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St Helen, Skipwith, Yorkshire, East Riding

(53°50′18″N, 1°0′11″W)
SE 657 385
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, East Riding
now North Yorkshire
medieval York
now York
medieval St Helen
now St Helen
  • Rita Wood
17 May 2006, 12 Aug 2016

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Feature Sets

The church has a west tower, an aisled nave and chancel; a S porch off the nave and a N vestry off the chancel. The fabric is coursed rubble and ashlar; the earliest work used sandstones probably of Roman origin, and the later work used Magnesian limestone. There was a restoration in 1876-77 under J. L. Pearson (Borthwick Fac. 1876/8; with plans). The manor house is thought to have been south of the church, at a large moated site over the road.

The church is known for its pre-Conquest tower, the lowest stage of which has been dated to c. 950; an upper stage has 11thc twin bell-openings; the arch to the nave is ‘pattern-book Saxon’ (Pevsner and Neave, 1995, 687).

Only one part of the nave arcade falls within the definition of Romanesque; the rest is later. The feature relevant to this Corpus is pier 2 of the N arcade.


In 1086, Hugh, son of Baldric, had a manor of 3 carucates; by 1200, the Bishop of Durham had acquired 2 carcuates. One carucate passed to Robert de Stuteville (VCH, III, 93-94).

The church is first mentioned in 1084, when the king gave it to the bishop of Durham. In the 1120s, the king granted it to Durham Priory. It remained in the peculiar jurisdiction of the priory, whose patronage was confirmed 1154-56 (VCH, III, 99-100).


Interior Features



The striking late 13thc chancel is distinct but, between chancel and tower, the make-up of the nave and its aisles is particularly complex.

The round-headed S doorway is presumably contemporary with the S arcade; the pointed N doorway is later, perhaps due to a later widening of that part of the aisle. The eastern bays (bay 1) of the arcades followed with the present chancel.

The S doorway is round-headed and continuous; it has an inner order with a wide chamfer; the label is mostly of a pinkish sandstone, and the one piece of limestone has decayed badly. The surviving stones are cut with a weathered dentation or sawtooth pattern; the teeth seem to be in the same plane as the chamfer, not quite as on the arcades.

The two W bays of the nave arcades are of interest for their Transitional nature. The continuation in their labels of the so-called 'Norman' zigzag pattern, as dentation, is particularly striking, occurring on both arcades and the S doorway. Even the font and the poor-box might be thought of as continuing the tradition.

N arcade, W respond: even allowing for the damage, the head does not look like a Romanesque face, rather too much is taken from observation. Compare the head at Riccall at the W end of the S arcade, which does have Romanesque features - and another head, at Hemingbrough, similarly a stop on an arcade.

The stone inside the tower, carved with graffiti of men and at least one animal, is discussed in Lang (1991, 214-15, ill. 823).

Font: the dimensions of the interior basin are comparable to those of 12thc fonts, and the facetting of the cup to fit the octagonal base reminded the fieldworker of the adventurous shaping of the font at Ryther, which seems to be up-dating an earlier cylinder.

The site of the manor house was recently excavated. Excavations also accompanied stabilisation work on the foundations of the tower in 2004-05; these were necessary due to undermining by British Coal.


Borthwick Institute, Fac. 1876/8, plans.

J. T. Lang, York and Eastern Yorkshire, Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture, vol. III, Oxford, 1991, 823.

N. Pevsner and D. Neave, Yorkshire: York and the East Riding, London, 1995, 687-98.

A guide to St Helen's Church Skipwith, n.p., n.d. after 1999, current 2016.

Victoria County History: East Riding of Yorkshire,. III (Ouse and Derwent Wapentake; Harthill Wapentake, Wilton Beacon section, west), London, 1976, 93-100.