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St Nicholas, Butterwick, Yorkshire, East Riding

(54°7′47″N, 0°29′0″W)
SE 992 715
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, East Riding
now North Yorkshire
medieval York
now York
  • Rita Wood
22 May 2007

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The church is in a pasture field reached through the yard of Manor House Farm. It is a long low building, nave and chancel in one, with modern bellcote. As at Speeton, there are no windows on the N wall. Restored in 1882-3, only the western walling, for example to the L of the porch, is 12thc. Traces of a Norman chancel arch were revealed during the late 19thc. restoration, but nothing is recognisable today.

There is an arcaded font and six reset corbels inside the church, also two fragments reset outside on the W buttress, and a windowhead in walling.


In 1086, there were two estates at Foxholes (a slightly larger settlement 2 miles NE of Butterwick), both belonging to the king. Robert de Brus later received the larger one, 5 carucates. In 1086 there was one estate at Butterwick containing 12 carucates which was held by the count of Mortain; by the early 12thc. this was held by the Fossard family.

The chapel of Butterwick was for long dependent on Foxholes. About 1100-1115 Foxholes was given by Geoffrey Bainard to St Mary’s Abbey, York. A church at Butterwick was probably granted to St Mary’s Abbey along with Foxholes. The first certain reference is between 1122 and c.1137 when it was described as a chapel belonging to Foxholes church. At this same date, St Mary’s abbey, in recognition of half a carucate of land given by Durand of Butterwick, agreed that a priest should perpetually celebrate in Butterwick chapel. The tithes of Butterwick were let by St Mary’s abbey between 1161 and 1184. In 1184-9, Robert son of Durand of Butterwick confirmed his father’s gift to the abbey of the advowson of Butterwick.


Exterior Features

Interior Features

Interior Decoration






The long neck on nos. 2 and 3, and the ring-like ear on no. 3 resemble features of corbels reset at Thwing. Nos. 1, 5 and 6 are certainly not real animals, but would be intended as evil spirits; nos. 2 and 3 might perhaps be real animals, e.g., sheep, and therefore symbolic, perhaps of a priest or a member of the flock.

The Font

Morris (1919), says ‘very large and remarkably fine old Norm. font, with arcade of a common type.’ The concave stem is probably not 12thc., but added later when the bowl was found too low for current baptismal practice, perhaps in the 13thc. The cylinder itself is worn at the bottom, suggesting it was not always at this height and might have been moved about on the floor. The pieced circular base might be original, similar ones have been seen at Wharram Percy and Yapham, for example. The pattern elements (arcade and cable) are seen similarly made on the font at Sherburn (East Yorkshire), which has ten bays, with tree motifs in nine of them. The cable moulding is rounded, well-made and worked on the rim as well as the side; it is a little better made than the cable at Sherburn, and slopes the other way, perhaps that made it easier to cut.


J. E. Morris, The East Riding of Yorkshire. 2nd ed., (1919), 126.

N. Pevsner and D. Neave, The Buildings of England: Yorkshire: York and the East Riding, 2nd ed. (London 1995), 381.

J. Raine, “The Dedications of the Yorkshire Churches”, Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 2 (1873), 180-192.

A History of the County of York: East Riding, Volume 2, Victoria County History (London 1974), 193, 196-8, 323.