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All Saints, Rotherham, All Saints (Minster), Yorkshire, West Riding

(53°15′4″N, 1°21′30″W)
Rotherham, All Saints (Minster)
SK 429 729
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, West Riding
now South Yorkshire
medieval York
now Sheffield
  • Barbara English
  • Rita Wood
26th January 2012

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The site of the church is on a spur overlooking the Don and, from the street names, it was in the core of the early town. It is now a grand cruciform church of Perpendicular period. Built of red sandstone, the Perp. building is closely related to a 12th century church of similar plan. The church was restored temp. Edward IV, in the 18th century and in the 19th century (Hunter 1831).


Lawton speculates there was a Saxon parish, supposed to have comprised Ecclesfield, Sheffield, Handsworth, Treeton and Whiston (Lawton 1842, 212). In Domesday Book Rotherham had both a church and a priest (Williams et al. f. 307v) as part of the fee of the count of Mortain. On the count’s forfeiture, Rotherham became part of the Fossard fee c.1088 (Farrer 1915, 325). Some interests in the advowson belonged to the Tilly family before 1200. In the 13th century part went to Clairvaux abbey and part to Rufford abbey (Thompson and Clay 1943, 30-41). Greene (1950, 5-6), gives details of ongoing disputes over ‘ownership’ of the church in the 12th century.


Interior Features



Interior Decoration






The existence of the Anglo-Saxon doorway indicating a church preceding the Romanesque one, and the size and cruciform plan of the church in the 12th century, helps account for the church recently becoming styled ‘Rotherham Minster’. The 12th century plan was certified by random excavations during the G. G. Scott restoration of 1873-75, according to Brand (1937, 19). A measured plan of the present building from an original of 1897 by J. H. Gill of Rotherham shows the outline of the Norman church; this is reproduced in Brand (1937, 16) and Greene (1950, 26); measurements in Brand 1937. Greene 1950 is a reprint of her guide of c.1950 (see Rector’s Foreword), collected with two other short works in Rotherham, its history, church and chapel on the bridge, by F. Crowder and D. Greene, East Ardsley 1971.

At the time of RW’s visit, extensive enquiries had failed to trace any photographs of the capitals found beneath the nave floor except for one used in Brand 1937. Rotherham Archives are closed pending re-location, but may have 1. parish magazines of April-August 1875, with contemporary accounts of the finds; 2. photographs (1920s?) by Crowther Cox. The Sheffield-based SYAS supplied the SMR as a pdf, this included the draft typescript which was evidently developed into the most useful of the published guides, Brand 1937.

Guest (1879, 56) Quotes Mr Henry Cane [sic] who had ‘charge of the works under the late Sir Gilbert Scott’, taken from his contribution to parish magazines at the time of the restoration. Cane says the Saxon doorway was found, at a different level from the Norman church, not in scale with it, and not consistent with Norman walls. On the south side of the chancel is a bevelled plinth and roll moulding above, also found on north transept east wall, also a terminus (of some kind) was found at the west end of the nave. ‘Parts of bases, abaci and capitals, were found under the present columns, and had been used as foundations for the later work to rest upon… [the capitals] are what is usually called “cushion capitals”, and are exactly similar to those found in the crypts [sic] at York Minster, which were built by Archbishop Thomas the Norman, who held the see from 1070-1100.’ (For this date, repeated in Greene 1950 but likely to be erroneous, see below.) He describes the capitals as being ‘axe-fiinished’ but gives no description of their form.

Crane says ‘The walls of the north aisle and chancel have many Norman stones in them… the ornamented part turned into the wall and the plain face outside… when the small niches at the sides of the east window were fixed… we found an arch stone beautifully moulded, with heads arranged in lozenge patterns on hollows, and heads running in direct lines, the hollows again enriched with small berries, with a little hole in the centre of each, this kind of ornament is also found at York in work executed around 1170.’ Crane’s description is incomprehensible. And where is it now?

The tower Crane thinks is nearly the same as then existing except it has been recased. The plan opposite p.317 has a pilaster central in the N and S walls of the chancel. On p.319, looking at the west face of the tower, ‘thin’ courses are said to be Norman.

Brand's guide was written after a survey in company with R. Midgley, ARIBA ‘a most experienced observer’, and is detailed regarding the archeological evidence visible in the building, and in its description of the architectural detail (tower, roof marks, etc). This guide appeared in 1937 in celebration of the 1000 years since the traditional foundation date of the church.

For the Norman period Brand notes the following items (pages 13, 15, 17, 19):

1. the cruciform plan, comprised within the present church. Considerable remains include ‘parts of six vertical pillar capitals, and one part of an Attic base in normal position, all used as bases of piers when the nave was rebuilt in the Perpendicular period. One of these capitals (under the eastern pier of the north arcade, on the nave side), is “scalloped”, and four of the others are “coniferous”, so that the Norman church presumably dates from about A.D. 1130.’

2. ‘On three sides of the tower (within the church) thin drip-stones mark the pitch of the Norman roof, and on three of the angles of the tower crossing are remains of the Norman pilasters… [they] proved that there was no room for a clerestory in the Norman nave.’

3. ‘Norman rubble work is plentiful in the north and south walls of the chancel, and the core and parts of the facing of the four piers of the tower crossing are of the same period.’

4. ‘The lower portion of the north aisle wall of the nave is composed of many Norman stones, which were re-used … in the Perpendicular period. All these stones, and the Norman capitals and bases already described, are of magnesian limestone.’ No sculpture was seen.

5. ‘There are other remains of the Norman work in the [formerly] exterior mouldings, particularly near the base of the chancel on the south side, where a re-fixed half-roll moulding runs in its original position under what is now the flooring of the Jesus Chapel, on its north side… On the western wall of the crypt under the chancel are remains of a roll-moulding, showing where the eastern end of the old chancel terminated.’

None of these exterior mouldings could be seen by RW, though the boiler-room and annexe were entered. From the descriptions, they sound a bit like the exterior plinths on the S side of the chancel and E face of the S transept at Campsall; roll mouldings on a plinth are seldom seen. [YW113(36); YW114(2).] Brand c.1937, typescript (pdf file from SYAS SMR) pp.2-3 gives detailed descriptions of the capitals in the floor, and is worth repeating:

“A. North Arcade 1. Eastern pier on nave side (Pier 1) Broken scalloped capital inverted. Only one corner is visible, therefore no measurements are obtainable. 2. Central pier on nave side (Pier 2) Inverted coniferous [i.e., with cones] capital inverted with elementary leaf patterns between the cones and pearls above the scallops – the leaves and pearls show the influence of the acanthus and the classical egg and tongue mouldings. Delicately chamfered abacus below. The capital measures 2 feet 10 inches square over-all and is from a pier 2 feet 6 inches in diameter. 3. Western pier (Pier 3) inverted coniferous capital with narrow leaves beween cones and nailheads on a diagonal line at corners. Measurement 3 feet square from a pier of 2 feet 8 inches in diameter. B. South arcade 4. Western pier (Pier 3) inverted coniferous capital with astrigal (ovolo moulding) and leaf pattern well defined. Measurement 3 feet 4 inches square from a pier of 2 feet 10 inches to 3 feet in diameter. 5. Central pier (Pier 2) A. on aisle side part of Attic base in normal position with traces of original mortar. Ovolo and cove moulding worked on a square baseblock. The mouldings are smaller than usual. B. on nave side inverted abacus with quirk and hollowed chamfer. Measurement would give a 3 feet square capital and a pier 2 feet 8 inches in diameter. 6. Eastern pier (Pier 1) inverted coniferous capital with faint traces of leaf patterns between cones and nailheads diagonally at one corner. Very worn and of bad definition. All these Norman stones are of Magnesian limestone probably from local quarries on the Permian belt – such as Conisboro or Roche Abbey neighbourhood. Scolloped [scalloped] capitals were not introduced until the time of Henry I (1100-1135) and continued throughout the Norman period and as the coniferous are a later developments of the scalloped capitals – this Rotherham work would not be earlier than say – 1130.”

A further passage is informative, especially since the fieldworker was unable to see the structures described despite gaining entry to chambers below the east end of the church: “Exterior Norman Mouldings Near the base of the wall of the chancel on the south side and refixed is a half-roll moulding with broadly moulded quirk and this runs in its original position under the flooring of the Jesus Chapel on its north side – but on the south face of the old Norman wall of the chancel. On the western wall of the crypt under the eastern end of the chancel are the remains of a small roll with a larger roll moulding underneath showing where the eastern end of the Norman chancel terminated.”

(Greene 1950, 5-6): ‘It is usually assumed that the earliest Church was erected on this site about 937 A.D.’ The Norman church ‘was built of native sandstone, ornamented with the silver limestone from Conisborough or Roche. Remains of the cushion capitals of the nave arcade (1070-1100) are lying under the slender columns of the present nave. They were used as bed-stones for the existing columns, and some may be inspected if the movable flagstones in the floor are raised.’ The monks of Rufford commenced re-building at the chancel, and ‘in some places used and re-dressed the Norman stones…. In 1409 they commenced the erection of the present tower… the dimensions were to some extent fixed by the size and position of the Norman piers.’ The restoration under Sir Giles Scott (1873-75) is described by Green (1950, 14). Greene (1950, 13), says ‘the oldest sepulchral monument is part of an ancient tomb-stone, with a sword incised thereon, now built into the west wall of the nave, under the north-west window.’ Greene (1950, 27), mentions two fonts: ‘The ancient font, usually described as the Norman font, now stands in the north transept…[it] has suffered much in its long life; during the eighteenth and earlier nineteenth centuries it stood outside the south transept door, and was known as “The Round Stone”. In 1875 it was placed within the Church.’ Two other fonts formerly at the church are now at Greasbrough and Brinsworth.

Ryder (1982, 96), says an impressive Perpendicular church, but ‘a diligent search reveals some traces of earlier work’. 'Twelfth century masonry in situ in the tower piers… good Norman capitals re-used in the bases of the arcades' (visible then, but by 2011 the trapdoors were sealed, and access not possible). There is a section of wall on the N side of the NW tower pier, with pre-Conquest door-jamb.

RW commented in 2011 that the stone used (‘native sandstone’) is probably Rotherham Red, which outcrops at Moorgate near Rotherham, and in a long strip from Rotherham to Harthill (fold-out geological sections in Guest 1879). The capitals in the floor use Magnesian Limestone; Crane favoured Conisbrough for the source of this as it could come up the Don from quarries there. The suggested date of 1070-1100 which originated in Crane c.1875, is erroneous. Nothing ‘exactly similar’ exists in any of the crypts of York Minster, where the two surviving capitals of Thomas of Bayeux are highly carved Corinthian types and nowhere scalloped. The capitals in the western and eastern crypts are octagonal, not square like the Rotherham examples seen; scalloped capitals are late 12th century. Brand 1937’s date of “not earlier than say 1130”, is safe, and the squat proportion of the capital and the presence of nailhead suggests the latter half of the century. Multiscallop capitals are not found in the county before the mid-century. Good comparisons are with a square multi-scallop capital in the N arcade at Laughton-en-le Morthen, or another in the S arcade at High Melton, which has a row of beading in the upright above seven scallops – any decoration in the upright is unusual. The worn capital under pier 3 has nailhead, as does the High Melton capital.

The plan of the Norman church, ascertained during Scott’s restoration and illustrated in several of the modern sources (Guest, Brand, Greene), gives the impression of a cruciform aisleless church to which nave aisles had been added; this recalls Campsall. Comparative measurements of the capitals and piers at High Melton or Laughton are lacking but might confirm the scale of the Rotherham church. There is quite a variation in the capitals’ dimensions, as measured by Brand and Midgley, with one capital of as much as 3 feet 4 inches in width (under Pier 3 of the S arcade), but most of the others 2 feet 10 inches, but whether this variation is sufficient to suggest a different position (other than nave arcade) for the capital is not possible to decide.

Plinths to the chancel described in Brand 1937 t/s the ornamental profiles, of a roll with a quirk, and a small roll over a larger roll, recalls the plinth on the N side of the chancel at Campsall. [YW113(36), YW114(2)]. Original plinths are usually very simple, plain and chamfered.

The 'Norman Font' is not considered by RW to be 12th century, its structure is too complex.

There are a number of 18th and early 19th century faculties concerning pews, the pulpit and font, galleries, the old wall of the churchyard, and the organ (Lawton 1842, 212). For example, Borthwick Institute Fac. 1873/5 has a very fragile plan of the church, not opened.

The apparent double dedication may be an error arising from a 16th century will directing a burial ‘within the church…within Our Lady’s choir’ (Thompson and Clay 1943, 42n.).


Borthwick Institute,York, Faculties, Fac. 1873/5

E. Brand, Rotherham Parish Church, Yorkshire: a description, 1937, no place.

E. Brand, Notes on Rotherham Parish Church, c.1937. SYAS SMR pdf.

F. Crowder and D. Greene, Rotherham, its history, church and chapel on the bridge, East Ardsley 1971.

W. Farrer, Early Yorkshire Charters 2, Leeds 1915.

D. Greene, The Parish Church of All Saints, Rotherham, 2nd. ed., n.p., c.1950.

J. Guest, Historic Notices of Rotherham, 1879.

Joseph Hunter, South Yorkshire. Deanery of Doncaster 2, London 1831.

G. Lawton, Collectio rerum ecclesiasticarum de diocesi Eboracensi; or, collections relative to churches and chapels within the Diocese of York. To which are added collections relative to churches and chapels within the diocese of Ripon., New edition, London, 1842.

N. Pevsner, revised by E. Radcliffe, The Buildings of England, Yorkshire, The West Riding, Harmondsworth, 1967.

A. H. Thompson and C. T. Clay, Fasti Parochiales II part II. Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series 107, Leeds, 1943.

P. F. Ryder, Saxon Churches in South Yorkshire, South Yorkshire County Council Archaeology Monograph no.2. Sheffield, 1982.

A. Williams et al (eds) The Yorkshire Domesday, eds, Alecto Historical Editions, 3 vols. London 1987-1992.