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St Mary Magdalene, Campsall, Yorkshire, West Riding

(53°37′14″N, 1°10′44″W)
SE 544 141
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, West Riding
now South Yorkshire
medieval York
now Sheffield
  • Rita Wood
21 August 1995, 11 October 2005

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A large church with at least two main phases of 12th-century building identifiable: at first it had a cruciform plan; later, nave aisles enclosing a west tower were added. Pevsner 1967, 154, says Campsall church has ‘the most ambitious Norman west tower of any parish church in the Riding’. Subsequently, alterations have been made to the aisle arcades, windows, chancel and south doorway. The church was restored between 1871 and 1877 by G. G. Scott (Borthwick Institute Faculty Papers 1871/2 with plan) and piecemeal after. Restoration of stonework on the tower was in progress in 2005. Romanesque sculpture is on the west doorway and tower; one chancel window (inside and out); arches at the crossing; and numerous loose and reset fragments.


Hunter 1831, 460, says 'Campsal church was the joint work of the Lacis, the chief lords, and the Reineviles, the subinfudatories. It exceded [the churches of Bramwith, Owston and Burgh] in magnificence as much as it did in the extent of country that was attached to it' [this included Norton, Sutton, Askern, Moss and Fenwick].

The manor thrived after the Conquest, rather than retracting, and was largely owned directly by Ilbert de Lacy (Hunter 1831, 463).

There were originally two rectors, one appointed by each family; this continued until about the time of Henry III (Hunter 1831, 463).


Exterior Features



Exterior Decoration

String courses
Corbel tables, corbels

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches
Tower/Transept arches
Nave arches

Interior Decoration


Loose Sculpture


Compare particularly Kirk Bramwith for: excavated centre of capital (‘mushroom’), short upright leaves, beakheads, nipping chevrons with folded lozenges, and lugs. See also below, pointed arches. Some of the sculpture, including the chevron orders on the west doorway, foliage on loose pieces, and the south crossing capitals remind me vaguely of Edlington chancel arch.

Arcading at belfrey level; the whole arrangement of the belfrey windows might be compared to architecture surviving at Cluny in the tower called ‘le clocher de l’Eau Bénite’. See Conant 1968, pl. L, fig. 94. The pointed arches and frontal chevrons of the transept arches bring to mind the nave arcades at Malmesbury Abbey (see below, pointed arches). The pattern of chevron bars making lozenges, as on the west doorway in order 4, the north aisle arch and reset fragments in the south wall, occurs at Castle Acre Priory in Norfolk. Considering the local evidence for Cluniac ideas in the content of the doorway at Fishlake, for example, it is not impossible that their architectural forms also might have been brought to Yorkshire.


Original walling remains in situ on the western half of the north wall of the present chancel, but on the southern exterior there are only random pieces which resemble that work. Inside, it can be seen that the chancel extends further south in relation to the chancel arch than on the north, see plan. It is on this side also that the chancel arch respond was renewed. It looks as though the south wall had to be rebuilt, and from rubble, since fragments were available to be re-used. The pilasters with angle columns are not matched by those extant on the north wall, and so they may have come from the east wall (if a square-ended chancel originally) or from pilasters on an apse (which is probably what was here).


The men on the corbels (reset in the chancel) all seem concerned with what might be happening above them. The first pair are disconcerted, literally staggered; the first musician seems to be playing and singing energetically; the two men’s heads watching might be seen as overcoming evil by steadfastly looking heavenward; the second musician is attentive - listening for the last trump? It was remarked to me by Scott Wallace, a maker and player of medieval instruments, how often the musicians on 12th- and 13th-century sculpture are not actually playing, but are preparing to play. Such hints accord with the suggestion that corbels often show people and evil spirits variously expecting, or reacting to the first signs of, the Second Coming.

Pointed arches:

The apex is not very definite or well-made in the chevron arches, but all three arches at the crossing are originally pointed. Compare to the chancel arch at Kirk Smeaton, and the nave arcade at Malmesbury Abbey (Wilts.). Chevron normal to the face is unusual in Yorkshire, but occurs with the pointed arches noted.

Figure fragment reset in south aisle wall:

This fragment might be reconstructed as Christ seated within a mandorla. See reconstruction drawing, which assumes the bottom edge of the surviving slab is at the midline of the mandorla, which would therefore be about 0.6 m high. The figure of St Peter at Shiptonthorpe, East Riding, is not so high as that.

Crossing arch:

Loose capitals numbers 9, 11 and 8 in the Priest’s Room (no. 11 now in north transept, number 7) are very likely to be the capitals of the east respond of the south crossing arch, respectively that to the nave, 2nd order, the double capital of the first order, and the capital to the transept, 2nd order. Thus the blank face of the double capital would have been in the transept, and the ‘mushrooms’ correspond with the 2nd order capital to the transept on the west side of the arch. The head with the foliage (‘green man’) would have been on the north side, nearest the chancel.


Arts Council of Great Britain: London, Hayward Gallery, English Romanesque Art, 1066-1200, London, 1984

Borthwick Institute, Faculty papers, Fac. 1871/2; Faculty Book 6, 18-19

Campsall, St Mary Magdalene guide, The Story of St. Mary Magdalene Church, Campsall Yorkshire, n. p., 1965/1969

K. J. Conant, Cluny, Les églises et la maison du chef d’Ordre, Mâcon, 1968

J. Fowler, “Note on the restoration of the west doorway of Campsall church” Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London 8 (1879-81), 130-31

J. Hunter, South Yorkshire: The History and Topography of the Deanery of Doncaster, in the Diocese and County of York, 2 vols. J. B. Nichols & Son, London, 1828-31

J. E. Morris, The West Riding, 2nd ed. London, 1923

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

Victoria County History: Yorkshire, II (General volume, including Domesday Book) 1912, reprinted 1974