Thursday, 31 October 2013



This page is about unusual and interesting church stories. 
Where saints have trod


The church at Lastingham near Pickering in North Yorkshire is one of the earliest seats of religion in the north of England and as a village church is quite unique.  The earliest details come from the Venerable Bede who tells us that St Cedd, who was Bishop of East Anglia, came here in the 7th century to found a church where King Ethelwald of Northumbria might worship and find a last resting place.   The first church was built c659AD and is the shrine of St Cedd who bequeathed the abbacy of his church to his brother Chad.  Chad subsequently became Bishop of York and then Lichfield where he was buried and venerated as a Saint.
St Cedd and St Chad, Lastingham Church

Little is known of the later history of this church until 1078, when Abbot Stephen of Whitby Abbey began to rebuild Cedd’s church.  It was such a wild and lawless place that Stephen eventually abandoned the work and went to York where he founded St Mary’s Abbey instead, leaving the legacy which is the main part of Lastingham church as we see it today.   Stephen had first built a stone crypt which is a little church in itself, with a chancel, nave and side aisles and a unique apse, which has remained unchanged to the present time.   It is thought that St Cedd was buried on the right side of the altar and it is possible that the crypt was also the last resting place of King Ethelwald.     Although Stephen’s plans for a great Abbey church were not completed, the crypt and the east end of the church were eventually incorporated into the unique present day church which was completed in 1228 and restored in 1879.

 Laastingham Church


The Crypt


In 1774 the Curate of Lastingham church, the Rev. Jeremiah Carter, was also the landlord of the Blacksmith's Arms inn situated alongside the church.   When interviewed by his superior about why he kept an inn, the Rev. Carter gave the following explanation :
‘ I have a wife and thirteen children and with a stipend of £20 per annum,
increased by a few trifling surplice fees, I will not impose on your understanding
by attempting to advance an argument to show the impossibility of us all being supported from my church preferment!   My wife keeps the public house and as my parish is so wide that some of my parishioners have to come 10 to 15 miles to church,
you will readily allow that some refreshment be necessary!   I take down my violin and play them a few tunes, which gives me the opportunity of seeing that they get no more liquor than necessary for refreshment;  and if some of the young people propose to dance, I seldom answer in the negative.   Thus my parishioners enjoy the triple advantage of being instructed, fed and amused at the same time.’
He went on to maintain that more people were led into piety that way than  ‘ by the most exalted discourses.’   
Apparently the Rev. gentleman was complemented on his work by the archdeacon.


The Swaffham Pedlar



The church of St Peter and St Paul at Swaffham in Norfolk owes much to the good fortune of local man John Chapman, known as The Swaffham Pedlar.    Back in the 15th century the old church had partially collapsed and it seemed that the only way to rescue the building from dereliction was by means of a burdensome tax on the parishioners, but Chapman, a humble pedlar, was able to provide means to build a new north aisle and the tall steeple.   

Legend has it that Chapman had a dream on three successive nights that if he went onto London Bridge he would hear something to his advantage.  Apparently he made the long journey on foot accompanied by his faithful dog.  He stood on London Bridge for many hours without result and just as he was about to leave he was approached by a man who asked him what he was doing.  Chapman told the man about his dreams, without mentioning his name or where he was from.  The man said that he had also had a similar dream that if he went to a place called Swaffham he would find a tree in the garden of a man called Chapman under which was buried a pot of gold.   Chapman said nothing but quickly returned home and to his amazement he found a large pot inscribed with strange words, as described by the stranger.  It was full of gold coins.    He kept his find a secret and put the pot on a shelf amongst other things in his little shop.   Some time later a customer looked at the pot and asked Chapman if he knew what the inscription on the pot meant.  When the pedlar shook his head the man told him that it read, “ Under me  lies  another, much richer than I.”  

That night Chapman dug deeper and found a second pot filled with twice as many gold coins as the first one.

Old family pews of John Chapman, benefactor and churchwarden can be seen in the church choir and  fine carvings of a man carrying a pack and of a dog adorn the two front chancel pews.

A pedlar is depicted on the town sign and a memorial to John Chapman can be seen in the town centre.

The Swaffham Pedlar

Swaffham Church

Copyright 'keepclicking' to whom I am grateful for allowing me to copy this photograph


The wedding ring


The church of St Martin at Lowthorpe near Driffield in East Yorkshire was a Collegiate Church until 1547 when it became the parish church and in the late 18th century the church was reduced to the current standing of the medieval nave, leaving the old chancel in ruins.    An entry in the parish register for 26th August 1711 tells that Frances Rokeby  donated a large gold wedding ring bearing the inscription ‘Obey and Rule’,  “With use of all such, as shall come to be married at the said church and are un-provided with a ring.”

Lowthorpe Church

A striking 14th century gravestone can be seen inside the church, having been removed from the  ruined chancel for preservation.  It depicts the figures of a man and a woman draped in a cover, over which a tree is growing.  Shields are at the roots of the tree and at the ends of its branches are the heads of 13 children, 7 sons on the male side and 6 daughters wearing caps, on the female side.  It is thought to commemorate Sir Thomas de Heslerton, his wife Alice and their children.

Polly Peachum
Wensley  in Wensleydale, North Yorkshire has an interesting church dating to 13th – 15th centuries.  The curious Bolton Pew has some old screenwork which was formerly at Easby Abbey, but it is the pew itself which is somewhat unusual.  It is a double opera box which came from Drury Lane theatre in the 18th century.  The 3rd Duke of Bolton, Charles Paulet was infatuated with  the celebrated actress and singer, Lavinia Fenton, who was noted for her role as Polly Peachum in John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera.  Round about 1728, the Duke started an affair with the actress and she bore him three children at a time when he was separated from his wife.  When the Duke’s wife died in 1751 he actually married Lavinia and presumably they lived happily ever after.  Hogarth actually painted a scene at Drury Lane with the Duke in one of the boxes, and when the theatre was refurbished, the Duke acquired the box and had it installed in Wensley church as his family pew where it remains to this day.

Wensley Church

© Copyright Uncredited and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
I am grateful for the use of this Geograph photograph.

The Bolton Pew

High above Wensley church on Capple Bank stand the ruins of a two storey stone built tower directly opposite Bolton Hall, the home of the Duke of Bolton, on the other side of the dale.  Known as ‘Polly Peachum’s Tower’, the Duke apparently  had this summer pavilion built so that Lavinia could rehearse her singing there undisturbed, at a time, it is said, when the old Duke could no longer bear to hear her singing.
Polly Peachum's Tower


A  medieval  jester  and  a  sad  widow


The ancient church at Sprotborough in South Yorkshire was probably built by the Normans and contains many interesting things, not least what is probably an old stone sanctuary seat.  Many carvings by medieval craftsmen are in evidence in the church and one wonders why they should have carved on the door of the pulpit what are to be to be  a pack of cards,  a dice box and a beer tankard!    On two pew ends are carvings illustrating marriage – before and after,  for they show two heads kissing on the one, and two turned away from each other on the second.

In a side chapel is the fine figure of a lady on a tomb, wearing the pleated wimple of a widow.   It is the tomb of Isabel Fitzwilliam who died in 1348 and closer inspection reveals that she is clasping a heart between her hands.   The story goes that her husband was executed in some conflict or other but that she refused to believe that he was dead until she held his heart in her hands.  On receipt of the heart, she is said to have died of shock.


The Fitzwilliam Tomb

Sprotborough Church

© Copyright Graham Hogg and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
I am grateful to Graham for the use of his Geograph photograph.

Thirty  pieces  of  silver


In the 18th century, John Wesley founder of the Methodist Movement, visited the very pretty village of Bishop Burton near Beverley in East Yorkshire, where he preached under a huge wych elm tree on the village green.  The tree, which was 48 feet in circumference, blew down in a storm in 1836 and a local man, Richard Watt, had a bust of Wesley carved out of the wood for the Wesleyan Chapel in the village.

At the turn of the 19th century the bust was put up for sale and it was purchased by the village rector, the Rev. William Pearman for thirty silver 3d bits.  The rector sent the bust to Beverley for restoration and the bill for 7s6d read, ‘to inoculating John Wesley and curing him of worms’.   The Methodists were taunted for selling their master for ‘thirty pieces of silver’.

The very fine bust can now be seen in the All Saints Church at Bishop Burton.

All Saints Church

Originally founded by St. John of Beverley early in the eighth century although only the tower remains of the ancient church. Most of All Saints was rebuilt in 1820 at a cost of around £1,700, and restored in 1865 with a new chancel designed by the architect J. L. Pearson.

Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   © Copyright Paul Glazzard and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.  To whom I am grateful for the use of the photograph and text.




The  site  of  a  pagan  temple


The village church in the tiny Wolds village of Goodmanham near Market Weighton in East Yorkshire, which stands proudly on high ground at the top of the village, is said to have been built on the  site of an important pagan temple.    In 625AD, Edwin King of Northumbria, who had his palace at nearby Londesborough, married the Christian daughter of King Ethelbert of Kent.   Edwin had always worshiped heathen gods and was reluctant to be converted, but in 627AD at a Great Council Meeting he agreed to accept Christianity and the pagan temple was destroyed.

Edwin and his chiefs went to York on Easter Day, 12th April 627, where they were baptised in a small church which eventually became the great York Minster.
Goodmanham Church


Wednesday, 30 October 2013


Most churches have a clock on the tower but some church timepieces are a bit unusual.

A  Saxon  sundial

One of the greatest treasures of St Gregory’s Minster in Kirkdale near Kirkbymoorside in North Yorkshire, is its  Saxon  sundial,   situated over the doorway of this lovely old church.  It is marked with the 8 hours of the Saxon day and bears the inscription:  This is day’s Sun marker at every tide.


St Gregory's Minster



A  single  handed  clock


On the east face of the fine 15th century tower of St Michael’s church at Coningsby in Lincolnshire, is the largest  one handed clock in the world.  This brightly coloured dial measures 161/2 feet in diameter, and because of its size it is still possible to tell the time with reasonable accuracy despite it having only the one hand.   The pendulum is so long that it swings only once every two seconds and the weights are huge stone blocks.


Coningsby Church

 © Copyright Richard Croft and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
I am grateful for the use of Richard's Geograph photograph.




Extra  time


Time goes by at a leisurely pace in Old Brampton near Chesterfield in Derbyshire.  One of the reasons for this is probably due to the fact that the church clock has 63 minutes marked on it.   Perhaps the man who painted the clock face spent too much time at the George and Dragon opposite.

                                                                         Old Brampton church
Meanwhile the church clock of St Mary Magdelene at Whitgift in East Yorkshire bears Roman numerals to the value of 13-o-clock instead of the usual 12!  The explanation for this anomaly is that in 1919, when the present clock was installed, it was found that the hands failed to synchronise exactly with the figures on the dial.  Rather than remove the clock movement, it was decided to paint out the second 1 in the X11 originally gilded on the face, and to place another 1 further to the right.   In some obscure way this was expected to alleviate the problem.  The story continues, that the paint was said to be of such poor quality that the covered 1 began to show through again, thus filling the gap to produce X111.

Whitgift Church

The clock face has been replaced and still has the X11. The original is now presered inside the church.

The orginal clock face


A  Victorious  clock


One face of the church clock at Baslow in Derbyshire uses letters instead of the usual numbers, and reads :        VICTORIA  1897.
Baslow Church





The clock gives a message


A plaque below the clock on the tower of the church at Whixley in North Yorkshire reads: 


I serve thee here with all my might
And tell the hours by day and night

Therefore by example take by me

And serve thy God as I serve thee
Whixley Church


The  fifth  clock


All Saints church at Thornton Hough on the Wirral has the usual clock face on each side of the church tower.  However there is an additional smaller clock face on the eastern side.  After the local squire had built the church and indeed had the clock faces installed, he found that he couldn’t actually see the clock from his residence, Thornton House.  He soon remedied this by having the smaller clock face placed where he could see it, and all was well.

The copyright on this image is owned by E Pollock and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.
 I am grateful to E Pollock for the use of his photograph although the fifth clock is on the eastern face.

Small time


There is no clock on the tower of South Cliff Methodist Church at Scarborough, but by close inspection of the tower high up between two small windows on the front face, two small white discs can just be seen.  They are in fact two old pocket watches and despite the fact that there is no glass in them, the faces are still white and one of them still has some Roman numerals on it.   One story is that they belonged to two sisters, benefactors of the church, whilst another version is that they belonged to a husband and wife who were somehow involved in the building of the church in the 1880’s.  The fact is that nobody seems to know why the two watches were placed in such a position – it was undoubtedly impossible to tell the time from them from down below.

South Cliff Methodist Church



This page is about some curious church horticulture.
In the churchyard at Painswick in Gloucestershire there are at least 99 yew trees.  It is said that attempts to grow the one hundredth tree have always failed.
Painswick churchyard
A single yew tree in the churchyard at Fortingal in Tayside is reputed to be some 2,000 years old – 0ne of the oldest living things in Europe. In 1769 it had a girth of over 56ft but has now disintigrated into several sections
Fortingal yew

The site of this church may have been an early monastery and the present church contains many interesting relics including a hand bell dating from the 600's.  This place is reputed to be the birthplace of Pontius Pilate.

 Fortingall Church
Copyright 'ayrshire lass' to whom I am grateful for allowing me to copy this photograph.

An avenue of 700 years old yew trees lead to the church at Nevern in Pembrokeshire, Wales. One of them is the famous ‘bleeding’ yew tree’ about which various legends exist. A blood red sap leaks from the trunk of the tree. One story has it that it bleeds for the wrongful hanging of a young man many years ago. Another says that it will bleed until the world is at peace.


Nevern Church
Copyright 'grev16' to whom I am grateful for allowing me to copy this photograph.

Nevern Yew

A fig tree grows out of the wall at the old church at Manaccan in Cornwall. The wall has a two outer facings of stone with a space between filled with rubble, which has a enabled the tree to grow.  The origin of this 200 year old tree is not known.
Another fig tree in the churchyard  in the centre of Watford in Hertfordshire, has  split a gravestone in all directions.   The story goes that the incumbent, an atheist, asked for the fig tree to be placed in his coffin when he was buried there, saying that if there was a God, the fig tree would grow.


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.