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

St Edith, Bishop Wilton, Yorkshire, East Riding

(53°59′12″N, 0°47′4″W)
Bishop Wilton
SE 798 552
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, East Riding
now East Riding of Yorkshire
medieval York
now York
  • Rita Wood
24 October 2003; 05 December 2003; 30 March 2004; 18 May 2011; 03 June 2011

Please use this link to cite this page - https://www.crsbi.ac.uk/view-item?i=4825.

Find out how to cite the CRSBI website here.


The village lies along a stream springing from the foot of the Wolds. The church has west tower with spire, aisled nave, and chancel. It is a 19thc. building but retained parts of the medieval church. With tasteful fittings, fine mosaic floor and well-placed lighting, the interior effect is very good. The architect was J. L. Pearson for Sir Tatton Sykes, and the work was done about 1858-9. The sculptural remains for this corpus are confined to the S doorway and the chancel arch: the structure of the chancel itself is said to be ‘Norman too, though few traces remain’ (Pevsner & Neave 1995, 331); 12thc. worked stones have been identified reused in the fabric of the N aisle wall (L. A. S. Butler).

The south doorway is a round-headed doorway of four orders and label, rebuilt by Pearson using 50-60% of the old work in the arches. It is easy to tell the old from the new by the colour of the stone. The new parts he supplied follow the old work, clearly so in areas that are of continuous pattern, but where the entire stone is new the content is also credible (Wood 2011). The chancel arch was reconstructed from finds in the Victorian rebuilding, but the jambs may have remained in place, under a pointed Gothic arch.


The Doomsday Book says that ‘Widton, Wilton or Wiltone’ had been part of a large manor held by Archbishop Eldred, which had 30 carucates or more, and 18 ploughs. Archbishop Thomas had it in 1087, there were 15 rentpayers and 7 ploughs then. ‘A church is there and a priest.’ The manor also included Fridaythorpe.

The church is recorded as dedicated to St Edith of Wilton c. 1060 (Wood 2012, 78, n.1.). Thomas Allen, writing in 1831, says ‘the church peculiar is a perpetual curacy, dedicated to St. Michael…’. It is currently St Edith.


Exterior Features


Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Pearson’s restoration

He had worked for the same patron at Kirkburn in 1856-7. There, the figurative parts of the doorway needed no replacements and he had replaced only patterns. That new work was, so far as we can tell, broadly reliable though not always authentic. Also at Kirkburn, he had made substantial changes in the renewal of corbels, due to decay and Victorian prudery. When, even today, there is debate on the nature of corbel subjects, we can hardly criticise Pearson for what he supplied under pressure to renew, and in ignorance of the subjects. At Bishop Wilton, however, his judgment of the nature of the subjects and the quality of reproduction required are improved. Perhaps there was too much money available for this project, in that the reproduction looks so choosey on the doorway; it had to be extensive on the chancel arch which was rebuilt guided by the few fragments found in the walls. Had the doorway suffered deliberate damage? Or was the arch opening up and stressed? Several surviving voussoirs show cracks; there are radial divisions apparent as lines of efflourescence in some old voussoirs, for example: order 3, nos. 9, 15, 20; order 4 no. 11, 17 and 24. I believe that the reconstruction followed the original relative positions of voussoirs, so perhaps these cracks show stress lines in the stone following the bedding planes. Pearson kept as much old work as he could, and more than others would have done. See Wood 2012, 79-90.

Pattern on order two of chancel arch.

There are similar ridged patterns on platforms at Fangfoss and Etton. The platform idea is used (once) at Fishlake and also in the first order at Stillingfleet, in those cases with figurative sculpture. For other local comparisons, see Wood 2012, 90-95.

The doorway - teaching scheme

Consequent on the faithful reproduction by Pearson, a scheme of teaching can be discerned uniting the sculpture in the arches. Petrine texts are indicated, there is also an archiepiscopal staff carved between capitals of the L jamb. The provision of this display would seem to be connected with the fact that the Archbishop of York held the manor. This was probably the nearest of his manors to York. (Wood 2012, 99-118).

Order 4, stones 17 and 18. J. R. Allen says of these: ‘a man holding two human heads, which he appears about to fasten together with a chain having large terminal rings at each end’ (Allen, 1889, 110). There may be a link from the right stone towards the left ring, but this could be illusion, efflourescence, etc. It is suggested (Wood 2012, 105-07) that the victory of David over Goliath is represented, with the hares being the rescued Israelites.


The sides of their heads have upright leaves or feathers, a feature of beakheads at Etton. Beaks pierced with bored holes occur at Kirkburn and Fangfoss, also at Healaugh, where the holes are not random but along lines. Both beaks being shown above the roll is unusual, as is the decorative treatment of this order: contrast Healaugh. (Wood 2012, 97-99).


J. R. Allen, ‘The Norman Doorways of Yorkshire’, The Reliquary, N.S. III/2, 1889, pp. 108-10.

T. Allen, A New and Complete History of the County of York, London, 1831.

J. E. Morris, The East Riding of Yorkshire. 2nd ed., London, 1919.

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

R. Wood, 'The church of St Edith, Bishop Wilton, East Riding: a sympathetic nineteenth century [sic] restoration allows an interpretation of the Romanesque sculpture', Yorkshire Archaeology Journal 84 (2012), 77-119.