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St Martin, Burton Agnes, church, Yorkshire, East Riding

(54°3′13″N, 0°19′5″W)
Burton Agnes, church
TA 102 633
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, East Riding
now East Riding of Yorkshire
medieval York
now York
medieval St Martin
now St Martin
  • Rita Wood
21 Sep 2004, 04 Apr 2015, 12 Sep 2015

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The church, as most descriptions mention, is approached from the S through a tunnel of yew trees. 'The body of the church is Norman, as shown by the corners of the nave and a blocked S window visible from the aisle' (Pevsner & Neave 1995, 365). Morris 1919, 122, notes the blocked window, and corbels above the arcade.

There is a west tower, an aisled nave, and a chancel, which is not large. The arcades are similarly pointed throughout, giving unity to the interior. The lighting from clerestory windows is also good. Against this setting, the various items of the 18th-century woodwork also look well. In the E bay of the N aisle are notable tombs (under restoration in 2004). The church was not restored in one great Victorian sweep, but has been improved on by patrons in the 18th century, and the Rev. Robert Wilberforce, son of the reformer, in the mid 19th. Some of the stonework has been made good with a fine cement-like filler, although in places this is coming loose.

There is a font with arcading; much of what must have been a round-headed chancel arch remains (but how much is uncertain), and a few corbels are seen from the S aisle. Some of these features have been retooled or even more severely reworked.


Burton Agnes church is mentioned c.1100-1125 when Geoffrey Bainard gave it to St Mary’s Abbey in York with two-thirds of the demesne tithes. It was not fully appropriated until 1220; the advowson remained with the Abbey till the Dissolution. The building may date from 1125-50, and is represented by stonework in the nave, the chancel having been rebuilt. It is quite close to the early manor house block (see separate report).

The chancel was 'rebuilt by [the patron] Sir William St Quintin in 1730 while the rest of the chancel was rebuilt by Robert Isaac Wilberforce, vicar 1840-54, in memory of [his father]' (Pevsner and Neave 1995, 365).


Exterior Features


Exterior Decoration

Corbel tables, corbels

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches






Corbel NS3.

Voussoirs in the Adel chancel arch, third order, nos. 30 and 31, have the same combination of two human heads with an animal mask below. The human faces on the two voussoirs at Adel are smiling; they have a curved mouth with teeth showing, all delicately outlined with an incised line. Similar combinations of three heads occur on the S doorway at Bishop Wilton. The Burton Agnes corbel is coarser than at either of those sites, but at least one of the faces could be laughing or smiling with an open mouth. The face on the SE side recalls the gaping mouth of St Margaret on the font from Cottam now at Langtoft - perhaps she is shown gasping or laughing as she emerges from the dragon; in both cases the expression could be in reaction to the resurrection.

Chancel arch:

Pevsner & Neave 1995, 365, say 'the chancel arch is Norman too in so far as it is not Victorian.' From the relatively-early nature of the patterns used on the label and capitals, it would have been a round-headed arch, not a precociously-pointed one, so some extra voussoirs would have been needed - if the span is as first built. The manner of restoration makes it hard to distinguish old work from new, so much has been retooled.

There is incised double zigzag at Millington, on the S doorway; and a double zigzag on the S doorway at Lockington where the space between the parallel lines is very slightly rounded as for a chevron roll. Both surviving patterns at Burton Agnes - the upright leaves and the zigzag - are likely to be early 12thc, whereas the period favoured by those who rebuilt the arch pointed and chamfered is about a century later. No close parallels for the motif used on the capitals is known, but presumably it was an upright leaf design, with a short leaf on the ring of the capital and a turned-down tip as seen in Caen, as well as on early sites in England, such as the first piers in the S arcade of Selby Abbey.

N arcade:

'The unmoulded arches have been made pointed later' say Pevsner and Neave. The capitals of the arcade are later than the (original) chancel arch and perhaps it had pointed arches from the start. It recalls the N arcade at Drax which, though still round-headed, has similar squat capitals (including waterleaf) and its arches, though patterned, have a dominant square profile with plain soffits. The S arcade at Spofforth is another late twelfth-century comparison, with plain and square round-headed arches over squat octagonal capitals. Pointed arches were made in our period, for example at Campsall in the crossing.

The multi-scallop form is not common in Yorkshire.


A similarly shallow cutting of an arcade is seen on the font at Norton, but that font, a square basin on four legs, would probably be given a later date than the cylindrical font at Burton Agnes. The design with many narrow repeats of intersecting arcading is comparable to the Wetwang font, but the proportions and handling are different, the form of capital is unusually elaborate at Burton Agnes and there are no semicircles along the bottom at Wetwang. Arcaded fonts are quite common in the Wolds (Wood 2011, 145-6).

The recessed semicircles around the bottom of the cylinder are seen on the font from Auburn now at Wragby. The font base at Barmston has a similar arched pattern, although more developed, and that base seems to be original. The font at Atwick probably had a similar base before the medieval recutting. The font at Cowlam has several semicircles in this position, but there they are a part of the scene of the Virgin and Child and include foliage patterns. The recessed semicircles also recall the pattern used on the S wall corbel table at Millington and on the S doorway there.


R. Wood, "The Augustinians and the Romanesque font from Everingham, East Riding" Y. A. J. 83 (2011), 112-47.

J. E. Morris, The East Riding of Yorkshire. 2nd ed. (1906) 1919.

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

Victoria County History: East Riding of Yorkshire. II (Dickering Wapentake). 1974.