First photograph and final comment by Rita Wood, who also found the Revd. Wood-Rees's useful account of the architect's visit to the church. Caption material, transcription from the Internet Archive, and formatting by Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use the first photograph without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. [Click on the images for larger pictures.]

St Martin's church, Fangfoss, a Grade II* listed church, in the East Riding of Yorkshire. Described in its listing text as of "C12 or earlier origins, rebuilt 1849-50 by Chantrell. Re-used ashlar, slate roofs. 5 1/2-bay nave with west bellcote, 3-bay chancel." Very fortunately, we have the Reverend W. D. Wood-Rees's early twentieth-century account of Chantrell's first reactions on visiting the old church in its dilapidated state, which includes comments on his work there:

A Visit to Fangfoss

The Revd W. D. Wood-Rees (1913)

Fangfoss, a little village unknown to the many, known only to the few, is in the Wilton Beacon division of the Wapentake of Harthill, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, 3 1/2 miles from Pocklington, and derives its name from the old Norse word, “Vang,” which denotes a cultivated piece of land in contra-distinction to land not drained nor enclosed; “Foss,” from “fossa,” a trench, dyke, or ditch. Although there are many things worthy of our attention in the parish, our chief object is to describe the church, which is dedicated to St. Martin of Tours.

The interior of the church. Photograph by John McElheran, kindly provided by Rita Wood.

The church, as we now see it, consists of a nave and chancel only, with a south porch, of shallow projection, to the former. But the fabric was originally furnished with an apsidal east end, similar in general form to that of Feliskirk, near Thirsk; and there was until recently a western tower. It was entirely of twelfth-century character, though mutilated and uncared for until its rebuilding was taken in hand by the late Rev Robert Taylor in 1848. At this time the apse had entirely disappeared, the upper stages of the Norman tower repaired with brick-work, and common sash frames inserted in the place of the original windows. Such was the condition of the building in 1831, as described in Allen’s History of York.

There remained, however, at this period two narrow semicircular headed windows in the south wall of the chancel, which was divided by buttresses into four bays or compartments. A string course, which is possibly original, under the chancel windows consists of a row of lozenges between two narrow bands of zigzag. The corbel table carrying the cornice is described as having been of considerable merit, many of the corbels being carved with grotesque masks, etc. “One of a warrior,” says Mr. Allen, “on horseback, has a spear in his hand, and on his head the conical nasal helmet, which was in use in the time of William I, and is often repre- sented in the Bayeux tapestries.”

The restoration was entrusted to Mr. Chantrel [sic], a well-known London architect of that time, who, in his initial report, observes: “Fangfoss is perhaps one of the most interesting [253/54] buildings to the antiquary that can be found in the county, and it has so much beautifully carved material in a perfect state that I should be glad to undertake its restoration. Fangfoss has once been a gem of Norman architecture.” Alas! Mr. Chantrel was not allowed to do as he wished, and what amounts practically to rebuilding took the place of judicious repairs.

The lost apse must have been a very charming feature. It was not an unusual eastern termination for a twelfth-century church, but few examples have been suffered to remain. The demolition was in some cases due to an extension of the chancel eastward, but more frequently to a desire for a large altar window, which could only be set in a square east end. The Norman churches, with their narrow and round-headed windows, must have been very dark; this did not much matter before the invention of printing. They had no books, and could not have read them if they had. (In the present church we have to light our lamps for the afternoon service in the dull days of November and December.) The fifteenth century was especially distinguished by the insertion of large windows in the place of the small early ones. In his report of the old church, which the Rev. Robert Taylor made immediately before the reconstruction, he says:

On the taking down of the church, it now appears there was originally an apse; being a semicircular recess at the end of the chancel, containing three windows. The recess was entered by an open arch, the full width of the apse, and had pilasters and vaulting ribs, which met in a boss. This must have had, viewed from the nave, a beautiful effect, the recess or apse, which contained the altar table, being seen through two highly ornamental arches. The quantity of carved stone, good and mutilated, is quite astonishing. Mr. Chantrel (the architect) is going to apply to the architectural or antiquarian society. I intend to put an account in the Builder. The church had also a Norman tower of good dimensions. This had disappeared; but in digging for foundations towards the west, we came upon the foundations of the tower. The ashlar work of the tower, as far as the plinth, being in beautiful preservation. We have all been amazed at our discoveries. Chantrel discovered a "vesica piscis" (a fish’s bladder), which he states to be the ancient symbol of Christianity. We also found the master mason’s private mark, which is the same as those discovered at the east end. Chantrel, in his rapture, declared these last to be of great value. [254/55]

The south porch, the most interesting piece of detail remaining in the whole church, projects from the wall, and has a flagged lean-to roof. It contains a highly enriched doorway, which is, however, not the original one, but has been built up from twelfth-century stones discovered amongst the debris of the ruined apse. Allen’s description in 1831 is as follows:— "On the south side is a porch, and within it a circular arched entrance, formerly very rich in sculptured ornaments, but now only retaining a solitary bird’s head, which serves as a keystone.” Flanking the entrance on either side are now three nook-shafts, which rise from moulded bases standing on a chamfered plinth, which is returned on the sides of the porch. They carry carved and cushion capitals with neckings, and the abacus above (which is enriched with rosettes, etc.) is carried along the wall of the porch on either side, as a string-course. The arch is of three orders, the middle one consists of a series of beak-heads grasping a roll, while the inner and outer orders are also highly enriched with devices into which the chevron pattern enters largely, but which is not easy to describe. There is a hood-mould zigzagged on its inner edge.

The artistic feeling of the work is that of the middle of the twelfth century.

On the inside of the church, just above the west door, is a recess in the form of a vesica, which now contains a very rudely-carved stone, respecting which an eminent authority writes: “There is of course no doubt, I think, of its pre-Norman date, but as to the right interpretation, that is a very conjectural matter. The attitude of the hands is that of adoration or prayer; but this might betoken either the Magi or the three Hebrew children in the fire.”

Some of the old inhabitants used to tell me that they strongly resented the destruction of the old church, and advocated restoration, but the Rev. Robert Taylor was an enthusiastic rebuilder; a friend of mine once described the rebuilding of the churches of Barmby Moor cum Fangfoss, as “an unwarrantable and outrageous piece of vandalism.” A large number of carved stones, including many with beaks and grotesque masks (which certainly ought to have been used in the rebuilding), are to be seen in the grounds of Fangfoss Hall, also what is probably a holy water stoup; these are carefully and jealously preserved from desecration by Thomas Eadon, Esq., the owner of the Hall.

Additional comments

Rita Wood

Unfortunately, then, despite Chantrell's feeling that the old building had "once been a gem of Norman architecture,” the church was not restored complete with apse as he would have hoped. Instead, it was entirely rebuilt, reusing all the old sculpture outside, with a very plain interior. Incidentally, Wood-Rees says the recess with the vesica is above the west door, but he was mistaken: there is no west door, and the vesica is above the south door. For a detailed account and pictorial record of the church's Romanesque elements, including possible re-inventions by Chantrell, see my "St Martin, Fangfoss, Yorkshire, East Riding," listed below. Chantrell’s own drawings of Fangfoss church before and after this process are reproduced by Lawrence Butler (174). Note that one of the drawings is signed "R. Dennis Chantrell" and this is also the form of the architect’s name used in the Yorkshire Gazette account of the re-opening of St Catherine’s at Barmby Moor.

Related material


Butler, L. A. S., ed. The Yorkshire Church Notes of Sir Stephen Glynne (1825-1874). Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Yorkshire Archaeological Society and the Boydell Press, 2007.

"Church of St Martin." Historic England. Web. 3 September 2020.

Wood, Rita. " St Martin, Fangfoss, Yorkshire, East Riding." The Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain & Ireland. Web. 3 September 2020.

Wood-Rees, W. D. "Fangfoss Church." Yorkshire Archaeological Journal. Vol. 22 (1912-13): 253-5. Web. 3 September 2020.

Created 2 September 2020