additions to a slightly older nave. The original tower arch, now concealed by a bush and its base hidden in the soil, is pointed with a wide chamfer. The tower was given a new belfry in the 15thc. All windows in the tower have been renewed in modern times.

The north aisle was rebuilt and enlarged in 1666 to hold a gallery for the owners of Over Hall.


Borthwick Institute, York, faculty papers, Fac. 1825/2.

L. A. S. Butler, ed., The Yorkshire Church Notes of Sir Stephen Glynne (1825-1874), Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series 159, Woodbridge 2007, 297.

E. Coatsworth, Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture, Volume VIII, Western Yorkshire, OUP/British Academy, 2008.

J. E. Morris, The West Riding of Yorkshire, 2nd ed., London 1919, 358.

N. Pevsner, revised by E. Radcliffe, The Buildings of England, Yorkshire, The West Riding. Harmondsworth 1967, 368-9.

P. F. Ryder, Medieval Churches of West Yorkshire. Wakefield 1993, 44, 167, fig. 73.

Victoria County History, A History of the County of York III, London 1974, 170.