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St Peter, Harswell, Yorkshire, East Riding

(53°51′25″N, 0°45′22″W)
SE 819 408
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, East Riding
now East Riding of Yorkshire
medieval York
now York
medieval St Peter
now St Peter
  • Rita Wood
10 March 2005

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Harswell is a small village, and its small church is half a mile W of it at Manor Farm (‘Manor House’ on the O.S. map). The present building replaced a medieval structure in 1871; it has nave and chancel in one, porch and bell-turret (Pevsner and Neave 1995, 451). For the Victorian string courses, see Comments.

The S doorway was re-used, and reset over it inside is a Norman corbel having two heads. The grave-slab in the floor at the W end of the nave is probably 13thc.


Harswell was a berewick of Warter, as were Thorpe-le-Street and Nunburnholme. The manor had been held by Morcar, but the Domesday Book records is was held by the king. There was a priest and a church - presumably at Warter. Associated, but not contiguous, soclands (Duggleby and East Lutton) were waste, and the value of the manor markedly decreased from £40 to 30s (VCH II, 197). The king’s holding at Harswell was one carucate (VCH II, 320).

Stapleton (c. 1965-6) says that around 1180 William Salvin held the estate and wished the abbot of Selby to present a priest. Stapleton also reports that there is a drawing of the church in the parish records of Holme on Spalding Moor, showing the church in 1840. There was no porch, but a small bell tower; the roof of the nave was lower than that of the chancel and appeared to be of a different material; two windows on the N side and the priest’s doorway on the S had been bricked up. The caption says that the drawing depicts ‘a small and much defaced building’.


Exterior Features


Exterior Decoration

Corbel tables, corbels

Interior Features

Interior Decoration


Victorian string course In 1871 the architect James Fowler of Louth has added a decorated string course in the position of a corbel table. He used a heavy version of the doorway label pattern on the exterior S side of the nave and on the N side of the chancel. On the S side of the chancel he used a zigzagging dentation or sawtooth pattern. Patterned string-courses are not found in this position in the Romanesque period and, anyway, we know there was a corbel table here. Possibly the architect had seen the recently-restored church at Kirkburn, where John Loughborough Pearson had added a row of intermittent dogtooth at the top of the interior nave walls. The inspiration for the second, zigzagging, pattern may have been a now lost mid-wall string-course at Harswell. The pattern recalls fragments of a string course recently revealed which was reused on the E wall at Bielby church (see separate report), although the motif has been exaggerated in the Victorian way.

Corbel with two heads This is a common form of corbel, being also seen at Fangfoss, Kirkburn, and Healaugh (North Yorkshire). It has been suggested that such corbels show people keeping watch, expecting the Second Coming (Wood 2003, 14-19).

Doorway The same pattern on the label occurs at Thorngumbald on the label of a doorway reset inside. At Thorngumbald there are four repeats to a stone, whereas at Harswell it is bolder. No label-stops survive at Thorngumbald, but the label ends short of the level of the imposts on the inner order. There may once have been imposts in the inner order at Harswell. On the W doorway at Etton, the label features the usual form of circumferential billet moulding and has one label-stop surviving; this head is perhaps human, although it was carved by a different craftsman. Human label-stops are not very common in Yorkshire sculpture.


N. Pevsner & D. Neave, Yorkshire: York and the East Riding, 2nd. ed., London, 1995, 241.

H. E. C. Stapleton, A history of St Peter’s church, Halsham, Everingham, c.1965-6.

Victoria County History: Yorkshire. II (General volume, including Domesday Book) 1912, reprinted 1974.

R. Wood, 'The Augustinians and the Romanesque Sculpture at Kirkburn Church, East Yorkshire Historian 4 (2003), 3-39.