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Wharram Percy, Yorkshire, East Riding

(54°3′59″N, 0°41′25″W)
Wharram Percy
SE 858 642
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, East Riding
now North Yorkshire
medieval York
now York
medieval St Martin
  • Rita Wood
28 August 2005

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Wharram Percy is a deserted medieval village, about 1 mile S of Wharram-le-Street, laying on the W flank of a characteristic little Wolds valley, not in the valley bottom but on a higher shelf or plateau; the church and a few post-medieval dwellings were in the valley bottom. The whole area has been the subject of much archaeological investigation.

The church is a roofless structure consolidated by English Heritage and its preceding government departments. Archaeological excavations brought to light a small pre-Romanesque two-cell church was found; that is now outlined by plain slabs in the floor of the nave and chancel (Bell, Beresford 1987, figs. 1 and 7). According to the excavation report (Bell, Beresford, et al. 1987, 4) the building stone used was probably the Lower Calcareous Grit, which is obtainable within some 5 miles of the village.

The church is largely of this local stone, with occasional use of chalk in-filling and in the interior face of the walls (for example, the E wall of nave). The building consists of the chancel, nave, half the tower of a medieval building and a S porch; the 12thc structure also had an apse. The 12thc church had at least three phases (Stocker and Everson 2012, 240-41). There was an attempt to build a W tower in the usual position, but this may have found unconsolidated subsoil, and eventually it was built straddling the W wall of the nave. In the late 12thc the tower was finished for the time being and a S aisle was added, with a new doorway. There were many later medieval alterations. The W wall of the tower collapsed in 1959 shortly after the church entered public ownership. The Victorian vicarage (excavated) was N of the church; the medieval one was up-slope to the W. The S side of the burial ground has not been excavated. To the S also lies a reconstruction of the former mill-pond, later a village pond (map, Bell, Beresford et al. 1987, 3). Various factors led to depopulation, and the last church service was held in 1949.

A small amount of sculpture was found in excavations at one of the two manor houses, that material, along with some excavated pieces from the church, is kept in an English Heritage store at Helmsley; a little of this material may be relevant. During the excavations a small stone of to the church of the late 10th to 11thc was also found, and perhaps it would have belonged to a private manorial chapel.

Of interest to our corpus are the blocked late 12thc S arcade, the parts of the late 12thc S doorway reset from the S aisle wall, and the remnant of the tower. On the S wall of the nave is a window where chevron voussoirs and capitals have been re-used.


The Domesday Book records that in 1066 Karli held the manor; in 1086 Ketilbert was the tenant-in-chief and held one carucate of the nine King William had. There were two manor houses, one near the church and one in the N end of the village. In the 13thc the Percies took control, and the S manor house was down-graded. Excavation recovered a few pieces of sculpture from it. Its plan recalls that at Burton Agnes, an undercroft of 4 x 2 bays, but without stonework, 15m x 7 or 8m.

In the early 12thc the much-enlarged building became the mother church for a parish which included four townships. The dedication of the church, probably from at least the early 12thc and certainly from 1320, was to St Martin. ‘St Mary’ is an error occasionally found (Bell, Beresford, et al. 1987, 9).


Exterior Features



Exterior Decoration


Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches



Interior Decoration





S doorway: the foliage on the R capital is reminiscent of the S doorway to the S transept at Newbald. Though the work is later at Wharram Percy judging by its architectural context, there is still an interest in placing foliage at this point.

Reset voussoirs, etc. in S wall, E window: in some ways the carving of the slender capitals is reminiscent of details of the font and chancel arch at Sherburn (North Yorkshire); they are both carved without gradation, but with sharp edges and on two levels. Rings are carved with various patterns at Etton, and the trees on the L capital are something like a leaf form at North Dalton. However, the architectural context for the work at Wharram Percy is thought to be much later than at those places.

The remains of the columns and capitals are unusual in that they are so slender, too slender and unaccented for a chancel arch perhaps, and yet the colonettes are long for windows. Reconstructions for a position of these stones in chancel arch or as a window are in Bell, Beresford et al. (1987, fig. 46A; fig. 49A). In the reconstruction chancel arch (Bell, Beresford et al. 1987, fig.46A), the width of opening is about 2.3m, and the arch is approximately 4m high. This should be compared with the arch at Goodmanham, approximately 1.9m and 3m. The reconstructions do not show the actual slender capitals but other, standard, types.

However, '… excavations at Wharram repeatedly prove that everything is much more complicated than at first expected' (Beresford and Hurst 1990), and another position for these pieces has been suggested, which is the S doorway (Stocker and Everson 2012, 246-50; fig. 93). The reconstruction also includes parts of the present doorway, and ‘loose architectural stonework recovered from the excavations and from the debris of the partial collapse of the tower’ (Stocker and Everson 2012, 247). The doorway ‘was of three orders [and label], housed within a projection from the wall itself. It was decorated with fine capitals and two decorated orders, outside the plain inner order which served as the frame for the door-leaf itself’ (2012, 250). Slender capitals are characteristic of some later 12thc doorways (2012, 248). The doorway at Wadworth (South Yorkshire) is a possible example; that has a roll moulding on the angle of the arch, a continuation of the narrow shaft.

Font now at St Michael’s, North Hull: Morris (1919, 328) remarks that ‘The cup-shaped font is perhaps Trans. and exhibits nail-head ornament and a somewhat sprawling arcade.’ The early 12thc church would surely have had a font, and so it is possible, considering the two major 12thc phases in the building itself, that the font also had two periods of working: initially, the cutting of the arcading, and later the nailhead decoration.


R. D. Bell, M. W. Beresford et al., Wharram: a study of settlement on the Yorkshire Wolds, vol III, Wharram Percy: the church of St. Martin, Society of Medieval Archaeology, monograph no. 11, London 1987.

M. Beresford and J. G. Hurst, English Heritage Book of Wharram Percy: deserted medieval village. London 1990.

G. Hutton and E. Smith, English Parish Churches, London 1952.

N. Pevsner & D. Neave, Yorkshire: York and the East Riding, 2nd ed., London 1995, 750-2.

D. Stocker and P. Everson, ‘A new understanding of the church fabric’ in Wharram, a study of settlement on the Yorkshire Wolds. 13 A history of Wharram Percy and its neighbours, ed. by S. Wrathmell et al., York 2012.

Victoria County History: Yorkshire. II (General volume, including Domesday Book) 1912, reprinted 1974, 205, 287, 325.