We use cookies to improve your experience, some are essential for the operation of this site.

St Wilfrid, Brayton, Yorkshire, West Riding

(53°46′18″N, 1°5′6″W)
SE 604 310
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, West Riding
now North Yorkshire
medieval York
now York
  • Rita Wood
19 Feb, 30 Mar, 20 July, 14 Aug 1998, 30 Jul 2014

Please use this link to cite this page - https://www.crsbi.ac.uk/view-item?i=3622.

Find out how to cite the CRSBI website here.


A large church of greyish white limestone with a tall spire about a mile and a half from Selby Abbey. To the NE, the Victorian extension of Selby along Brook Street, with hospital and schools, comes close, and to the SW is Brayton itself. The church has green spaces immediately around it; most of these areas are known to flood seasonally; the churchyard itself has an area that floods quite often. Since the 12th-century parts of the church are unlikely to have much footings, and certainly no damp course, the parts of interest to this Corpus are seen to be suffering worst from efflorescence (rising damp) and algal growth (constant damp), not only externally but on internal walls as well. The decay is accelerating, as comparing the earlier photos with the recent ones may demonstrate. The church comprises W tower, aisled nave, S porch; chancel and N vestry. The unbuttressed tower is largely of 12thc date, up to and including the corbels on the four sides. The chancel arch also remains largely intact except where restored. The S doorway of three orders was reset from its original position when the S aisle was added. The N arcade was cut in the N wall of the Norman nave. The nave and chancel seem unusually spacious, this is perhaps because there is no chancel step but only a step at the sanctuary.

A restoration by J. L. Pearson, c.1877 or so (Borthwick Instituete Fac.1877/3) repaired damage but was not excessively zealous; Pearson probably added the porch, but, as at Riccall, this has added to the problems of damp. Previous work done about 1868 is likely to have been responsible for some of the over-heavy restoration treatment on the chancel arch, such as tinkering with heads, and the bolder label.

Traces of medieval paint remain on S arcade bay 3 (that is, on a surface later than the Romanesque), on 12thc work on the N side of the tower arch, nave face of third order, and on a medallion of the S doorway. Internally, on the W wall of the nave above the tower arch, can be seen the original roof line, and also a rectangular opening, now blocked. There is a similar rectangular opening in the wall above the chancel arch. This too is blocked. The quality of the sculpture is high, the state of preservation generally good inside the church, but worsening on the doorway due to damp from ground water and the lack of a damp course combined with the restricted circulation of air within the porch. To summarise, items of interest here are the S doorway, chancel arch, tower arch, font, and corbels on the tower.


Lawton 1842, 56, says: Drax Abbey had 4 acres of land in Brayton, Nun Appleton Priory had 2 oxgangs, and Selby Abbey had large possessions here... the church of Brayton was given to the Abbot of Selby, but in 1293 it was appropriated to the archdeaconery of York.


Exterior Features



Exterior Decoration

String courses
Corbel tables, corbels

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches
Tower/Transept arches

Interior Decoration

String courses




Documents at the Borthwick note ‘whitewash and colour removed’ in 1868, ie, before Pearson’s work as detailed in Fac.1877/3. Pearson’s specification does not mention renewal of stonework eg., at chancel arch hoodmould.

No trace of the 12th c. E end remains, but the total length beyond the chancel arch is more than the nave – Glynne (Butler 2007, 119) says chancel 54 feet, nave 47 1/2 feet. Perhaps there was a presbytery and apse as at Birkin or Steetley.

Doorway, order 3, medallions 7-9. I suggest the kneeling, bound man in medallion 8 is Adam in Hades awaiting redemption. The medallion is flanked on the L by a large star (the light spoken of in mystery plays as suddenly shining at this point in the story?), and on the R by the Agnus Dei.

Doorway, order 3, medallions 10 and 11. The boarhunt as an allegory of a priest guiding his people in their encounters with the Devil is discussed in Wood 2004, 89-95.

Doorway, order 3, medallions 12-14. I suggest 12 is a Foolish Virgin, 14 a Wise one. The centaur shoots vaguely in the direction of the foolish; the stool in medallion 14 shows the woman has been sitting waiting. Several further examples in Yorkshire, Wood 1994, fig. 7.

Doorway, order 4. Beakheads at Brayton are clearly shown biting the roll moulding. On many doorways with beakheads, this is not obvious, but is still certain because only the upper mandible is carved - there was not usually the competence in the sculptor to show the gape open and the mandibles biting the moulding. This makes no. 13 remarkable, it has the mandibles closed and lying over the moulding. If, as I have suggested, the beakheads represent evil spirits controlled or impeded by the 'gag' of the moulding, this odd one still free to inflict damage on its human prey is some sort of warning. See Wood 2012, 15.

Doorway, order 4. Men among beakheads (voussoirs nos. 6, 22, 24). Only one of these heads is in good condition, but probably all three had symmetrical beards, solemn faces and some sort of simple crown or hat marked with a cross. I have suggested that here they represent believers among evil spirits or temptations but with their miinds fixed on a heavenly crown in the after-life. See Wood 1994, 78-82.

Chancel arch, capitals of first order. Wyverns and lions. It is suggested that these pairs represent God the Father and God the Spirit. The wyverns would complete a Trinity with the cross in the soffit of the arch; the lions look E towards the altar and so complete a second Trinity. The winged wyverns and the abstract cross form a more 'spiritual' Trinity that the other, which has its feet literally on the earth.


L. A. S. Butler, ed., 'The Yorkshire Church Notes of Sir Stephen Glynne (1825-1874)', Y. A. Soc. Record series 159, Woodbridge 2007.

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.

R. and D. Malthouse, A History of Brayton Parish Church, np. 1986.

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

R. Wood, Romanesque Yorkshire. Leeds 2012.

R. Wood, 'The Romanesque Doorways of Yorkshire, with special reference to that at St. Mary's Church, Riccall', Y. A. J. 66 (1994), 59-90.

R. Wood, 'The Romanesque font at St Marychurch, Torquay',Devon Archaeol. Soc. Proc. 62 (2004), 79-98.