THIRSK: The History of Thirsk Church


The church of
Saint Mary

The name which stands conspicuous in the early history of Thirsk,* or Thrusk, or Thursk, is that of Mowbray; some slight notice of whose family cannot be omitted, mixed up as it is with almost every thing connected with the rise and progress of the Church in this neighbourhood.

The first mention of the name, is early after the Conquest, when we find Robert de Mowbray a Norman Baron, created Earl of Northumberland, in A.D. 1080. In course of time Robert fell under the displeasure of his Sovereign, when he was confined in prison, and his estates confiscated to the crown.

* Thirsk is situate in the North Riding of the County of York, and distant one hour from York by the Great North of England Railway.

The property thus forfeited was given to Nigel Albani, who being a Mowbray by his mother's side, directed his son Roger to assume the title of Mowbray ; this Roger was the founder of Byland Abbey,† and other religious houses in Yorkshire, to the number of thirty-five. The Church at Thirsk, in which was a Chantry, dedicated to St. Nicholas, was given by Roger, de Mowbray to the Priory of Newburgh, to which it was appro-priated, but without the taxation of a Vicarage.

† Camden's Britannia.

In the year 1147, when Lewis the young King of France, led a body of troops to the Holy Land, he was attended, among others, by Roger de Mowbray, who signalized himself in this expedition.*

* Rapin, Vol. 1, p. 208.

After his return, he went a second time, on the same expe-dition. In the second year of Richard, Coeur de Lion, on the twelfth day of July, A.D., 1191, the city of St. John de Acre surrendered to the armies of the Crusaders, under the command of the King of England, and Philip of France. These notices will account for the family of Mowbray ever since retaining as armorial bearings, the Escalop Shell, Star, Crescent, and Cross. The Cross Mouline now visible on the South side of the Tower, is supposed to be the distinction bestowed on Roger for the part he took in the Crusade of Richard I. It is probable that Roger shortly after his return home, retired to the solitude of Byland for the remainder of his days.

Passing over the numerous allusions of a civil nature to be met with in reference to the family of Mowbray, the intro-duction of which would serve no useful purpose, we proceed to give some of the different notices of an ecclesiastical nature, so plentifully scattered in the records of the Church.

In Domesday, A.D., 1086, we find the following : " In Tresche, (Thirsk Manor), Orm had eight carucates to be taxed, -land to four ploughs,-twenty shillings."-" Land of Hugh, the Son of Baldric, North Riding, Gerlestre wapentake."-" In Tresche, Tor had twelve carucates of land to be taxed.-There is land to six ploughs.-Hugh has there ten villanes, having two ploughs and eight acres of meadow. Value in King Edward's time, four pounds, now ten shillings."

In the Taxation of Pope Nicholas A. D., 1288, we find Thirsk described thus : "Archidiaconatus Clyveland, Decanatus de Bulmere.

£. s. d.
Newburgh-Ecclia de Tresk .... (71)36 13 4
Priori de Newburgh appat.'
Nova Taxatio 12 0 0

In the Valor Ecclesiasticus of Henry VIII, A. D. 1535, Vol. v, p. 81, we find these entries.

" Gysburne Priory held lands in Thriske,"-p. 86, " Priory of Arden held lands." p. 92, " Priory of Newburgh held lands," and besides is thus entered, " Sp'ualia valet in, Decem' rectorie d'Thriske viz in xmis granoz xvij" agn' et lanu xls xmis quadragesimal' oblac' et aliis minut' xmis re` in pascal tempore coibz annis viij"-"

Com. Ebor. Decan : Rural : de Bulmere, p. 101. The Commissioners were Sir Roger Lassels, Sir Marmaduke Wyvill, Robert Mennell, and James Fox.

Due Cantar' in Threske.

Cuthb' tus Fox & Jacobus Johnson valet in Redd'} £. s. d. & firmis dies tr tent cotag infra villam & campos}de xi - ix - ___. Thersk p'annu.}

Repris, bit. in

Sent° p feod suo anti-vjviij
Lib~a firma comiti Derby anti-viij 
Lib~a firma p' ceptoria monts Sci Johis an-iiij 
Priori de Newburgh antiij  
Priori Dunelm anti - xxix - -  
Lib~a firma gardianis ecclia de Thriske-iijiiij
Elemosina dat die obitus Robti Threske en fundat' Cantaric ziijiiij 

Et valet dare x - - - Xma ps inde - - xx - - At page 102 we find the following :- Thirsk Liba Capel'. GREGORIUS GRYCE. 'VALET IN £, s. d. £. s. d. Mes cu ptinenc' jacen' in 1 lxxvj - viij 1 pochia de Bagby p' annu 3 Read' & firmis dive cotag' infra Villam de Threske - - xxxix - viij - - exviij - iiij 3 p' annu Redd' unig gardini in pochia de Bagby p' annu - - Repris, biz. in Litea firma preceptori preceptorie Mont, Sci Johis anti - - ij - - Et valet dare . - - cxvj - iiij X' ps inde vj - vij

Drake in his Eboracum, p. 545, says, " Threske Manor is mentioned in the Catalogue of Manors granted to King Henry VIII, and his successors, for ever, by the Archbishop of York by Indent., dated February 6th, 6TH of Henry VIII, and con-firmed by Act of Parliament, 37th, Henry VIII, cap. 16."

Church plan The Church of Thirsk is dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, and is a perpetual Curacy in the patronage of his Grace the Archbishop of York, to whom it was given by King Henry VIII. at the Dissolution, by indenture, bearing date February 6, in the thirty-sixth year of his reign. The representatives of the late Matthew Butterwick, Esq., of Thirsk, are the Lay Rectors. In 1707 the Curacy was valued at £40 : and in 1818 at £98 per annum. It was augmented in 1811 with £1200 ; and in 1824, with £400, both from the Parliamentary Grants, -by lot; and in 1834, with £200, and £200 from the same Grant, to meet a benefaction of a stipend of £30 per annum, from Edward Harcourt, Lord Archbishop of York, as a perpetual augmentation.

The following (taken from the Parish Register) is the most correct list of the Incumbents of Thirsk, which we have been able to obtain.

1600Thomas Todd 
1632T. Gilleys 
*Matthew Hill, M. A.Ejected by Act of Uniformity
1704Joseph Midgeleydied
1746William Williamsondied
1746A. Routhresigned
1762D. Addisondied
1783Thomas Barkerdied
1798Jonathan Holmesdied
1829Robert Lascelles, M. A.resigned
1833Samuel Coates, M.A., the present Incumbent 

*In 1662, Matthew Hill, M. A., was ejected from his living. He was of Magdalen College, Cambridge; a good scholar, and a serious preacher.

The Parish of Thirsk is situated in the Archdeaconry of Cleveland, Deanery of Bulmer, and Diocese of York. Area, 7,520 acres. Birdforth wapentake. Population in 1841, 2947. Church accommodation, 1000. Net value, £143. There are in the parish the perpetual Curacies of Carlton Miniot, popu-lation 313 ; Sand Hutton, population 309 ; and Sowerby, popu-lation 957 ; all in the patronage of the Archbishop of York.

The Church.

Taken as a whole, few Churches can be said to equal that of Thirsk, whether we consider its size, or its correctness of architectural detail. With the exception of the substitution of pews for open stalls, a modern semi-circular arch separating the Chancel from the Nave, and a few minor modernisms, it appears in very much the same state as that in which it was left by the original builder. It is of the style called Perpen-dicular English* which prevailed about 169 years, from 1377 to 1546.

*The Perpendicular English Style of Gothic Architecture, prevailed from the latter part of the fourteenth to the early part of the sixteenth century (Bloxam), or from 1377-1546 (Rickman). It is sometimes termed Florid. The French Antiquaries have given the name of Flamboyant to the later Gothic of France, cotemporaneous with the Perpendicular in England. It has derived its name from the mullions of the windows and ornamental panels running in perpendicular lines up to the head, which is not the case in any earlier style.

Perhaps the most striking feature in this style is the tracery of the windows, which con-sists of vertical lines continued parallel with the mullions. The windows are generally divided by transom bars, (as in East window, York Minster). The arch peculiar to this style is the four-centred. The doorways have frequently a square head or hood moulding over the arch and the spandril filled with some ornament.-(Gateway, King's Coll., Camb.) The roofs and gables of this style are seldom of a high pitch.-(King's Coll. Chapel.) The piers are arranged In a peculiar manner, their plan being generally a parallogram, with the angles cut away in a deep hollow, in continuation of the large architrave cavetto, and a half shaft attached to each of the four flat faces.-(St. Mary's Oxford). In small country churches the mouldings are frequently continuous, that is, run from the base of the pier all round the arch, without any capital. The soffit or interior sweep of the arches of doors and windows are often divided into panel-like compartments. One peculiar feature in this style is the shallow cavetto in jamb and architrave mouldings, and often filled in with delicately carved foliage. The ornaments which prevail are the rose, and a flower like an oak, a strawberry, and some-times the clover leaf or shamrock. Most of the rood and parclose screens are of this style : none are of an earlier date than the fifteenth century. A specimen of the latter we have in the Church here illustrated.-See notice of it p. 10.


Church Exterior THE Tower is eighty feet high and consists of three stories, supported by narrow angular buttresses of seven stages, which die away under the battlement. The battlement is divided into embrasures, and pierced ; the heads are trefoiled. Each corner of the Tower has a handsome gurgoyle or projecting water-spout. In the western side of the first stage is a perpendicular window of three lights. The lower lights are cinquefoiled, the upper trefoiled. This window is of the same character and detail as those of the Clerestory. The windows in the third storey, are similar to those in the Aisles.

Over the window in the first stage is a small niche containing a figure of the Virgin and Child.*

* As this Church is now dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, it is very probable, if the figure of the Virgin and Child be a portion of an older Church on the same site, that the former building was dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin.

This bears evidence of greater antiquity than the Tower, and probably belonged to a former building. Above it is a small plain window inserted for the purpose of lighting the ringers' chamber. In the third stage there are windows on the four sides. All the windows of the Church are deeply splayed, and have dripstones or weather-mouldings which terminate, in some cases, with a simple rectangular return, and in others with sculptured ornaments.

In the second bay of the South Aisle (from the West) is the Porch. The arch of the outer doorway is acutely pointed, with deeply moulded soffit resting upon the capitals of two shafts on either side. The upper portion of the inner doorway has, until lately, been blocked up, thus hiding a very fine perpendicular door. Above the porch is a parvise which was lighted by a small square-headed two-light window, and entered by the doorway still visible in the inside of the Church over the South entrance into the Nave. From brackets still remaining, there is reason to believe the porch had formerly a groined ceiling. This porch is supported by diagonal buttresses of two stages which die away under the battlement. There is on the North side of the Church a door coinciding with the one just described, with the exception of the porch which is wanting. The clerestory windows of the Nave are six in number, and the windows of the Aisles five in number. Between each of these a staged buttress rises, and runs up into a crocketed pinnacle. Several of the original pinnacles have been replaced by new ones. The stiffness and want of character in this modern work contrasts strikingly with the freedom and elegance of that of former times. In the first bay of the South Aisle (from the East,) is a singular mark in the wall, directly opposite the piscina in the South Chantry. This was probably intended to mark the spot touched with chrism by the Bishop.

The roof of the Nave is of good pitch, and covered with lead : it appears to maintain its original elevation, and not to have been, as too many were, depressed. This cannot be asserted of the roof of the Chancel, which now scarcely rises higher than the open battlement bounding it, although it is probable that it had originally a pitch corres-ponding with that of the Nave. The same battlement prevails in the Tower, Aisles, Nave, and Chancel.

On the North and South sides of the Chancel are two perpendicular windows of three lights each, with depressed arches. The East window is of similar character. On the South is the Priest's door, the arch of which is good, but the door itself inferior. Under the Chancel floor is a room now used as a common day school. This is supposed to have been an ancient Crypt, communicating with the Chancel by a low door-way still existing in the North wall, to which reference will hereafter be made.


Church Interior IT is impossible to enter this Church without being struck with the peculiarly beautiful arrangement of all its parts. The satisfaction which fills the beholder upon an exterior view is heightened and increased as he passes to the interior. There is something so widely different from our modern parish churches, that we scarcely know whether more to admire the skill which planned, or the munificence which raised, so costly and glorious a pile. We seldom find so little in a Church to injure the general effect, as here. There are no galleries over the North and South Aisles to exclude the light from the windows of the Aisles, or to lessen the height of the piers which support the roof of the Nave. With one solitary exception, we see little in the gallery fashion to condemn and repudiate ; and that instance is so glaringly uncalled for, and so utterly at variance with every principle of correct taste and ecclesiastical propriety, that we cannot sufficiently wonder, how such an erection should ever have been permitted.*

* The faculty to erect this gallery was granted November 20, 1780.

We do not here speak by way of approval of the West gallery which interferes with the Tower arch ; but this, under the circumstances, is not liable to the same unqualified censure we would bestow upon the pew which is perched aloft in the North Aisle, separating its inhabitant from every thing like visible communion with his fellow-worshippers. We do not by any means wish to in-sinuate, that such a feeling of exclusion is indulged by its wealthy owner. It is therefore the more to be lamented, that any eye-sore and heart-sore should be permitted to continue, the removal of which would be attended by consequences, alike promotive of a purer taste in Christian architecture, and a better feeling in Christian worship. Probably the earliest gallery of which we have any mention is of the date of 1616, and was erected in the Church of S. John, Wapping. After this time, the adoption of this mode of Church accommo-dation became common. In 1636, Matthew Wren, Bishop of Norwich, put forth in his Articles, the following :-" What galleries are there in your Church ? How are they placed, or in what part of your Church ? When were they built, and by what authority ? Is not the Church large enough without them to receive all your parishioners ? Is any part of the Church hidden or darkened thereby, or any in your parish annoyed or offended by them ?" In 1638, Montague, who succeeded Wren in the See of Norwich, in his primary Articles, demands, " Is your Church scaffolded (i. e. galleried) any where, or in part ?"

The Nave is separated from the Aisles by six arches, supported by five lofty piers, the extreme East and West resting upon responds. These arches and piers, the mouldings of which are of exceedingly pure character, sustain the clerestory windows of the Nave, which are light and open, as we generally find in buildings of this style and magnitude. In short, they were so large at this period, as to occupy nearly all the superficies of the walling : instances of this are innumerable. This circumstance has given to Bath Abbey the name of "The Lantern of England."

At the East end of the North and South Aisles are Parcloses and Chantries ; the former of which are good perpendicular, and in a remarkably fine state of preservation. The Chantry in the South Aisle is supposed to be that of St. Ann, to which, on the suppression of religious houses, was granted the priory of Carthusians, near Richmond. At the East end of the South wall is a small piscina, with plain orifice, and water drain. There are neither aumbrie nor sedilia in sight, nor any trace of such, existing. In the North corner of the East wall is a bracket, an angel holding a blank shield, used in former times for a light to stand upon. Such brackets are common appendages to an altar. This Chantry* is now con-verted into pews ; on one of which is carved in wood, the arms of the families of Askew and Mowbray. There is no certain information to be obtained respecting the Chantry in the North Aisle. There are neither piscina nor aumbrie visible. It is now converted into pews, and near it is the vestry of the Church.

* Chantries were dissolved, 1ST, Edward VI., by Act of Parliament, and their endowments vested in the Crown.

The roof of the Nave is composed of open woodwork, and is particularly beautiful. The intersec-tions of the timbers are ornamented with carved bosses, and the timbers themselves rest upon spandrils, the hammer beams and corbels of which, are of correct architectural character. The Chancel roof is of very inferior construction. The effect produced by such a roof as that of the Nave of Thirsk Church, cannot possibly be better described than in the following words of one who has thought originally and felt deeply. " Surely some part of the effect of a Gothic Cathedral resides in that excess of length over breadth, affording a long perspective, directing the eye towards the Altar through an avenue of oft repeated similar parts, and creating as it were an artificial infinite. The roof, as well as the walls, of a Gothic building, is so composed, as to help this effect to the utmost. Groin beyond groin, boss beyond boss, is seen ; first of all, each distinct and clear, but by degrees approaching and touching one another in the perspective, and at last lost in the complexity -not confusion, but complexity-of the whole."*

*The Appropriate Character of Church Architecture," By the Rev. G. A. Poole. T. W. Green, Leeds.

The pewing of the Church was erected about a century ago. The remains of the ancient open seats, which are to be seen comprising part of the present pews, exhibit some beautiful oak carving, and contrast painfully with the modern improvement. The pulpit, which is placed against the second pier from the East, on the north side of the Nave, may be considered a good specimen of the carpenter's style, which pre-vailed during the last century, and on a brass plate, in front of its sounding board, contains the following inscription :-

July ye 7, 1730."

The Font The Font is octagonal, and large enough for the purpose of im-mersion. It is lined with lead, and elevated on a step. A handsome Perpendicular Canopy surmounts it. Its position is the centre of the West end of the Nave.

On the walls of the Aisles are painted sentences of Scripture as directed by the 82nd Canon, in 1603. Also near the South door, a poor man's box or chest, as ordered by the injunctions issued by King Edward VI. in 1549.

This is placed in the least objectionable posi-tion, namely, at the West end of the Nave, and contains an organ, erected in the year 1813.

Until very recently the stained glass was scattered in different parts of the Church. The present worthy Incumbent has collected it, and with much judgment and taste entirely filled the East window of the South aisle, and half the corresponding window of the North aisle. One escutcheon is of frequent occurrence, sable, a fess gules, between three asses passant, argent. No less than three escutcheons bear these arms, with a mullet for distinction; and one with a crescent. A female figure bears on her breast the Royal Arms of England quartered with France ; the motto curiously spelt, in Old English characters, Dieu et Monn Drot. There are several good figures, e. g. St. Margaret, St. Catherine, St. Giles, Anna, and Cleophas, and others. Also thirteen coats of arms, -among which are five of the different branches of the Askew family, the Mowbray Arms, and others not known. The glass has been cleaned, and is in excellent preservation.

The proportion of the Chancel to the Church deserves commendation, and contrasts strikingly with the unecclesiastical construction of many modern edifices. It is to be regretted that it is so much intruded upon by large and unsightly pews, the accommodation afforded by which, might, with the greatest possible facility, have been realized by a simpler and more characteristic arrangement.

The East window of the Chancel is perpendicular of five lights, the lower portions of which are cinquefoiled, and the upper, trefoiled.

It is with much pleasure that we hear this window will shortly be enriched with stained glass, the handywork as well as the gift of one, who in every thing proves herself a dutiful daughter of the Church, and a worthy descendant of a noble ancestry, the Lady Frankland Russell, of Thirkleby Park,* near Thirsk. It is a cheering aspect of the times, that we are thus per-mitted to see the arts and sciences which too long have been culti-vated for mere secular pleasure and grati-fication, become the handmaids of religion, and applied to the noblest pur-poses of devotion. May such a bright example find many imitators.

* The Lady Frankland Russell is a descendant of the Lady Margaret, Countess of Richmond and Derby, Mother of King Henry VII, and Foundress of Christ's and St. John's Colleges, Cambridge.

Piscina Sedilia By the removal of the two tables of Commandments from the East wall, two plain trefoiled niches have been exposed to view. In the South wall, a capacious piscina is inserted, which has probably had a shelf or credence attached to it. There have been one or two orifices, but from its present defaced state, it is difficult accurately to determine the precise number. To the West of this, are three Sedilia of equal height. These seats were anciently ap-propriated to the use of the officiating priest, the deacon, and sub-deacon, who retired thither during the chanting of the hymn, "Gloria in excelsis," and some other parts of the service. These seats generally consist of three: there are instances though not fre-quent, of only a single seat, as in Chalk Church, Kent; of two, as in Melton Church, Kent; of four, as in Rothwell Church, Nor-thamptonshire; of five, as in Southwell Minster. We seldom meet with sedilia of higher antiquity than the thirteenth century, though in a few instances they are of an earlier era. On the North side of the Chancel is a small door leading down a narrow staircase into what is generally supposed to have been a. crypt, but is now used as a school-house. It is extremely probable that the room now so much diverted from its original purpose, was a dwelling room for the Hebdomarius, or Priest in waiting, who came thither for a weekly course of duty. Probably the Parvise or room over the porch was used for a like purpose. The lock upon the door leading from the Chancel is very curious, and deserves the attention of the Antiquarian. The communion table which has lately been placed here, is said formerly to have belonged to the neighbouring Abbey of Byland.

There are several Monumental Tablets in the Church, but none of sufficient importance to require notice. From the sepulchral inscriptions we select the following. At the East end of the South Aisle is a flat stone inlaid with brass, bearing a memorial notice of a Rector of the Church in the fifteenth century. The only legible characters are these-

On a brass plate lower down-

There are four Bells in the Tower of this Church.
The Tenor weighing 22cwt., is reported to have belonged originally to Fountain's Abbey. It bears the name of Jesus, and the date 1410, and in old English capitals, the following inscription :


The other Bells are modern, bearing the names of the Church-wardens, and the dates, respectively, 1729, 1775, and 1805. The former is also inscribed Voco,-Veni, Precare.

It may be mentioned, as a curious circumstance, that in the Church-yard, many of the graves are placed North and South, instead of East and West. Whence this deviation from the usual practice has arisen, it is not easy to determine. On 2nd Oct., 1803, additional burial ground was consecrated.

The Church is generally supposed to have been built of the materials taken from the ruins of Thirsk Castle. The stone is generally a hard sandstone, but part of the tracery of the windows is limestone.

The Parish Register begins in the year 1556, and contains the following insertion in the first page :- " Sic incipit primus Tiber. Liber factus vigesimo Die Septebris A° Doini 1556, Anno Regnoru Philippi et Mariae tertio et 4°." The memorandum which is inserted in the same page, seems to intimate that there have been some previous docu-ments, which were so defaced that they could not be made out. " In initio desunt queda quae obscurata legi non poterant."

There have, at different periods, been several grants made to the poor of this parish, which are recorded in the table of benefactions affixed within the Church.

The proportions of the Church are as follows :-

Tower, 191t. by 10ft.
Nave, 110ft. by 24ft.
N. and S. Aisles of Nave each, 110ft. by 17ft.
Chancel, 41ft. by 21ft. Gin.
Total length of the Church, 151ft.
Total breadth, 58ft.
These are all interior admeasurements.

Data transcribed by
Colin Hinson © 2019
The Churches of Yorkshire
by W H Hatton, 1880