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Church of England Middleham & Coverdale, East Witton & Thornton Steward

The Parish of Middleham with Coverdale, East Witton & Thornton Steward

Sharing God's blessing


Our Churches - Coverdale

St. Botolph's Church, Horsehouse

A Symbol of Faith 

St. Botolph's, Horsehouse

Nothing is ever simple and many things that seem so hide a plethora of complexities. St. Botolph's is such a thing. Compared to the majority of many Parish Churches and Cathedrals the building is simple, a fine un- complicated piece of architecture. Yet behind the facade is a history of hard work, of labour against inclement weather and building equipment far removed from the modern day conveniences of advanced building technology.

Originally established in c.1530, the Church was apparently governed by the monks of Coverham as a Chapel of Ease. Constructed by primitive means and reliant upon physical input, the aim was to establish a refuge for worship when the Dales weather prohibited travel to Coverham. This type of satellite worship was not unusual and a Chapel (believed to be of St. Thomas) is recalled at Melmerby by the Victorian History of the Counties of England. The Melmerby brethren were however more fortunate than the residents of Horsehouse as they benefited in 1586 from an Ale House run by one John Pratt. One can only hope that history remembers it's duty to repeat itself at Horsehouse.

St. Botolph's, Horsehouse

An earlier researcher comments that the Church was re-built in approximately 1869 (historian Nikolas Pavsner suggests up to 50 years or so earlier) and much of the original fabric was re-used. The postcard available at St. Botolph's, the source of this detail, goes on to say that the windows at the base of the tower appear to be original. The church was re-roofed in c.1920 by the Bramley family of Ripon and again in c.1960. The tower contains three bells (dated 1771) and these were reprieved and remounted in 1981. The beautifully designed hassocks were made by volunteers in 1985. There is no record of the substantial repairs allegedly effected to the stained glass by red toffee paper! A history of complexities - a history of labour.

My research took me little further than the above but I did discover a further complexity that there exists "an augmented perpetual curacy". Nothing is ever simple.

The beauty of St. Botolph's is it's simplicity and for me the comfort of a Church built on simple endeavour. I can never ignore the delight of the wooded ceiling and the human touch of the slipped stone gently protruding from the base of the altar window ledge.  The Church of England is built on faith and what can be simpler than to have faith-simplicity, which hides a plethora of complexities.

Andrew Holmes 1995

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Coverdale parish

Coverdale is one of the most secret of the Yorkshire Dales, not overrun by tourists, with delightful countryside and traditional villages.

Most of our services take place in Horsehouse Church, near the head of the dale, but we also use Coverham Church several times a year for special services, including the candlelit Carol Service.


Coverham church, coverdale

Coverdale is one of the most beautiful, but relatively one of the more isolated of the Yorkshire Dales. Coverham at the eastern end of the dale is dominated by Middleham Moor, Penhill and Flamstone Pin. The minor road continues from Coverham, through the length of the dale, to Park Rash Pass and Kettlewell. It is increasingly used by tourists, but in 1823 it was a “track” used by the “drovers” on their way from County Durham to West Yorkshire via Skipton.

This small hamlet of Coverham dominates the entrance to Coverdale and is reached by the road across Middleham Moor and by the narrow Braithwaite Lane from East Witton. The Abbey on this beautiful but remote site “was founded by Ralph, son of Robert, Lord of Middleham, about the fourteenth year of King John”. Little remains of the building and the ruins are scattered about in Coverdale. However the church, built alongside the Abbey, is a fine example dedicated to the Holy Trinity. In 1823 the patron was the Reverend S. Hardcastle, the incumbent was the Reverend William Otter and the officiating curate, the Reverend James Law.

coverham church

Today the church is maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust, but it may be used for baptisms, marriages and funerals, and for two or three main services each year. The cemetery is still available and is well maintained by the tiny community. Nearby the cheese factory was established almost a century ago, but is now a derelict eyesore at the entrance to Coverdale and the National Park. In contrast, the recently opened Forbidden Corner Grotto illustrates the popularity of the dale for tourists.

In 1823 Coverham was a small, thriving community. Mrs. Lister, a “gentlewoman” lived at Coverham Abbey House. There were four racehorse trainers. Robert Johnson was a jockey; Stephen Buck, a corn miller; Thomas Thompson, a farmer, David Raw the Parish Clerk and William Robinson was a victualler, living in Coverham Lane. The long established racing stables at Coverham still enjoy a national reputation and resultant prosperity.

coverham, coverdale

In 1823 Coverham itself plus the nearby settlement of Agglethorpe had a population of one hundred and thirty one. Little and West Scrafton supported one hundred and forty six people, presumably served by the church at Coverham, travelling to worship by horse and trap or on foot! At the end of the twentieth century the car, of course, predominates, often causing congestion and danger on the narrow twisting roads built for the “drovers” and local horse drawn traffic. One can only speculate about the future of Coverham in the next century.

Ken Stott


Carlton Village - coverdale parish

Geographically, historically and socially Carlton is a most interesting village. It is situated on a limestone terrace, partly covered by glacial deposits. It overlooks the narrow valley of the River Cover with excellent views of the south side of Coverdale, dominated by West Scrafton, Caldberg and Swineside. Carlton is a long narrow “ribbon” village with no central square or “green”, but with a variety of interesting properties on both sides of the road. Overlooked by the steep slopes of Penhill to the north, small streams pass the village on their way to “feed” the River Cover.

Historically Carlton has always benefited from its location on the route from Wensleydale to Wharfedale via the Park Rush Pass. In former centuries the village facilities were used by the drovers of livestock on their way from County Durham to South Yorkshire. Surprisingly, in the mid-nineteenth century plans were drawn up for a Coverdale railway line to link Skipton with Middleham, Catterick and Masham via a tunnel under Little Whernside!!

In 1823 the population of Carlton itself was two hundred and eighty, with three hundred and ninety eight in the High dale: a total of six hundred and seventy eight in the upper part of Coverdale. In the Wapentake (administrative district) of Hang West and the Parish of Coverham, Carlton was then served by the Reverend James Law, Curate of Coverham. Anthony Buckle and Henry Constantine are listed as “gentlemen”, George Bennett was the Land Agent, Christopher Law was the plumber and glazier, John Ramshaw the slater and Thomas Tennant the butcher. Thomas Metcalfe was a victualler, William Walls the landlord of the Horse and Hounds and William Watson was the schoolmaster. There were also two blacksmiths, two carpenters, three grocers, two shoemakers and seven farmers. Indeed, a thriving, almost self sufficient settlement! The “modern” school and church were built on land conveyed in 1835 and 1875. The school closed in 1977 with pupils transferred to Middleham and Leyburn and sadly, the church is now also closed. Although the traditional Foresters’ Walk is still a popular social event, twenty first century Carlton is now very different, socially and economically. It boasts an excellent community “Memorial” Hall, a Methodist Chapel, and agricultural engineer/garage and a thriving modern inn/restaurant at the Foresters’ Arms.

The post second world war tourist industry continues to develop, with access by private car. Several properties are used as second homes, others provide bed and breakfast facilities and the National Park attracts increasing numbers of holidaymakers. With the decline in agriculture, the loss of the village shop and Post Office, Carlton becomes more dependent on the tourist industry and the “retired” residents, a trend likely to continue in the foreseeable future.

  Ken Stott

Carlton Church and School - The Early Years

The Church of England Chapel of Ease in Carlton is now closed and in private ownership. The crosses on the gables bear witness to its function as a church and the barrier in front of one of the gates provides a clue to the fact that this building also served as a school until the 1970s.

The original Chapel of Ease and school was constructed in 1835 and consisted of the part of the current building adjacent and parallel to the road There may originally have been only one room: the building seems to have been intended from the first to serve as a school during the week and as a church on Sundays. Why was a Church of England chapel and school needed in Carlton in the 1830s? How might even the relatively modest expense of construction be justified? The mother church at Coverham and the existing Chapel of Ease and school in Horsehouse would all have seemed accessible from Carlton.

The answers to these questions may lie in the fact that there were severe problems facing the Church of England at a national level in the early part of the 19th century and these problems were reflected locally in Coverham parish. Church of England bishops were often unable to provide leadership and discipline in the church. Their dioceses were large and often heavily populated. Also, many priests were not very conscientious and did not always live in their parishes. The Anglican Church was often perceived as only serving the rich. The new industrial towns in the north of England had few churches or church schools and the nonconformist churches, e.g., Methodists and Baptists, were providing more and more for the religious needs of ordinary people. In the 1830s the parish of Coverham was looked after by a curate (Reverend J.H.Dalton) because the vicar, Reverend William Cuthbert, had permission to reside elsewhere on account of his wife’s ill health. The ordinary people of Coverdale could not have felt particularly welcome in Coverham Church or in Horsehouse Chapel of Ease because all the pews in these two churches were taken by those individuals or families who could afford the pew rent. There were no free pews available for those unable to pay. A Wesleyan Chapel was built in 1828 in Horsehouse and another in Carlton in 1836, perhaps partly in response to this situation and the attitude of the Anglican Churchgoers. The power and influence of the nonconformists in Coverdale was evident when the new Bishop of Ripon discovered in 1837 that the trustees of the Chapel of Ease at Horsehouse were ‘all Methodists’ and that the ‘schoolroom used as a meeting house for Ranters on Sunday!’

One of the responses of the Church of England to some of the problems in the north of England was to create a new bishopric, that of Ripon , in 1837 – the first since the Reformation. In Coverham, the response seems to have been to build a Chapel of Ease and school at Carlton, the largest village in Coverdale, to increase the influence and knowledge of the doctrines of the Church of England in the dale.

In January 1835, the Revered J.H. Dalton wrote to the landowners in Coverdale to ask for financial support for the building of a Chapel of Ease and ‘commodius’ (sic) school house in the vicinity of Carlton’. He expressed clearly two main concerns. The parish church was in an inconvenient position for three-quarters of the population of Coverdale and the state of education in the parish was ‘neglected’. His plea for funds was supported by some powerful  local trustees, principally James Ewbank and Lupton Topham of Middleham, Richard Other and J.Barnes. The trustees of the school were keen that the new school should succeed and not only did they proceed speedily to erect the building but they also applied for one of the education grants which had very recently (1834) become available from HM Treasury. £55 of government money was received in March 1836. How successful the school really was in its very early years is difficult to judge. The new bishop of Ripon, Bishop Longley, reported in his Visitation note book that there were 63 children attending the day school in Carlton in 1841 and 30 attending the Sunday School. The day school children may have been taught by a schoolmaster named George Ward, aged 20, who was living in Carlton at the time of the 1841 census. For such a young man, he had a hard task.

A clearer picture of the school emerges from the inspection report compiled in 1845 by Reverend Frederick Watkins on behalf of the newly created Committee of Council on Education. He visited the school on June 9th 1845 and found a school in which boys and girls (probably between the ages of about 5-13) were receiving instruction. The school building was described as constructed of stone and grey slate and as being in ‘tolerable’ repair. The whole site was enclosed by a stone wall. The school room (‘half of it used as a chapel’) did have a fireplace but the ventilation was said to be as bad as the ‘drainage’. There was, however, a ‘convenience’ available for the children’s, and presumably the master’s, use. Compared with the conditions in some other schools visited by Rev. Watkins, where there were no heating or toilet facilities, Coverdale children were being taught in relative comfort!

What did they learn? Mr Watkins reported that the school day began with prayers but that the curriculum was limited. Only reading and writing were taught. There was no grammar, arithmetic, history or geography although these subjects were usually taught in other church schools. The children’s progress was also described as ‘limited’. They achieved only average levels of performance in reading (described as ‘fair’) and were below average in writing (‘moderate’). The ‘tone’ of the school (perhaps its ethos to us) also left something to be desired, the inspector describing this, too, as ‘moderate’. Rev. Watkins judged that the school was ‘not flourishing’. As for the teacher, he reported that he used corporal punishment, ‘ a little stick’, once or twice a day. As well as the regular morning prayers, there was religious teaching, bible reading and church catechism twice a week. Since many of the children came from nonconformist households we might wonder what parents’ attitude was towards the teaching of Church of England beliefs to their children. Rev. Watkins’ final judgement on the school was that it was ‘a poor school under disadvantageous circumstances and discouraging to the master’.

Poor George Ward, if indeed he was the teacher, may have been defeated by his task or the trustees may have realised that they needed a more experienced schoolmaster. Certainly, by 1851, the school seems to have been in the care of the much older Anthony Wharton, aged 51. He was living in Carlton with his wife, daughter and two sons at the time of the 1851 census.

Isobel Jenkins