LITTLE DRIFFIELD, in the parish of Great Driffield, and 1 mile from it to the North West.
This is the burial place of Alfred, or Alchfrid, king of Northumberland, who died here in the year 702, and to perpetuate whose memory a tablet, with the following inscription, is placed on the South side of the chancelWITHIN THIS CHANCEL LIES INTERRED THE BODY OF ALFRED, KING OF NORTHUMBERLAND, WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE, JANUARY 18, A.D. 702, IN THE 20TH YEAR OF HIS REIGN. Statutum est omnibus semel mori. ( It is appointed for all once to die.)It is believed, that there was here at the time of this monarch's death a royal palace, where he died after a long illness. But it is also said, that he died of wounds received in battle, at Ebberston, near Scarborough. That this neighbourhood has at one time been the theatre of extensive military operations, is manifest from the numerous tumuli in the neighbourhood, called, "The Danes' Graves;" but we search in vain for any well authenticated historical proof, that the Saxon monarch fell in battle either here or elsewhere; and William, of Malmesbury states distinctly, that he died of a painful disease, which was regarded as a visitation of Providence towards the king, for expelling Saint Wilfrid from his dignity and possessions. An idle story, published at the instance of persons whose rank and education ought to have taught them better, has been propagated, and found its way into many publications, to the effect that in the year 1784, the Society of Antiquarians in London, sent a deputation to this place, to search for the body of the king, (which king they have converted into Alfred the Great, who died 200 years after the Northumbrian monarch.) The deputation, it is added, began their labours on the 20th of September, & terminated them with complete success; for, after digging some time within the chancel, they found a stone coffin, on opening which the entire skeleton of that prince presented itself, with a great part of his steel armour. The Antiquarians who searched for the remains of Alfred, consisted of a party of gentlemen, from Driffield, at the head of whom was a worthy Baronet, but the investigation terminated in entire disappointment -no stone coffin -no steel armour -in fact, no relic whatever of that monarch was found; and the self appointed delegation, probably to blunt the edge of ridicule to which they might have been exposed, vamped up this fabrication, which a regard for the fidelity of history has induced us to explode, on the authority of the worthy clergyman who at present fills the office of perpetual curate. In the year 1807, when the church of Little Driffield was taken down and rebuilt, the Rev. gentleman to whom we have just alluded made another search, but in vain, for the remains of Alfred. When the foundations were bared, it was found that the church and the chancel had both been contracted in size, and that if Alfred had really been interred near the North wall, upon which the inscription was formerly painted, that his remains must now be in the church yard. Of the inscription itself the origin is not known; but it is known, that it has been twice renewed within the memory of man, and that it has undergone various modifications. The church of Little Driffield is a discharged vicarage, with Great Driffield, dedicated to St Peter, of which the Rev. Richard Allen is the perpetual curate. There are here four annual fairs, held by charter from king Alfred, on Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the 16th. of August, and the 19th of September, for horses, horned cattle, and sheep. Pop. 75.
A note with respect to the dedication of the church:
There seems to be both confusion and changes involved with the dedication of the church. You will see above that Baines gives it as St. Peter (1823), and also Bulmer's 1892 gives it as St. Peter. I have a Penguin book of 1972 which also gives it as St. Peter. I am told that people who have worshipped in the church for 70 years have never known it as anything but St. Mary! There follows a short quote from A short history of St. Mary - Little Driffield in the Diocese of York by Dr. David Neave of Hull University:-
"Throughout the centuries there has been some change in dedication, but no authorisation can be found. The earliest reference to dedication is to St Mary in a will of 1454. A further reference in Sharp's Mas c1700-1700 is likewise to St Mary, but thereafter the reference is to St Peter until the late 19th century, when the title St Mary is again used." [Colin Hinson, Jan 2001]
[Description(s) edited mainly from various 19th century sources by Colin Hinson. ©2010]