Kirkby Malhamdale Church by David Tippey


The Church of St. Michael the Archangel, Kirkby Malham.

Compiled by David Tippey, 1999

  St. Michael's Church   St. Michael's Church

As the place name Kirkby (Church Place) is from the old Danish, it seems likely that the church has it's origins in the 9th and 10th Centuries, when the Danes overran the North of England. The Domesday Book (1086) however, describes the area as wasteland, indicating that the church and settlement were probably left in ruins after the recent Norman invasion.

King John confirmed the gift of the Church and glebe land by, Adam of Giggleswick, to the Abbey of St. Mary, West Dereham, Norfolk in a Charter dated 1199 and this Order supplied the Parish with it's clergy until the Reformation.

The present building is large and imposing ( see plan for the layout), towering over the small village of Kirkby Malham and through it's lifetime has become an amalgam of architectural styles and furnishing. The church is dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel, the earliest evidence of this being a will of 1275, however by the 19th century there seems to have been some confusion over the dedication and many guide books and even the Ordnance Survey of that period refer to it as St James'.
The major part of the present structure is built in millstone grit and dates from about 1490, but some features of earlier construction were incorporated and many further embellishments and furnishings have been added over the centuries.

The style is rustic perpendicular Gothic, with a large square tower adorned by a crenelated parapet; a clerestory, designed to admit more light to the nave; windows with rounded heads, and a crenelated parapet to part of the main roof. Carved on the south-west buttress of the tower are four coats of arms, the Malhams of Calton, the Tempests of Broughton, the Bankes of Bank Newton and a fourth now unknown. These families were probably benefactors of the Church at the time of its reconstruction. At the top of the south-east buttress are the arms of Fountains Abbey, a large landowner in the Parish up to the Reformation. The letters on the south face, E:MR, most probably mean "Erexi Maria Regina" (erected in honour of Mary, Queen of Heaven), and the niche on the south face may have contained a figure of the Virgin Mary or of the patron Saint. The Tower houses a fine clock by Potts of Leeds with an interesting double three legged gravity escapement. This is a late 19th century replacement for a much earlier, blacksmith-made clock which was unfortunately discarded.

 The south porch is now the only access to the Church and it is enclosed by modern wrought iron gates (1996) embellished with swimming brass trout.
     Wrought iron gates Swimming brass trout

Above them another niche is occupied by a terracotta sculpture of the patron Saint (1951), overcoming the dragon, "that old serpent, called the Devil" (Revelations 12:7-9).

  Sculpture of the patron Saint

By the door stands an old font, now used as a planter.

Passing through the South porch, the main door is considerably older than it at first appears and is best seen from the inside face, where you can also see a stout timber beam recessed into the wall. The Church was used as a place of refuge (the Scots frequently raided the North well into the 16th century) and this beam could be drawn across the inside of the door to form a stout bolt.
  The Font The font is probably Norman and dates from around the 11th century. It was rescued from a rubbish heap and put back to it's original use when the church was restored in the late 19th century.

Also in the baptistery area are several antique grave slabs dating from the 13th century, those with a chalice marked the graves of priests, whilst the carving of a book denoted literacy. The window contains a small inset of continental stained glass, dating from the 16th century and depicting the Virgin and Child. Also housed at the West end of the church is an old wooden bier originally used to move coffins.

Next to the baptistery is the area below the tower where the bells are rung, they are probably the heaviest peal of three in Yorkshire and the great tenor weighs (1.275 tonnes) and bears inscription "God save our Church and Queen and Realme" and is dated 1601. This makes it the second largest church bell in Yorkshire after the great tenor bell at Ripon Cathedral. The middle bell was recast in 1785 and bears the inscription "Soli Deo gloria, Dalton fecit", and the treble dates from 1617 with the inscription "God be our Speed both now and ever". The west window in this area dates from 1879 and depicts the Transfiguration (St. Matthew 17:1-8), showing Christ flanked by Moses and Elijah while the apostles, Peter, James and John crouch below in attitudes of holy fear and wonder.

In front of this area is an old wooden muniment and vestment chest dating from the 14th or 15th century. It has three locks to which the Vicar and the Church wardens would hold separate keys.
The third area at the West end of the church is occupied by the vestry, the walls of which hold amongst other things, a collection of photographs of past vicars and views of the Church interior as it was prior to it's major restoration in 1879-81.

Immediately Opposite the south door was a doorway known as the Devil's Door. It was Customary to leave this open during baptisms so that any evil spirit could be driven out by the Holy Spirit.

The four pairs of stained glass memorial windows depict Saints and holy men who played parts in the development of religion and learning in the northern parts of England. Below each figure is a small picture depicting a scene from the life of that Saint. These windows date from the early 1920s.

Box Pews    At the Chancel end of the north aisle are four high box pews dating from 1631 to 1723, bearing the names and initials of the owners on the doors. The drawing shows one of these doors.
This area was formerly the chapel of Saint John the Baptist and has another 20th century, three panel stained glass window depicting scenes from the life of St. Columba.

The interior of the Church was substantially remodelled in 1879-81 when the Chancel area was shortened to its present extent, and the positions of the pulpit and pews were altered so that the sanctuary and altar became the focal point in the Church rather than the pulpit. The present pulpit was the gift of the contractors who carried out the 1879-81 restoration. The wooden figure of a bird, perched above the pulpit is probably intended to represent the Holy Spirit and prior to the 19th century restoration, it was mounted on the sounding board above the old three decker pulpit and can clearly be seen in the old photographs in the vestry. The choir stalls are the same age as the pulpit.

The Sanctuary panelling is a memorial to Walter Morrison (1837-1921), patron and benefactor of the Church. The stained glass east window dates from 1957. It shows Our Lord risen and glorified, with the seven stars representing the seven Churches of the Revelation of St. John beneath his feet. To the left are the figures of Our Lady and St. Michael and on the right St. Joseph and King David. Above the Virgin is a scene from the Bethlehem stable and above St. Joseph is the flight into Egypt. In the tracery above are depicted the Keys of the Kingdom, a pelican symbolising Christ's sacrifice and the Holy Blood, angels in adoration, a phoenix symbolising a perpetual renewal of faith and lastly, the Sacrament and the Cup. Above is the sun, surrounded by the elements and the letters Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end (Revelation 1:11).

In the north window of the Sanctuary is a small stained glass inset showing the adoration of the shepherds, probably of German origin and dating from the 16th century. Inset into the south window is a small stained glass figure of St. Anne holding John the Baptist and Jesus Christ, of continental origin and dated 1589.

The Altar and altar rail are Jacobean, saved during the sympathetic 19th century restoration. The lectern in the form of an eagle with its wings spread over the world and supporting the Gospel is Victorian brass work and dated 1881 but copied from earlier examples.

Situated on the south side of the chancel, the Lady Chapel houses the Lambert Memorial.
The Chapel was restored and a memorial tablet was dedicated in 1984 to the memory of John Lambert, who was born at Calton Hall and rose to become a General of the Parliamentary Army of the North during the Civil War.

The position of the original altar can be judged by the position of the recessed piscina which was used for the cleansing of the chalice and paten used in Communion. The Altar table, a gift from the parish of Idle, Bradford, and two Sanctuary chairs were installed in 1984, and are Jacobean. The South window contains a small memorial pane dedicated to the artist Joan Hassell, a well known wood engraver.

At the head of the South Aisle and adjoining the Chapel of Our Lady, stood the Chapel of the Rood. Note the carved shield on the Pillar at the entrance, showing the emblems of the Crucifixion; the Spear crossed with the Reed and Sponge and the Crown of Thorns.

Here again the former position of the Altar can be judged by another recessed piscina.
At the west end of this aisle is the old Church warden's pew, dated 1723. The adjacent window ledge holds a stainless-steel kingfisher made by local blacksmith and artist Bill Wild, now forming his memorial.

The roof timbers are mainly those used in the 1490 reconstruction and the carved face used as a boss at the centre of the sixth beam hides a pulley which was used for the veiling of the Rood, or Great Crucifix, during Lent. Two Celtic stone heads can be seen on the north arcade and further east are the quartered arms of the Metcalf of Nappa and the de Hertlington families.

 One of the most unusual features in the Church are the seven niches in the pillars, now empty but reputed to have contained figures of Our Lord, Our Lady, St. Sythe, St Nicholas and St. Sonday (Dominic), and two other saints, now forgotten. The statues were probably removed at the time of the Reformation. Niches in the pillars

The old stocks are sited just inside the south lychgate, they were removed to here from the crossroads opposite the bridge. The Cross base and shaft at the junction of the flagged paths was a preaching station used by early missionaries.

In the northwest part of the Churchyard is "The Watery Grave" marked by a tall marble cross. It is told that Colonel and Mrs. John Harrison were separated for long periods due to John's frequent service overseas and Helen decided (with a touch of Victorian whimsy) that as water had separated them so often in life so it should in death. She therefore arranged that the small stream which runs across this grave plot should separate their final resting places. Helen died in 1890 and was buried on the south side of the stream. John died in 1900, but it was found that the north side was impenetrable rock - so John was buried on the south side with Helen after all.

The monumental inscriptions were recorded on a card index by the Malhamdale Local History Group in 1992 and are available for consultation in the church.

This brief account of the building was adapted from the church's short guide with the permission of the Vicar and Parochial Church Council of St Michael the Archangel.

The church is still in regular use and is open to visitors daily.

An updated history of the church based on "The Story of St Michael the Archangel at Kirkby Malham" by the Rev. WRN Baron MA (1923) has been written by David Tippey and was published in 2005. It is illustrated with many old photographs and is being sold in aid of the restoration appeal. The guide is available by post for those unable to visit the church in person and can be obtained by sending a cheque for £5 (for delivery in the UK) or £6 (for overseas airmail delivery, Sterling cheques drawn on a UK bank only please) to:
The Rev. Mark I'Anson
The Vicarage, Kirkby Malham, nr. Skipton, North Yorkshire, England, BD23 4BS

[Copyright © 2005, David Tippey]