Medieval 'labelstops' at Hull Minster

by Patrick Gibbs and Louise Hampson
A carved stone bearded figure with a crown, possibly King Edward I, shows traces of red and gold paint.
A labelstop showing the head of a king - possibly Edward I.

The upper row of windows in the nave of Hull Minster dates to the 15th century and is known as a 'clerestory'. Around the tops of the windows is a decorative moulding (a 'hood moulding') that forms a series of arches, and at the lowest point of each arch is a small carving known as a 'labelstop'.

The term 'labelstop' comes from the Latin 'labia' meaning lip, because the mouldings stick out, and 'stop' because they're at the end-point of each arch. Labelstops are decorative only and have no structural purpose, but they can be highly detailed and include a wide range of subjects.

The labelstops at Hull Minster include a wonderful array of people, animals, and mythical characters. There are 34 at Hull Minster, including kings (including one likely to be Edward I), merchants, aristocratic ladies, cats (one with a mouse in its mouth!) and lions. The gallery at the foot of this page provides a selection of examples.

Clerestory restoration

A Heritage Lottery Fund grant was received in 2017 to aid restoration work of the nave roof and clerestory. The roof was leaking and rainwater had begun to damage the carved labelstops.

A close-up of a carved labelstop showing areas of lighter-colour damage caused by rainwater.
A close-up of a carved labelstop showing areas of lighter-coloured damage and flaking caused by rainwater.

This provided an opportunity to take a closer look at the labelstops and record them in detail. Many still had the remnants of the medieval paint that would have made them bright and colourful, and there were many other intiguing discoveries.

The 'deathmask' labelstop

The labelstops are almost all carved in stone, apart from one example that is plaster. This is a very intriguing labelstop, as it appears to be a 'deathmask' - a cast of a real person's face taken after they had died. We think this is the case because the face's features are slightly sunken and squashed, which can happen once decomposition begins to take place soon after death.

The 'deathmask' labelstop after its removal for restoration.
The 'deathmask' labelstop after its removal for restoration.

You can explore a 3D model of the deathmask below.

Labelstop Gallery

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