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St Mary Magdalene, Eardisley, Herefordshire

(52°8′9″N, 3°0′23″W)
SO 312 491
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Herefordshire
now Herefordshire
medieval Hereford
now Hereford
  • George Zarnecki
  • Ron Baxter
17 May 1989, 04 May 2005

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The church has a nave with N and S aisles; the N arcade dating from the 13thc., but the S from the late 12thc. There is a 16thc. clerestorey on the S side only. Both arcades are unusual in having an E bay that is lower than the others, and on the south the first pier from the east is actually a section of wall containing a 14thc. niche towards the main vessel. Pevsner has argued that the eastern bay was originally the arch to a chapel, and thus that pier 1 marked the division between the nave and the chancel in the 12thc. Sculptural interest in the S arcade centres on the chamfer stops of the piers, carved with foliage motifs and heads. The present chancel has no masonry arch to it, but a timber arch supported on 19thc corbels. There is a N chapel, now housing the organ, and its arch and the chancel windows are of the early 14thc. The tower stands at the NW of the nave, and was rebuilt in 1707. It seems clear, therefore, that a 12thc aisleless church of nave and chancel was given a S aisle and chancel chapel at the end of the 12thc, and a N aisle and chapel in the 13thc. Early in the following century a new chancel was added, with N chapels, and the former chancel incorporated into the nave. The church was 'thoroughly' restored in 1862 (Duncumb (1897), 47).

The church contains a well-known font, carved by sculptors of the Herefordshire School, and three unpublished carved fragments, one reused as a window sill and two loose. A very short distance to the W of the church stood a castle (see VII).


Eardisley (Herdeslege in DS, 10, 46) is listed in 1086 as the property of Roger de Lacy, held from him by Robert, whom Wightman (154) identified as Robert de Baskerville. He suggests that Eardisley, with its fortified house, was the caput of the Baskervilles (147). Robert was succeeded by Roger (fl.1127), then Ralph I (d.1148/9) who married a daughter of Drew fitz Pons of Clifford Castle, It is said that Ralph killed his father-in law in a challenge (before 1127) and thereafter made numerous benefactions to the church (Coplestone-Crow, 20). It was probably he who rebuilt Eardisley church, using sculptors of the Herefordshire School.

Benefice of Eardisley with Bollingham, Willersley, Brilley, Michaelchurch, Whitney, Winforton, Almeley and Kinnersley.


Interior Features





Loose Sculpture


The scenes carved on the font are also found on other works of the Herefordshire School. Thus, the warriors have their counterpart on a panel in Monmouth Museum (Gwent), though there the combatants fight with their fists (Morris (1983)). The theme of the Harrowing of Hell is carved on a tympanum at Shobdon and another at Billesley, Warwickshire (Morris (1983)), which provides a striking stylistic parallel to the Eardisley font (Morris (1983), and ERA, 137). But the closest comparison to the Eardisley font is the font at Castle Frome. The scenes there are different but the shape of the font, its size and the style of the carving are so similar that it is evident that both were carved by the same sculptor. The main difference however, is that the Castle Frome font rests on crouching figures but it is very likely that the font at Eardisley was originally also supported in this way. Its bowl and base are 0.03m smaller than their counterpart at Castle Frome but the crouching figures at Castle Frome increase the total height to 0.99m. By the addition of some similar support, the height of the two fonts would be practically the same.

At the time the font was produced, before the S arcade was pierced, the church was aisleless and shorter by the length of the present chancel. On the evidence of the loose fragment (iii), it must be assumed that this church had a richly decorated doorway, perhaps similar to that at Kilpeck. Ralph de Baskerville could have certainly afforded a sumptuous building. It is interesting to note that heads similar to Herefordshire School work (see especially pier 3, NW stop) were carved in the chamfer stops of the inserted arcade, some fifty years afterwards.


English Romanesque Art 1066-1200 (exh. cat.). London 1984, 137.

Anon. Archaeologia Cambrensis, IX (1863), 376

B. Coplestone-Crow, 'The Baskervilles of Herefordshire 1086-1300', Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club, 43, 18-39.

F. Bond, Fonts and Font Covers. Oxford 1908, 50, 153, 181, 183, pl.52a-b.

A. W. Clapham, English Romanesque Architecture, II, After the Conquest. Oxford 1934, 155.

C. S. Drake, The Romanesque Fonts of Northern Europe and Scandinavia. London, 2002, 19.

J. Duncumb, Collections towards the history and antiquities of Hereford. V. Hundred of Huntington. By the Rev. Morgan G. Watkins. Hereford, 1897, 34-53.

E. S. Prior and A. Gardner, An Account of Medieval Figure-Sculpture in England. Cambridge 1912, 159, 167.

L. Musset, Angleterre Romane I, Le Sud de l'Angleterre. La Pierre-qui-Vire, 1983.

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Herefordshire. Harmondsworth 1963, 120-22.

R. E. Kaske, 'Piers Plowman and Local Iconography. The Font at Eardisley, Herefordshire', Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 51 (1988), 184-186, pl.l20a-c.

R. K. Morris, 'The Herefordshire School: Recent Discoveries', in F. H. Thompson (ed), Studies in Medieval Sculpture, London 1983, 201, pl.LXXXIb.

RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Herefordshire, 3: North-west,1934, 50-52.

L. Stone, Sculpture in Britain: The Middle Ages. Pelican History of Art, Harmondsworth 1955, 70.

M. Thurlby, The Herefordshire School of Romanesque Sculpture. Logaston 1999, 123-27.

W. E. Wightman, The Lacy Family in England and Normandy 1066-1194. Oxford 1966.

S. Wood, The Eardisley Font Herefordshire, Eardisley History Group, 2012.

G. Zarnecki, Later English Romanesque Sculpture 1140-1210. London 1953, 14, pl.25.

G. Zarnecki, Regional Schools of English Sculpture in the Twelfth Century: the Southern School and the Herefordshire School. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of London, 1951, 316-318.[Available from CRSBI,

G. Zarnecki, Romanesque Lincoln, the Sculpture of the Cathedral, Lincoln 1988.

Herefordshire Sites and Monuments Record 7367. Now available online at http://www.smr.herefordshire.gov.uk/db.php/p