Dodging Storm Dudley on Dere Street

..with Mr Vasey

Piercebridge – Fawcett – Stanwick

St Mary’s Whitby

The Abbey at Whitby was one of the earliest Romanesque buildings to be erected in the North of England but my focus today was on the neighbouring church of St Mary. A while ago my friend Chris Corner posted a picture of a head carved on a capital within the church, so on a whim, I headed over the storm-battered moor road to see what I could find.

I’ve visited this church many times in the past but this was prior to my explorations of Early Medieval stonework, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The south door with its arch and carved spiral capitals lifted my spirits.

Inside the church I made my way between the beautiful box pews to the chancel arch. The arch is mostly hidden behind the upper level, the lord of the manor’s pew. There is a second arch over the entrance to the tower but this has been completely hidden behind the organ.

On the capital of the left hand arch is a carving of a head emitting unfurling foliage. This bears a striking resemblance to the ‘Green Man’ carving in Marske Church.


There are other foliate heads to be found locally at Easington, Liverton and Lythe .

One of the capitals on the right hand side of the arch has a carved head with a star on either side. The star is not an uncommon motif on Northern English Early Medieval stonework.

There are other elements of early stone work to be found in and around this lovely church, coupled with the Abbey next door, it is a wonderful place to visit. For me, with the failing light and the howling gale of Storm Barra blowing across the clifftop, it was time to head for home.

Osmotherley – St. Peter’s Church

The Romanesque arch, weather-beaten but recognisable.

The ghost of a Beakhead

The Norman font, uncomplicated with a cable pattern below the rim.

A protection mark? A saltire scratched into the underside of the arch resembles similar motifs carved into the witch posts of the moorland villages.

An Anglo-Saxon crosshead.

Regarding the grooves on the porch wall behind the cross head. These grooves are found on many of the walls of old churches throughout Europe. Tradition has it that they were caused by medieval archers sharpening their arrow heads prior to Sunday archery practice. In some parts of the country these stones are referred to as ‘Arrow Stones’. This seems like a highly unlikely explanation, the nature of the grooves would probably only serve to blunt a blade rather than sharpen it

Another possible, and more likely explanation for the grooves, is that they were caused by people collecting grit and dust from the church for use in folk medicines and ritual preparations. Any part of the fabric of a consecrated building, including water from the roof, was thought to have curative powers for both people and their livestock. The practice of collecting materials from a church, to use as a cure for all manner of ills, has been documented across Europe.

There is an old house on Marske High Street that has similar grooves on its external walls. I was told that it was once a schoolhouse and the grooves were caused by pupils sharpening their slate pencils on the building walls. An alternative explanation is that perhaps these stones were recycled from a previous building such as St. Germain’s Church or the medieval manor house that once existed on the outskirts of the town.

This cross shaft is thought to be Anglo-Danish. There is also the remains of an Anglo-Danish Hogback grave cover in the porch but it is is very eroded and barely recognisable.


Asmundrelac 1086 Domesday Book

‘Asmund’s clearing’…A hybrid formation with a Norse inflexion of the of the first element suggests very intimate association of the Norse and Anglian speech.

The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire by A.H. Smith 1928

Some Carved Stones

A couple of weeks ago I went looking for an Anglo Saxon cross shaft that I’d recently read about. I was convinced it was located in the graveyard at St. Georges Church, West Middleton.

The church is quite isolated at the end of a rough track on high ground above the Tees valley. When I got to the church there was a rough pillar in the graveyard which didn’t match the description I had of the cross shaft. The groundsman of the church arrived and informed me that the stone was now kept inside the church and I could visit on a Saturday morning when the wardens opened the church for a couple of hours.

I returned the following Saturday with my friend Martyn. There were two stones inside of the church, neither of which were an Anglo saxon Cross base but we were not disappointed. The stones were at the foot of the pulpit, both appear to be Medieval cross slabs, one had a carving an intricate wheel head cross symbolising the Tree of Life with oak leaves, fleur de lys and a bird perching on the shaft.The other was carved with a  simple sword and scabbard motif.

There are two stone heads on either side of the chancel arch, these have been interpreted as Medieval, one is of a woman with her tongue out, facing her is a man bearing his teeth.

The summary below is from a 2013 Archaeological Assessment of the church

This is rather a sad little church, which seems likely to face redundancy in the near future. Changing tastes mean that its simplicity and humility are now likely to be seen as attributes, and its unimproved rural interior, never provided with mains services, seems to have entirely skipped the 20th century. The intemperate language of antiquaries such as the Rev Hodgson, whose opinion of the building – ‘one of the very smallest and most despicable – perhaps the very meanest and most beggarly in the County of Durham’ is a period piece in itself.

Later that day we called in on St. John the Baptist’s church at Low Dinsdale and there in the graveyard was the cross shaft that I had been looking for. The shaft has been dated as 11th Century so is quite a late example of Anglo Saxon stone carving and although the stone is quite weathered it is fairly obvious that this is not one of the best examples of the tradition. 

Unfortunately the church was locked but there is a very impressive stone coffin in the churchyard that is thought to be almost certainly Saxon or a Saxo-Norman overlap.


There is a lovely cross slab on the wall of the porch,  below is a description from the 2003 Archaeological Assessment.

Lower in the wall, an impressive medieval cross slab of yellow sandstone, complete; it bears an eight-terminal, cross rising from a trefoiled ogee-arched base, with a sword on the r. and on the l. the inscription ‘Goselynus Suyteys’. Goseline Surtees in known to have died in 1366 (Boyle 1892, 662), which gives this slab the distinction of being the only cross slab in Durham that can be accurately dated.