John Piper made me do it – Romanesque North Yorkshire

Some time ago a John Piper image had led me to visit the Church of St. Michael at Barton-le-street. The village is located on the B1257, the ‘le-street’ element of the village name indicates that it is on the course of a Roman road, in this case the Roman road from Malton to Hovingham.

I had previously visited the church during the winter, the weather was terrible and the church was locked. I was completely overwhelmed by the carvings in the porch and knew that I would have to return in the summer when the church was open.

The church was rebuilt in 1871 by Perkins & Sons of Leeds. Nikolaus Pevsner describes it as a sumptuous small Norman church rebuilt without and restraint. Rita Wood remarks that many small Romanesque churches draw gasps of amazement for the amount of carving encrusting them, but there seems to be even more carving than usual here, of high quality and great interest.

The arcaded corbel tables and string course from the original church have been moved into the porch and body of the church. Everywhere you look there are beautiful carvings including Victorian carvings in the Romanesque style.

But a Norman pulpit takes some stomaching – Nikolaus Pevsner

The Victorian corbel table on the exterior of the church contains some beautiful carvings. It makes you wonder whether the carved faces are of some of the people involved in the restoration.

I don’t really have the expertise to accurately describe what is going on in this incredible church. If you are in the area I’d definitely recommend a visit. If you want to know more about the church it’s worth taking a look at Dav Smith’s paper, St Michael and All Angels, Barton-le-Street: an Important Scheme of Romanesque Sculpture which can be found here


John Piper’s Photographs of Yorkshire

The Buildings of England. Yorkshire: York & the East Riding. Nikolaus Pevsner & David Neave. 1997

Romanesque Yorkshire. Rita Wood. Yorkshire Archaeological Society Occasional Paper No.9. 2012

John Piper made me do it – Romanesque East Yorkshire Pt.1

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about Romanesque stone carvings recently so decided to take a trip into East Yorkshire to seek out a couple of sites. My previous brief explorations of Romanesque East Yorkshire were inspired by a series of images taken by John Piper so once again I allowed Piper to be my guide. Scrolling through the Tate’s collection of his photographs I found an image of a font in the church at Langtoft. A combination of the image, and the Scandinavian sounding name of the village, gave me a destination.

A diversion into Prehistory

Driving into the Wolds I passed through the village of Duggleby. I stopped briefly to say hello to the Great Barrow of Duggleby Howe, formerly known as Odin’s Howe.
Dating from the Neolithic, the Great Barrow sits at the centre of a concentric ditched enclosure with an external diameter of 370m making it one of the largest Neolithic monuments in Britain. The enclosure, discovered in 1979, is only visible as a cropmark.

Back to the Romanesque

Moving on to Langtoft I arrived at the lovely church located on the outskirts of the village and was greeted by one of my favourite signs ‘Church Open’.

The church is very nice, Nikolaus Pevsner tells us that the tower is early C13 and that the church was thoroughly restored in 1900-3

To be honest I wasn’t here to admire the church, I was here to see this gem, a drum shaped baptismal font.

The font came from the nearby deserted Medieval village of Cottam. All that remains of Cottam are a series of cropmarks and a ruined brick-built church.

Pevsner describes the carvings on the font as primeval, I like that. Rita Wood describes this panel as a complex threefold tree (probably a Tree of Life, the heavenly reward)…In this tree, two parts rooted in heaven, entwined with one standing on earth. The tree of life or world tree is an archetype which occurs in almost all major belief systems. It generally represents a link between different realms, a cosmic axis.

This scene depicts the fall of man, Eve is tempting Adam with forbidden fruit while the serpent looks on.

This carving represents the crucifixion of Saint Andrew on his X-shaped cross.

Rita Wood tells us that this is a carving of a combination of a bird and a snake. I think it could just as easily be a Wyvern. The combination of a rooster and a snake is known as a Cockatrice. The Cockatrice is mentioned in the bible, it is said to have the ability to kill with just one look, the only animal immune to its glare is a weasel.

This carving depicts the martyrdom of Saint Lawrence. Lawrence was martyred by placing him upon a large iron grid set over hot coals. Whilst undergoing this horrible procedure Lawrence is reputed to have said to his torturer, “you can turn me over now, this side is done”. For this the catholic church made him the patron saint of cooks and comedians.

The final carving depicts St. Margaret of Antioch bursting out of the gut of a dragon. Margaret survived being swallowed by the beast because she was wearing a crucifix. The cross irritated the beast’s gut causing it to split and expel the saint. Margaret was finally killed by beheading.

I took a walk around the outside of the church. During the restoration of the church, most of the original stonework was redressed I was however able to find a few bits of graffiti including one possible Marian mark. The overlapping Vs of the mark are thought to represent the Virgin Mary.


John Piper’s photographs of Yorkshire

Duggleby Howe aerial view via Google Earth

Map Image

The Archaeology of Yorkshire. An assessment at the beginning of the 21st century. Yorkshire Archaeological Society Occasional Paper No.3. 2003

The Buildings of England. Yorkshire: York & the East Riding. Nikolaus Pevsner & David Neave. 1997

Romanesque Yorkshire. Rita Wood. Yorkshire Archaeological Society Occasional Paper No.9. 2012

Fylingdales Moor 2004

In 2004 Graeme Chappell and I were fortunate enough to visit the ongoing excavation on Fylingdales Moor.

It was in what was thought to be an early Bronze Age ring cairn that a late Neolithic intricately carved stone was found. This has become the best known discover on the moor made in the aftermath of the fire. A further stone bore grooves and cup-marks similar to those found on the nearby earthfast rocks. The stones have been placed in a ring as the end point of what may have been a long period of ritual significance.

Fylingdales – Wildfire & Archaeology. Blaise Vyner. 2007

Let There be Light – Jonny Hannah

Over the past year, Jonny Hannah has taken his ability to absorb, conjure and reflect fantastical places to Hartlepool, working towards Shipbuilders and Fisherfolk, an exhibition based on the town’s legends, stories and psycho-geography that has been commissioned to commemorate the Tall Ships Race visiting Hartlepool in 2023. The exhibition runs from June until November 2023, with installations at Hartlepool Art Gallery and the Museum of Hartlepool.

Let There Be Light, our latest Random Spectacular publication, is the result of Jonny’s time spent exploring Hartlepool with psycho-geographers Murdo Eason and Gavin Parry. As Jonny describes, “in this book, you have what we found, heard, tripped over and photographed, thunk and scribbled.”

This graphically rich limited edition book features new work that Jonny has created in a number of different mediums, along with essays by Murdo and Gavin.


I currently having a bit of a clear-out. I found a few CDs that I used to backed-up my photos back in the early 2000’s. Quite a few of the images are corrupted, some beyond recognition. The images are of prehistoric sites in Northumberland, Cumbria, Yorkshire and Derbyshire.

I was thinking about how these corrupted images and their subjects perhaps evoke notions of the time, the illusion of permanence and the ephemeral nature of recording such places.

Looking through the images brought to mind The Disintegration Loops by William Basinski. The images are about 2 decades old, the same amount of time it took for Basinski’s audio tapes to degraded before he used them in his composition.

Cuckoo Pint – The Willy Lily

This plant is a common sight in woods and gardens, it is generally known as Cuckoo Pint (botanical name Arum maculatum). It is also known by other names many of which, given its appearance, are sexual euphemisms. The word Pint is a shortened version of the word pintle, meaning penis. Richard Mabey suggests that Cuckoo is derived from cucu , Anglo Saxon for ‘quick’ or ‘lively’.

The plant was once thought to be an aphrodisiac, it definitely isn’t, it is quite poisonous. The dried, ground-up tubers of the plant are starch-rich and have been used in the past in laundries hence another of its names, starchwort.

Other recorded names for the Cuckoo Pint are, the willy lily, lords-and-ladies or lords-in-ladies (thanks Martin), dog’s cock, priest’s pilly, jack in the pulpit, sucky calves, devils and angels, cows and bulls, wake robin, stallions and mares, adam and eve, and snakesmeat.


Flora Britannica – Richard Mabey. Pub. Sinclair-Stevenson 1996