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St Mary, Dunsforth or Lower Dunsforth, Yorkshire, West Riding

(54°4′41″N, 1°19′27″W)
Dunsforth or Lower Dunsforth
SE 443 649
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, West Riding
now North Yorkshire
medieval York
now Ripon and Leeds
formerly St Mary
now St Mary
  • Rita Wood
14 Jul 2000

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Dunsforth is a settlement about 3.5 miles SW of Boroughbridge in North Yorkshire. This settlement is named ‘Lower Dunsforth’ on the O.S. map, but Pevsner and the church both call it just Dunsforth. There is an Upper Dunsforth a mile away, but it has no church. Lower Dunsforth has a small Victorian church of 1860 comprising nave, chancel and vestry. However, it contains parts of a richly-sculptured Romanesque archway, a separate capital, and a broken font bowl.


In DB, the lands of Erneis de Burun included Dunsforth. Where formerly Gospatric had had 3 carucates, then Rannulf the man of Erneis had it. It was described as waste. (VCH Yorks., II, 278).

Thiburn, a king’s thegn, held 3 carucates before and after the Conquest: some of this land was given to Robert de Brus after the survey (VCH Yorks., II, 289).

A grant of land in Dunsforth and Branton Green was made to St Mary’s York by H[ugh] de Burun son of Erneis de Burun (VCH Yorks. II, 180).

The church as it was in 1860 is shown in a reproduced photograph hung near the font. It is a simple building with nave, chancel, western bell-cote and porch. The nave does not appear to be symmetrical with the chancel. In the centre of the chancel S wall is a round-headed slit window; other windows are not so convincingly original. The stonework of the walls is roughly coursed, with brick for the E gable and porch. Roofs are in stone slabs, slates and tiles. One is reminded of the history of destruction at Marton cum Grafton, less than three miles away.


Interior Features

Interior Decoration





Arch: The soffit profile of the first order is suitable for the innermost arch of an opening, and a foliage order is often found in the first order at a doorway. The opening is not the original size, since voussoirs 4-7 have been trimmed. However, the voussoirs are not noticeably splayed in making this small opening, so the loss may not have been much more than is apparent. The label seems to fit the curve fairly well, which argues that the archway had only one order. This all suggests that the voussoirs came from a doorway rather than a chancel arch. Similar rosettes to those on the label of the doorway may be seen at Riccall and Bishop Wilton.

Note: During preparation for photography (removal of cobwebs with the fingertips) one small section of the cable ornament of the L capital unfortunately fell off and broke into two pieces. (This will now hopefully have been re-attached by the Conservators). In this break it could be seen that the crimson colour followed the incisions for the cabling. It had presumably been applied as a thin fluid and had soaked into the stone.

Font: The two areas where the patterns were incised are not regular or part of purposeful ornament, and would have been easily concealed by plaster. Perhaps they were a demonstration, or exploration of how to use the compass. It is not clear if the bowl was accidentally or deliberately damaged, and if the latter, to what purpose.

Capital: The carving of a grape vine might suggest that this capital had belonged to a chancel arch, though the grape vine also occurs on the doorway at Riccall. Either way, this capital means that another order must have existed in some form, either in the supposed doorway or as a chancel arch.


N. Pevsner, Yorkshire: West Riding. The Buildings of England (Harmondsworth, 1959); 2nd. ed. revised E. Radcliffe (1967).

VCH Yorkshire, Vol. II.