We use cookies to improve your experience, some are essential for the operation of this site.

St Helen, Sandal Magna, Yorkshire, West Riding

(53°39′33″N, 1°28′56″W)
Sandal Magna
SE 343 182
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, West Riding
now West Yorkshire
medieval York
now Wakefield
medieval St Helen
now St Helen
  • Barbara English
  • Rita Wood
1 March 2011

Please use this link to cite this page - https://www.crsbi.ac.uk/view-item?i=9074.

Find out how to cite the CRSBI website here.


Sandal Magna and its church is about two miles south of the centre of Wakefield. The basically-cruciform church has a 6-bay nave with aisles, a crossing tower; transepts and a choir with S aisle; attached rooms to N of chancel; and a S porch. Externally, the church appears late Gothic, in a churchyard having many grave monuments from the 17thc onward. The internal layout has been reordered so that spaces east of the crossing and transepts are function rooms, offices, etc. Sculpture is found in the bases of the piers of the crossing tower; on two fragmentary grave slabs and in reused stones in the 14thc N arcade.


In the Domesday Book a composite entry of Wakefield and 9 berewicks refers to 3 priests and 2 churches (Williams et al., 1987-92, f299v), presumed by Walker (1917, 1) to be at Wakefield and Sandal. The manor came to the Warennes c.1107 (Butler 1991) and the church was given to Lewes Priory (Walker 1917), and confirmed to Lewes Priory in 1147 (Clay 1949). Lewes was presenting the parson in the early 13thc (Raine 1872,101); the patronage was associated with the manor of Wakefield. Sandal Castle was demolished by order of Parliament in 1646, and only a small portion of the ruins remains above ground. It was excavated 1964-1973 (Butler 1991; Wakefield Council website, Sandal Castle).


Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches






Glynne records a cruciform church with central tower, two aisles, the nave and a south aisle to the chancel. Early English and Perpendicular. Early English arcades and a capital with ‘some early foliage’. Responds ‘have toothed ornament on the capitals’ (Butler 2007, 354). Walker postulates a cruciform church with a 4-bay nave; his Fig. 2 shows a N aisle added c.1180; this church has been much extended since. Remains of the north arcade of c.1180 can be found reused: ‘the base of the most easterly pier of the [present] north arcade, with its foliated spur ornament; the capital of the second pier in the same arcade, which has conventional foliage carved at each corner of the octagon; and probably the base of the third pier, which has, however, been chopped about since; all of these were preserved and re-used when the present arcades were built.’ Walker continues ‘About the year 1330… nothing of the old church was left, save the lower halves of the tower piers and the transitional bases and capital already mentioned, which were used up again as the work progressed’. (Walker 1917, 10, 12, figs 1, 2) Ryder believes ‘most of the building is 14th century and later, but parts of the crossing and transepts may be as early as the 11th century’and that ‘the lowest parts of the crossing and some masonry in at least the S transept may be late Anglo-Saxon; a relatively large and elaborate building by c.1100.’ (Ryder 1991, 41 and Ryder 1993, 171)

Fieldworker’s comment: Walker dates the original N arcade to c. 1180, presumably because of the reeded waterleaf on each angle of the capital of pier 2; the lugs on base 1 are a bit clumsy for Gothic. The only comparisons for the capital so far met with in West Yorkshire are on the W doorway at Nun Monkton (Benedictine nunnery), where the capitals on the L side are basically plain waterleaf but the angle and side volutes have been developed into spiralling budded crockets that are so fruitful they fuse together; the bases are water-holding; the arch is round-headed with chevron orders that have trefoil foliage designs in the spandels.


The Yorkshire Church Notes of Sir Stephen Glynne (1825-1874)., L. A. S. Butler, ed. Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series 159. Woodbridge 2007.

L. A. S. Butler, Sandal Castle, Wakefield, Wakefield 1991.

C. T. Clay, Early Yorkshire Charters 8: the Honour of Warenne , Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series Extra Series 6. Wakefield 1949.

J Raine, The register, or rolls, of Walter Gray, Lord Archbishop of York., Surtees Society 56 (1872).

J Raine, The Dedications of the Yorkshire Churches, Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, 2 (1873).

P. F. Ryder, Ryder, Medieval Cross Slab Grave Covers in West Yorkshire, Wakefield 1991.

P. F. Ryder, Medieval Churches of West Yorkshire, West Yorkshire Archaeology Service, Wakefield 1993.