Wednesday, 30 October 2013


This page is about stories which are connected to animals in our churches.
The Mouseman
The church at Kilburn in North Yorkshire has some fine furniture crafted by a local man known as 'The Mouseman' and his trade mark 'mouse' can be seen on each piece
The tiny village of Kilburn nestles at the foot of the Hambleton Hills near Sutton Bank and is home of a fine oak furniture workshop.   The ‘Mouseman’, Robert Thompson, was born in Kilburn in 1886 and followed his father into the trade of wheelwright.   Robert was very fond of carving wood and loved English oak – ‘ No other wood has the same character as oak, and this is the medium with which I can express my feelings,’ he is quoted as saying to a monk at nearby Ampleforth Abbey who had recognised the young man’s skill.    Robert was commissioned for work at the Abbey and soon developed an interest in carving church furniture, although it was not such lucrative work at that time.   One day he thought of the expression ‘poor as a church mouse’ and had the idea to carve a mouse on his work.
Since that time the little mouse has appeared on all Thompson furniture and carvings and is renowned in churches and home throughout the country.    Many examples can be seen in churches everywhere, notably in York Minster and in Westminster Abbey.   Just look for the little mouse.   Robert Thompson died in 1955 aged 79 years and his half timbered cottage still stands in Kilburn close to the modern workshops where the Thompson family tradition is carried on by his family.   A visit to the workshops and showrooms is an enlightening experience.
Kilburn Church
Copyright 'taraven' to whom I am grateful for allowing me to copy his photograph.
The mouse
The humble turkey
Boynton Hall in the tiny wolds village of Boynton in East Yorkshire, is the ancestral home of the Strickland family.  William Strickland travelled to the Americas in the mid 1500’s and when he returned to England he brought with him the humble turkey which he had discovered on his travels in the new world.  Needless to say, he became a very rich man and in 1550 he was granted a crest for a family coat of arms – ‘ A turkey in its proper pride, beaked, membered, sable coated and wattled gules.’ 
In the village church at Boynton, Strickland family memorials are surmounted by turkeys and indeed the lecturn is a turkey carved in wood.

 Boynton Church
Copyright Keith Ruffles to whom I am grateful for allowing me to copy his photograph.

The humble turkey

The robin’s nests
A robin, perched on a plaque at the side of the altar in the church at Wimbourne-St-Giles in Dorset, recalls a series of curious events.   The plaque reads :
Here while the respond to the arcade of AD 1887 was building, a robin nested.
Again during the building of a new arcade after the fire of 1908.”
Apparently the first family of robins nested near the altar during roof repairs in 1887.  Robins were sacred birds with the blood of Christ on their breasts and their arrival was a good omen.   When the fledglings had left the nest, the nest was put into a jar and built into the wall with an account of the event.    Amazingly 20 years later, when the church was badly damaged by fire, a pair of robins again nested in the same spot.  Once again the nest was built into the wall and it was then that the details of the first nest were revealed.
Wimborne St Giles Church


A wild cat

Back in the 15th century. Sir Percival Cresacre was Lord of the Manor at Barnburgh in South Yorkshire.   Legend has it that one moonlit night, Sir Percival was returning home on his horse Winifred, when a wild cat sprang onto the horses back.  The horse bolted unseating its rider and the cat then attacked Sir Percival who fought back strongly.   Their struggle raged towards St Peter’s church at Barnburgh and ended up in the church porch where, although severely wounded, the knight used his last ounce of strength to push the cat with his feet.  He actually managed to crush the cat against the church wall finally killing it.   When the alarm was raised, a local man called Woodford found Sir Percival dying in the church porch and heard the story of his fight with the wild cat before he died.   A worn family crest can be seen on the church tower at Barnburgh.   The arms of the Cresacres is three purple lions rampart on a golden shield and has a crest of a cat on a mountain.   A crest is usually an additional grant of arms which indicates that at a later date a cat played some part in the history of the family, adding some authentication to the story.

Barnburgh Church
The killer Toad
Sir Marmaduke Constable of Flamborough in East Yorkshire was a fighting man, in fact it is said that he was still fighting at the age of 70 years, having survived the Battle of Flodden.   His life covered the reign of six monarchs and he died in 1520 apparently without a fight!   He was buried in St Oswald’s Church at Flamborough where an unusual tomb marks his grave.  On the tomb is a rib-cage carved in stone, inside of which is a heart with a lump on it which is supposed to portray a toad.   The story goes that Sir Marmaduke inadvertently swallowed the toad whilst having a drink of water.   The toad declined to pass any further and ate away at his heart until he died!
 St Oswalds Church
Copyright 37057 Viking to whom I am grateful for allowing me to copy his Panoramio photograph.
The Constable tomb.
Walter Strickland of nearby Boynton was also buried in this church in 1671. Described as a learned and pious man, he fought for Parliament in the Civil War, sat in judgement of King Charles 1 and signed the King's death warrant. Despite all he was pardoned at the Restoration. In 1936, the vicar of Flamborough discovered the actual pardon document in the church safe, one of the church's great treasures.

John Wesley’s horse
It is said that on one of his visits to Otley in West Yorkshire, John Wesley's  horse died and was buried in the churchyard.   In his journal for Sunday 5th May 1782, Wesley wrote:
‘One of my horses having been so thoroughly lamed at Otley that he died in three or four days. They buried him in the Churchyard there being no other place. So Robert rests.  Purchased another, but, it was his way to stand still when he pleased, and set out as soon as possible.’
Wesley visited  Otley on  about 20 occasions.    First on 17th July 1759.
Opposite the northwest corner of the Parish Church tower is a peculiar triangular stone, commonly known as the ‘Donkey Stone’ and maybe where the horse was buried.
Otley Church


Equestrian   statue

What is said to be the only equestrian statue  in an English church can be seen in St Luke’s church at Gaddesby in Leicestershire.   The 1848 statue, by Joseph Gott, of Colonel Edward Hawkins Cheney and his horse, is a life size sculptured monument depicting Col. Cheney of the Royal Scots Greys, who fought in the battle of Waterloo on June 18th 1815.   He had four horses killed under him and rode off on a fifth horse when command of the regiment devolved upon him.   At the base a panel shows Col. Cheney in hand to hand combat with a French officer who was trying to recapture a lost Napoleonic eagle.    The story goes that Gott, on completing the statue, realized that he had left out the tongue of the ‘in extremis’ horse and in despair he committed suicide.

 Equestrian statue


Dog door


Dogs have always been at their master’s side, even in church in former times.  The church door at Mullion in Cornwall has a rare ‘dog door’.   Cut out of the bottom of the main door, this tiny door enabled dogs attending church with their masters to leave the church during the service without the main door having to be opened.


Dog tongs


A rather unusual set of ‘dog tongs’ can be seen in the ancient church at Clynnog Fawr on the Lleyn Peninsular in North Wales. They were once used to assist in the removal of recalcitrant dogs during the church service.



No comments: