St Mary, Kilpeck, Herefordshire

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Feature Sets (5)


Kilpeck church is a three-cell building consisting of nave, chancel and rib-vaulted apse, all dating from the 12thc. At the west end of the nave is a wooden gallery including material dating from the 16thc. to the 19thc. There is no record to show when it was erected. The church is constructed of old red sandstone blocks; irregular in size and shape in the nave and chancel but of regularly coursed squared ashlar in the apse, which was refurbished by Cottingham in 1846 at the same time as its roofline was lowered. The walls are supported by flat, slender pilaster buttresses of ashlar, dividing the nave into three bays, the chancel into two, and the apse into one straight bay and three curved ones. There is no pilaster buttress at the NE angle of the nave, although traces of one remain at the top of the wall. Below, the angle is of long and short quoins and the nave wall to the N of the angle is of masonry different to that of the rest of the nave wall, sloping inwards so that it dies into the wall just below the level of the original nave window sills. This section of wall is on a slightly different line to the rest of the nave wall. Its interpretation, as a vestige of an earlier church on the site or as a later rebuilding, is discussed in section VIII. Over the west gable of the nave is a gabled double bell-cote; also part of the 1846 restoration.

Kilpeck is generally considered the jewel of the Herefordshire school of Romanesque sculpture; for its completeness, its virtuosity and its remarkable state of preservation. The south nave doorway, with a Tree of Life tympanum and richly carved jambs and arch orders, was protected by a wooden porch of unknown date until 1868. It has never been replaced, but a lead mantle was installed around the label in 1962 to prevent water penetration. The great west window is also elaborately carved. Of the other windows, those in bay 2 of the north nave wall, bay 1 of the south nave wall and the three curved bays of the apse are original. The south window of the chancel is 13thc., but two 12thc. corbels have been reused as label stops (described in section III.3.c.vii). A corbel table runs around the entire church, originally consisting of 91 corbels, most of which survive in excellent condition. They depict human and animal heads, birds, beasts and obscene subjects, some in a simple, almost cartoon-like style, others with classicising features, and all very easy to read since the eaves are not high. In addition there are projecting dragons' heads at the tops of the buttresses at the NW, SW and SE angles of the nave and in the centre of the west facade, all at the level of the corbel table.

Inside, the chancel arch has jamb-figures and chevron- and lozenge-decorated arch orders. The apse arch is plain, but the apse vault ribs are chevron-decorated, the vault boss is carved with lion heads, and there is sculpture on the inside of the apse windows. The font has an enormous plain bowl of conglomerate, and the church also contains a holy water stoup, imported from elsewhere, with a carved bowl and base; and a rare font-stopper carved with basketweave.

The monochrome photographs of corbels were taken on a Courtauld Institute of Art photographic trip in 1970; the colour photography was carried out in March 2005.


The earliest notice of a church at Kilpeck is in the Book of Llandaff, which records that the church and its lands were given to that diocese c.650. Kilpeck remained part of the Llandaff diocese until the 1130s, when it was appropriated by Hereford. The manor was held by the Conqueror's kinsman William fitzNorman in 1086, and no church or priest was noted at that time. William's son Hugh de Kilpeck is usually credited with the building of the church. In 1134 a small Benedictine priory founded there was given to St Peter's, Gloucester, and the grant refers to the castle, held by Hugh, its chapel of St Mary and the church of St David. The lordship passed to Hugh's son, Henry and thence to his grandson, John. King John visited the castle in 1211, 1212 and 1214. By 1259 it was held by Robert de Walerand, who was granted two annual fairs and a Friday market by Henry III. These grants were renewed by Edward III in 1309, when the lord was Alan de Plogenet.

Benefice of Ewyas Harold with Dulas, Kenderchurch, Abbeydore, Bacton, Kentchurch, Llangua, Rowlstone, Llancillo, Walterstone, Kilpeck, St Devereux and Wormbridge.


Exterior Features


S nave doorway

Two orders with tympanum, round headed.

h of opening 2.16 m
thickness of tympanum 0.185 m
w of opening 1.12 m
1st order

Plain jambs supporting quirked hollow chamfered impost blocks with a quirked roll at the bottom of the upright face. The imposts support a semicircular tympanum with lugs to left and right resting on the impost blocks. Originally it is likely that the lower section of the tympanum, including the lugs, was a single block of greyish sandstone, but both lugs have cracked off and have been repaired with mortar. The upper part of the tympanum is of two blocks; a large one to the left and a small quadrant-shaped piece to the right. The lower part of the lower block is carved as a pseudo-lintel, with a lower angle roll and above this a row of one and a half unit nested chevrons, alternately roll and hollow in profile. The chevrons do not extend to the lugs on the imposts. Above is a simple Tree of Life consisting of a pair of symmetrical beaded stems curving apart as they rise from the pseudo-lintel, and between them a vertical beaded stem. Each stem terminates in a clasp; the central clasp carved with three horizontal quirks and the side clasps beaded. From the central clasp emerge three stems, the central one ending in a furled acanthus leaf and the side ones in bunches of grapes. From the clasps of the side stems emerge stems branching into four, of which three on the left and two on the right terminate in furled acanthus leaves, one on each side in five-petalled half-daisies with beading around the central boss. The final stem on the left terminates in a bunch of grapes.

Around the tympanum the archivolt has an angle roll and a hollow and a roll on the face.

2nd order

The supports are heavily carved monolithic pilasters with integral nook-shafts towards the jambs, and these shafts carry capitals, also carved from the same block. These two great blocks are supported on socles carrying the spurred bases of the nook-shafts and continuing the carving of the pilasters alongside. These in turn stand on chamfered plinths.

The west pilaster is carved with two dragons in high relief, one above the other, their bodies coiling down the pilaster; the upper biting the tail of the lower. Intertwined with the dragons' fat bodies is a slender smooth stem with side-leaves. The head of the lower dragon is carved on the socle. The dragons are quite smooth except for their heads, which have ball-shaped snouts, oval eyes and wrinkles depicted by parallel curving vee-shaped grooves.

The west nook-shaft is carved with two standing frontal warriors, one above the other, entangled in slender foliage stems with side-leaves. They are similar in having long, slender bodies clad in long-sleeved tunics decorated with fine horizontal reeding. Both wear plain trousers supported by girdles secured with a complex knot with the long ends running down their legs, and both have tall, pointed caps and simple shoes. The upper warrior has his head turned in right profile and is bearded. He clutches a stem in his left hand and holds a battleaxe in his right, the shaft resting against his shoulder. The lower warrior is similarly bearded and his head is turned three-quarters to the right. He carries a sword in his right hand, again resting it on his shoulder, while his left hand is raised, palm out.

The capital above is cushion-shaped, carved on its two faces with a pair of affronted beasts; a lion on the east and on the south a wingless dragon with two legs and a lion's head and mane. They confront one another with mouths wide open. The dragon has beading running down its back and continuing to form its coiled tail. The lion has a very long tail, decorated with spiral reeding and terminating in a brush. On the south face, the dragon's body crosses a foliate stem, one of a pair clasped above the necking and terminating in furled leaves. The necking is a heavy single-strand cable, and the impost is similar to that of the inner order but larger, set at a higher level, and with its face decorated with a row of chip-carved saltires in squares.

The east pilaster has a similar design to its counterpart on the west jamb, but with the dragons coiling upwards. The east nook-shaft is decorated in relief with a design of acanthus, consisting of a pair of smooth, slender stems with side shoots and fluted, lobed leaves that run up the shaft from base to the necking of the capital. At the bottom the two stems curve apart to form an oval within which is a pair of affronted birds perching on the stems. The two stems rise and intersect, untidily at first but above the midpoint of the shaft the pattern becomes symmetrical, with a series of large loops held by reeded clasps and enclosing pairs of spiral side shots terminating in leaves. The east capital has a grotesque mask on the angle, with drilled, bulging, oval eyes and beaded brows above, a slender nose and wrinkles above the mouth which is wide open and from which emerge a pair of beaded stems, one to either side. They terminate in a spray of multi-lobed fluted leaves and bunches of grapes emerging from a reeded clasp. The foliage on the south face extends onto the top of the pilaster alongside, above the head of the top dragon which seems to strain to reach it. The necking is a heavy single-strand cable, and the impost is similar to that of the inner order but larger, set at a higher level, and with its face decorated with a row of chip-carved saltires in squares.

The arch consists of 16 voussoirs carved with a row of single-roll frontal chevron at the intrados, and outside this a series of motifs overlapping a roll, thus classed as beakhead. From left to right they are:

1. A dragon in low relief, its head pointing inwards and lying across the chevron inner border. The snout is carved with nested vees, and behind it are wings lying flat and a beaded tail emerging between them.

2. Beast-type beakhead with broad snout lying on the roll, oval, drilled eyes and pointed ears. The head and beak decorated with a symmetrical design of grooving.

3. S-shaped dragon lying over the roll and pointing inwards, the head and tail turned back. Its body is slender and beaded and the wings lie flat. The mouth is open.

4. Lion with human head, facing inwards overlapping the roll.

5. Broad frontal lion-like mask, the mouth open and a pair of affronted beast heads emerging from it like tongues to lie across the roll. These little heads have their mouths open and their tongues projecting.

6. Beakhead similar to 2, but with curls of hair along the brow between the ears, cable moulded brows and nested U-shaped decoration on the beak.

7. Grotesque frontal human face with mouth open and a pair of affronted serpents emerging, facing one another at the top of the main head.

8. Bird with hooked beak, its head turned back, seated on a nest comprising a loop of three-strand interlace resting on the arch roll and enclosing a double row of fluted leaves.

9. Angel flying left, its head frontal and wings spread behind. It carries a sword in its right hand and a scroll in its left.

10.Mask similar to 5, but with a pair of stems terminating in leaves coming from its mouth.

11. Bird beakhead, the beak narrow and keeled, the cheeks outlined by rows of cable moulding, the ears pointed like a cat's, and the brow between them decorated with curls.

12. Four serpents in a ring, each biting the tail of the one in front.

13. A dragon in a ring, biting its own tail.

14. Grotesque beast head shown in left profile.

15. Beast beakhead with long straight snout.

16. Dragon facing right (outwards), its body and tail formed of three-strand interlace.

Outside this arch is a broad, flat label carved with tangential motifs. The left (west) springer has a symmetrical foliage design with a central stem, clasped at the bottom, with symmetrical leaves emerging from the clasp. At the top of the stem a pair of long leaves grow downwards and outwards. The east springer is a curtailed version of this, with the top part cut off. Above these two on either side is a flattened head, seen from above, with a beak-like snout, drilled bulging eyes and an overall pattern of symmetrical wrinkles, similar to beakheads 2 and 6 of the second-order arch. Teeth are visible below the snouts of both. Between these two heads, the rest of the arch is carved with a chain motif of nine beaded rings clasped by grotesque lion heads with their jaws towards the extrados. There are nine of these, as an extra one appears at the right of the easternmost ring. Two different designs of lion head occur. The first four from the west are large with long snouts, transverse wrinkles to either side and undrilled eyes; the other five are smaller with drilled pupils and short snouts.

The rings of the chain are carved with motifs, described from left to right as follows:

1. Left profile bird with hooked beak, undrilled eyes, wings curved up and long tail. The wings and tail are fluted and the body smooth.

2. As 1.

3. As 1.

4. As 1 but right profile.

5. Serpent with its body curved in a U-shape, lying on its back and facing its own tail.

6. Left profile standing bird, its body vertical and its head turned back so that it is vertical too. Wings and body are decorated with fluting for feathers and the eye is large and drilled.

7. Pisces? A pair of fish, the upper swimming right and the lower left, both with drilled eyes, four fins and their bodies decorated with beading.

8. Damaged and repaired. The bottom part contains the rear of a lion, and an inserted stone above it attaches a bird's head similar to 6. This is apparently not the original design.

9. A pair of affronted serpents forming a ring. Their tails are knotted together and their heads touch. They appear to share a tongue.


Apse central window

Round headed. Exterior as (i). Interior as (i) except for the capitals. The left is a cushion with wedges between the cones and the lower edges of the shields outlined by a double groove. The right is similar.

Apse N window

Round headed. Exterior as (i). Interior as (i) except for the capitals. The left is a cushion with broad wedges between the cones. The right is a double scallop with the lower edges of the shields outlined by a double groove.

Apse S window

Round headed. The exterior has a single continuous order with a fat angle roll and bases with a bulbous roll below a tall hollow. The head of the window is a single large block. The interior is deeply splayed and the interior arch has lateral, centrifugal face chevron of quirked roll section with a cogwheel edge. It is carried on attached angle shafts with bulbous bases and capitals with plain neckings. The left (east) capital is a cushion with an angle tuck, damaged at the upper part of the west face; the right is a cushion with sheathed cone and a double groove around the bottom of the shield. Imposts are quirked hollow chamfered and cut back following the splay of the window reveals.

Chancel S window

For 12thc corbels reused as label stops, see III.3.c.vii.

Nave W window

Single order, round headed. The jambs have heavy en-delit nook-shafts carved with beaded two- and three-strand interlace strands with cross-links, superficially resembling basketweave. They are carried on inverted cushion bases, their shields deeply and concentrically fluted and reeded. The shafts carry capitals in the form of grotesque human heads with beaded stems terminating in leaves emerging from their mouths. Neckings are fat rolls and there are no imposts. The arch has a fat nook roll carved with double-reeded basketweave - true this time, and deeply undercut. There is no label.

Exterior Decoration

Corbel tables, corbels

Apse corbel table (24 corbels)

The corbel table is chamfered and carved with a row of sawtooth on the chamfer and another on the face above. It was supported originally by 24 corbels; three in each of the short straight bays of the apse and six in each curved bay. Twenty-three corbels remain; the westernmost in the S straight bay is lost. Sections of the sawtooth-decorated table may belong to Cottingham's restoration.

The apparently simple design has two variations. In both, the raised triangles of the sawtooth on the upper chamfer are inverted, pointing downwards. The first type has the raised triangles on the chamfer similarly inverted and syncopated with those on the face above, giving the appearance of a row of lozenges along the arriss. The second has the raised triangles on the chamfer upright, with their points at the top and also syncopated with those on the face above, producing the appearance of a depressed zigzag running along the corbel table.

In the following descriptions the corbels are numbered anticlockwise, starting at the SW and ending at the NW. This differs from Thurlby's numbering system, taken from 'A short tour', which begins at the SW angle of the nave and goes anticlockwise around the entire church in a single sequence. There is also some disagreement between Thurlby and the present author concerning precisely which corbel is lost at the very start of the sequence. Thurlby's numbers are given in brackets, preceded by a T.

A1. Removed.

A2. (T28). A female exhibitionist, or sheela-na-gig, shown frontally with legs apart and long arms passing behind the legs to hold open the labia of her huge vagina. Her head is very large, with a broad bald head tapering to a pointed chin. Her eyes are oval, bulging and drilled.

A3. (T29). Ball-shaped beast head with cat-like ears and long nose terminating in a beaked upper lip. The mouth is open and grips a rod. The eyes are oval, bulging and drilled. Lewis's 1842 print of this includes clawed feet in the lower angles of the corbel, but these are no longer present.

A4. (T30). Muzzled bear's head with beading on the muzzle. Projecting from each side of the mouth is a small human head.

A5. (T31). Male human head with all features; the eyes, moustache, mouth and short beard, slightly higher on the left side of the face than the right. The eyes are oval, bulging and drilled. The nose is thin and straight but obliquely cut at the end, and the mouth is small with lips slightly open.

A6. (T32). Inverted deer's head with curved antlers and a flat pig's snout drilled for nostrils. Thurlby interprets this as an ibex which, in the Bestiary, lands on its horns if it falls down a mountain, protecting the creature from harm. The moralisation of the story compares the beast to those learned in the Old and New Testaments who are similarly protected by their twofold knowledge. 'A short tour' disagrees with Thurlby's interpretation on the grounds that the beast has antlers rather than horns, and suggests that it is likely to represent a dead stag, carried upside-down after the chase.

A7 (T33). A hound and a hare, shown side by side and turned slightly away from one another. The hound has long ears flopping forward either side of its drilled eyes. The hare, or rabbit, has long upright ears and front paws shown in shallow relief stretched out in front.

A8 (T34). Bald and earless human head with oval, bulging and drilled eyes, and the jaw lost from the upper lip downwards. Traces of arms and hands are visible to the left and right of the missing jaw. In Lewis's 1842 print, he is shown pulling the mouth with both hands.

A9 (T35). A grotesque and powerful image of a bird-headed man inserting its beak into the mouth of a globular human head, shown inverted at the bottom of the corbel. The bird-man has a head like a beakhead with drilled eyes, catlike ears, and grooved decoration on the brow. His shoulders and arms are human, and he rests on his elbows, bringing his hands up alongside his beak and holding something in them, on which he gnaws - perhaps a bone.

A10 (T36). A pair of small birds shown from above, heads to the top of the corbel. With their beaks they grip a serpent that curves around the top of the corbel, its head hanging down on the left. Their wings are folded on top of their bodies.

A11 (T37). Grotesque beast head with drilled eyes and a straight nose superimposed on a wrinkled muzzle. The wide grinning mouth shows pointed teeth.

A12 (T38). Composite human lion head surrounded by a curly mane. In the centre of the brow is a bead, an unusual motif (see section VIII). The eyes are oval, bulging and drilled, surrounded by grooves for eyelids. The nose is humanoid with drilled nostrils and the mouth is slightly open and turned down at the ends.

A13 (T39). Agnus Dei. A lamb walking to left with a cross supported on its left foreleg. This axis of the apse lies between this corbel and the previous one. There is another Agnus Dei corbel over the S nave doorway (SN8).

A14 (T40). Human head with bulging cheeks above ridges running from the sides of the nose tip. The mouth is wide, straight and slightly open, and a short beard outlines the chin and jawline. He has small ears alongside his drilled eyes and hair short in irregular tufts.

A15 (T41). Grotesque beast head entirely covered with a symmetrical ridged design. The eyes, towards the sides of the head, are oval, bulging and drilled. The mouth resembles a duck's beak.

A16 (T42). Ram's head with curly horns decorated with transverse reeding to either side of its long, thin, smooth head, and bulbous drilled oval eyes.

A17 (T43). Simple dog-like beast head with slanted drilled oval eyes, small ears, slightly open mouth and drilled snout.

A18 (T44). Thin human figure with a large round head and very long arms, playing a rebec or viol held by the neck in the left hand with the body against the left shoulder and played with a bow held in the right hand. The legs are shown in low relief at bottom left. Thurlby notes the resemblance of this figure to A2.

A19 (T45). A pair of standing, clothed lovers embracing, the man on the right. She caresses his buttocks with her right hand, while he holds her right arm at the elbow with his left. They are cheek-to-cheek with lips parted for a kiss. Thurlby interprets the figures as dancing together to the music of A18, and suggests that the left figure is the man, whose advance on his partner's bottom is being restrained by the hand on the arm. He also suggests that the woman is resisting a kiss.

A20 (T46). The head of a pig (?) with drilled snout, holding a man in its mouth, his head projecting at the right and his legs and feet at the left.

A21 (T47). A slim human figure, possibly female, clad in a tunic and short skirt and carved diagonally across the corbel, as if falling to the right, with right arm raised and legs bent at the knees. The head is bald with drilled eyes.

A22 (T48). A grotesque beast head decorated with a pattern of ridges. The nose is long and the mouth bifurcated, with teeth remaining on the right. The eyes are oval and drilled and the ears cat-like. There are losses to the bottom and lower left of the head.

A23 (T49). Human head with perfectly round mouth showing a fleshy tongue, and moustache-like nasolabial ridges. The eyes are oval and drilled, the left slightly lower than the right.

A24 (T50). Bird-headed man similar to A9, with its beak inserted in the mouth of a man on whom it crouches. The bird-man's head is decorated with fishscale-like feathers.

Chancel, N side corbel table (9 corbels)

The table itself is decorated as (ii) above. Corbels are numbered from left to right (E to W). Thurlby's numbering seems to have gone awry in this area.

NC1 (T51). An intriguing damaged corbel, the top part entirely missing. At lower left are the hind legs and rump of a horse-like quadruped. The outline of the back part of the body remains, running diagonally up the corbel. From this, two long arms project horizontally with hands to the right. To the left a length of fabric, like a cloak curves above the animal's back. Possibly it depicted a rider on a rearing horse.

NC2 (T52). A human head, broader than its height, roughly shaped with undrilled almond eyes and open, thick-lipped mouth.

NC3 (T53). A similarly sketched out human head with pointed chin, open mouth and broad brow with hair shown as reeding running back from the browline.

NC4 (T58). Simple human head shaped like the bowl of a wineglass, with oval drilled eyes, the left set higher than the right.

NC5 (T57). Female head with drilled almond eyes, triangular nose and small straight mouth. The head is draped with parallel ridges running around the crown and down the sides.

NC6 (T56). Human head without ears and with undrilled almond eyes. The nose is broad at the tip and a long moustache runs down to the jawline. The mouth is small and damaged, and there is a triangle at the centre of the hairline.

NC7 (T55). Simple human head with drilled almond eyes and a cap of reeded hair, similar to NC3.

NC8. Not recorded by Thurlby. Composite human head similar to NC6, but with cat's ears and a moustache that twirls up at the tips.

NC9 (T.59). Broken off.

Chancel, S side corbel table (9 corbels)

The corbel table has a lower angle roll decorated with two-strand cable, and above this a row of heavy beading and at the top a row of sawtooth. Corbels are numbered from left to right (W to E). Again there are differences between Thurlby's interpretations of what is lost and the present author's.

SC1 (T20). Lost but for a curved profile to the lower left of the block.

SC2 (T21). Smooth, tapering beast head shaped like the bowl of a wineglass, with large vertically-set drilled almond eyes, pointed ears and tongue projecting from the mouth.

SC3 (T22). Daisy with three rings of fluted petals.

SC4 (T23). Lizard-like head with large vertically-set drilled almond eyes, triple cusped upper lip and mouth open to show the tongue. This corbel was reset further east than its original position when the later window was added.

SC5. Broken off.

SC6 (T24). Largely lost. The hind legs of a beast and a pair of straight legs or arms remain at the bottom.

SC7 (T25). Replaced with chamfered block.

SC8 (T26). Broken off.

SC9 (T27). Pig's head, wineglass-shaped like SC2, with drilled triangular eyes and damaged drilled snout.

Corbels reused as label stops in chancel, S window

The window is 13thc., pointed and trefoil headed with a label, and positioned immediately to the west of a pilaster buttress. Two 12thc. human head corbels have been cut down at the top and inserted as label stops. This has necessitated cutting away the buttress to accommodate the east corbel.

W corbel: A king with a crown. The head is beardless with no ears, undrilled oval eyes, nose barely indicated, a close-lipped mouth with a slight smile and a cleft chin. The carving is simple and schematic, as in corbels NC2-NC4.

E corbel: A worn, grotesque human head retaining traces of hair and a chin beard, both of tufted curls. Eyes are undrileed and oval, and the cheeks are defined by a moustache-like ridge. The lips are slightly parted. Similar to SN8.

Nave, N side corbel table (18 corbels)

The table itself is decorated as (iv) above. Corbels are numbered from left to right (E to W).

NN1 (T60). Human head damaged through the loss of the upper part of the face, including the eyes and nose. The hair runs in straight ridges and there are small ears, similar in both respects to SN2. The cheeks are subtly carved, the mouth is straight and the chin heavy and rounded.

NN2 (T61). Male human head with tufts of hair on the head and curls forming a beard around the entire jawline. The eyes are oval, bulging and undrilled, set in sockets with beaded eyebrows above. The cheeks are puffy and outlined below by a nasolabial ridge. The nose is long, straight and slender and the mouth straight and wide with lips slightly parted.

NN3 (T62). Bird standing in right profile, the right claw raised. Wings are folded and long with ridges for feathers and the long tail is similarly treated. The rest of the body and head, and the root end of the wing are covered with small fishscale. The beak is hooked.

NN4 (T63). Beast head, possibly a sheep with fishscale wool on top of the head, rounded ears, bulging oval undrilled eyes surrounded by ridges and a doglike snout. A band or strap of roll profile passes right around the mouth, with an end hanging down on the left.

NN5 (T64). Composite human bust with rounded beast's ears. It holds an object resembling an inverted bowl in its wide open mouth with both hands, apparently eating it. It has bulging oval drilled eyes surrounded by ridges and nasolabial ridges defining the lower edges of the bulging cheeks.

NN6 (T65). A stag with long antlers running up the corbel, show in right profile. Thurlby identifies it with the Bestiary 'cervus' and, following Isidore's account, interprets it in terms of the good man's confession of sins and love of his neighbour rather than Christ's recognition and expulsion of the devil, as in the older Physiologus tradition.

NN7 (T66). Composite human /beast head with cat's ears, bulging oval drilled eyes surrounded by ridges and nasolabial ridges defining the lower edges of the cheeks. The nose is straight and humanoid, and the wide-open mouth holds a small human head.

NN8 (T67). A foliage design of two triple-reeded stems emerging from a clasp at bottom centre and curving, branching and interlacing more or less symmetrically to fill the surface with a foliage interlace terminating in a pair of furled leaves at the upper angles. A loss at top left has removed one of these.

NN9 (T68). A long composite human /beast head with rounded hollowed-out ears, almond undrilled eyes with surrounding ridges, nasolabial ridges defining the lower edges of the cheeks, a nose flaring out into broad drilled nostrils, a straight closed mouth and a long chin surrounded by a wispy beard of curly tufts surrounding the entire jawline.

NN10 (T69). A monstrous beast head with rounded hollowed-out ears and oval undrilled eyes surrounded by concentric ridges that form a design on the cheeks, reaching down as far as the lips, which are very thick. The mouth is huge and open, and devours a human head.

NN11 (T70). Two fish swimming up the corbel. That on the left is covered in fishscale, while the right fish has a smooth body. Each has gills and a pair of fins just behind, with another pair just before the tail. Thurlby points out that a single fish was used as a symbol of Christ. The zodiac sign of Pisces was more normally shown as a pair of fish swimming in opposite directions, as on the label of the S doorway.

NN12. (T71). Male human head with bulging oval undrilled eyes, ears high on the head, straight nose, small closed mouth, straplike moustache and a short beard running right around the jawline. He wears a cap with horizontal reeding.

NN13 (T72). A horse's head with bridle.

NN14 (T73). A standing bird in right profile, its head turned back and a hooked beak. The wing is crescent-shaped and ridged with fishscale at the root end; the tail long and ridged.

NN15 (T74). Stag as corbel NN6.

NN16 (T75). Human male head wearing a cap decorated with concentric reeding. His easy are bulging and undrilled, surrounded by naturalistic upper and lower lids with convincingly tooled eyebrows. The ears are rather high. The nose is broken off and he has a neat moustache and shirt jawline beard, both tooled with parallel reeding.

NN17 (T76). A serpent twined into a simple knot. Its body is smooth and there is a large loss at the upper left of the corbel.

NN18 (T77). Two-stem beaded interlace forming a symmetrical pattern and rising from a beaded clasp at bottom centre.

Nave, S side corbel table (19 corbels)

The table itself has a lower angle roll decorated with two-strand cable, alternately broad and concave and narrow and convex. Above this is a hollow, then a row of beading. Corbels are numbered from left to right (W to E). The corbel table on the south side of the nave has one more corbel than its counterpart on the north since there is no buttress between the two western bays, its place being occupied by the S doorway.

SN1 (T1). A bird standing in right profile pecking at a smaller bird on the ground under its feet. Thurlby offers three possible interpretations from the Bestiary; the pelican striking back at its young who have attacked it, the quail attacked by a sparrowhawk, and the kite, which attacks tame birds. The possibility that it might be the pelican is especially interesting since this particular episode from the story is rarely illustrated, no doubt because it cannot be comfortably moralised. Artists more commonly depicted the following scene, where the adult bird resurrects its dead chicks with its own blood. That episode is nowhere shown on the corbel table, which might suggest that a pelican was not what the artist had in mind here.

SN2 (T2). A human head with long straight hair centrally parted, drilled bulbous oval eyes, small ears, a slightly flaring nose and small straight mouth. This is one of the most naturalistic of the human heads here.

SN3 (T3). A composite human lion head surrounded by a mane with short curls on the crown and curled tufts below the head. It has drilled bulbous oval eyes, high cheekbones and a mouth like a mask of comedy.

SN4 (T4) Four scaly-bodied serpents entwined in a symmetrical basketweave knot. Also included in the knot are reeded foliage stems with side leaves emerging from clasps. The head of the upper right serpent is lost; the others all have their mouths open, in the act of biting.

SN5 (T5). Almost completely broken off.

SN6 (T6). Only the concave form of the corbel remains, with a scar suggesting that a head has been knocked off.

SN7 (T7). A pair of wrestlers standing and grappling each other. They wear short skirts or trousers with reeded decoration. Their heads, arms and upper bodies and the entire top of the corbel are lost.

SN8 (T8). Agnus Dei. A lamb walking to right with a cross supported on its right foreleg. The cross head is Maltese, with a heavy central boss. It is placed directly over the S doorway. There is another Agnus Dei corbel on the axis of the apse (A13).

SN9 (T9). Removed and wall repaired.

SN10 (T10). A damaged corbel, the entire upper part lost. What remains are the lower parts of two standing human figures facing one another with legs apart. The left figure has knee-length trousers with vertical reed decoration; the right slightly longer trousers falling in pleats flaring at the hem, and an overgarment with a diagonal hem running from the waist at the left to the hem of the trousers at the right. He also has a triple-reeded belt. Between the feet of each figure is a clasp from which emerges a pair of foliage stems. The outer stem in each case disappears behind the figure, while the two inner stems rise between the figures and intertwine around knee level before continuing upwards and disappearing in the damaged area.

SN11 (T11). A composite human lion head surrounded by a mane similar to SN3, except that the mane below the head falls in ringlets while that on the crown is in short curls, the eyes are not drilled, and the ears are smaller.

SN12 (T12). A grotesque beast head with bulging almond eyes surrounded by bands of reeding, a large, open, thick-lipped mouth from which a fleshy tongue protrudes between pointed teeth, rounded, hollowed-out ears and mane-like curly tufts below the jaw.

SN13 (T13). An untidy basketweave of double-reeded two- and three-strand interlace.

SN14 (T14). A composite human lion head surrounded by a curly mane.

SN15 (T15). Three triple-reeded stems each terminating at both ends in a furled leaf interlaced together regularly. Damage to the top left has lost a leaf.

SN16 (T16). A ram's head similar to A16.

SN17 (T17). A lion's head with drilled eyes surrounded by wrinkles, thick fleshy lips and rounded hollowed-out ears.

SN18 (T18). Broken off.

SN19 (T19). Largely lost, but traces of a curly lion's mane survive at the bottom.

W front corbel table (12 corbels)

The table itself is decorated as (iv) above. Corbels are numbered from left to right (N to S).

W1 (T78). An inverted pear-shaped female human head with long hair, shown as straight parallel ridges centrally parted with a widow's peak on the crown and falling in long ringlets on either side. The eyes are oval and drilled, and surrounded by a ridge. Ears are alongside the eyes, the cheeks are full, the nose is long and straight and the mouth short, straight and closed. The chin is very long and tapers to a rounded end.

W2 (T79). A male human head with hair like that on the crown of W1, and similar eyes and ears. The cheeks are full and the nose is broken at the tip and he has a long handlebar moustache above a short, closed mouth, and a short rounded chin with a short jawline beard.

W3 (T80). The corbel decoration is lost and the corbel itself generally eroded.

W4 (T81). Ram's head similar to A16.

W5 (T82). Male human head similar to W2.

W6 (T83). Grotesque serpent's head and neck, all covered with reeded striations. Reeded wrinkles also surround the eyes. The mouth is very wide open and may once have contained a human head, now broken off.

W7 (T84). Doglike beast head, badly eroded, with small pointed ears, oval eyes surrounded by wrinkles which continue on the sides of the squarish snout, and a round, open mouth at the end of the snout, apparently showing the tongue, now broken off.

W8 (T85). Bird's head devouring a small human figure which protrudes on either side, the upper body and head on the left and the legs on the right. The bird is smoothly finished with almond undrilled eyes.

W9 (T86). Intertwined serpents formed into a ball-shaped knot.

W10 (T87). A goat's head with striated horns curving back and round eyes.

W11 (T88). Male human head looking up, with undrilled oval eyes in deep sockets, hair in short curls and a beard around the jawline in a series of curly tufts. The nose is straight and broken at the tip, and nasiolabial ridges define the full cheeks. The mouth is straight with lips just open.

W12 (T89). Similar to W11 but looking down.


Dragon's head, centre of W facade.

As (i) but the head projects directly from the centre of the buttress at corbel level. The upper and lower jaws are complete and unbroken.

Dragon's head, nave NW angle.

One of three on the W facade, all projecting to the W. It consists of a block with a chamfered lower edge set into the N face of the buttress at the NW angle of the nave at corbel-table level. From this projects a tall and long but thin dragon's head, its mouth wide open to reveal a tongue, horizontal at its root then curving down to meet the lower jaw and terminating in a spiral that touches the upper jaw towards the tip. The tongue is smooth but eroded, and the sides of the head are decorated with parallel ridges following the jawlines. The underside of the lower jaw has transverse reeding. The eyes are oval and drilled. The upper jaw curves upwards at its tip and the lower jaw downwards. The tip of the lower jaw is broken off. The main (N) face of the chamfered block set into the buttress is decorated with three smooth horizontal scrolling stems with side-shoots and three-lobed leaves, the stems joined by clasps where they touch. On the chamfer below is a similar single scrolling stem.

Dragon's head, nave SE angle.

As (iii), including a similarly decorated chamfered block on the S face of the nave buttress (but without the animal relief). The dragon has lost most of its upper and lower jaws and the spiral portion of its tongue.

Dragon's head, nave SW angle.

As (i), but the dragon's tongue projects further from the mouth and forms a complete loop rather than an open spiral at its tip. Both jaws are unbroken. The chamfered block at the top of the SW nave buttress is similarly carved with foliage, but the main face design consists of two scrolling stems that intersect without clasps. The lower stems are clasped across the chamfer to a single scrolling stem on the chamfered lower face. All stems are triple-reeded. Alongside the dragon's head on the W face of the buttress, the block is carved into a panel containing a quadruped walking right. Its tail passes between its buttocks and up over its body and terminating in a large lily above its hindquarters, and it opens its mouth to roar. It has no obvious mane but otherwise appears like a lion.

Nave, N side buttresses

The topmost stones of the pilaster buttresses between bays 1 and 2 and between bays 2 and 3 are chamfered on their lower edges, with a row of sawtooth on the chamfer.

Nave, S side buttress

The topmost stones of the three nave buttresses on the S side are deeper than the pilaster buttresses below them, with a chamfered lower edge to fit. Those at the E and W ends of the nave are decorated along with the dragons' heads that project from them (see III.3.d.(iii) and (iv) above). The other, between bays 1 and 2 of the nave, is plain but for a row of sawtooth at the bottom of the vertical face, above the chamfer.

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Apse arch

Two orders to E and W, round headed. Both orders have plain jambs and arch, the only articulation found in the imposts which have a slender lower angle roll below a face with a central groove. The angle roll is broken off in places.

Chancel arch

Round headed, two orders to E and W.

1st order (shared)

The jambs are square pilasters with no capitals but quirked hollow-chamfered imposts with a thin roll at the bottom of the face and above this a line of cusping, the arches empty on the S impost but each containing a trilobed fluted leaf on the N. The arch soffit and its E face are plain, but there is an angle roll to the W, and the W face is carved with a row of lozenges, produced by carving a saltire on each voussoir, enclosing a pellet in each field.

2nd order E face

Jambs and arch are plain and square in section. The imposts on either side are similar to those of the 1st order, N side. They continue along the W wall of the chancel as stringcourses to either side.

2nd order, W face

Each jamb consists of a hollow quadrant containing three nimbed male figures, each standing on the halo of the one below. The lowest figure stands on a simple spurred base on a block plinth. The figures have large heads, very slender bodies and drapery carved in parallel folds, flaring out at the lower hems, which terminate in irregular undercut pleats. Their eyes are large, bulging and undrilled.

N jamb, top figure: an apostle holding a cross in his right hand and a book in his left. He is shown barefoot and has a moustache but no beard. His hair is indicated by a cap of oblique reeding.

N jamb, middle figure: St Peter holding a key in his right hand and a book in his left. This is the only precisely identifiable figure on the chancel arch. He is shown barefoot and has a moustache and a beard, and his hair is shown as a cap of long curls falling on his forehead.

N jamb, bottom figure: A priest in heavy vestments that hide his feet, holding an aspergilium in his right hand and a book in his left. He wears a cap decorated with concentric reeding, his eyes are half-round, and he has a thin moustache but no beard.

S jamb, top figure: an apostle holding a cross in his right hand and a book in his left. He is shown barefoot and has a moustache and a short beard. He is tonsured and his remaining hair is indicated by reeding.

S jamb, middle figure: an apostle holding a cross in his right hand and a book in his left. He is shown barefoot and has a moustache and a short beard on his chin only. He is tonsured and his remaining hair is indicated by reeding.

S jamb, bottom figure: A priest in heavy vestments and pointed slippers, holding an aspergilium in his right hand and a book in his left. He wears a cap decorated with concentric reeding, his eyes are almond shaped, and he has a thin moustache but no beard.

Above these figures, the N capital is block shaped and decorated with beaded foliage stems bearing a bunch of fruit between furled leaves on stems depending from a beaded clasp on the angle. Stems on the faces curve down from this clasp and terminate in trilobed fluted leaves at the lower angles, with sideshoots bearing Byzantine blossoms and clusters of fruit at the upper angles. The necking is a heavy single-strand cable.

The S capital is double scalloped with sheathed cones and grooves outlining the lower edges of the shields. The lower parts of the cones are surrounded by a ring of leaves with spiral tips growing out of the necking. The necking is of double-strand cable, alternately fat rolls and rows of beading.

Both imposts are as that of the 1st order, N side except for the N face of the S impost, where the cusping is empty. They continue along the W wall beyond the label as a stringcourse.

The arch of the 2nd order has a frontal chevron angle roll, double quirked towards the intrados and single quirked towards the extrados. Outside this is a roll and a hollow quadrant. The label has a single roll of zigzag on the face, and outside it a raised fillet.

Vaulting/Roof Supports

Chancel (apse)

The apse has a barrel vault over the straight bay and a semicircular rib on responds at the E end of this. From the centre of this rib, two quadrant ribs descend onto responds between the apse windows. All ribs are broad with lateral chevron angle rolls to either side and cogwheel edges. The soffit between the chevron thus forms a row of lozenges and these are emphasised by narrow grooves outlining the zigzags. At the apex of the vault, where the four quadrant arches meet, is a keystone carved with four lion masks, one to each rib and all positioned with the tops of their heads towards the apex. They are broad with leaf-shaped ears and rows of curls across their foreheads. The eyes are oval and drilled, and surrounded by concentric ridges. Their noses are straight, and their upper lips are indicated by curved reeding.

The responds are pilasters with angle shafts to each side and a flat fillet between. Each shaft is carried on its own bulbous base, with a spur and a triple-roll necking. The bases stand on a cuboidal block at the foot of the pilaster, and this on a chamfered plinth. At the top of each pilaster, the three elements (two angle rolls and the fillet between) share a chamfered necking, a capital and an impost block. The capitals and imposts are described below from N to S.

N capital: Multi-scallop with six scallops on the main face and two on each side. There are triangular wedges between the cones, and each shield is outline below with a double groove. The impost in chamfered with two grooves on the face.

NE capital: Triple scallop on the main face with recessed shields. The impost is quirked hollow chamfered.

SE capital: Multi-scallop. Some attempt has been made to reflect the three elements of the respond in the capital, so that above each is a triple cone but only two shields. The impost is quirked hollow chamfered but badly eroded.

S capital: Similar to the SE capital, but above each element except the easternmost is a double scalloped section. The E section has three cones below two shields. The impost is quirked hollow chamfered.




At the W end of the nave, under the gallery. The huge, unlined bowl is of breccia conglomerate or cornstone, a stone found locally near Hay-on-Wye. It has a shallow, chalice-shaped bowl carried on a plain cylindrical central shaft and four thinner monolithic outer shafts with integral capitals and bases. The capitals are of volute type with roll neckings, and bases are of cyma recta profile with thin double roll neckings. They stand on square block plinths and the assembly stands on a modern step.

external diameter of bowl at rim 1.07 m
h. of bowl 0.45 m
internal diameter of bowl at rim 0.88 m
overall h. of font (without step) 0.96 m


Holy water stoup

The stoup came from a chapel in the Forest of Treville (N of Wormbridge). It is set under the chancel arch, alongside the N respond. In form it consists of a bowl carried on an inverted bowl with a fat roll between them. The upper bowl has a pair of human hands and arms carved in relief, as if they were resting on a stomach, while the base is carved with four serpents' heads spaced around it, all with heads downwards. The best preserved of these is at the SE. The rim of the upper bowl is damaged and irregular, and the bowl is unlined.

ext. diameter of bowl at rim 0.36 m
h. of base (max.) 0.20 m
h. of central roll 0.09 m
h. of upper bowl (max.) 0.28 m
int. diameter of bowl at rim 0.25 - 0.27 m
overall h. of stoup (max.) 0.57 m

Loose Sculpture

Font stopper

This unusual survival is at present secured to the N window sill of the chancel by a steel strap. It consists of a ball of stone, flattened at top and bottom and carved with a relief basketweave design.


equatorial circumference 0.68 m (hence diameter: 0.22 m)
h. of stopper 0.165 m


Kilpeck church has attracted several important publications of which the earliest are by G. R. Lewis (1840 and 1842). An earlier notice by Wathen (1789) is interesting in recording that the church was in a state of 'reparation and improvement' at that time. Lewis's detailed drawings of corbels have already proved useful in identifying features since lost (see corbels A3 and A8 above) and in identifying changes resulting from the restorations of 1846 and 1898 (e.g. the form of the apse roof). His work has sometimes been treated merely as a useful source for the appearance of the church in 1838, when the drawings were made, but this can be misleading because he had another agenda. In many of his general views, Lewis attempted to reconstruct the 12thc. appearance of the church in order to contrast its original 'fair and intelligent form' with its then current state as a 'mangled piece of confusion'. Hence, in his view from the S (pl. 15), he omitted the later chancel doorway and windows, and above all the wooden porch, 'it being in its whole appearance a public-house porch', and the W bell-cote, 'as its form is that of a beer-house chimney'. These features, now gone, are fortunately shown in pl.16.

Lewis's purpose in all this was an appeal for a restoration, which duly took place a few years later. The only general view he made of the N side (pl.8) was an attempt at reconstructing the original form, and he shows the nave divided into three bays by pilaster buttresses, including one at the NE angle which may never have existed. As noted in section II above, the angle has long and short quoins. The nave wall immediately alongside it has no plinth course, and it runs at a slightly different angle from the rest of the nave wall, so that where it ends there is a step back to the wall surface that dies away around windowsill level. RCHME (1931) described this as pre-Conquest work; the remains of an earlier church on the site, an interpretation accepted by Zarnecki (1950). This is the simplest explanation of the anomaly, and the one to which the present author inclines, but the situation is complicated by the fact that the masonry to the east of the angle, including the north wall of the chancel, has been subjected to later rebuilding work. An inserted window in the chancel wall is surrounded by later masonry, and the corbels above (NC1 to NC9) are by a different hand from any other corbels in the building. The corbel table itself is of the standard design, however. Both King (1992) and Thurlby (1999) argued that these features represent a post-medieval attempt to shore up a wall that was unstable, rather than the remains of Anglo-Saxon fabric. The Domesday Survey recorded no church at Kilpeck in 1086, but this is by no means conclusive evidence that there was no church there at that time.

The dating of the present building is contentious, and the historical record is of little value. It is certain that there was a church on the site in 1134, when Kilpeck Priory was founded as a daughter of St Peter's, Gloucester; the grant referring to the castle, its chapel of St Mary and the church of St David. Both King and Thurlby have argued that St David's was the present church on the grounds that no earlier one existed. King further notes that a dedication to St David would be unlikely in England before his canonisation in 1120. Thurlby also argues that the Welsh rising of 1136 and the civil war that followed the death of Henry I in 1135 make it unlikely that a new church would be begun in the years immediately after that date. King's lengthy analysis leaves the reader doubting whether any building work at all could have taken place in the West Country between 1138 and 1147, in view of the conflicts recorded in that period. Such hypotheses are impossible to prove or to disprove in the absence of precise dates for the churches of the Herefordshire School. We come closest to this in the case of Shobdon, consecrated when complete by Robert de Bethune, Bishop of Hereford (1131-48), probably before 1143 when Robert quarrelled with Miles of Hereford and was obliged to take refuge in Shobdon. Opinions about the date of Kilpeck are now polarised, and largely depend on the view taken of the development of the Herefordshire workshops. Zarnecki's more recent views place the church c.1140. King places Kilpeck earlier than Shobdon, offering a date in or before 1134. Thurlby agrees that the church was complete by 1134, but suggests that Shobdon was a few years earlier. Pevsner dates the start of the campaign shortly after 1134 but suggests that the sculptors may have moved to Shobdon c.1140 and returned to Kilpeck c.1145 when Shobdon was finished.

The first detailed analysis of the sculpture was Zarnecki (1950), still a key work for the Herefordshire School, and still unpublished. A more detailed description of the school will be found in the Preface to Herefordshire. Zarnecki identified the work of two main carvers; one who had worked alone at Aston and Ribbesford (Worcs), he christened the Aston Master; the other, first seen at Shobdon working alongside the Aston Master in a bold and flamboyant style, he called the Chief Master. The Chief Master's work is exemplified by the apostle figures on the jambs of the chancel arch at Kilpeck. These two main personalities were accepted by Thurlby, and he and Zarnecki postulated a long-term relationship of collaboration between the two, and the presence of other, more minor figures. Zarnecki identified common motifs at Kilpeck and Shobdon, for example the serpents on the jambs of the S doorway, seen on the left doorway label and on shaft 5 at Shobdon, and the warriors on the S doorway found on shafts 2 and 8 at Shobdon. The column-figures on the chancel arch, with their bulging eyes and thin moustaches, he compared to climbing figures on shafts 2 and 8 at Shobdon, attributing them to the Chief Master. The drapery of these figures is more plastic than the simple grooving of the warriors on the doorway, but Zarnecki again found a Shobdon comparison (shaft 3). He also suggested a manuscript comparison (Hereford Cathedral Library P.I.7). This probably post-dates Kilpeck, and may thus have been copied from there. It is an important feature of Zarnecki's analysis that at least one of the Shobdon sculptors accompanied Oliver de Merlimond on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, and that Shobdon, for Zarnecki the earliest church of the Herefordshire School, was completed on his return, incorporating ideas picked up on a journey that would have reached Santiago via western France. The disposition of the chancel arch figures, one above the other, he attributed to the sculptor having seen the Puerta de las Platerias in Santiago de Compostella. He attributed the label of the S doorway to the Aston Master, and the birds carved there are similar to those on Shobdon shaft 6, while the first three lions' heads closely resemble those on Shobdon font (where they are attached to lions). Birds similar to those on the label at Kilpeck also appear at Brinsop, Rowlstone, Leominster and on the Castle Frome font. The beakhead arch of the S doorway is unique for the Herefordshire School, and this Zarnecki attributed to a sculptor from Reading Abbey. Grander claims for the importance of Reading to the school are found in Jonsdottir (1950), but the comparisons made there fail to demonstrate that Reading had any influence on the more distinctive features of Herefordshire sculpture. The decoration of the S doorway label with motifs in rings is rare in England, Zarnecki noted, but commoner in western France, e.g. on the arch of the W window of Notre-Dame-la-Grande at Poitiers.Foliage tympana like Kilpeck's are not found elsewhere in the work of the Herefordshire School, but are among the distinctive features of the Bromyard (or Dymock) group, as at Yatton and Dymock. Other features inherited from that group are the type of capital found on the S embrasure of the chancel arch, combining scallops with a ring of foliage (cf. Dymock) and the use of a plain inner order to the doorway (cf. Yatton and Moccas).

Kilpeck has often been seen as an important manifestation of Scandinavian ideas in England, but for Zarnecki they appeared only in the curious form of the outer-order jambs of the doorway, found in timber doorways in Norway, with flat jambs shafted on their inner sides, and in the dragons' head projections around the nave (cf. Borgund, Gol). The only other English example of a beast projecting in this way is at Barton Seagrave (Northants), which is certainly older. He was not convinced by comparisons made between the dragons on the outer jambs at Kilpeck and Urnes-style work, because the resemblances are not close, and most of the Scandinavian examples are later 12thc.

The corbel table of Kilpeck is the only one surviving in-situ carved by the Herefordshire School. Zarnecki recognised the hands of both main sculptors, and pointed out the presence of a sculptor working in a very classicising style (see e.g. NN1-2, NW11-12), which he compared with a Romano-British head in Gloucester Museum. In general he found a greater uniformity of style at Kilpeck than at Shobdon, which he attributed to the fact that the sculptors had been collaborating for longer and their artistic difference had grown less marked. The western French comparisons seen in profusion at Shobdon were reduced here, although the borrowing from Santiago itself was innovative. There were more local links, e.g. with the Bromyard group, and some influence from Scandinavian timberwork.

Responses to Zarnecki's masterly analysis have been concerned, it seems, either to question his chronology or to evaluate his attribution of the sources of the multifarious output of the Herefordshire sculptors, although he was always concerned to emphasise their inventiveness; never suggesting that they were either copyists or synthesisers.

King was not convinced of the close connection between Kilpeck and Shobdon, preferring to emphasise Kilpeck's uniqueness within the school and finding the closest local comparisons with the weathered tympanum of St Giles's, Hereford. He rejected all notions of Scandinavian influence, arguing that the dragons' head projections could be just as easily explained in terms of Anglo-Saxon work, exemplified by the heads on the west front of Deerhurst (Glos). He was similarly concerned to emphasise that a good deal of what was seen to be distinctive about Kilpeck was already part of the stock-in-trade of English sculptors by the 1130s, pointing to Castor (Northants) with capitals bearing foliage-spewing heads on the angles, to Hereford Cathedral (backing his case with reference to cathedral manuscripts), to Llandaff Cathedral, and to Lullington (Somerset) which has a range of corbels paralleling Kilpeck's and a tympanum with a beaded-stemmed tree. Lullington has workshop links with Old Sarum, which itself provides a very close comparison for one of the Kilpeck apse corbels (A12). The unusual bead on the forehead of A12 is also found at Old Sarum. Old Sarum only survives as fragments, but was apparently the source for sculpture at Leonard Stanley (Glos) and Great Durnford (Wilts), which both provided King with further parallels with Kilpeck. King rejected Zarnecki's suggestion that Reading may have been important, preferring Old Sarum as the source of the beakhead ornament on the S doorway.

Like Zarnecki, King emphasised the importance of western French sculpture to Kilpeck, but his comparisons were with the churches of the Saintonge, e.g. St-Eutrope at Saintes, St-Jouin-des-Marnes and Thouars, where he identified the motif of the head spewing foliage from its mouth and ears. For him the most important churches in this region were the pilgrimage sites of St-Eutrope at Saintes and St Jean d'Angely. The latter has gone, but fragments remain that he associated with Kilpeck. For King the famous pilgrimage of Oliver de Merlimond is less important than the fact that there were direct ties between England and Saintonge as early as the 1120s. He put forward the example of Henry of St Jean d'Angely, a kinsman of Henry 1; abbot of St Jean d'Angely (1103/04-31), and simultaneously abbot of Peterborough (1127-32) as an example of another specific contact, to demonstrate that Oliver's case was by no an means isolated one.

Thurlby systematically tracked through the range of sources suggested for the School generally. He found many parallels with Kilpeck at Hereford Cathedral, including bases with beaked spurs, imposts with saltire crosses, cable necked capitals, stringcourse motifs and beaded medallions linked by masks (on a capital in the N nave arcade). He also convincingly related the chevron-decorated vault ribs in the apse at Kilpeck to ribs at Hereford (without finding precise comparisons). A curious feature of many of the head corbels at Kilpeck is the nasolabial ridge, and Thurlby found examples of this on capitals of the S transept at Hereford (Thurlby fig.10, cf corbel A14). A lost capital from Hereford recorded by the Royal Commission (RCHME (1931), pl.149) relates closely to the W capital of the S doorway at Kilpeck, suggesting to Thurlby that the Chief Master worked at Hereford Cathedral before going to Kilpeck. Another local source suggested by Thurlby is Gloucester Cathedral (more fully explored in Chwojko and Thurlby (1997)). Frontal chevron, seen on the Kilpeck S doorway and chancel arch appears in the N nave arcade at Gloucester. He also found figural and foliage comparisons at Kilpeck with Gloucester and Tewkesbury work which he dated to the early 1120s, before Kilpeck was given to Gloucester in 1134, and suggested that Gloucester-trained craftsmen were later employed at Kilpeck. He accepted and amplified Zarnecki's opinion on the importance of the Bromyard /Dymock School, and also argued for the importance of pre-Conquest and Romano-British sculpture. Thurlby accepted the importance of the Puerta de las Platerias at Santiago in the design of the superimposed figures on the chancel arch at Kilpeck, but was also prepared to countenance the possibility that work at Ferrara had its effect too, as suggested by Pevsner (1963). Similarly, for the beakheads at Kilpeck, Thurlby is prepared to accept that both Reading (as Zarnecki suggested) and Old Sarum (as suggested by King) were influential.

Kilpeck has attracted a good deal of iconographic speculation, particularly aimed at its corbels. Even the dragons' heads have been questioned. Druce (1909) argued that they were not dragons at all but crocodiles sleeping with their mouths open, and their spiralling tongues were the tails of their enemies the hydri that, according to accounts in Bestiaries, crawled into the crocodiles' bodies and ate their way out through the stomach, destroying their sleeping prey in the process. I see no evidence at all to support this bizarre assertion, so it is interesting to find it repeated as the truth in as recent a publication as Bailey (2000). The hydrus story is interpreted in the Bestiary text as symbolic of Christ's Harrowing of Hell, which explains the attraction of this interpretation to the writer of a popular church guide. The most famous of the corbels is, of course, the sheela-na-gig (A2), which occupies a prominent place in treatments of this subject such as Andersen (1977) and Weir and Jerman (1986). Both Bailey (2000) and the author of A Short Tour... were concerned to find thematic groups within the corbels. Bailey, for example, sees in corbels A18-A21 imagery of the fair (Kilpeck was granted a fair in 1259, but may have held one earlier) in the form of music, dancing, wrestling and catching a greasy pig. The best that can be said of this interpretation is that it is imaginative.

There is a high proportion of beast corbels, and Thurlby has attempted where possible to identify them, in order to provide them with their Bestiary moralisations. In some cases the identifications themselves can be disputed. Thurlby's bold interpretation of the upside-down beast head at A6 as an ibex (which carries a good deal of iconographic weight in Bestiaries) is surely refuted by the observation that it has antlers rather than horns and is likelier, as the author of A Short Tour... suggests, to represent a dead stag after the hunt. The author is reluctant to accept that Bestiaries provided the key to much medieval sculpture (Baxter 1998). They provided exemplars for sermons, which might well have been used to explicate such sculptures as these, but they were not the only source, and in any case their theological arguments are often so convoluted as to be almost incomprehensible. My own position is closer to that of the late Michael Camille, who argued that the corbels surrounding a church in a ring of imagery that was often worldly and sometimes grotesque and obscene could represent the reality of the world itself that surrounded and besieged the Church and the Man of God. Here at Kilpeck are images of everyday creatures, apparently pretty and appealing like the dog and rabbit (A7), and of pleasurable activities like music (A18), dancing (A21) and lovemaking (A21). These are juxtaposed with images intended to reveal the truth that all such pleasures are the snares of the devil: the gruesome sexuality of the sheela-na-gig (A2), and the devil himself who feeds on his prey, the soul of the sinner (A9). The only unambiguously religious corbels are A13 and SN8, both depicting the Agnus Dei and both in key positions in the table; opposite the altar on the axis of the apse, and above the south doorway - the only entrance available for the parish.

Of the other important sources, Hamer (1992) - an unpublished PhD dissertation from the University of Chicago - was unfortunately not available for consultation, but was used by Thurlby, who acknowledged its importance as a pioneering patron-based approach to the Herefordshire School.

The font, one of eight large bowls of breccia conglomerate in the county is dated c.1140-50 by Halsey, but Zarnecki prefers a date in the third quarter of the 12thc.


  • J. Andersen, The Witch on the Wall: Mediaeval Erotic Sculpture in the British Isles. London 1977.

  • Anon., A short tour round the corbels (church guides), updated July 2004.

  • Anon., 'A Gem of the Norman Era'. The Builder I (1843), 277.

  • J. Bailey, The Parish Church of St Mary & St David at Kilpeck. Hereford 2000. (Church Guide).

  • R. Baxter, Bestiaries and their Users in the Middle Ages. Stroud 1998.

  • M. Camille, Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art. London 1992, 56-75.

  • C. S. Buckingham, 'Kilpeck and its Church', Journal of the British Archaeological Association ns 14 (1908), 73-82.

  • E. Chwojko and M. Thurlby, 'Gloucester and the Herefordshire School', Journal of the British Archaeological Association 150 (1997), 7-26.

  • E. R. Firmstone, 'Kilpeck Church', Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club (1886-89), 137-39.

  • F. Henry & G. Zarnecki, 'Romanesque Arches decorated with Human and Animal Heads', Journal of the British Archaeological Association, XX-XXI (1957-58), 1-34.

  • F. W. Fairholt, 'Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire', The Builder 4 (1846), 594.

  • G. C. Druce, 'The Symbolism of the Crocodile in the Middle Ages', Archaeological Journal, 66 (1909), 311-68.

  • E. Gethyn-Jones. The Dymock School of Sculpture, London and Chichester 1979.

  • G. Oliver, 'Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire', Associated Architectural Societies Reports and Papers 18 (1885-86), 176-80.

  • E. R. Hamer, Patronage and Iconography in Romanesque England: The Herefordshire School in Context. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Chicago, 1992.

  • I. Gardner, 'The Church of Kilpeck, Herefordshire', Archaeologia Cambrensis 82 (1927), 365-77.

  • A. Weir & J. Jerman, Images of Lust. London 1986

  • J. F. King, 'The Parish Church at Kilpeck Reassessed', D. Whitehead (ed), Medieval Art, Architecture and Archaeology at Hereford (British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions XV), Leeds 1995, 82-93.

  • J. Wathen, 'Description of Kilpec Church in Herefordshire', Gentleman's Magazine 59 (1789), 781.

  • L. Cust, 'Kilpeck Church', Walpole Society 5 (1915-17), 85-89.

  • G. R. Lewis, Illustrations and description of Kilpeck Curch, Herefordshire; with an essay on ecclesiastical design. London 1840.

  • G. R. Lewis, Illustrations of Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire: in a series of drawings made on the spot. With an Essay on Ecclesiastical Design, and a Descriptive Interpretation. London 1842.

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Herefordshire. Harmondsworth 1963.

  • RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Herefordshire, 1: South-west, 1931, 156-58.

  • R. Halsey, 'Eight Herefordshire Marble Fonts', Romanesque and Gothic: Essays for George Zarnecki. Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1987, 107-09.

  • R. Shoesmith, 'Excavations at Kilpeck, Herefordshire', Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club 47/2 (1992), 162-209.

  • S. Jonsdottir, 'The Portal of Kilpeck Church: its place in English Romanesque Sculpture'. Art Bulletin 32, 1950, 171-80.

  • T. Blashill, 'On the Churches of Kilpeck and Rowlstone', Journal of the British Archaeological Association 27 (1871), 489-95.

  • M. Thurlby, The Herefordshire School of Romanesque Sculpture. Logaston (Herefordshire) 1999, 37-70.

  • T. L. Parker, 'Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire', Gentleman's Magazine 103/1 (1833), 393-95.

  • G. Zarnecki, Later English Romanesque Sculpture 1140-1210. London 1953.

  • G. Zarnecki, Regional Schools of English Sculpture in the Twelfth Century: the Southern School and the Herefordshire School. Unpublished thesis, University of London, 1951.

Exterior from E.
Exterior from S.
Interior to E.
Interior to W.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
SO 445 305 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Herefordshire
now: Herefordshire
medieval: Llandaff
now: Hereford
now: St Mary and St David
medieval: St David (1134)
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Ron Baxter