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St Mary, Wharram-le-Street, Yorkshire, East Riding

(54°4′57″N, 0°40′50″W)
SE 864 660
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, East Riding
now North Yorkshire
medieval York
now York
medieval St Mary
now St Mary
  • Rita Wood
10 May 2007, 23 May 2010

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Wharram-le-Street is about six miles SE of Malton; the ‘Street’ is the Roman road from Malton in the direction of Beverley. The church has a chancel, a nave with 14thc. N aisle and modern S porch, and a W tower (plan in Bilson 1923, opposite p. 52). A restoration in 1862-4 involved the rebuilding of the chancel and S nave wall, and the addition of the porch. The tower is a subject of much debate for architectural historians, see Comments.

Outside there are the W doorway and the belfry windows of the tower, also the remains of the S doorway. Inside, as well as the tower arch there are the capitals and jambs of the chancel arch, and a plain font.


The Domesday Book says Chilbert had one manor of 12 carucates, but ‘now’ Nigel (Fossard) has it of the count (Robert of Mortain); it was waste. There were 30 acres of meadow. In the time of King Edward it was worth 100s (VCH II, 226, 324.).

This church, among others, was given to the Augustinian Nostell Priory at its foundation in approx. 1120/1122. It was a gift of Robert Fossard (son of Niel or Nigel) and William his son.

The prebend of Bramham consisted of the impropriations of the churches of Bramham, Wharram-le-Street and Lythe, all gifts of the Fossards. The prebend was annexed, when first founded, by Archbishop Thurstan, to the priory of Nostell, and continued to be held by the prior till the Dissolution. The lands were confirmed to the priory by Henry I, etc. (VCH III, 233; Dugdale 1846, VI, 92-3).

Visited by Sir Stephen Glynne in 1842 (Butler 2007, 437-8).


Exterior Features



Exterior Decoration

String courses

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches
Tower/Transept arches




John Bilson (1923, 64) says that ‘the church must obviously be dated, not by the archaic characteristics which have survived, but by its more advanced details’. He makes comparisons with Saint-Étienne, Caen, in the arches of the doorways which date from about 1080; also at Lincoln c. 1090,Durhamc.1093, andNorwichc. 1096, saying its date at Wharram-le-Street is likely to be in the early part of the 12thc. He says the volute capital with the row of upright leaves on the chancel arch derives from the characteristic Norman capitals and is seen in the crypt of Lastingham (1078-88). The chevron and billets of the hood of the south doorway suggest the earlier years of the 12thc. rather than the end of the eleventh. Bilson attributes the church to Nigel Fossard. He goes on to consider similarities at St Rule’s church in St Andrews, attributing both to the common influence of Nostell Priory (1923, 65).

H. M. & J. Taylor (1965, 647-653; figs. 331, 332) agree with Bilson’s dating of the tower arch and the W doorway to the early part of the twelfth century but ‘…we believe that these archways are later insertions in a main fabric which was built before the Conquest’. They agree with the likeness to the work at St Rule’s, but note that the manor was waste in DB and suggest that the building at Wharram was derelict until restored by Nigel Fossard and Nostell Priory.

Eric Fernie (1983, 166-7; fig. 89) agreed with John Bilson’s ‘ingenious analysis’ and the dating to around 1120.

Richard Gem discusses the dating of Wharram-le-Street along with that of the churches at Kirby Grindalythe, Weaverthorpe and Garton-on-the-Wolds (Gem 1988, 28-30). Of Wharram-le-Street, he writes that ‘it is not possible to be certain whether the tower and west wall of the nave are in bond, but the character of the openings in the tower is distinctively different from the chancel arch and south nave doorway’; he believes the west doorway to be integral with the surrounding walling and of mature Romanesque form (Gem, 1988, 28). In his Postscript to a reprint of this paper, the building is thought more likely to be dated ‘to the tenure of the manor by Nigel Fossard, perhaps two decades earlier than was suggested [earlier]’ (Gem 2001, 745).

Jim Lang (1991) does not discuss the dating of Wharram-le-Street church, presumably because he thought it was all post-Conquest.

Eric Fernie (2000, 216) states that the church ‘has a chancel, a nave, and a west tower, which from the junctions of the walls appear to have been built at the same time. The bell-openings in the tower are flanked by stripwork of a type associated with buildings of Anglo-Saxon date, while the nook-shafts, capitals and arches of the west door of the tower and the tower arch are of broadly Norman character. The moulding of the west arch in particular, with its distinctive angle-roll projecting over a recessed soffit, can be compared with mouldings on the façade of Remigius’s cathedral at Lincoln, probably completed in the early 1090s…The appearance in the same tower of features which can be called Anglo-Saxon and Norman is to be explained by the survival of the earlier features for two generations after 1066, especially in the north, which did not begin to recover from the devastation of the Conquest until after the 1080s. It has been argued that the arches of the tower are insertions into an earlier fabric, but there is no convincing evidence for this.’ See also, Fernie 2000, 310.

There is a good fossil ammonite exposed on L impost of the W doorway. One might expect such a fossil to lie parallel with the bedding, suggesting the stone was used with the bedding vertical.

Gem notes the likeness of the capitals of the W doorway and tower arch to 11thc. capitals at Kirkdale and Broughton in the East Riding (Gem 1988, 28). The chancel arch bases resemble a Norman base of c.1075-1100 (Bayle 1992, fig. 134b). Regarding 12thc. work in the East Riding, there are similarities with the chancel arch at Burton Agnes, which has been restored and made pointed but includes a good proportion of original material; the incised chevron pattern seen on the label of the S doorway of Wharram-le-Street appears in very similar form and workmanship on the label of the chancel arch at Burton Agnes, and that arch also has a roll and hollow sequence. The upright leaves with the folded tip on the L capital of the chancel arch at Wharram-le-Street are a Norman motif, and something like one used on capitals of the chancel arch at Burton Agnes; unfortunately, the accompanying angle volutes at Burton Agnes have been completely remade. At Goodmanham, capitals on the S doorway have upright leaves with turned-over tips and there are spiral volutes. Folkton chancel arch capitals have something of the form and delicacy of Wharram’s tower arch capitals, also spirals and volutes.


Baylé M., Les Origines et les Développements de la Sculpture Romane en Normandie, Caen 1992.

Bilson, J., ‘Wharram-le-Street Church, Yorkshire, and St. Rule’s Church, St. Andrews’. Archaeologia 73 (1923), pp. 53-72.

L. A. S. Butler, ed., The Yorkshire Church Notes of Sir Stephen Glynne (1825-1874). Yorkshire Archaeology Society Record Series 159 (Woodbridge 2007).

W. G. Collingwood, “Anglian and Anglo-Danish sculpture in the West Riding, with addenda to the North and East Ridings of York, and a general review of the early Christian monuments of Yorkshire”. Yorkshire Archaeology Journal 23 (1915), pp.129-299.

W. Dugdale, Monasticon Anglicanum: a history of the abbies and other monasteries, hospitals, frieries and cathedrals… originally published in Latin… 6 vols in 8, London 1846.

E. Fernie, The Architecture of the Anglo-Saxons, London 1983.

E. Fernie, The Architecture of Norman England, Oxford 2000.

R. Gem, “The English parish church in the 11th and early 12th centuries: a Great Rebuilding?”, in J. Blair ed. Minsters and Parish Churches: the Local Church in Transition, 950-1200. Oxford 1988. Reprinted in R. Gem, Studies in English Pre-Romanesque and Romanesque Architecture, vol. 2. London 2001.

J. T. Lang, et al.,York and Eastern Yorkshire. Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture, Vol. 3, Oxford 1991.

G. Lawton, Collectio rerum ecclesiasticarum de dioecesi Eboracensi, London 1842.

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.

H. M. Taylor and J. Taylor, Anglo-Saxon Architecture, Vol 2. Cambridge 1965.

A History of the County of Yorkshire, Vol 2 (General volume, including Domesday Book), Victoria County History, London 1912.

A History of the County of Yorkshire, Vol. 3 (Ecclesiastical History; Religious Houses; Political History; Social and Economic History) Victoria County History, London 1913.