Volume VI | Chapter 1 | Earlier Research Next Back to catalogue index
by James Lang

The earliest references to the pre-Conquest stone sculpture of this part of the North Riding of Yorkshire are brief: topographical writers and parish historians of the early nineteenth century, such as Gough (1789; 1790; 1806), Whitaker (1823), and Longstaffe (1846; 1847; 1852; 1854), nodded in the direction of the larger and more curious monuments before resorting to genealogy. The county's archaeological societies showed little interest during their foundation period, even in their proceedings, probably because of the extraordinarily rich remains in the county from the later medieval period. The first published recording of particular sculptures was epigraphical. Fr. D. H. Haigh (1852; 1857; 1881a; 1881b) and later Bishop G. F. Browne (1884–8; 1886–6; 1896; 1897) were anxious to link monuments with inscriptions to known historical personages in the documentary sources, notably James the Deacon of Hauxwell, often despite the faintest of evidence on the stone. By the end of the nineteenth century the first systematic descriptions of north Yorkshire monuments appeared from the great collector, Canon William Greenwell of Durham, who made excursions into the region to claim sculpture that was emerging from a spate of church restoration and rebuilding. The difference in quality between the crisp Anglo-Scandinavian carvings in the parish church at Brompton and the inferior pieces in the library at Durham cathedral has been explained by Greenwell's late arrival at the site, only to find the vicar had just bought the best from the builder. However, his catalogue (Haverfield and Greenwell 1899) gave measurements, provenance, descriptions and accurate drawings of his acquisitions.

In 1907 the first of W. G. Collingwood's articles on the Yorkshire carvings was published in the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal. This and the succeeding articles (Collingwood 1909a; 1911; 1912; 1915) set high standards, and in the description of such monuments, including measurements, context, dating, and sharply observed detail, with careful drawings of nearly all the pieces, laid the foundation for future scholarship. Often it is only Collingwood who cites the evidence for discovery.1 His dating is now only slightly modified for a small number of carvings, whilst his geological data has been refined; otherwise his catalogue is absolutely reliable, and his drawings, made before recent rapid erosion, are a trustworthy record of the stones in a better state of preservation. In his final article Collingwood classified and analysed the ornamental repertoire and the forms of monument (1915, 261–99). His dating system of three main periods, subdivided (A1–C3), escaped the trap of too precise a date and allowed for stylistic survival of Anglian features in the Anglo-Scandinavian era. The system was later used by the Taylors in their dating of Anglo-Saxon churches (Taylor and Taylor 1965, i , 17). Collingwood then began to synthesise his pioneer recording work, first in a study of wheel-head crosses (1926a) and then in his Northumbrian Crosses of the pre-Norman Age (1927a). The illustrations in that volume, in terms of the North Riding, are almost entirely those of the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal articles, but they are interestingly placed among those of analogous carvings from north of the Tees and west of the Pennines. Forms of monument are considered comparatively and there is discussion of origins and local styles. The dating of the carvings in the 1927 book is perhaps too neat, and chronology is too heavily tied to notions of evolving stylistic progressions. He later produced a refined chronology of Anglian monuments (1932). One cannot approach the subject of Yorkshire's pre-Conquest sculpture without constant reference to W. G. Collingwood.

Several surveys of art in the Anglo-Saxon period drew heavily on Collingwood's work (Brøndsted 1924; Kendrick 1938; id. 1949). Whereas Collingwood's survey endeavoured to be comprehensive, Brøndsted and Kendrick were selective, including the sculpture in a broader view of pre-Conquest art in all media. Their works made two contributions to the subject: the distinctiveness of sculptural ornament from contemporary art in other media, and the commencement of the debate over ethnic origins for the styles, the latter still prevailing. Meanwhile, local antiquaries, historians and meticulous guide-book writers continued to record pieces as they examined the Riding's churches (McCall 1910; Page, W. 1914; id. 1923; Morris, J. 1931; Pevsner 1966), and the purchase of Easby 1 by the Victoria and Albert Museum led to a definitive initial study followed by an analysis of Anglo-Saxon plant-scroll at large (Longhurst 1931; Kitzinger 1936).

In the 1920s the Ministry of Works excavated the site of Whitby Abbey under the direction of Sir Charles Peers. The excavation report was published during the Second World War (Peers and Radford 1943), and contained descriptions of some of the funerary, architectural and inscribed stones found to the north of the standing abbey church. The complexities of the excavation have been addressed in more recent years (Cramp 1976a; id. 1976b; id. 1993; Rahtz 1976) and the find spots of the sculptured stone more closely defined. The monastery at Whitby (Streanæshalch) is known to have housed the mausoleum of several of the early kings of Northumbria and their families (Bede 1969, 292, iii .24), but no evidence of this or its grave-markers has so far been found. The majority of the funerary and inscribed crosses were found close to the exterior of the present north transept of the abbey church. Their severe, unadorned style has been related to early sculpture at York and in Gaul, rather than to insular traditions (Cramp 1993; but see also Lang 1990a, 3–7; id. 1991, 60; Bailey 1996a, 50–2). The inscriptions have also attracted scholarly commentary and reinterpretation (Okasha 1971, 121–5; Higgitt 1995, 229–36). Other recent research has included two review articles of work on Northumbrian and Anglo-Scandinavian sculpture, which include approaches to carving technique and layout of patterns (Lang 1978c; id. 1983), with particular reference to the Allertonshire workshop (see Chap. 6). A survey by C. D. Morris of the pre-Conquest sculpture in the Tees valley, which included several new discoveries (Morris, C. 1976a), has in turn been amplified by the Cleveland Archaeology Unit's churches survey in the 1980s (Tees Archaeology S.M.R.). The study of hogback recumbent monuments, an Anglo-Scandinavian form which very probably originated in the Vale of Mowbray and may be closely linked with the Allertonshire workshop in many cases, was undertaken by the author (Lang 1967; id. 1984a). Their typology and distribution within the area of this volume may point to local schools or workshops, especially at Brompton and Lythe, where their association with standing crosses is apparent (see Chap. 6).

As Viking Age studies blossomed in the 1970s, interest in the iconography of early Germanic heroes led to the identification of images of Sigurd and Weland upon Yorkshire monuments, of which Kirby Hill 2 and 9, and Bedale 6, are examples (Lang 1974a; id. 1976). Their compatibility with Christian imagery, and the parallel Manx and Scandinavian Sigurd scenes, was examined in the light of the fact that the Yorkshire carvings are the earliest in the series. It is only more recently that the Christian iconography and exegesis of the Anglian monuments has received renewed attention, notably that of Masham 1 (Hawkes 1989, i , 80–136; id. 1997; id. 1999a). Like Easby 1, and other shafts in the West Riding, this may be termed an 'Apostle pillar' in iconographic terms, and the type could be associated with the rites of baptism (Lang 1994a; id. 1999; id. 2000).

Two recent books on pre-Conquest sculpture by Richard Bailey should be read in association with Collingwood's 1927 synthesis (Bailey 1980; id. 1996a). They contain passing references to sculpture from this area and critically assess new findings in the subject. For a tighter chronological framework for monuments of importance like Croft 1, Easby 1 and Masham 1, as well as their relationship with Mercian analogues, one should turn to two general articles by Rosemary Cramp (1977; id. 1978a). It is in this field that Carolingian influence and even Late Antique models have relevance for some of the area's finer monuments, perhaps from the age of Alcuin (Lang 1990a; id. 1993; id. 2000).

As the Corpus series grows, comparative material comes more readily to hand, and it is fortunate that the catchment of this book is adjacent to that of three previously published volumes: Vol. I, County Durham and Northumberland (Cramp 1984); Vol. II, Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire North-of-the-Sands (Bailey and Cramp 1988); and Vol. III, York and Eastern Yorkshire (Lang 1991). There are particular connections which should be pursued. In Richmondshire, between the Swale and the Tees, there are indications of relationships with Cumbrian Anglo-Scandinavian monuments, both in ornament and form. The proximity of the Stainmore Pass facilitates this. There is also a natural connection between Whitby's early crosses and some stones at its daughter house at Hackness (Lang 1991, 135–42), though similarities with the York stelae have already been explored (id. 1990a). Thirdly, the Allertonshire workshop (Chap. 6) produced monuments not only for Brompton and Kirklevington in this area but also for Sockburn and Hart in co. Durham, north of the river Tees. These are but three possibilities for further research based on the Corpus volumes for the north.


1. Collingwood's articles built on and systematised the material recorded with unexpected care by early guide-book writers and the anonymous compilers of commercial directories, as well as informants such as J. Romilly Allen, the Rev. C. V. Collier, and H. B. McCall. In particular J. E. Morris in his first edition (1904) noted many of the pieces later described and drawn by Collingwood, though his identifications of pre-Conquest sculpture were not always secure. At an earlier date the History, Topography and Directory compiled by the firm of T. F. Bulmer (1890) provides a primary record of the discovery of many of the sculptures, quite outside the academic field represented by the national or county journals. (D.C.)

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