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St Nicholas, Thorne, Yorkshire, West Riding

(53°36′42″N, 0°57′30″W)
SE 690 133
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, West Riding
now South Yorkshire
medieval York
now Sheffield
  • Barbara English
  • Rita Wood
11 March 2010, 22 March 2017

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Thorne is two miles due E of Fishlake and ten miles NE of Doncaster. The church is in a large churchyard, in an urban setting on three sides, and on the N there are the substantial remains of a motte and bailey castle called Peel Hill.

The church is built of creamy Magnesian limestone, both rubble and ashlar, and has had many parts rebuilt or added. It consists of an embattled W tower and nave enclosed in aisles and has a two-storey S porch. The chancel has N chapel and vestry, and S chapel. The scars of earlier roofs of both chancel and nave are visible.

Among the surviving Romanesque features, three round-headed windows remain in the walls of the chancel. The four-bay nave arcades are pointed and appear to be of the early 13thc, but the bases and capitals of the piers could be earlier. The E capitals are bonded into a wall and could mark the eastward extent of the nave of a preceding church, perhaps the ‘chapel’ mentioned in 1147.

Two round-headed doorways are recorded below but their features make them difficult to date. The window facings, although similar to remnants at several other churches recorded in the S of the Riding, are probably impossible to date. The arcades were recorded as they are likely to be of the same date as the doorways.


Lawton (1842), notes that Thorne was ‘anciently a parochial chapel belonging to the church of Hatfield, and it was given by William earl of Warren to the priory of Lewes’.

Thorne manor was held by the Warennes in 1086, with no mention of a church (Williams et al. 1987-1992). In 1147, Thorne, named as a chapel, was given by Earl Warenne to Cluniac Lewes Priory with the church of Conisbrough and other churches such as Hatfield in the area (Clay 1949).

Thorne was an island in the middle ages, and is now surrounded by moors, known as ‘Thorne Waste’. The church may have been built to serve the castle, (compare with the circumstances at Mirfield). On the motte there is now only one piece of rough masonry visible, although Leland in the early 16thc found a ‘castlet’, well dyked, by the church garth, which was used as a prison for offenders in the forest of Hatfield Chase (Smith 1907).


Exterior Features



Interior Features



The dogtooth pattern used on the S doorway is often taken as diagnostic of post-Romanesque work. At Conisbrough church, to which Thorne chapel was allied, a well-spaced pattern of dogtooth was used on the round-headed S doorway to the S nave aisle, but that doorway has a few earlier features as well – as might be expected for the senior building, the fashion reached there first. Pevsner implies the doorways are contemporary with one or both the arcades.


C. T. Clay, Early Yorkshire Charters 8: The Honour of Warenne. Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series Extra 6. Leeds, 1949, no. 34.

M. Hobson (compiler), A Guide to St Nicholas Church, Thorne. Goole, 1988.

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 ed., London, 1842, 232.

N. Pevsner, Yorkshire : West Riding. The Buildings of England. Harmondsworth, 2nd. ed. revised E. Radcliffe. 1967, 509-10.

J. Raine, “The Dedications of the Yorkshire Churches,” Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 2 (1873), 192.

P. F. Ryder, Saxon Churches of South Yorkshire, SYCC County Archaeology Monograph no. 2, 1982, 97.

L. Toulmin-Smith, Itinerary of John Leland 1535-1543. London, 1907, 36.

A. Williams et al., The Yorkshire Domesday. Alecto Historical Editions. 3 vols. London 1987-1992, fol. 321.