*  Of interest to Family Historians - Hertfordshire Church of England Parish Registers from 1538 are now available online - only most recent registers are held at the church   *

The Decalogue Board


What is the difference? Well, gargoyles are usually outside of the church, acting as waterspouts, particularly where there is a parapet, while corbels and label-stops can be either outside or inside. What they have in common is that they often take the form of human heads, some very odd indeed. (Just to confuse the issue, some people call corbels gargoyles!)

Medieval gargoyles were often made by itinerant masons who were free from restraint, and were allowed to let their imagination run riot, and not always in the best of taste!

Corbels are either single, supporting a beam, or a corbel-table, that is, a row of corbels running along a cornice usually outside just under the roof. In some churches a corbel-table can be seen inside. Label-stops, however, are at the end of a 'label' or 'dripstone', which is a surround to a window, or framing the arcade of the aisle or nave. If on the exterior, a dripstone served to carry away water from the window tracery.
At St. Mary's we have none of these outside, apart from what appears to be Victorian gargoyles high up on the tower. These seem to be only decorative and fulfil no useful purpose, being too low to be waterspouts.

Inside, there are both corbels and label-stops. The corbels are high up, most supporting the roof, although at the west end, two appear to support nothing at all. These may indicate an earlier roof than the present one. Some of the corbels could possibly be later, having been put in when the roof was renewed. The label-stops, or head-stops, to introduce yet another name, are lower down, in the nave arcade.

Some of the figures are almost regal, with head-dresses and clothing dating from the early 14th century, the time of the building of the church, while others are earthier, even with tongues out and pulling faces. It is sometimes said that local faces were used as models. If you look carefully, you can make out animal and foliage carving on other corbels.


Some years ago, Patricia Cook, a former Churchwarden at St. Mary's, wrote a series of informative articles on interesting aspects of the fabric of St. Mary's for the Parish Magazine. These are reproduced here, together with line drawings by Jean Atkinson, a well known local artist, who has been closely involved with St. Mary's for many years, including serving on the PCC.

The Amber Tankard Holy Water Stoup The Mass Dial
Seating over the years A hidden gem Gargoyles, Corbels or Label-stops?
Decalogue Board A rare tomb Elephants and Royal Arms
Pulpit Kesteven Brass The Somers Memorial
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