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St Peter and St Paul, Drax, Yorkshire, West Riding

(53°43′49″N, 0°58′36″W)
SE 676 265
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, West Riding
now North Yorkshire
medieval York
now York
  • Rita Wood
16 Sep 1996

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Long before it became known as the location of a famous power station, the village of Drax, located some 6 miles SE of Selby, was associated with Drax Priory. St Peter and Paul is a light church of simple plan: W tower, aisled nave, chancel with N chapel. Reset figure carvings above the nave arcades, and the clerestory windows, are said to have come from Drax Priory (Hunter (1988), 18). There are also good wooden bench ends. The N arcade, corbels on the now-enclosed S nave wall and seven other corbels reset in the porch are sculptural remains of the twelfth century. The tower, chancel arch and parts of blocked windows in the N wall of the nave are early survivals, together with a plain font. (See Pevsner (1967), pp. 186-7).


The church was given to Drax priory by Paynel along with other churches in Lincolnshire. The priory was an Augustinian house founded by William Paynel in the mid twelfth century in the reign of Henry I, with the advice of Archbishop Thurstan. There are no visible remains of this priory which was located about 1½ miles NNW of the church.


Exterior Features


Exterior Decoration

Corbel tables, corbels

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches
Tower/Transept arches



Interior Decoration





It is suggested that the corbels at Drax illustrate reactions of people and evil spirits to the Second Coming. This would be the event looked for by the human heads, the man, no. 3, and the woman on the corbel in the S aisle.

The corbels in the porch are convenient for inspection, and the detail in nos. 2 and 5 is especially interesting. In their original position high on the outside wall, the small animals that are held in the mouths of these beasts would have been obvious, and they would have been much more important than they appear now when the direction of view is altered. The small animals are not whimsical additions but are complete figures, positioned as if naturally at rest. The sculptures as a group are fearsome with their teeth and bulging eyes, but individual animals may express surprise, or even dismay, as no. 4 with its eyes awry; those beasts on the corbels inside the church are muzzled, that is, unable to bite and no longer harmful. The small animals at Drax could illustrate the deliverance or resurrection of the blessed - in the form of lambs, or perhaps small lions - out of the mouths of Death or lesser devils.

A small crouched animal very like these also occurs on a corbel inside Selby abbey, on the NW pier of the crossing. From this comparison, it may be seen that the nave at Drax, with the corbels and the chancel arch, represents an earlier Romanesque phase than the N arcade and tower arch, which have Transitional Gothic features.

The font is of uncertain date, although it is of similar dimensions to other fonts in the East Riding. See Hunter (1988), p. 14.


Borthwick Inst. Fac. 1896/4 Restoration; Fac. 1905/17 Alteration and part rebuilding.

J. Hunter, The History of Drax, in 2 vols (Goole, 1988).

Lyttleton, Drawings of Saxon Churches, (Soc. Ant.) with engraving of N arcade. See Courtauld neg. 293/59 (31)