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All Saints, Sherburn in Elmet, Yorkshire, West Riding

(53°47′43″N, 1°15′38″W)
Sherburn in Elmet
SE 488 335
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, West Riding
now North Yorkshire
medieval York
now York
  • Rita Wood
28 Mar 2000, 02 Jan 2015, 29 Jan 2015

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Sherburn in Elmet is near Selby in North Yorkshire. All Saints is a large church standing to the W of the town and on the crest of the Magnesian limestone escarpment, well seen from the northern approach along the minor road from Lotherton and Aberford, or from Headwell Lane to Saxton. It has a four-bay twelfth-century nave, W tower in a fifth bay enclosed by the aisles, a 13th c. chancel, S chapels of 14th and 15th century dates; porch by the S aisle, with entry to one of the chapels, vestry and organ on N side of chancel.

The church was planned with both aisles and the nave in one build. The S wall disappeared when the aisle was widened, but the N wall still incorporates much 12th century fabric. An unusually low N wall to the N aisle is indicated by the single surviving window opposite Pier 2: England 1931 suggests that nave and aisles were covered by one continuous roof. On the N wall, as well as the arrowslit window, there is a blocked doorway in Bay 2. Externally, on the W wall of the N aisle, half a plain round-headed arch is seen, blocked, and the slope of a roof of some date.

Internally, the remains of an apsed E end to the N aisle survives in the S wall beyond the E respond of the N arcade. The remains are apparent by the stilted curve in the line of the S wall near the organ, with the remains of a plain and chamfered string course. Romanesque remains in situ all relate to the nave, comprising south entrance; nave and its arcades and N aisle;and the lower parts of the W tower.


There is an 11th-century note added to the York Gospels that an Anglo-Saxon church here had two gospel books, an antiphonary, a gradual, two epistolaries, a sacramentary, a hymnal and a psalter (Lapidge 1985, 56-7; Reid and Stott, 6). Kitson 1911, 196, notes other goods mentioned in the church also. Bede (II.14) writes of a monastery in Elmet Wood. The royal manor of Sherburn was given by King Athelstan to the Archbishop of York as a thank-offering for his victory at Brunanburgh, 937 AD (Kitson 1911, 196). See Comments, Peter Ryder.

DB records that there were two churches and two priests; Faull and Moorhouse 1981 suggest Lotherton was a chapel-of-ease to Sherburn-in-Elmet. Sherburn remained in the Archbishop’s hands in the Romanesque period. Kitson suggests it was suitably placed for hunting in Bishop Wood (towards Selby). The most likely archbishop to be responsible for the building is Roger of Pont l'Évêque (1154-81), known for his funding of building at York, Ripon, etc. Archbishop Roger fell seriously ill at one of his manors south of York, either Cawood or Sherburn, in November 1181, died and was buried in Durham Cathedral (Barlow 2004). It is recorded that in 1361 Archbishop Thoresby approved the demolition of his manor house, north of the church, and the reuse of the stone in York Minster; Rest Park and later Cawood became favoured.

Alterations to the S aisle and entrance in the fourteenth century seem to have been undertaken by local families, chiefly the Reygates, whose tombs were there, and whose arms are carved on the porch archway and the S archway and doorway (Kitson 1911, 197-8, ns. 3, 4).


Exterior Features



Exterior Decoration


Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches



Vaulting/Roof Supports


The original 12th c. entrance - assuming a S doorway and not a W one - would have been reset when widening the S aisle in the 14th century. The porch is a rebuild including 12th century material, so it is not certain that a porch existed in the 12th century, though it seems likely. A pre-restoration engraving (1851) shows a pointed arch (Butler 2007, 371). The archway was restored in 1857 - the Faculty plans do not give any details or mark any alterations, and the specification (Borthwick Fac. 1857/1) says merely “repair the Porch”. England (c. 1931) says that the Salvin restoration rebuilt the doorway, re-using some stones.

Faculty documents and plans at the Borthwick Institute detail, firstly, interior work such as the removal of west galleries in 1855 and, secondly, more extensive restoration work in 1857 by Salvin. Before Salvin’s work, the tower had diagonal buttresses inside the church as well as those that still remain outside. Stonework has been retooled extensively with a claw chisel, but the sculptural detail has not been noticeably tampered with.


Details on the arcades, such as the hollow chamfer on the imposts and the squat proportion of the capitals, suggest they are much later than comparisons that immediately spring to mind, such as Selby Abbey (bases under the round piers of Phase II - Fernie 1995, 41 but no dates suggested) and Gloucester Cathedral (the round columns, round capitals, and lateral chevron on the soffit as on the porch archway at Sherburn). For arcades with squat capitals, several late-twelfth-century comparisons exist locally, for example, at Spofforth, Drax and Healaugh.

Pevsner suggests the tower was built last, because of the nature of the surviving vaulting corbel and the chamfered ribs. The S doorway has a keeled moulding, which is not used in the arcades, and the pause in building between the tower and porch may not have been long since the archway has voluted stops like one of the tower arches. The ball-shaped foliate label-stops on the archway, as well as its pointed arch, are well on the way to Gothic, but the chevrons and waterleaf capitals still tie the design to the rest of the twelfth-century nave.

Peter Ryder visited the church with the fieldworker (29 Jan 2015) and the following observations were made:

The wall between the nave and chancel, seen from the chancel, on the N side shows very large quoin stones for at least half its height. This feature, together with a scatter of pink sandstone blocks used among the limestone throughout the nave, suggests the existence of a pre-Conquest church of some size, reused by post-Conquest builders. Sandstones were favoured for Anglo-Saxon churches.

The porch was examined and seems to have been rebuilt several times. A disturbance in the walling of the S aisle above the porch suggested that, if there had been a 12th-century porch, then there may have been a room added over it at some later date. This upper room or parvise could also have been the reason that the W side of the adjacent chapel ends abruptly in a straight vertical line, unlike its E side. The label to the outer archway was not thought to be 12th-century (as the fieldworker had supposed, see comments below) but later: stronger profile, different stone. The W and E walls of the porch, seen from inside, are of very different fabric; a reason for this was not settled upon, but the difference again suggests that the porch is not of one build. Those pieces of the outer archway that are without doubt 12th-century might have come from a porch, or from something else.

S entrance: archway and doorway (and see above, Peter Ryder)

Stones in the archway which are 12th century: bases; the waterleaf capitals; parts of first order arch; numerous chevron voussoirs in second orders internal and external. Some stones are very new (due to Salvin's restoration), these are shafts, half the first order arch; several chevron voussoirs both outside and inside the arch. A small amount of the stonework in the first order is probably dateable to the building of the new S aisle in the 14th century: the two coats of arms between the waterleaf capitals are likely to be, L, Reygate, and R, the arms of archbishop Thoresby (Kitson 1911, 198 n. 4). The church pictured by John Dixon in 1851, that is, before the Victorian restorations, shows a porch entrance with the pointed arch, much as now.

The N porch at Selby Abbey has a round-headed opening, but is flanked by sharply-pointed blank arches. The W doorway at Nun Monkton is round-headed, but its label has a similar profile to the Sherburn archway (mostly restored but there are two original stones at about ten-o'clock); the label-stops at Nun Monkton, human heads, are likely to be Victorian replacements - however, Ryder was certain the label is later. The water-holding bases to the columns may be compared to those on the N porch at Selby Abbey, or at Nun Monkton.

There is a late 12th-century porch at Bilton-in-Ainsty. This leads to a plain doorway that has only one continuous order with a slight chamfer. The Bilton archway itself has bases, thick waterleaf and triple scallop capitals comparable to those at Sherburn; its three round arches are plain and chamfered, like the tower arches at Sherburn. It may be relevant that the nave and aisles at Bilton are under one roof, though the arcades are apparently of slightly different dates. Only the chancel arch at Bilton has a chevron order, with chevron clasping a heavy roll on each side.

The most unusual thing (to the fieldworker) about the porch archway at Sherburn is the use of a chevron order on the interior of the arch, facing those coming out of the church. This aspect, like the E face of a chancel arch, is usually plain. However, the inside order has very few original voussoirs, which is suspicious. The N porch at Selby Abbey saves its chevron for the doorway into the nave aisle - although some ornamentation creeps onto the interior of the doorway from the first order; the interior of the outer archway has only moulded orders. At Bishop Wilton, the pattern on the first order of the S doorway continues onto the interior face of the order in the same way as at Selby. Might the two orders of chevron on the porch have originally been parts of a chancel arch?

Window in W wall of nave

Pevsner (1967, 481) says ‘the W window of the nave above the tower arch [is] a shafted, completely Norman window… '.

There are good reasons for thinking that this entire window is a reproduction, produced during the 1857 restoration. The earlier faculty papers (1855/5), in a west elevation drawing of the existing facilities (No. 1), do not show a window above the two galleries then existing on this wall; there is a pointed feature in the centre of the upper gallery which has no recognisable function as door or window, and it might just be an ornament of the panelling on the wall behind the seating. The drawing is not accurate for the finer points of the arcade, and the tower arch has only two orders, but it is good enough for the relevant features of the faculty application. The present window is much higher up the wall than the pointed feature. In the proposed scheme (No. 2), with the galleries taken away and replaced by an organ at ground level, the wall is blank from the tower arch to the ceiling which rests on the present corbels, and a window in the clerestory of the nave N wall is shown. There may, of course, have been an earlier opening which had been blocked, perhaps because it had suffered by movement in the wall, and this could have been reopened by Salvin. A window in this position is quite common, but it is always plain. The present window opens into the bell-ringers' chamber, so it would have served a useful function.

Traces of an apse on the N aisle. The assumption is that the church had three apses.

Arcades: Patterns

The variety of patterns on the scallop capitals might be compared to those used in the apse at Birkin (for example, the apse arch, N side, has sheathed treatment of a reeded panel, spiral volutes and hollow cones) but these features recur fairly widely. The impost at Birkin has a double quirk, not such a common feature. For porch comparisons, see below.

Comparison of N and S arcades; especially waterleaf.

It is interesting to compare the capitals of the N arcade, W respond, with the S arcade, E respond. The capitals are much the same except for the treatment of the scallops on the angles; but the noticeable difference is that the impost profile is more elegant on the N arcade. This contrast of skill is even more evident in comparing the capitals of each pair of piers. The W respond capital on the S arcade is probably by the same master as all the capitals of the N arcade, and might perhaps have functioned as a model for the apprentice to cut the waterleaf capitals of the archway of the porch. The distribution of the thick-leaved waterleaf carving might throw up some interesting connections in the Riding.


M. Lapidge, ‘Surviving booklists from Anglo-Saxon England’, no. 6. pp.56-7, in M. Lapidge and H. Gneuss (eds.), Learning and Literature in Anglo-Saxon England: Studies presented to Peter Clemoes (Cambridge, 1985).

F. Barlow, ‘Pont l'Évêque, Roger de (c.1115–1181)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004).

Borthwick Institute Faculty papers 1855/5; 1857/1

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

E. W. Crossley, 'All Saints Church, Sherburn-in-Elmet', Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 21 (1911), pp. 198-201.

R. W. England, All Saints’ Church, Sherburn-in-Elmet (c. 1931).

M. L. Faull and S. A. Moorhouse, West Yorkshire: an archaeological survey to AD 1500 (Wakefield, 1981).

S. D. Kitson, 'All Saints Church, Sherburn-in-Elmet', Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 21 (1911), pp. 195-198.

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

P. Reid and K. Stott, All Saints Parish Church Sherburn-in-Elmet (2011).