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St John the Baptist, Upton Bishop, Herefordshire

(51°56′31″N, 2°30′38″W)
Upton Bishop
SO 650 272
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Herefordshire
now Herefordshire
medieval Hereford
now Hereford
  • Ron Baxter
06 June 2011, 09 May 2012

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Upton Bishop is in the SE of the county, 3 miles NE of Ross-on-Wye and approximately a mile from the Gloucestershire border. The parish has ancient woodland to the north and east, while the south and west are more open. Modern Upton Bishop consists of a scattering of houses and the church along a lane in the hilly ground to the north of the M 50, but archaeological surveys undertaken in 2004-05 revealed evidence of settlement from at least 800 AD, medieval houses in the area west of the church and probably a manor house to the north of it. The church consists of a nave with a S aisle, a S doorway under a porch and a blocked N doorway, a 13thc chancel with a modern S vestry and a 15thc W tower. The 3-bay S nave arcade is late 12thc, and the S aisle itself was widened in the 14thc. An enigmatic carved stone is preserved in a high-security display case in the S aisle, and this, the S arcade and the N doorway are the only features described here.


The manor of Upton Bishop was held by the church of Hereford in 1086, when it was assessed at 7 hides with 4 acres of meadow and woodland paying nothing. Its recorded population numbered 33, perhaps representing 160 individuals and including a priest, so probably a church too. The manor remained in the hands of the church, being recorded in 1242-43 as a vill of 5 hides held by the bishop, and again as the bishop’s vill in 1316.


Exterior Features


Interior Features



Loose Sculpture


The arcade dates from the later 12thc, probably c1170-80, whereas the tall and narrow north doorway suggests a late-11thc date for that section of wall. So much is uncontroversial, but the Upton Bishop stone has attracted widely varying guesses of dating. Havergal (1883) described the stone as ‘a saint or apostle with right hand erect’, that came from ‘an early Norman arcade’. RCHME (1932) described it as ‘part of a Roman tombstone with upper part of round-headed recess with figure and remains of a second recess and figure’, and the Roman attribution was repeated in the 1966 list description and accepted by Pevsner (1963). Martin Henig rejected the Roman provenance and in this he was informally supported by Zarnecki (see Henig 1993), who apparently expressed the opinion that it was a work of the Herefordshire School. This view has not appeared in the literature, so far as I know, but John Hunt took account of it, and ultimately rejected it, when concluding that the piece was Anglo-Saxon, dating from c.800 AD (see Hunt (2009)). In this he seems to have persuaded his co-worker at Upton Bishop, the Roman specialist Keith Ray, who originally took the view that it was a Roman piece. There is evidence of Romano-British activity in the area, centred on Ariconium, an iron-working station in the present parish of Weston-under-Penyard just 3 miles S of Upton Bishop, but the finds from that site are mostly jewelry, weaponry and domestic ware.

The present author agrees with Hunt that it is emphatically not a product of the Herefordshire School. A comparison has been made with the head of St Matthew on the Castle Frome font, but that simply serves to demonstrate that this piece could not possibly be the work of the same sculptor. He is happy to accept Henig's view that it is not a Roman piece, and concludes that a date in the 11thc or early-12thc is likely. The author is grateful to Jo Lucas for her helpful comments on this report.


F. T. Havergal, Records Historical and Antiquarian of the Parish of Upton Bishop, Herefordshire, Hereford 1883.

M. Henig, Roman Sculpture from the Cotswold Region with Devon and Cornwall, Corpus Signorum Imperii Romani (Great Britain) vol. 1, fascicule 7. Oxford 1993, 79.

J. Hunt, A figure sculpture at Upton Bishop, Herefordshire: continuity and revival in early medieval sculpture, Antiquaries Journal, 89 (2009), 179-214.

A. Brooks and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Herefordshire, New Haven and London 2012, 632-33.

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Herefordshire, Harmondsworth 1963, 122.

RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Herefordshire, 2: East, 1932.

K. Ray, Enigma in Stone. Archaeology at Upton Bishop, Herefordshire, 2004-5, Hereford 2006.