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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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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.
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
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
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.