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St John the Baptist, Wadworth, Yorkshire, West Riding

(53°28′0″N, 1°8′45″W)
SK 568 970
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, West Riding
now South Yorkshire
medieval York
now Sheffield
  • Barbara English
  • Rita Wood
14 April 2011

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A large church of creamy limestone, on a hill, overlooking a wide plain. Stone W tower in stages, with parapet; battlemented nave. A rectangular church with a S chapel addition and N vestry as a smaller addition. The earliest structures of the building were built in the 12thc; Romanesque sculptural remains are abundant and consist of a N and S doorway, a round-headed window visible in the exterior wall of the chancel, windows at W end of nave and tower, N and S porches, nave and S aisle arcades, string courses, and a piscina. Faculty papers in the Borthwick Institute, Fac. 1868/12, include a plan but it is extremely fragile and was not opened.


The vill is in Domesday Book but no church is mentioned. A chaplain of Wadworth occurs in 1201 (Clay 1958, 133) in connection with a grant of land from the dean and chapter of York, under which patronage remained until 1232: it can be assumed that the church existed then. The church was appropriated to the prebendary of South Cave before 1230 (Lawton 1852, 237, Clay 1959, 18). The prebend was South Cave, Wadworth and part of Otley.


Exterior Features




Interior Features



Interior Decoration

Blind arcades
String courses


Piscinae/Pillar Piscinae


Nave N and S arcades

In the 1820s Joseph Hunter noted that ‘the massy cylindrical columns between the nave and side aisles…, probably the arches springing from these columns, which are now pointed, were originally circular, like that between the nave and chancel. In the wall of the south aisle are six stone seats, beneath circular arches, supported by round pillars with Saxon capitals. The church is dedicated to St. Mary’ (Hunter 1828, I, 253). Pevsner (1967, 525-526) poses all sorts of questions about the arches of the two nave arcades, as well as the associations of the various components of the late-12thc work, the pointed arches and later features. The N arcade is ‘typical of c.1190-1200’ and the S arcade ‘is definitely later than the N arcade…. It has the standard octagonal piers and double-chamfered arches [yet] the responds are still keeled in the taste of c.1190-1200.’ Similarly, although the responds of the N arcade might perhaps have been retained from an earlier phase, from the mixture of features it appears more likely that the whole N arcade and its doorway are coeval. From the similarities between the two arcades – each has paired responds and a pair of similar piers – it begins to look as though the S doorway, with its nailhead and pointed opening, and the N arcade, with its voluted respond, could even have belonged to one (extended) campaign. The N and S arches in the tower are not so different from the arches of the nave arcades. The use of the similar string course on N and S walls ties the whole thing together. There was an overall plan to prepare the nave for processional use, in a way that is reminiscent of the alterations at Conisbrough church, and (perhaps) Campsall. The foliage on the E respond capital of the N arcade might recall heavier patterns used on the S nave arcade at Spofforth: that arcade has octagonal imposts and one octagonal pier; the similarity also extends to the carving on the bell of the same capital. For the W respond capital, there may be some echoes from the octagonal capital with foliage in the N arcade at Brodsworth.

S aisle blank arcade and piscina

Pevsner (1967, 525-526) considers the blank arcade as a ‘proof of a very ambitious and spacious Late Norman church’, and believes it contemporary to the S doorway, which capitals are said to be 'characteristic c13 work’, as also Morris (1919, 516-7) briskly noted. The lowest level, on which the bases of the piers is set, was presumably intended as seating, so the floor level must have been raised perhaps as much as 0.3m. Similar round-headed piscinas can be found at Kirk Sandall and Bolton Priory, whilst trefoil-headed basin and piscinas are in Conisbrough castle. At Adwick-le-Street the structure of the sedilia, the original fragments of base, and capital preserved there are very comparable to parts of the blank arcade in the S aisle.

String courses

Morris has called this profile ‘beaked’ and Draper says (2006, 92) ‘the beaked roll and an ogee profile to the keel [both illustrated from Morris], seem to have been developed in England, where these new ideas were taken up and explored more fully than in France.’ The spiral termination of the string course in the N aisle recalls a label stop on a blocked doorway in the S aisle of the nave at Fountains Abbey; the spiral is also used on a fountain-head at the abbey. Those spirals are rounded in cross-section and heavier than that at Wadworth.

S doorway

Profile of impost/capitals, also roll and nailhead combination, and even the weathering of the stone, are very similar to the S doorway at Adwick-le-Street. The style of the foliage on the angle of the porch capital recalls carving which used to be on the doorway at St Denys, York (foliage from the mouth of a mask, L side capital). Some comparisons with other sites can be made: e.g., it might recall the N porch at Selby Abbey.


C. T. Clay, York Minster Fasti I, Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series 123, Leeds, 1958, 133.

P. Draper, The Formation of English Gothic: architecture and identity, New Haven and London, 2006, 92.

J. Hunter, South Yorkshire, Deanery of Doncaster, 1, Nichols, London, 1828, 253.

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, London, 1842, 237.

J. E. Morris, The West Riding of Yorkshire, London, 2nd ed., 1919, 516-517.

N. Pevsner, revised by E. Radcliffe, The Buildings of England, Yorkshire, The West Riding, Harmondsworth, 1967, 525.

P. F. Ryder, Saxon Churches in South Yorkshire, South Yorkshire County Council Archaeology Monograph, 2, Sheffield, 1982.