The Green Man
in and about  Ryedale

Bruce Skinner


If you are already a devotee of the Green Man, I hope that this article assists your quest in North Yorkshire and the East Riding. If you are a newcomer to the Green Man, of whom more later, welcome to his following.

I had intended to write a Green Man guide just to Ryedale, but so far, despite the fact that I have visited most of the some 120 churches, there are insufficient sightings to warrant it. I have thus extended the brief to include areas around Ryedale.

What constitutes a Green Man sighting? My view is possibly more purist than some. To my mind, a sighting is a Green Man if the representation is:
* apparently intended to be a Green Man per se, and
* is of a human figure, usually just the head, with
* foliage being a constituent part of the figure; the figure being intertwined with, emerging from, or dissolving into vegetation, or vegetation being disgorged from the figure.

Regrettably, because of vandalism and theft (for instance, the lectern with its four Green Men has been stolen from Burton Agnes church), many churches are locked. I see no point in indicating whether I found a church open or locked, or, for the latter, where I found the key, as it is likely that the situation will be different by the time you get there.
May I suggest that on your quest you take a good torch and short focus binoculars.

I have had so much pleasure in visiting so many churches, that I feel that it would be a shame if a listing of Green Man sightings constrained the reader to visiting only those on that list. Most have an individual charm, or subject of interest. To broaden the field, I have thus included in the Ryedale list those which I remember as having been particularly fascinating - I apologise if my omissions offend any parishioners. Encouraging this broader view, my classification code is:
C - A Confirmed Green Man sighting
M - Maybe a sighting - see what you think
P - Great Potential for a Green Man, but I didn't find him
V - Very worth a Visit, despite there being no Green Men to my knowledge.
It has already been said that, if you visit a church and don't find a Green Man, it doesn't mean that he isn't there; it simply means that you haven't found him!

My list is not exhaustive. I am not infallible in my searching. There are many churches yet to visit. I have had no sightings on such potentially fruitful places as stained glass, wrought-iron work, tombstones, effigies, monuments, or antiquities. I thus welcome any suggested additions to my list, corrections, or differences of opinion.
For reasons of fairness and copyright, I have not included the sightings by others that I have not yet seen for myself (at least, not without a 'said to be' comment, when I have sighted a Green Man on the exterior, but haven't been able to get inside to see any said to be there).

Lastly, may I express my gratitude to the many churchwardens and others, who have patiently listened to my Green Man ramblings, and kindly accompanied me or allowed me to borrow church keys.
Bruce Skinner
Telephone: 01944 768276

ps. This article is offered for sale as a leaflet at Tourist Information offices, etc.
If you download it from the Web, and it gives you enjoyment, perhaps you'd like to make a donation to York Against Cancer, 31-33 North Moor Road, Huntington, York, YO32 9QN, to whom and their like I am eternally grateful.

An Introduction to the Green Man

The first thing to say is that the Green Man is rarely 'green'. Perhaps it's easier to think of him as greenery, or foliage man, or, as the Germans call him, 'man of the trees'.
In 'The English Parish Church', Russell Chamberlin simply refers to him as 'the mysterious Green Man', which neatly sums up the whole myth in one word.

To most residents of Ryedale, 'The Green Man' will conjure-up thoughts of the hotel in Malton market place. However, the Green Man represented on the hotel's inn sign, a Robin Hood character, is just one facet of Green Man mythology.
Possibly because of the county's size, there are more Green Men sightings listed in Clive Hicks' 'Field Guide' in Yorkshire than in any other county.

Green Man artefacts and variants of the myth are found through Europe, the Near East, the Indian sub-continent, Asia, the USA, and no doubt beyond.
In the West, the Green Man is found mainly in wood carvings and decorative stonework on churches and other worthy buildings. He is typically represented by the foliate face of a man with greenery emerging from the mouth, nostrils, or ears, or his eyebrows, hair, beard and facial lines are foliage, or a decorative foliate motif or frieze will meld from or into a man's face. The most common types of foliage are oak, hawthorn, acanthus and vines.

But why the interest in the Green Man, and why now? Opening the subject with questions is appropriate, because it will be seen that there are many questions but few answers.

Where did he come from?
Our Green Man is first found as a motif in Roman and contemporary Byzantine and Hellenistic architecture in the 1st Century AD. He is possibly a sober form of the god Bacchus, in turn derived from the vegetation origins of the Greek god Dionysus; but this is just the easiest-to-précis theory of the many explored in the books featured in the bibliography.
My personal favourite extension of this, from my experience in Peru, is the Druid connection. Druid means 'Knowing the Oak Tree', and Druids worshipped in sacred groves of oak trees. This theory has it that, as Christianity supplanted Druidism in Gaul, the Green Man was introduced in Christian churches as a sop to the older religion.

A few of the more notable, medieval and later examples in Britain are to be seen on Oxbridge colleges, the houses of Parliament, most cathedrals, Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh, prolifically on churches in Northamptonshire and Devon, and more locally in York and Beverley Minsters, Selby Abbey, and famously on Fountains Abbey. The motif first appeared in English churches in Norman times, and had a later great resurgence of popularity in Victorian architecture.

The Green Man was certainly originally a pagan symbol, and reflects man's origins and eventual resting place in mother earth, fertility, creation and oneness with and dependence upon nature.
In the same vein are Jack in the Green in May Day revels, Robin Goodfellow (from whom probably came the legend of Robin Hood), Morris Dancing, the horn of plenty, the Tree of Life, Puck, Pan, holly at Christmas and our use of mistletoe as a love charm.

I suppose that the mundane answers to "Why now?", are that many of us now have more leisure time to seek-out and visit places of interest, and that the Green Man has become a popular 'collectible'. But mainly that the Green Man is being adopted as the new millennium's equivalent of the CND badge of the sixties, an icon of our at-last-awakening realisation of the fundamental importance of environmental and ecological issues.

Other, typical questions are:
* It's 'Mother Nature' and 'Mother Earth'; so why are there so few Green Women?
* The Green Man has pagan origins; so why was it adopted for Christian churches?
* The Green Man rejoices in our relationship with nature, its bounty and its annual regrowth; so why are there very few happy ones, and most of them troubled or almost evil in countenance?
* Why is he often poking out his tongue, and why does he sometimes have feline ears?
* Why is it a popular pub name? And why are there many more of these in certain areas of the country than in others?

Green Man aficionados may just be 'spotters' of a mysterious architectural artefact, probably intrigued by his folklore perpetuation from classical mythology, or maybe more deeply interested in considering his philosophical and psychological rationale. The books listed in the bibliography below offer you this choice.
Personally, I'm simply an environmentally conscious hunter-gatherer, who enjoys the thrill of the chase and the congenial surroundings. But the knowledge that there is more to the Green Man than meets the eye, provides an addictive, mystical frisson to the pastime.

Green Man Trails

Trail 1 - In Ryedale

* M - Allerston, St. John: Maybe a badly eroded Green Man on the N side of the tower.
* P - Amotherby, St. Helen: The carved head to the left of the altar is more like Munch's 'The Scream' than a Green Man.
* V - Appleton-le-Moors, Christ Church: A delightful Victorian church.

· C - Barton-le-Street, St. Michael and All Angels - The jewel in Ryedale's stone carving crown: In the south porch - Green Men in both columns of the entrance arch*, on the right-hand door post, and in the door arch. More on both capitals of the chancel arch. Possibly a sheila-na-gig above the right hand bench in the porch. (* and a Green Sheep and a Lion). Some 20 Green Men in total.
These three pictures are to be found in St Michael and All Angels

* V - Beadlam, St. Hilda: I was captivated by the almost pre-Raphaelite figure of a young woman on a memorial on the south wall of the nave.
* P - Birdsall, St. Mary: There are some ninety visible carved heads on the pinnacles, the majority human. It seems inconceivable that the Victorian stonemason didn't carve a single Green Man!
* V - Burythorpe, All Saints: A unique location.
* V - Buttercrambe, St. John the Evangelist: The chancel is at an angle to the nave; said to represent the inclination of Christ's head on the cross.
* V - Butterwick, St. Nicholas: Charming, when you find out how to get to it!
* V - Crambe, St. Michael: The two, lovely carved characters on the capitals of the tower arch could so easily have been Green Men!
* V - Ellerburn, St. Hilda: Delightful, both for its antiquity and its position.
* V - Foston, All Saints: Famous for its Sidney Smith connection.
* C - Helmsley, All Saints: A modern, stylised Green Man on the corbel table on the south side of the chancel.
* C - Helmsley, Duncombe Park: Splendid Green Men over the capitals of the 8 Corinthian columns in the Stone Hall of this stately home. A horned, bearded face (Dionysus, Pan, or ...?) shrouded in foliage, above the main door
* C - Hawnby, All Saints: A Green Man behind the south door, in the capital of the door post.
* V - Howsham, St. John: Delightfully different, Gothic Victorian church. There could have been Green Men in the porch capitals!
* M - Kirby Grindalythe, St. Andrew: The Green Man high up on the south side of the tower, has feline ears - see Langton. The gilded Italian mosaic of The Resurrection, covering the west wall of the nave is fantastic.
* M - Kirkbymoorside, All Saints: The roof boss nearest to the font could be a Green Man, but he's very difficult to see.
* V - Kirkdale, St. Gregory Minster: Simply a 'must' to visit.
* C - Langton, St. Andrew: Others call the perhaps feline head, on the left-hand capital of the chancel arch, a Green Man, however it may be a Green Cat (see Mike Harding's 'Little Book .'). In this regard, also see Old Malton and Kirby Grindalythe.
* V- Lastingham, St. Mary: Famous for its crypt and superb stone groined vaulting.
* C - Malton, St. Leonard: Two Green Men on the tower arch corbels.
* V - North Grimston, St. Nicholas: A sheila-na-gig on the corbel table on the NE exterior wall of the chancel, many of the other 'gargoyles' on the N wall corbel table are said to be Viking gods. Wonderful decorated Saxon font, featuring 'The Last Supper' and Christ's descent from the cross.
* C - Norton, St. Peter: At least five Green Men on the pulpit.
* M - Old Byland, All Saints: A 'face on foliage background' roof boss over the chancel.

· C - Old Malton, St. Mary Priory: One Green Man (with feline ears - see Langton) in the Victorian misericord seats, and another* on the baldacchino, immediately above the altar cross (needs binoculars).

* V - Pickering, St. Peter and St. Paul: Most famous for its frescoes.
* P - Salton, St. John of Beverley: Many eroded carved heads.
* C - Settrington, All Saints: Many Green Men on the tower.
* C - Sherburn, St. Hilda: Many Green Men on the newer font, on both sides of the rood screen, and roof bosses in the North and South aisles.
* V - Sheriff Hutton, St. Helen and the Holy Cross: Famous for its royal tomb.
* V - Stonegrave Minster: Another 'must'.
* M - Thornton le Dale, All Saints: Probably an eroded Green Man on the N side of the tower.
* V - Weaverthorpe, St. Andrew: A really imposing Norman church, with a wonderful barrel- vaulted roof, stunning stained glass, and a fabulous tryptich reredos.
* V - West Lutton, St. Mary: This and St. Andrew, East Heslerton are fine examples of Tatton Sykes' churches by Street. Fabulous Jesse tree in west window, and painted ceilings.
* V - Westow, St. Mary: Different because of its remoteness.
* M - Wharram Percy, St. Martin: I think there are 3 or 4 eroded, 'disgorging' Green Men on the remains of the tower of this ruined church.
* C - Wintringham, St. Peter: Two splendid Green Men on misericord seats. More on the tower, on the choir stalls (fronts and a bench end), on the choir screen, on the pulpit tester, on the south aisle chancel screen, and I think that the many faces on the nave roof wall-plates are connected by a creeper which passes through each's mouth.

Trail 2 - To the East of York

* C - Bishop Wilton, St. Edith: One Green Man on the right-hand side of the south door arch. Maybe another on the right-hand side.
* C - Bugthorpe, St. Andrews: Two Green Men on the capitals of the first chancel arch
* C - Great Givendale, St. Ethelburga: Three Green Men on the left-hand capital of the chancel arch.
* C - Howden Minster: Green Men on choir stall poppy heads.
* C - Nunburnholme, St. James: Two Green Men on the right-hand capital of the tower arch. Maybe another on the Norman tower arch
* C - Pocklington, All Saints: Three Green Men on the low capitals under the tower, against the west wall

Trail 3 - Driffield/Beverley area

* C - Beverley Minster: Many Green Men in nave capitals, a corbel, a misericord, in the choir carvings and the choir gates either side of the altar, in the reredos, in the sedilia, in spandrels by the minstrel carvings, in roof bosses in St. Katharine's chapel.
* C - Beverley, St. Mary: Many gilded Green Men in roof bosses, misericords and a poppy head, on capitals in the porch, miniature carvings in the rood screen.
* C - Bishop Burton, All Saints: A Green Man under the piscina in the sanctuary.
* C - Bridlington Priory: A Green Man roof boss in the nave (3rd boss from west window).
* C - Burton Agnes, St. Martin: Three Green Men on misericord seats.
* C - Driffield, All Saints: One splendid Green Man as the central roof boss of the south porch.
* V - Fridaythorpe, St. Mary: Lovely, very old, Norman church. See the keystone of the chancel arch, illuminated by the rood window, and the face on the left capital of the door.
* P - Garton on the Wolds, St. Michael and All Angels: Many carved heads on the exterior. Interior walls are fabulously covered in murals. I can't find the Green Man said to be there.
* C - Langtoft, St. Peter: Four Green Men on roof bosses in north and south aisles.
* C - Lund (near Middleton on the Wold), All Saints: A Green Man on the exterior of the vestry to the north of the chancel.
* C - Rudstone, All Saints: A Green Man under the piscina in the sanctuary.
* M - Sledmere House: The faces at the base of the 16C, Venetian fire dogs have acanthus beards.
* M - Sledmere, St. Mary: Maybe a stylised Green Man on the north face of the tower, and perhaps the gutter header on the north wall of the nave is a Green Man too. Inside the church, amongst the many superb carvings there must be Green Men; however the nearest I can find is a beast spewing the foliate frieze above the altar in the north aisle.
* C - Wetwang, St. Nicholas: Two small Green Men on the external mould of the window on the north wall of the chancel.

Trail 4 - To the West of Ryedale

* C - Alne, : Green Men on porch capitals and a feline Green Man on the font
* C - Coxwold, St. Michael: Brightly painted Green Man on roof boss above the door.
* C - Felixkirk, St. Felix: Green Men on capitals of 3 of the 4 restored Norman pillars in the chancel.
* C - Ripon, Fountains Abbey: Famous (Kathleen Basford's) Green Man above NE window of Chapel of Nine Altars.
* C - Ripon, Yorkshire Bank: Four Green Men on the upper frieze above the shop front.
* C - Stillington, St. Nicholas: Miniature Green Men on the choir stalls and a Green Man on the tower screen - all by the Mouse Man.
* C - Thirsk, St. Mary: Foliate faces on both sides of a poppy head in the chancel. Many faces on foliage background roof bosses, and many carved faces on roof trusses.

Trail 5 - To the South of Ryedale (incl. York)

* C - Bayton, St. Wifrid: Green Men on capitals of south door (and 'said to be' on chancel arch).
* C - Escrick, St. Helen: Robed Green Man in exterior corner between east wall of porch and south wall of nave.
* C - Leeds, St. John: Some of the carved heads on the superb, double-bayed rood screen are foliate.
* C - Selby Abbey: Large gold roof boss in choir, miniatures in carved friezes on choir stalls, stone roof boss in War Memorial Chapel, and on font cover.
* C - Stillingfleet, St. Helen: Green Men on south door capitals and on capital of column between nave and Moresby Chapel
* C - Ricall, St. Mary: Green Men on capitals and arch of south door.
* C - York, #34 Stonegate: Gilt and green Green Man on cross beam at gable-end.
* C - York, All Saints, North Street: A really fabulous little church. Many coloured Green Man roof bosses in the chancel, and unpainted ones at the E end of N & S aisles
* C - York, All Saints, Pavement: Green Man on the lectern
* C - York, Banks' music shop (next to main Post Office): Green Men on the decorative friezes at the top of the building
* C - York, Guildhall, Coney St.: An original Green Man roof boss in the committee room. Very many painted Green Man roof bosses in the restored Guildhall itself.
* C - York Minster: Many Green Men on capitals and roof bosses. Many on roundels of Chapter House vestibule.
* C - York, St. Denys, St. Denys Rd.: Green Man on S door capitals and in archivolts, but very eroded.
* C - York, St. Helen, St. Helen's Square: Green Man corbel in N aisle and S corbel of wooden chancel arch.
* C - York, St. Margaret, Navigation Rd.: Green Men in archivolts on S doorway, but quite eroded.
* C - York, St. Martin-le-Grand, Coney St.: Green Man roof bosses.
* C - York, St. Mary, Castlegate: A Green Man and Green Woman under niches on the W side of the tower.

Trail 6 - To the North of Ryedale

* * C - Lythe, St Oswald: A Green Man on a capital fragment displayed under the tower gallery.
* C - Whitby, St. Mary: A Green man on a capital.


There are many Green Man associated web sites; two very readable ones being:

For the more traditional, there is good reading on the subject in:
1. 'The Green Man' by Kathleen Basford
2. 'The Green Man - Companion and Gazetteer' by Ronald Millar
3. 'Green Man - the Archetype of our Oneness with the Earth' by William Anderson
4. 'A Little Book Of The Green Man' by Mike Harding
5. 'The Green Man - A Field Guide' by Clive Hicks
6. ''The Green Man' the Pitkin Guide' by Jeremy Harte
7. 'The Green Man in Britain' by Fran & Geoff Doel
8. 'The Quest for the Green Man' by John Matthews
Most of these books are available at 'The Green Man Gallery', Pickering.

Copyright (c) 2003

Rev. 9 26/03/2003

This logo by kind permission of
Nathan Orme proprietor of
Green Man Gallery in Pickering

Copyright © 2001