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St Peter, Old Edlington, Yorkshire, West Riding

(53°28′11″N, 1°12′0″W)
Old Edlington
SK 532 973
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, West Riding
now South Yorkshire
medieval York
now Sheffield
medieval St Peter
now St Peter
  • Barbara English
  • Rita Wood
21 July 2011

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The small church stands near the crest of a hill, surrounded by houses of the village of Old Edlington on three sides, with fields to the N and NW. To the N in the valley are the village and estates of New Edlington. The church consists of a nave, chancel, tower and a N aisle.

The chancel, nave and lower part of the tower are Romanesque, with a Perp. tower and the majority of the windows. The S doorway, chancel arch and corbels are fine examples of Romanesque carving. This was the first church to be vested in the Redundant Churches Fund [now Churches Conservation Trust]. The roof was removed by the diocese in 1966 when the building was subject to constant vandalism. A demolition order for all but the tower was recommended at vesting [in 1971] (Anon., 1990). Fortunately this was avoided and the church is now roofed and well maintained, although past and present damp remains a problem.

The Romanesque sculpture is chiefly on doorway, corbels, a window, chancel arch and string course. There are corbels on the N and S walls of both nave and chancel; they are in their original position but the walls have been heightened above them for the battlements. The corbels on the N side have been covered since the building of the N aisle (c.1200) and N chapel (date uncertain; possibly late 13th c.). An unusual feature of the corbels at Old Edlington is that several of the animals are gagged with a sausage-shaped soft-looking pad, rather than being muzzled (though there are muzzled examples).


The vill is in Domesday Book but no church is mentioned. The vill was in 1086 held of the Percies by Malger, ancestor of the Vavasours. The advowson of the church is mentioned temp. Henry II (Thompson and Clay 1933, 106) and by 1249-50, if not before, part of the advowson was in Vavasour’s hands (Raine 1872, 108).


Exterior Features



Exterior Decoration

String courses
Corbel tables, corbels

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches
Tower/Transept arches




Piscinae/Pillar Piscinae


Thompson and Clay (1943, xxvii) assigned the building of the church to the 3rd quarter of the 12th century, enlarged ‘later’ by a N aisle. Earlier recorders (Hunter 1828, 95; Keyser 1909,180; Thompson 1909,127), all comment on the S doorway with its beakheads as their prime interest. Charles E. Keyser (1909,180) remarks "Very fine S doorway with, on the label, which terminates on 2 heads on either side, a row of 14 beaded circles enclosing roses, a course of billet on the upper side with leaves between. On the outer order is a row of 33 beakheads, carried round the arch and down the jambs to the ground. These are very large and in excellent state of preservation. On the inner order is a double band of zigzag, also continued to the ground; the inner row has the fir-cone or ornamental pellet within the chevrons. There are no caps or imposts." He discusses beakheads elsewhere in Yorkshire, sometimes only on the arch, sometimes down to the ground as at Old Edlington. Thompson (1909, 127) gives a shorter description of the S door. Thompson remarks on the ‘rounded headed window of unusual length, with a band of zigzag fringing the entire opening, and an outer covering arch with small angle shafts’ in the S wall. Thompson also remarked ‘The supporting shafts of the chancel arch, instead of coming down to plinths near the floor, stop at half the height of the jambs, the lower parts of which serve as a pedestal for their bases. For this arrangement post-Norman he says see Osmotherley, for Norman parallels see Swaton in S. Lincs. and Ston-Easton in Somerset. There are local 12th-century comparisons, see comments below Fieldworkers’ comments.

Doorway: chevron order with grape domes on the angle. This design occurs at Stillingfleet on the N doorway, which is a medieval rebuild using material probably from the 12th-century chancel arch.

Doorway: medallions. Rings of cusps occur on large flat medallions resembling pom-pom dahlias at Birkin; the motif with the raised conical centre occurs separately at Riccall, Stillingfleet (both YW) and Bishop Wilton (YE). The medallions represent stars; the ellipses and filling sprays are foliage, subjects relevant to heaven and paradise respectively.

Doorway: 2 heads as label-stops also seen at Kirby Wiske YN, and Horton-in-Ribblesdale, YW. Single heads are used as stops on the doorway at Harswell (YE). Two heads together are common as corbels, as on corbel CS16 and CN4, NN1 at Old Edlington. Occasionally one may be a beast or mask (Alne YN; Horton YW) but the residual knobs at Old Edlington look of human shape.

Window in the S wall of the nave: This has been unsympathetically rebuilt since described in Thompson 1909, and no longer conforms to his description: little of the zigzag band remains, and there is no label. Windows shafted externally are not common, but Campsall and Birkin have several; these have a plain order against the window opening, with the second order shafted and perhaps decorated in the arch. At Birkin two of the apse windows have chevron mouldings. The degree of decoration on the window at Old Edlington is more suited to a chancel, and it may perhaps have been reset from there at some time.

Tower string-course: The pattern recalls similar uses of this form, where there is a full circle, which is carved with something like the pattern in the medallions of the label of the S doorway, for example, at Riccall (label of S doorway). Medallions at Birkin, some of which have star patterns as on the doorway, have the cylindrical form behind the face of the medallion.

Corbel CN4, the man with his tongue hanging out. There are various possibilities for interpretation of the tongue. The muzzled animals often show the tip of the tongue, probably this is an observation of natural life, not meant to have further significance (an animal must be able to open its mouth enough to breathe when it is wearing a muzzle or halter). A tongue hanging out can depict other natural situations: exhaustion, tiredness; breathing or panting. These situations can have diverse spiritual interpretations, such as defeat; desire for or actually inhaling the new life of paradise. Since the man is one of a pair who are watching, it is perhaps panting that is shown, signifying a desire for the coming of the End.

Corbel NN4. It is suggested these are full-length watchmen, similar in their interpretation to the paired heads NN1 and the single, solemn, men’s heads and bishop outside, also NS18. They all watch for their lord’s Second Coming (e.g. Matt. 24:42). NS 12 and 14. The lions in these symmetrical patterns would not be bestial, but would represent Christ or believers; they emit foliage, that is, have everlasting life. NS 18. This is another watchman, ready to wake the sleepy.

Corbel with gagged horses, NS2; gagged masks. The horse is used in the same way as a beakhead, biting the roll-moulding around two windowheads, as in Saintonge, France, (see Henry and Zarnecki 1957-58, 11 and pls. VI.2, VII.4). At Edlington, horses on corbel NS2 are gagged in the same way as numerous masks on corbels at this church. The round pad or the roll moulding is a gag or bit, restraining the animal passions or destructive temptations represented by the horses and the beakheads.The source of this symbolism is probably Jeremiah 8:6, a description of the horse that rushes into battle bearing its rider away to chaos, as an allegory of passionate, reckless, impulsive actions.

Chancel arch: raised plinths. Other examples have been recorded for the Corpus in YW at Frickley, Healaugh YW10(13) and Rossington. This example at Old Edlington has probably the lowest plinth.

Chancel arch: stonework Peter Ryder on a visit in May 2011 wondered if the Victorian restorers had tampered with the plinth and column bases, since the diameter of the columns is markedly less than the bases on which they stand, and new stone has certainly been used to repair the plain plinth-wall below. However, the forms at the junction of the columns and round bases are similar at Healaugh and Rossington (perhaps more accomplished at Frickley), and are comparable to column bases of the first two piers in the S arcade of Selby Abbey. It is therefore thought that the present structure broadly retains its original form.

N arcade. Stops used for the arches might be compared to those at Wadworth. The arcade is included not for any obviously Romanesque features it contains but as it seems to be associated with the tower arch, and hence perhaps with the work at Roche abbey, much of which is given a date of 1170-80.


Anon., Churches in Retirement: a gazetteer. Redundant Churches Fund. HMSO, London. 1990.

F. Henry and G. Zarnecki, ‘Romanesque arches decorated with human and animal heads’, JBAA 20-21 (1957-58), 1-34.

J. Hunter, South Yorkshire, Deanery of Doncaster 1. Nichols, London.1828.

C. E. Keyser, ‘The Norman Doorways of Yorkshire’, in T.M. Fallow, ed. Memorials of Old Yorkshire, 1909, 180-1.

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 West Riding of Yorkshire. 2nd ed. (1906) 1919.

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

J. Raine, The register, or rolls, of Walter Gray, Lord Archbishop of York. Surtees Society 56. 1872

A. H. Thompson, ‘The village churches of Yorkshire’, in T. M. Fallow, ed. Memorials of Old Yorkshire, 127-8. 1909.

A. H. Thompson and C. T. Clay, ed. Fasti parochiales 1 part 1, Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series 85 [Deanery of Doncaster part 1]. Leeds 1933.

A. H. Thompson and C. T. Clay, Fasti parochiales 1 part 2, Yorkshire Archaeological Series 107 [Deanery of Doncaster part 2]. Leeds 1943.