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St James, Tong, Yorkshire, West Riding

(53°46′13″N, 1°40′9″W)
SE 219 305
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, West Riding
now West Yorkshire
  • Rita Wood
21 April 1998, 20 Feb 2015

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Tong village lies along a hilltop at an altitude of 160m, between Bradford and Leeds, in relatively open country. Modern housing has not joined it to other settlements, but changes are taking place within the village.

The present church of St James was consecrated in 1727, but its nave and chancel are lying approximately on the foundations of the nave and chancel of a 12thc chapel. To this layout were added a N aisle and two chambers off the N of the chancel, and also a W tower. Some medieval windows were reused or copied for the W and N walls. Inside the church, the tower arch reuses an original 12thc arch. The building is analysed in a leaflet of the West Yorkshire Archaeology Service (WYAS 1991; see also Ryder 1993, 87-88, 128-132, 176; Swann 1993).

Excavations in 1979 found three pieces with sculpture which were assigned to the 12thc; there is also sculpture on the tower arch.


Excavation in 1979 found an early building of two cells which was interpreted as pre-Conquest, as well as the foundations of the 12thc chapel. A stone reused in the footings of the medieval chapel has been suggested as being an early grave-marker (WYAS), but no safe definition can be made either of function or date, according to Coatsworth 2008, 283-4; ills. 839-40.

In medieval times, Tong was a parochial chapel in the parish of 'Birstal' (Lawton 1842, 112; Ryder 1993, fig. 179). Parish status was granted in 1867 (Nightingale c. 2012).

The Domesday Book recors that 'Stainulf [of Sutton] had 4 carucates of land for geld, where 2 ploughs can be. Ilbert [de Lacy] has [it], as a waste, Tempore Regis Edwardii [in the Confessor's reign] it was worth 20s. Pasturable wood [land] half a league in length and half a league in breadth' (VCH II, 252). Faull & Moorhouse state that there are ‘few records of the vill’. The lord of Tong between c.1135-1159 was Assulf, which was followed by four successive lords called Richard de Tang (Farrer 1916, 389-90, note to charter 1766, of c. 1160-1202). Assulf is also believed to have supported the rebuilding of the church of Tong around 1140 on the site formerly occupied by the pre-Conquest building. However, the dedication of the medieval chapel/church is not known for certain: a documentary source mentioning a 'chapel of St James' is cited in Swann (1993, 119).

The present building replaced the medieval church in 1727; the rebuilding was funded by the Tempest family who had built Tong Hall in 1702 (Pevsner 1967, 138). As presently seen, the church lies in a corner of the Hall grounds, but it was there first, of course. The sites of an earlier manor house and hall are off Keeper Lane (Rathmell 1996, 7); the site of the house of any local lord before the Conquest has not been identified.


Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches

Loose Sculpture


Tower arch

It is thought that the present tower arch may reuse parts of the original chancel arch (WYAS leaflet; Ryder 1993, 176). This is suggested by the notches cut in the first order capitals, which could have taken a rood, or a screen, at some period. That there is a second order to E and W with carving is unusual for a chancel arch, but may sometimes be found in tower arches, however there seems to have been no tower at Birstall before the 18thc church was built.


The chevron-patterned fragments have 'a section [which] suggests they formed the jambs of the inner or possibly sole order of an opening' (Ryder 1993, 129). They were found E of the present church. Their present whereabouts are unknown. The piece of moulding with two heads is not thought by the fieldworker to be of 12thc date, but is reminiscent of Gothic ornament.


E. Coatsworth, 'Western Yorkshire', Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture VIII, Oxford, 2008, 283-284; ills. 839-840.

W. Farrer, Early Yorkshire Charters, 3, Edinburgh, 1916, 389-390.

M. L. Faull and S. A. Moorhouse, West Yorkshire: an archaeological survey to AD 1500, Wakefield, 1981.

H. Nightingale, ed., St James' Church, Tong Village: a brief history of the Church its Bells and Bell Ringers, N.p., c. 2012.

E. Rathmell, ed., Tong Village: a guided walk through 1000 years of local history, Tong, 1996, 7.

P. F. Ryder, Medieval Churches of West Yorkshire, West Yorkshire Archaeology Service, Wakefield, 1993, 87-88, 128-132, 176.

A. Swann, "Tong Church: a Level 3 Investigation". In Ryder 1993, 119-127.

Victoria County History of Yorkshire, vol. II, 1912, reprinted 1974.

Historic Churches of West Yorkshire: Tong Church. West Yorkshire Archaeology Service (WYAS), leaflet 1991.