As might naturally be expected, there was a large clearing in this forest on the rising ground near to the river Derwent now known as Bossall, whence there is a fine view of the wolds ten miles away south eastward. Here was a double-moated enclosure surrounding one of the chief palaces of the Kings. This royal vill was succeeded in Norman days by a castle, erected by the Estutevilles, to whom the manor of Bossall was given by William the Conqueror. The foundations of this castle may still be traced on the site now occupied by a picturesque house erected in the days of Charles I, and known as Bossall Hall.
In the year 625 A.D., Edwin, a widower with two sons, sought to strengthen his throne by asking in marriage Ethelburga the sister of Eadbald, the powerful king of Kent. Ethelburga was the daughter of Ethelbert the king who reigned over Kent when St. Augustine came as a missionary to our shores in 597, and of his Christian wife Bertha. Eadbald yielded to Edwin's request on the condition that his sister and her attendants should have full liberty to practise the Christian faith and that Edwin himself would take into careful consideration the advisability of himself becoming a Christian. So in the late summer of 625, Ethelburga with her maidens came north, and was married to our king. A bishop of Roman origin named Paulinus had been consecrated at Rochester on July 21st of that year for the double purpose of ministering to the young queen and converting to the faith the wild heathen of Northumbria.
Ethelburga must have been a most sweet and loveable person. Wherever she went, she was known as Tata, the Anglo-Saxon word for "darling.'' In her later days she founded a convent at Lyminge in Kent, and some fields near are still known as "Tata's Leas." Edwin was a typical Anglo-Saxon, slow and thorough, cautious and of down-right honesty. Bede, who recorded the incidents of this period within two generations of their occurrence in his Ecclesiastical History, tells us that Edwin was "a man of extraordinary sagacity,'' and that "he often sat alone a long time, silent as to his tongue, but deliberating in his heart how he should proceed and to which religion he should adhere." With him began the English proverb so often applied to after kings '' a woman with her babe might walk scathless from sea to sea in Edwin's days.' (Green).
The " royal vill near the river Derwent " which may still he seen as a dark mound in the gardens of Aldby Park on an eminence rising abruptly from the river, was the scene of a thrilling incident on the eve of Easter, April 19th, 626. The King who was sojourning at the royal vill of Aldby, narrowly escaped assassination at the hand of an envoy of Cwichelm, King of the West Saxons, and on the same night Ethelburga gave birth to her first child, Eanfled, afterwards the wife of King Oswy. Paulinus was not slow to turn the incident to spiritual account, and Edwin readily consented to the baptism of Eanfled. On the following Whit-Sunday, she and eleven others of the household were baptized, the first fruits of the Northumbrian race. After returning from a punitive expedition in which he was entirely victorious over the King of Wessex, Edwin called together a council of his nobles, and it was decided to adopt the Christian faith. This meeting was in all probability held at Londeshorough not far from the great Druid shrine at Godmundingham (now Goodnanham) and is described in full and beautiful detail by Bede in his Ecclesiastical History.
At this point, from whatever cause, Edwin ceased to treat the royal vill at Bossall as his headquarters, and took up his abode in the hitherto deserted Romano-British city of York. The Anglo-Saxons seem very generally to have had a superstitious dread of occupying the towns from which they had driven the Britons after the departure of the defending Romans in 411 A.D. Possibly, under the enlightenment of the Christian instruction which he received from Bishop Paulinus, Edwin would realize how groundless were these fears of haunting evil spirits. However this may be, the court was moved in the autumn of 626 from Bossall to York, and the royal vill near the Derwent was left unoccupied except when visited for the purposes of the chase. Edwin now erected a wooden shrine in York, on the site of the present Minster, and in this he and his nobles were baptized on Easter Eve, April 11th, 627. Many of his people followed his example, and in all probability a little church would be built in the village at Bossall not long after this. The village which, like so many others in Yorkshire, was wiped out by the ' black death " in 1349, was situated in a large field North-West of the Hall now known as "Old Bossall," and shewing by its upheaving mounds that it was once occupied by human habitations. Tradition has it that the church stood in the South-West corner of the present field, and about the year 1870, a workman in the course of draining operations found there a leaden seal which had been attached to a bull of Pope Urban III (1185 to 1187 A.D.). This seal passed into the possession of Mr. Robert Belt, then the owner and occupier of Bossall Hall, and there is an excellent engraving of it to be seen in the vestry of the present church. The seal is remarkable for the very characteristic portraits on it of the Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul. Even if there were no evidence of this sort, the existence of a pre-Norman church at Bossall could be proved in the following manner. After the battle of Stamford Bridge, in September, 1066, the bones of the slain lay about for some time uncared for in the fields. At last they were gathered up and buried (so tradition says) in a little plot of ground "belonging to the priest of Bossall." This place may still be seen situated in one of the fields of the Primrose Hill farm, near the scene of the battle on the North side of the Derwent close to Stamford Bridge. In later days a chapel dedicated to St. Edmund was erected on the site, in which intercession would be made for the souls of the slain. The plot to this day goes by the name of Chapel Garth and the grassy mounds covering the ruins of the chapel are still very evident to the eve. The " priest of Bossall " still owns the garth and receives rent for it from the owners of the farm.
If there was a Christian priest at Bossall, there must also have been there a Christian church, and that in the days of the Anglo-Saxon kings. This church, like most other buildings of that period, would probably be of wood on a brick or stone foundation. However this may be, it would certainly suffer, as all other buildings suffered in those days, from the frequent incursions of the Danes. Evidence of these incursions may be found in the moated enclosures which abound in these parts. Into these enclosures the people drove their cattle when the enemy appeared. One of them may still be traced in the gardens of the cottages to the east of the present Church at Bossall.
The name of the village of Bossall is most probably derived from the following incident in the history of the Northumbrian Kingdom. In the year 678, Wilfrid, the second Bishop of York, being absent on one of his many wanderings, King Egbert and his counsellors, acting under the advice of Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, decided on the partition of the diocese, and Bosa (or Boza), a monk of Whitbv, was consecrated Bishop of Deira, the southern portion. Against all this, Wilfrid protested and appealed to Rome. Very little is known of Bosa, but Bede describes him as "a man of great holiness and humility." It is not surprising therefore to learn that in 686, Bosa retired from York in favour of the forceful and stormy Wilfrid, who had returned to the neighbourhood. In 691, Wilfrid was again dispossessed of York, and Bosa resumed as bishop. During the period of retirement, he had resided in the "palace" at Bossall which King Edwin had vacated in 626. And so the adjoining village came to be called " Boza's Hall," which was soon contracted into "Bozhall" and "Bossall."
In addition to the evidence of the existence of a Saxon Church at Bossall given above it is definitely stated in William the Conqueror's Domesday Book that at "Boscele" there was "a Church (St. Botolph's) and a priest and twenty acres of meadow." St. Botolph was the famous abbot of Ikhano, who died in the same year as the abbess Hilda, 680, A.D. Ikhano is thought by many to be identical with Boston in Lincolnshire, which is certainly a contraction of " Botolph's town" the church there being dedicated to that saint. There are those who think that "Bossall" may in like manner be a contraction of the abbot's name. The saint had great vogue at that period and 64 English Churches of ancient foundation bear his name, four of them in London and the rest in eastern districts. Bossall Church is the most northern of these. The day on which this saint is honoured is generally given as June 17th but on May 7th each year, " on the eve, day and morrow of St. Botolph a fair was held at Buttercrambe until very recent days under licence from King Edward III."
For some reason and at some date both unknown the church was moved in the twelfth century from the south-west corner of the "Old Bossall" field to its present site due east of the Hall. The architecture of the existing building (early English) indicates a date of about 1186. The church is cruciform without aisles. The nave was originally fifteen feet longer, being shortened in 1805; and the chancel was probably rebuilt on a larger scale in the early decorated style by the monastery of Durham when the benefice was appropriated to them in 1387.
The boundaries of Bossall parish were originally wide, including the villages and hamlets of Bossall, Harton, Claxton, Buttercrambe, Sand Hutton and Flaxton.
The three last named contained each a consecrated chapel; Buttercrambe dedicated to St John the Evangelist; Sand Hutton to St Leonard; and Flaxton to St Laurence. Sand Hutton including the village of Claxton) and Flaxton, were made separate parishes by an Order in Council dated June 26th 1861. The chapels of Sand Hutton and Flaxton both became ruinous in the early part of the nineteenth century. At Flaxton the building was pulled down and a new church erected on the same site. It was opened for divine service on 21st Nov 1853, by the Archbishop of York. At Sand Hutton, an entirely new church was erected at the distance of a few yards from the old chapel, in the year 1840.
The Incumbent of Bossall is both a Rector and a Vicar. In 1387, by the authority of Pope Urban VI, the church was appropriated to the monastery of Durham for the maintenance of sixteen persons, eight of them monks of Durham and eight secular clerks, at the College in Oxford then called Durham College and now Trinity College. The benefice of Bossall has ever since then remained an appanage of Durham, and is now of the patronage of the Dean and Chapter of Durham, to whom the possessions of the monastery passed peacefully at the Reformation. From that date, the incumbent of Bossall could be no more than a "vicar" appointed by the monastery to perform on their behalf the spiritual duties of the parish. But the present incumbents being now in possession of some of the rectorial tithes, notably those of the districts of Aldby and Buttercrambe, may quite correctly be styled "Rectors".
Old Bossall was one of the many villages in Yorkshire which was wiped out by the "black death" in the year 1349. More than half the population of England perished of the plague in that year, and quite half of the priests in the county fell victims. The vicar of Bossall (William de Garton) at that time seems to have been one of these. He was appointed on August 4th, 1349, and died within a month of his institution. The visitation was so terrible that the survivors seem to have been afraid to continue living on the old site; and so the houses of the village were left untenanted and soon fell into decay. The cobbled road from the village to the church, which can still be traced on the northern edge of the outer moat of Bossall Hall, was no longer trodden by the feet of church- going people each Lord's Day and soon became grass-grown, as it continues to this day. The spacious old church before long proved too large for the reduced number of worshippers and shortly after this time the north transept was cut off from the body of the church by the insertion of a solid wall of stone and brick in the northern archway beneath the tower. The transept was utilized for various purposes. Hay and coal were stored there, and at times it was used as a cow-byre, entrance being gained by a doorway on the east side in the place of the present window. A story is told that when Sydney Smith, the famous wag, then rector of Foston and afterwards Canon of St. Paul's Cathedral, London, was preaching at Bossall one Sunday morning; his discourse was interrupted by various bovine noises from the other side of this wall. Whereupon, with more ready wit than reverence, he asked " What meaneth the lowing of the oxen which I hear?" The transept was opened out and restored by the generosity of the Revd. C. D. Trotter, vicar of Bossall, in the year 1904. One great advantage of this restoration is that we see the windows in the original simplicity of their Early English beauty. The windows of the Nave and the southern and western windows of the south transept have been badly mauled and vulgarized by well-meaning "improvers" in the eighteenth century.
There have not been many persons of note among the vicars of Bossall. The only vicar who left for higher promotion seems to have been Dr. Spencer Madan, of Trinity College, Cambridge, who resigned the benefice in 1766 to become Bishop of Bangor and Peterborough. Mr. Thomas Bull, who was instituted in 1641, in the sad latter days of Charles I, seems to have been a veritable "Vicar of Bray, 'a clerical chameleon, taking his colour from his surroundings. He was vicar during the last years of the reign of Charles, became "Parish Registrar" in 1653 under the Commonwealth, and resumed his former ministrations at the at the Restoration in 1660. Mr. Bull was buried at Bossall, on October 9th 1665. The two Pratts (William, the father, from 1673 to 1701 and John, the son, from 1701 to 1718) seem to have been faithful priests, who brought order out of the confusion of the Commonwealth period. The church was in their days refurnished and supplied with things necessary for divine service; and the registers were kept with exquisite care and neatness. They lie buried on the south front of the Altar of Bossall Church.
A person of considerable eminence also lies by the side of Janet, his wife, in the middle of the chancel, Sir Robert Constable, Chancellor of the diocese of Durham, a member of the great Constable family of Flamborough. He resided for some years at the old Saxon manor house of Barnby, and died there on 2nd October, 1408. He left instructions in his will (a copy of which hangs in the vestry) that he and his wife should be buried in the "quire of Bossall Kirk, Over against where my seat is". The brass figure and plate with lettering beneath must have been delicately beautiful when first put down. Some of the Cromwellian vandals, however, have rremoved the coats of arms at the four corners of the slab and have torn out the middle part of the worthy Knight's body.
The registers date from the year 1610. They are in fairly good condition and contain many interesting details. The most attractive is perhaps the marriage recorded on July 23rd, 1632, of "Mr. Thomas Shepard" and Mrs. Margaret Tutvile". The prefixes "Mr." And "Mrs." Indicate that the bride and bridegroom were persons of note; and so they were. The lady was a niece of Sir Richard Darley of Aldby, evidently a descendant of the Norman Estutevilles, as her surname implies, to whom William the Conqueror originally gave the manor of Bossall. Mr. Shepard was a Clerk in Holy Orders, "silenced" by the Archbishop of York because he would not subscribe to the thirty-nine Articles. But Sir Richard being of Mr. Shepard's way of thinking, invited him to live at Aldby and hold services there. This he did for the space of twelve months, and people came from distances of forty miles round to hear his turgid political sermons. As a piece of side-play Mr. Shepard managed during that period to captivate his host's niece; and they were married in Bossall Church, as the registers record. In 1635, Mr. and Mrs. Shepard emigrated with other Pilgrim Fathers and Mothers to America, landing in Boston on October 3rd. In the following year, 1636, Mr. Shepard, with others, founded Harvard University.
No account of Bossall, however, short, could be complete without some mention of the Belts, one of the o1dest and most honoured Yorkshire families. The manor of Bossall seems to have passed into their hands from the Estuteville at a very early date, and for many centuries the Belts resided at Bossall Hall. The church bears on its chancel walls several memorials of members of this family. Sir Robert Belt (died 1656) was twice Lord Mayor of York, and his predecessor, William, was Recorder of the City in the troublous days of King Charles I. His wife, Goodeth, was evidently a woman of great character and resource. Hearing one day that the citizens of York were coming in a body to dispossess her husband of his belongings, she advised him to fly and leave her to deal with the situation.
This he promptly did to Hull, there to obtain assistance from the loyalists. Meanwhile, Goodeth slaughtered sheep and oxen in great abundance; and when the men of York appeared, they found viands and dainties and draughts of ale and wine, all temptingly arranged on the sides of the moat (the drawbridge had not been lowered). Thereupon the citizens changed their minds, fell eagerly upon the attractive victuals, and having eaten the Belts' salt went peaceably back to their homes. The manor of Bossall was purchased in 1890 by Sir James Walker, 2nd Baronet of Sand Hutton, and has remained in the family since that date.