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St Peter, Woolley, Yorkshire, West Riding

(53°36′45″N, 1°31′4″W)
SE 320 130
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, West Riding
now West Yorkshire
formerly St Mary and St Mary
medieval St Mary and St Peter
now St Peter
  • Rita Wood
13 March 2003, 02 June 2016

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Woolley is a village about six miles S of Wakefield, and the church lies to the W of the village. The building consists of a chancel of three bays with chapels to N and S, an aisled nave of four bays, a S porch and a W tower. The church was extensively restored in 1871. Nikolaus Pevsner (1967), 558, describes the church as ‘Perpendicular throughout’; Ryder (1993), 180, thinks the nave walls may date to the 12thc. Romanesque sculpture is found on a reset tympanum, a reset shaft and a font.


The Domesday Survey records that in 1066 'Wiluelai' was held by Turchil, and with Santone was valued at 12 carucates for geld, and worth 60 shillings: now 10 shillings. The manor of Woolley was granted to Robert de Lacy, lord of Pontefract (Walker (1924), 250); the date given for this by Farrer (1916), 125, is 1100-1154. A gift of land at Woolley to Byland Abbey was confirmed by Roger de Lacy between 1193 and 1211 (Farrer (1916), 213). Ecclesiastically, Woolley was a chapelry of Royston, which church was given to the priory of St Mary Magdalene at Monk Bretton by Adam Fitzswain in 1158 (Walker (1924), 287). The priory held the advowson until the Dissolution (Hunter (1831), II, 383).

The name Woolley alludes to the presence of wolves, and, for example, a document of c.1250 mentions 'the church in the north fields and the wulfpyt in the westfields' (Walker (1924), 249, 287).


Interior Features

Interior Decoration





Tympanum: about a dozen carved tympana, or significant fragments of one, survive in Yorkshire. None are from late in our period and several have features reminiscent of pre-Conquest motifs. There is a tympanum over the S doorway to the nave at Thwing (East Riding) which features the Agnus Dei under an arch of zigzag pattern; the jambs of the doorway there have spiral patterned shafts. On a reset tympanum at Ipstones, Derbyshire, a foliate border is included (Keyser (1927), fig. 47), this border is formed of two scrolling stems with leaves alternating from side to side, the stems entwine where they meet near the top of the arch. The sagittate form of some leaves in the border at Woolley is reminiscent of Anglo-Saxon/Danish types (Cramp (1984), XXVI-XXVII), and also occurs in the border at Ipstones.

While one tympanum in such simple work might be overlooked as a means of dating, when several have survived with a similar design (Lamb) and even similar setting (border), this seems to indicate a quite lengthy period when this was the best that sculpture could do to depict the basics of the faith. Consequently, any date after the Conquest and up to about 1130 would be possible, so far as style might decide any date; the tympanum is certainly likely to predate the donation of Royston and its chapels to Monk Bretton Priory of 1158.

Shaft: the sculptor was being asked to carve something he was not familiar with; perhaps an experienced workman began, and another took over. But neither of them seemed to have any method of setting out the pattern - no string (or leather strip), no charcoal or chalk are found.

Walker (1924), 297-8, describes the tympanum and the shaft as being reset in their present locations when the S aisle was built, that is c.1525; this was the last of the medieval extensions and changes to the building. Walker also includes a fold-out plan of the church.

Font: Hunter (1831), II, 389, describes an 'old font circular and capacious'; he does not mention the tympanum or spiral column.


R. Cramp, Grammar of Anglo-Saxon Ornament, Oxford 1984.

J. S. Pearson, St Peter’s Church, Woolley: a brief history, Wakefield 1992.

W. Farrer, Early Yorkshire charters; being a collection of documents anterior to the thirteenth century made from the public records, monastic chartularies, Roger Dodsworth's manuscripts and other available sources, vol. III, Edinburgh 1916, 125-213.

J. Hunter, South Yorkshire: the history and topography of the Deanery of Doncaster, in the diocese and county of York, vol. II, London 1831, 383, 389.

N. Pevsner, and. E. Radcliffe, The Buildings of England, Yorkshire: West Riding, Harmondsworth 1967, 558.

P. Ryder, Medieval Churches of West Yorkshire, Wakefield 1993, 180.

J. W. Walker, 'The Manor and Church of Woolley', Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, 27 (1924), 249-318.