The Figure

The Church of St Stephens in located in the village of Etton, just 5 miles north west of the centre of Peterborough. Christopher Seal reported this figure to John Harding as a Sheela na Gig. The figure is located on a corbel table high on the top of the southern face of the tower. The corbel table lies just below the spire. It’s interesting to note that the sheela is unlike any of the other carving on the table which consists mostly of heads, foliate symbols including the fleur de lys and geometric forms. It is by far the largest piece and consists of the whole body on it’s side (The Buncton figure also lies on it’s side.). It also has the curious feature of a flat head. This would seem to indicate that figure was meant to be upright possibly supporting something but is very tightly integrated with the rest of the corbel table and appears to be in situ, which makes the flat head something of a mystery. The present church was originally built in the 13th century but there are records of the church in the 12th Century Peterborough Chronicle. The parish itself dates back even further and is thought to have been a religious centre for thousands of years1. The style of the church is Early English but as the church book says it is a fine example of Early Early English2. If this figure is contemporary with the building of the church, which it appears to be, this would originate it in the transitional period from Romanesque to Early English and would make this a later example of the sheela na gig motif.
Mrs Anne Cowen the church warden was kind enough to show me around the church and dug out a record of the church furnishing done by NADFAS from 1992-1994. The book lists the figure as a sheela na gig ascribes it the usual “fertility figure” label.

The farm next to the church is the birthplace of Daniel Defoe’s father.

John Harding



Location of the figure
Gargoyle at the church





1. St Stevens Etton, Peterborough, Cambs by Christopher Crossley. NADFAS Record in church.

2. Lord Norwich “The Architecture of Southern England” after Christopher Crossley. “Pure unaltered 13th century churches are all too rare in England; to find one as complete as St Stephen’s is therefore no small cause for celebration. It looks as if it has not been touched since it was built. Here is Early English… and early Early English at that… ” (It is worth mentioning here that the church shows obvious signs of modification and this fact is mentioned in the church history. The “untouched” status Lord Norwich ascribes to the church may be a little wishful thinking JRH)


Worn figure at Aldsworth
Worn figure at Aldsworth

The Figure

This figure was found by Keith Jones while visiting the church looking for green men. It was at first thought to be a decayed exhibitionist figure but on further inspection has turned out to be somewhat harder to interpret. The figure is very worn and consists of what appears to be a decayed face surmounting a deep cavity at the base of the figure. The right and left hand sides of the figure are hard to interpret due to weathering but there seems to more carving on the left hand side of the figure making it asymmetrical. The left side of the figure could be body with a sideways facing head similar to another corbel (see below) this is of course open to interpretation. Despite the figure being weathered it appears to be well integrated with the rest of the corbels and not an older figure kept from a previous building.

The church has a number of finely carved corbels representing dragons, monk like figures, bearded heads and flowers. There is also a corbel representing a branch which is echoed on the window surround below it

The style of the church is late perpendicular putting it in the late 1400’s. This and the style of the carvings which seems to be later than the early Norman period from which Sheelas are thought to originate puts some doubt on this figure originally being a sheela. Again the figure is too decayed to be certain.

John Harding




Repeated branch motif see photograph above





A possible worn Sheela Na Gig at Ancaster
A possible worn Sheela Na Gig at Ancaster

The Figures

The possible sheela na gig at Ancaster

Ancaster is situated in SW Lincolnshire , on the Roman Road of Ermine Street . In Roman times, there was a walled town, with earthen defences. Much Roman material has been excavated, including a statue of the Three Mother Goddesses, a statue of Minerva, and two stones dedicated to Viridius. There was a Roman cemetery with entrance archway, and inhumation burials have been discovered: some of C4 may be Christian. There are Iron Age and Anglo-Saxon remains in the area also.

The church is located to the west of Ermine Street , just north of the cross-roads, and was in the SW corner of the ancient Roman settlement. It is dedicated to St. Martin , which appears to be a relatively common dedication of churches using a pre-Christian sacred sire, as St Martin was noted for his destruction of pre-Christian temples.

Ithyphallic male figure at Ancaster.
Ithyphallic male figure at Ancaster.

The earliest existing architecture is Norman : arches in the nave, remnants in the chancel (with possible evidence of an earlier Saxon window), and an attractive font with intersecting arcading. Most of the church is Early English (C13?) with a C 14 tower. The interior has an interesting range of corbels, including several musicians, a boozy nun, and a great Green Man.

All of the exhibitionist figures occur on the tower and are integral to the structure of it and thus are likely to be C14. Pevsner gives the location of the sheela as “on the west face of the tower”. It is actually tucked into the angle of the SW buttress and is echoed by a non-sexual figure on the other face of the same buttress. The figure is low down, well within reach, and shows signs of damage around the vulva. It is considerably eroded, and probably would not arouse interest unless one was familiar with the customary pose of the sheela motif. The figure is carved into a recessed rectangular block of stone (the local Ancaster limestone is good building stone, but perhaps not fine enough in texture for detailed work, and erodes quite badly). Only the head, arms and torso are shown clearly, the figure leaning out a little from the recess, and the hands holding open what must have been the thighs. The face is extremely eroded: there is a suggestion of hair, but no clear features. The vulva is relatively large.

The Ancaster Pair.
The Ancaster Pair. Another Exhibitionist?

High on the same face of the tower, leaning outwards like many of the grotesques and gargoyles on this church, is a grinning male figure. He is bearded, and holds a large erect penis in his left hand. The carving is quite clear, and in some detail, even the opening in the head of the penis is shown. Also on the west face of the tower, is a carving of a couple, whether male, female or both, it is difficult to say. They are clasping hands: the right hand of the right figure, and the left of the left-hand figure, are held together between them. The right-hand person’s arm is hooked around the partner’s head, the fingers clothing the cheek, towards the mouth. It is not easy to see the other arm, the left-hand arm of the right figure, but it does appear to descend between them, the hand located in the genital area: perhaps a visit in the evening with a lower westerly sun would reveal more detail.

Text and pictures copyright Tina Negus





The Alderwasley Figure
The Alderwasley Figure

This carving gets a passing mention in the book Ghosts and Legends of the Peak District being listed as one of the sheelas in Derbyshire. It is situated on the old chapel in the village of Alderwasley near Wirksworth. The chapel is a small building next to a church yard and is now being used as the village hall after a number of years lying derelict. The chapel is small, distinctly un-church like and dates from 16th century. It used to be the personal chapel of the Hurt family whose old alabaster coat of arms can still been on the front of the building where it hangs above the main door. The building is supposed to be haunted and some of the carvings on the building are quite eerie. (see the head carving below).  David Clarke in his book Ghosts and Legends of the Peak District states that the carvings on the chapel are taken from an older building which used be at the site. However I can find no mention of a church or chapel on site the before this one (if anyone knows differently please get in touch). There is some evidence to suggest that the materials used to build the chapel have been robbed from another larger building. The stone on which the alleged sheela resides is very large for a building of this size with an even larger stone directly below it. It seems unlikely that the stones were cut to such a large size for a building as small as this chapel. There is a cemetery to the left of the chapel.

The Chapel

The chapel itself is mostly made up of a red sandstone with inserts of a much lighter grey stone There are a number of carved items set in a line into the front wall These are :
A malevolent looking stone head,
A decorated shield,
A foliate pattern
a plain protruding stone
Flanking the main door there are two worn heads both of which appear to be wearing hats
All of these items seem to be carved from a darker stone than the stone which the chapel is made of.
The main door to the chapel is surmounted by a decorated lintel which appears to be 16th century.

Is this a sheela na gig?

The carving is very weathered and and it is hard to determine whether it is a sheela or not. There is a cleft at the bottom of the carving and there seem to be hunched up knees and folded arms. The face is very weathered but you can still make out eyes and a mouth. The mouth seems similar to the Holdgate Sheela in that the lips are joined but again this is hard to know for certain due to the weathering. The date of the chapel would count against this being a sheela as it is far later than the usual Romanesque period. However if the stones of the chapel are taken from an earlier building then we may be able to discount this. Saying that I have yet to find any records of a Norman church or chapel at this site. The position of the figure on a quoin stone is similar to figures found in Ireland but is fairly unusual for a British sheela. The alleged sheela figure is by far and away the most worn of the carvings on chapel but this may be down to the faster weathering of the sandstone from which it is carved. It is worth noting that the only other sandstone carving on the chapel appears to be 16th century and is also worn although not to the same extent as the alleged sheela. All in all the figure is too weathered to be certain whether it is a classic sheela na gig or other type of exhibitionist figure.

John Harding

The malevolent stone head
The malevolent stone head. Note the different type of stone used for this piece.
A side view of the figure
A side view of the sculpture on the chapel. It’s worth noting that the alleged sheela is carved from the same stone as the chapel and it not made the same type of stone as the other fragements.
The coat of arms on the hall
The coat of arms on the hall
A view of the hall
A view of the hall. Note the darker pieces of sculpture on the left hand side of the building. These appear to be re-used fragments and are of a different stone from the red sandstone from which the building is made. The alleged sheela figure is on the far left corner of the building.




The Braunston Figure
The Braunston Goddess

This figure lies in the churchyard of All Saints church in Braunston, Rutland and is commonly referred to as “The Goddess”. The church website1 refers to the carving as a “Shelagh”. The stone on which the carving resides was used as a doorstep until the 1920’s when it was uprooted and the carving found on the underside. (for another carving found face down see Llandrindod Wells) The church has been much altered over the years but still retains a romanesque doorway

The figure

The figure consists of head with two eyes with a pronounced eyebrow ridge. The only remaining eye has a drilled pupil and it would seem reasonable to assume the other also did. There is considerable damage to the left side of the head but the remnants of the other eye remain and more unusually a second “nose” is also  present. Below the eyes is a large open mouth with what appears to be a tongue. Deeply carved striations appear on both sides of sides of the figure with an almost “concertina” effect. Underneath these striations appear to be fairly pert breasts, however the right one is damaged is damaged. Whereas the figure is quite unusual it would not look out-of-place with other sculpture from the medieval period. The striations, large rubbery mouth and drilled eyes can all be found on other pieces of sculpture. While the nature of the carving is very much different the striations and rubbery mouth with tongue can be found on a corbel at Kilpeck. Striations are also a fairly common feature in later monstrous church sculpture. The double nose is somewhat more unusual though. According to the book Public Sculpture of Leicestershire by Terry Cavanagh the damage to the left nipple happened in 1999.

Is this a sheela na gig?

Due to the lack of genitalia though we would have to discount this as a sheela na gig. Saying that it does appear to be medieval in style IMHO. There is a tradition of the figure being refered to as a sheela though. It is also mentioned in the Victoria County History for Rutland.

John Harding

1 Accessed 18 November 2007

All photographs courtesy Robert Miller, copyright Robert Miller

Monster head with concertina like striations and large rubbery mouth and tongue. Kilpeck Herefordshire.
Monster head with concertina like striations and large rubbery mouth and tongue. Kilpeck Herefordshire.
 The Braunston Figure - length view
The Braunston Figure – full length view
The Braunston Figure Repaired
The Braunston Figure Repaired – Artists impression.

This is an artist’s impression of what the carving may have looked like originally. The remnants of the left eye and double nose can still be seen on the original figure.

A side view of the figure. Note the striations on the side behind the damaged breast and the remains of the second "nose" and eye.
A side view of the figure. Note the striations on the side behind the damaged breast and the remains of the second “nose” and eye.

Wikipedia article on the figure

Braunston at British History on line
Mentions the figure as a sheela na gig

Bob Trubshaw’s article on the figure

The location of the figure. Photograph courtesy of Robert Miller
The location of the figure. Photograph courtesy of Robert Miller



Darley Dale


Photography copyright Charles Wildgoose used with permission
Photography copyright Charles Wildgoose used with permission

The Figure

This figure is approximately three miles west of Haddon Hall in the village of Darley Dale. The type of figure is almost identical in style if not execution to the acrobatic style figure in the stables at Haddon Hall. The legs are held high in the air while the buttocks or sexual organs are held apart by the hands. The figure either is wearing a cap or has a head of hair in a “pudding basin” style cut. Though the face of the figure is weathered you can still just make out the eyes and mouth and what appears to be a protruding tongue.

Is this a Sheela na Gig?

Initially I was inclined to describe the figure as a sheela due to it’s similarity and proximity to the Haddon Hall figure. However it is very weathered and could equally be an anus shower or indeed simply a non exhibitionist acrobat. The figure can be found inside a modern extension to the church which houses what was once one of the main doors to the church. It occupies a central position on the keystone of the arch. It is the style of arch which dates from the Tudor period which seems to indicate a much later date for this figure. However we must be careful using the arch as dating evidence. As can be seen in the photograph above the figure appears to have been cemented onto the keystone. A small ridge of mortar can be seen directly below the figure and another ridge of mortar can be seen above the figure’s right shoulder. The church history goes back to pre-conquest days and the remains of Saxon knotwork and Norman masonry can still be found in the walls. This begs the question is this a reused 12th century figure? The style of the figure could well date from the 12th century however the figure could equally be contemporary with the arch. It’s worth noting that the nearby Alderwasley figure is associated with Tudor chapel which has a similar archway. Unfortunately there is doubt as to whether either of these figures is a sheela na gig. Again due to weathering we cannot be exactly sure.
There are many old gravestones in churchyard and not a few empty stone coffins. One of the table tombs which is said to house the remains of a weaver is strangely decorated with a pentagram, Star of David and the tools of the weavers trade (See below). There is also an ancient yew purportedly being 2000 years old although there is some doubt about it true age.

The church is usually locked but access can be gained by phoning the church warden or the Rector whose telephone numbers can be found on the door of the church.

My thanks go to Mrs D.Church for taking the time to show me around the church at such short notice.


The figure’s position on the keystone of a Tudor style arch


The "Weavers Tomb" in the churchyard one end has a five pointed star whlile the other has a six pointed Star of David. The carvings on the side of the tomb are thought to be representations of tools used in the weaving trade.
The “Weavers Tomb” in the churchyard one end has a five pointed star whlile the other has a six pointed Star of David. The carvings on the side of the tomb are thought to be representations of tools used in the weaving trade.


A lion sculpture near the above figure. Photograph copyright Charles Wildgoose used with permission
A lion sculpture near the above figure.
Photograph copyright Charles Wildgoose used with permission




Haddon Hall

SheelaHaddonHall01   SheelaHaddonHall02


The Figure

One of the few secular Sheela Na Gigs it can be found inside the old stables (now housing the tourist toilets) at Haddon Hall, Derbyshire . This sheela has been moved recently from its original position over the main door (see below) of the stables to the inside of the stables over what appears to be an old manger. This should prevent further weathering. The carving is fairly crude and large with the legs awkwardly held in the air. The hands are beneath the buttocks pulling either side. This is very reminiscent of the nearby Darley Dale Sheela. According to one of the guides at Haddon Hall the sheela was found in a field nearby and is much older than the hall itself but he also admitted to not knowing that much about the sheela so we have to take that with a pinch of salt. The “found in field” origin for the Sheela may be related to a roman altar to Mars which stands just inside the great hall. This apparently was dug up in one of the fields which sounds perfectly reasonable.

The Norman Connection

Haddon Hall dates from the 12th century but people have been living here since at least the 11th century. The hall is celebrated for it’s state of preservation and parts of the building have been standing since the 12th century. In 1087 when the Domesday book was written William Perevel the illegitimate son of William the Conqueror held the manor. The house became a fortified in around 1195 when a wall was built around it.  The sheela originally resided above the door to the stables which now house the toilets. This Sheela is curious because it is not on a religious building and is unique in Britain as it is the only unequivocal sheela in secular setting. Pevsner gives an Elizabethan date to the stables and Andersen concurs with this stating that the figure is a late example (1600’s). Given that Haddon Hall has been much altered over the years it seems more likely to me that this figure is a survival or perhaps a re-carving of a 12th century figure. Counting against this theory is its size which is quite large for a sheela and larger carving of figures tended to come from later medieval periods. Saying that we have an exhibitionist figure in a site with 12th century connections and most other examples originate from that period.

Because this is one of the few secular sheelas we can say with some certainty that it is unlikely to be serving as an ecclesiastical warning against the sin of lust. It is however likely to be serving an apotropaic function protecting the building from evil or the devil. Why the stables were in particular need of protection will have to remain a mystery. It’s interesting to compare this figure with the Whittlesford figure which seems to be unequivocally depicting lust. These two examples clearly show why one particular theory does not fit all figures.