Church of St Marys Bishophill Junior

1000AD - 1066AD

Much of the church as it stands today was built from the twelfth century through the medieval period. The church was enlarged in the 11th and 12th centuries with additions in the 13th and 14th. It was substantially restored in 1860 and then again in 1908.

The oldest and most striking part of the church is the massive West tower, which dates to the 11th century and could pre-date the Norman Conquest of 1066.

When looking at the tower, you can see what appears to be a sudden change in its construction part-way up. The upper section is where the belfy begins. The herring-bone pattern in the lower section is evidence of pre-Norman construction, but due to the clear differences in its masonry some people have suggested that the belfry was built much later.

In the lower portion of the tower you will notice that few of the stones are alike, most are smaller pieces of reclaimed stone and rubble left over from nearby Roman construction. A piece of red Roman brick is still clearly visible in the lintel of a window in the northern wall, for example.

In fact there are over 21 identified pieces of re-used stone in the fabric of the tower. 18 of the recognized stones were taken from Roman building remains and 3 came from the Anglo-Saxon and Viking Age. Portions of the Anglo-Saxon sculpted stone can be seen at the Yorkshire Museum, whilst a Viking age stone cross fragment is on display inside the church. The sculpted cross is dated to the 10th century, which tells us that the tower was probably built after this time.

The belfry is more uniform and uses a different type of mortar from the lower section. Does this mean that it was built at a later date when building styles had changed? Maybe not. Surveys have found that putlog holes inside the tower, which are evidence of the scaffolding used in the tower's construction, match up from the belfry down to the lower section. This suggests that both the scaffolding and the tower were assembled as part of a single construction project from bottom-to-top.

The small, narrow windows in the lower portion are well-known in Anglo-Saxon buildings, but what about the enormous window openings in the belfry? Well, these types of openings are also quite common in Anglo-Saxon church belfries. What's more, the window jambs and heads cut all the way through the walls; later Norman openings have recessed jambs and heads set within the wall.

It seems that the tower may all be dated to the 11th century, a product of Anglo Scandanavian York, before Norman influence came to architecture in the North of England.


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