NORTH YORKSHIRE JUNE 2022
CHURCH FENTON, BOLTON PERCY & TADCASTER.
It was a sunny and warm Saturday in June 2022, and we continued our Yorkshire churchcrawl. We had left Selby Abbey and were heading towards Tadcaster, some 15 miles or so off to the North West, taking in a few churches on the way, one of which was the church of St Mary, Church Fenton.
Church Fenton can be found some six miles south east of Tadcaster and three miles north of Sherburn In Elmet, where we had started this crawl a few hours previously. The population was approximately 1400 at the time of the 2011 census.
Interestingly, the church is fitted with aircraft warning lights, one on each of the four corners of the tower, due to the close proximity of Leeds East Airport. This was previously known as RAF Church Fenton; and was set up in 1936 and later as a fighter base to help protect northern towns and cities during World War II.
There was no mention of a church here at the time of the Domesday Survey of 1086; although it is suspected that there was a church here but it was included as a chapel of ease in the figures for Sherburn In Elmet. The church here became a separate entity during the 13th century when the parish of Church Fenton was created.
The church here was open to visitors, as the vast majority were in this friendly and welcoming part of a glorious county. The church is cruciform in structure, with central tower, long nave, south aisle, south porch, north and south transepts and chancel. The church that we see today dates mainly from the 13th century with 14th and 15th century additions, the square battlemented central tower dating from this later period.
Moving inside, there had obviously been an event on to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, with the buntings still strung up throughout the church.
The south aisle is of three bays, with the north and south transepts each being of two bays. The nave and chancel are each very long; there is blue carpet from the central crossing tower to the altar.
Possibly the most interesting feature of the interior here is a monument against the north wall of the chancel. This is a recumbent effigy of a lady at prayer, who wears an elaborate headdress. This was found upside down and being used as flagstone during restoration in 1844.
It is of particular interest as the lady has at her feet, a lion and a dragon, symbolising good and evil, which appear to be fighting over the soul of the lady. The dragon was sometimes used as a symbol of evil, with the Archangel Michael battling evil in the form of a dragon in Revelation.
There is some stained glass here. The east window of the chancel has Victorian patterned glass but there is also some medieval 14th century glass fragments set in this window higher up in the tracery.
There is also medieval glass set into a window on the east wall of the south transept. Elsewhere, Victorian glass depicts Jesus as the Good Shepherd and the Light of the world. Close by is a three light window depicting, Peter who holds the key to the Kingdom of Heaven, St John with quill and St James who carries a pilgrims staff.
The south transept is a lovely welcoming, informal space. It is carpeted with modern chairs set out in a circle. If this was an informal space at my church I would be very pleased to have it. It is thought that this south transept was once a chantry chapel and was the final resting place for what could be two priests from those days.
There is little of interest or rarity in the large church grounds and there appears to have been a substantial gravestone clearance at one point, particularly to the south. There is, however, close to the south transept, a medieval cross shaft, which has a Victorian sundial mounted on to the top.
This is a lovely church, in picturesque surroundings. I enjoyed my brief stay here. It was time to move on, to the wonderfully named Bolton Percy.
Bolton Percy can be found some four miles east of Tadcaster; a small pleasant village; described as ‘sleepy’ on the church’s own Facebook page. with a population a tad over 300 at the time of the 2011 census. The church of All Saints can be found in the centre of the village, on slightly raised ground.
Off to the south is the Gatehouse, a beautiful 15th century timber framed gatehouse, which is now a holiday cottage. The village public house is a short walk away. This is a village that I immediately took to. There is a bench against the south wall of the nave. I would have liked to have spent time sitting there, on a humid summer evening; sat with a book and a cold drink, listening to thunder rumbling off in the distance.
The church that we see today dates back to the early 14th century, but was not consecrated until 1424. It consists of square tower, which is battlemented and pinnacled, with clock to east face; nave with north and south aisles, south porch and chancel.
There are no clerestory windows here; the chancel is a little taller than the nave and is battlemented and pinnacled. The church is buttressed throughout. A smiling grotesque looks down at those approaching the church from the south east.
Moving inside, it was a little dull inside; this mainly due to the large amount of stained glass to be seen here. There are Jacobean box pews to be seen in the nave. Moving in to the chancel, there is an ancient treble sedilia, the seating for the priests, against the south wall, with a piscina which would have been used for washing the holy vessels used after the mass at the side of it. A death’s head, a carving of a human skull peers out from a wall monument; reminding the onlooker of the transitory nature of human life. Be at peace with God when your own time comes, and it days of low life expectancy it could be later than you think!
The east window in the chancel is of five lights and is of stained glass, having two rows of characters. The lower row contains Bishops, all of whom are wearing mitres and carrying processional crosses. The top row depicts St Peter, Anna teaching Mary to read, Mary crowned as the Queen of Heaven holding the infant Jesus, a female figure that I can’t identify and St John holding a chalice, from which emerged evil in the form of a serpent.
High up in the tracery on both north and south walls of the chancel are depictions of medieval angels with flowing golden wings. Close by, Jesus is presented to Simeon in the Temple; interestingly by Mary only. There is no sign of Joseph; Mary carries the doves offered for sacrifice. It is always worth noting that Jesus did not come to a rich family. The sacrifice that was offered up here was for the poorer people who couldn’t afford a lamb.
A striking window shows what I think is Saul being blinded on the road to Damascus. My favourite window covers the Easter story. Three larger panels at the top depicts Jesus carrying His own cross, the crucifixion and the Angel appearing to the three Mary’s on Easter morning. Smaller panels below show Jesus accepting the cup that He had to drink from at Gethsemane, on the night before the crucifixion. Judas betrays with a kiss and Herod washes his hands of Jesus’ guilt.
A beautiful and historic church and it was great to have seen it. I regret missing out on the tea room in the village, but time was pressing and I wanted to visit as many churches as possible on what was a very rare excursion to Yorkshire. We moved on towards Tadcaster.
Tadcaster is a market town with a wealth of history, which can be found 12 miles north east of Leeds and 10 miles south west of York. The Romans inhabited here and King Harold assembled his army and fleet here before moving on to fight the Vikings at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066. Three weeks later, after defeating the Vikings, he was defeated himself at Hastings.
The church of St Mary sits centrally, on an old market square, close to a bridge which crosses the river Wharfe. We parked up and I walked back to the church; crossing the bridge and approaching the church from the north. The church sits against the south bank of the river, which has caused problems over the years as we shall see in a few moments. Walking alongside the river bank though; it was a really pleasant setting. Chairs and table were set out, most of which were being used, and dog walkers were out in force.
The church’s close proximity to the river led to many instances of flooding; and the church, with the exception of the tower, was taken down between 1875 and 1877 and raised a metre and a quarter to try and alleviate the problem. Obviously, this has helped greatly but there is still a problem at times; with an article in the Church Times from Christmas 2016 looking back a year to when the church and the town area around the bridge were badly flooded.
There was an earlier church here from around 1150, with the present structure dating from the early 14th to early 15th centuries. At one point in this early church, there were three chantry chapels here, dedicated to St John the Baptist, St Catherine of Alexandria and St Nicholas.
Looking at the exterior from the south we have a structure of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch and chancel.
The tower is square and of three stages, pinnacled and battlemented at the top, with the church clock in the traditional colours of blue and gold facing out from the south wall. The nave is separated from chancel by a priests door, but apart from that all is perpendicular, with three light windows in the nave and chancel, with smaller three light windows ruining seamlessly from nave in to chancel.
The church was open to visitors; a helpful benefice office having confirmed that this church would be open prior to setting off.
Moving inside, it was quiet and peaceful; an attractive church which was spot lit in places. There are three bay arcades to north and much stained glass. It would have been quite dull inside without the lights. Instead it was warm and welcoming.
There are a few fragments of medieval glass to be seen here. One of which looks to be European, and quite a distance from home! This is a roundel depicting St Catherine. She sits on a throne, long golden hair flowing; wheel partially visible behind her, this denoting the means of her martyrdom.
At her feet is a crowned male figure; possibly dead which could be emperor Maxentius. Below this, in the same panel is a very worn figure of a Bishop and another panel shows another female figure, this one just a fragment. She is crowned and holding a processional cross. This may be St Margaret.
The east window is by Morris & Co. with many of the panels designed by Edward Burne Jones. We have three tiers of characters, with the first two tiers representing those from the Heavenly realm, standing on clouds with the sun shining down; with Christ in Majesty as central. The bottom tier is for those in the Human realm. With John the Baptist, Moses, St Peter and St John all depicted.
The east window of the south aisle depicts Christ in majesty again, this time flanked by the four evangelists. Elsewhere is a lovely depiction of the always challenging Good Samaritan. The Samaritan tends to the stricken Jew, his sworn enemy, which the Priest and the Levite, the Jew’s own countrymen, walking off ignoring his plight.
Close by, John the Baptist points upwards towards Heaven, with a small gathering of people looking on in interest. In the same window Jesus also points up towards Heaven and the response that H is getting is less than enthusiastic!
We also have a good depiction of the Transfiguration and three scenes from Matthew Chapter 25 verses 35 – 36 which reads ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
This is a gorgeous church, which I enjoyed looking around very much. It was good to lose myself in the stained glass for a while. It was quiet and peaceful inside and I emerged out to the sounds of happiness coming from the direction of the local pub.
Having spent a few minutes looking around the spacious church grounds I made my way back over the bridge to the van. This is a long way from home, 113 miles according to Google maps. All of the churches visited on this Yorkshire crawl I will visit just once due to the distance involved. Each one though leave a few extra additions to the collective store of memories that I have gathered together over the years.