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St Mary, Tadcaster, Yorkshire, West Riding

(53°53′7″N, 1°15′43″W)
SE 486 435
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, West Riding
now North Yorkshire
medieval York
now York
  • Rita Wood
2 June 1995

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Feature Sets

Tadcaster is a market town sited about 10 miles SW of York. St Mary's is a large Perp. church made in the local limestone. Aisled nave and chancel, the N aisle modern, the S aisle and chancel of the 14thc. and the W tower of the 15thc.

Due to flooding from the river Wharfe, the church except for the tower was taken down in 1875 and rebuilt with a 5 foot plinth. (Borthwick Institute, Fac. 1875/7). An arch constructed from fragments and a random group of fragments were reset in a wall when the church was rebuilt in 1875-7. These fragments are the only sculpture remaining from the 12th century.


There was a pre-Conquest church, a cross-fragment being among the 12th-century pieces reset. Once the Percys had acquired the manor, and stone was being shipped here, rebuilding would have been likely. About 1189, the church was given to Sawley Abbey, a foundation of the Percys (Anker 1991, 16).

The HER schedule 1017407 says 'The castle became neglected from the 12th century when the Percy family ceased to have a dwelling in Tadcaster.' The area of the motte and bailey is marked as wooded on the OS map.

The church was burnt and sacked by the Scots in 1318 (Anker, 1991, 6). VCH Yorkshire III, 404, describes an incursion of the Scots from Berwick to Pontefract and back through Craven in that year, but does not mention Tadcaster.


Interior Features

Interior Decoration


The ground plan of the 'first stone building' with its nave and chancel in one is marked in a plan reproduced in Anker 1991 (frontispiece), taken from an original of 1921 by S. D. Kitson. This suggests a 3-bay church without chancel arch, measuring 50 x 16 feet, recalling something of the church at Askam Bryan and elsewhere round York (Gee in RCHM York III, xliii-xlv). The standard and variety of sculpture shown in the remnants cannot have been for so primitive a building, and Micklethwaite's description, quoted below, considers some of the remains belonged to a chancel arch. Perhaps there had been apse or chancel foundations which were not recognised in the rebuilding.

The need in the 19th century to raise the building above the floods of the river Wharfe is the reason commonly mentioned for the destruction of the medieval building. Another side of the argument is seen in Fowler and Micklethwaite's account given to the Society of Antiquaries in December 1875. They had objected to the destruction as 'wholly unnecessary', but local opinion was already fixed on the rebuild. Micklethwaite (p. 444) described the earliest part of the standing church before destruction as being 'the north arcade of the nave of three bays, dating from the first half of the thirteenth century.' He continues: 'During the demolition, fragments of twelfth-century work were found built up in the walls, the most important being some pieces which appear to have belonged to an enriched chancel arch. The twelfth century church appears to have consisted of an aisleless nave and chancel, the length and width of which were probably retained in all the later alterations. There was no appearance of this early church having had any tower.' The S aisle was built, and extended in the 14th century. The tower built in the 15th century and, so far as is known, this was the first tower. It was not demolished with the rest of the church in the 19th century.

Several of the fragments (not the arch) are blackened, although not eroded. Perhaps interior and exterior functions could be determined, but the black deposit may have some other origin.

The form of the bases in the S aisle is reminiscent of some bases in Selby Abbey arcades.

The Roman settlement Calcaria was situated in the area of the later church, motte and earthworks on the S bank of the river Wharfe; the Roman ford was in this area (the modern bridge is to the E). Tadcaster limestone was evidently known to the Romans, and much used in medieval times, when it was shipped from wharves on the S bank of the river. The Norman motte contains Roman material in its layers; the castle is not thought to have had a stone phase (Roberts 1997)


M. Anker (ed.), Guided Tour and Short History of St. Mary's Church Tadcaster (pre-1991).

Borthwick Institute, Fac. 1875/7

J. Fowler and J. T. Micklethwaite, 'Note on the destruction of Tadcaster church', Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Second series, vol.6, pp. 442-5.

Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England), An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the City of York, vol. iii, South West of the Ouse (Oxford, 1972).

I. Roberts, Tadcaster Castle Motte, Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire Archaeological Services, unpublished report no. 544 (1997).

Victoria County History of Yorkshire, vol. III (London, 1974).