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

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

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Our Churches - East Witton

The Church of St John the Evangelist, East Witton

East Witton Church

The church was built between 1809 and 1813 at the instigation and expense of the Earl of Aylesbury, squire of Jervaulx. The interior was remodelled in 1870s during the Victorian era. At one time there was a double decker pulpit and box pews. It is thought the Victorian alterations included changes to the internal walls around the chancel. the tiles and organ are Victorian.

The Earl of Aylesbury’s family name was Brudnel Bruce. They owned Jervaulx Estate and one called Savanacks in Wiltshire. The Jervaulx Estate had to be sold because of death duties in the late 19th Century. It was bought by Samuel Cunliffe-Lister who also owned Swinton Estate. Some buildings in the village have the initials S C L carved on them. He let Jervaulx Hall to Hector Christie, who used it as a shooting box.

When the estate had to be sold again because of death duties it was bought by Hector Christie.

The Bruce family coat of arms is depicted on the hatchment. Part of this coat of arms is a blue lion. When the pub in the village was refurbished late 18th early 19th century it was renamed The Blue Lion. A hatchment was put on the gates of the hall to indicate that the owner had died. It was then brought into the church. This one was not brought into church until some time after the death.

East Witton Church window

The church in Lowthorpe was thought to be dedicated to St. Martin as East Witton Fair (sale of cattle etc) was held around Martinmas (November).

The very old chalice is probably from the old church. A previous vicar thought it may have been pre-reformation as it had been added to. A silver expert who saw it did not think so. The ewer and two plates were from the Earl of Aylesbury.

As the abbot of Jervaulx was the Rector of the village, East Witton had a vicar. The owner of the Abbey is the Lay Rector

The original pulpit was pine and was taken to Horsehouse Church but has since been removed from there.

Originally the parish was in the Diocese of Chester.

Colsterdale was part of the parish and coffins were carried across the moor via Sowden Beck and down Fell Lane.

There used to be a gallery over the back west door. the belfry stairs led to the gallery entrance.

The pulpit (top) dates from 1947 and is from the Mouseman of Thirsk.

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Church Music at East Witton

Church Music at East Witton

At the head of the stairs to the belfry in East Witton Church there is, on the left, a blocked doorway. Until the 1870's this led to a gallery and from this gallery services were accompanied by local musicians. Little is known about them but in 1840 the group consisted of:

Captain Fryer, Fleets Farm - Bass Viol
C. Bucktin and Thomas Raper - Violins
James King, Kilgram - Cello 
George Dent, Holwith - Bassoon
Thomas Heslop - Clarionette
R. Heslop - Concertina

by any standards a respectable ensemble, even if the concertina does sound a little out of place, and for a small village a remarkable one.

However, in 1854 money was raised by public subscription and an organ was placed in the gallery. It had only one manual and was so constructed that "the player required someone to stand beside it to manage the stops". Presumably another would be needed to manage the bellows. The first organist was Miss A. Raper, daughter of the aforementioned Thomas, but Mr C. Bucktin also played occasionally. It is said that he had 1earned to play "just a little by wrestling with some keyed instrument at home" which sounds a little ominous! He was also the blacksmith!

About the year 1866 the organ was brought into the chancel and was placed 'on the south side where the choirmen now sit" (this was written in 1912). The gallery was removed during the restorations of the early 1870's; the doorway being covered on the inside by the royal coat of arms in stone. At the same time the organ was again re-sited with "the organist sitting in the north aisle and the choirmen in seats along the north wall". In 1878 an incomplete swell organ was added and (again quoting from the magazine of 1912) "no alteration has been made since that date, and it sadly needs completion or a new organ supplied" - hardly an overstatement, one might think.

That cri de coeur was soon to be answered, for a new organ was given by Mr Christie in commemoration of the church's centenary and formally dedicated on Friday, July 18th, 1913 by the Bishop. The service was accompanied by Mr C.H.Moody, organist of Ripon Cathedral who, at the close, "gave a polished rendering of some half dozen pieces of great charm, well calculated to display to the best advantage the excellent capacities of the instrument". Mr William Greenhalgh, the Schoolmaster, who had been the organist since 1901, must have been delighted to have the new organ but, sadly, he was to die in the following year.

This is, of course, the admirable Binns instrument which has continued to give pleasure both in services and in recitals and concerts for almost eighty-seven years. We are indeed fortunate to have it and doubly fortunate to have also the organists who are so worthy of it and who are so generous with their time and their musicianship, above all, it goes without saying, Mrs. Gillian Belgrave, though it will be some time before she beats the record of Mabel A. Aydon who was organist for forty three years, from 1920 to 1963.

Muir Temple

East Witton's Churches

East Witton

The parishioners of East Witton’s extensive parish originally worshipped at a small church in Lowthorpe dedicated to St. Martin. In 1810 this was described as “a very ancient building and in such a dilapidated state as to be almost ruinous and in an inconvenient situation for the parishioners being more than a quarter of a mile from the village”. It was therefore suggested to the Earl of Ailesbury that it would be a good idea to erect a new church in a more convenient location. Ailesbury owned a piece of land called The Flatts, upon which the new church and a vicarage were to be built, and in exchange he would take the former glebe lands in Lowthorpe. The Earl offered, at his own expense, to build the new church, and thus began a long series of letters between the Earl of Ailesbury’s agent and the secretary to the Bishop of Chester (East Witton was in the Archdeaconry of Richmondshire, part of the Diocese of Chester). Part of the contract included permission to pull down the old church of St. Martins to re-use the materials in the new church, but only “such as are above the surface of the earth” as there were many local worthies buried at St. Martin’s and “the scite [sic] of the old church and the old graveyard are to remain for ever undisturbed”.

Fortunately some record had been made of the old church before it was pulled down. It was low and very dark inside; it had a gallery and stained glass. Several benefaction boards recorded gifts to the parish from Elizabeth Barnett, Thomas Langdale, Thomas and Barbara Skaiffe, George Ryder, Henry Simpson and John Ballan. Within the altar rails flat stones with possibly medieval inscriptions covered the remains of long forgotten saints, and more recently Benjamin Purchas of Braithwaite had coveted this prime position for his own resting place in 1762. To be buried inside the church was preferred to being outside in the cold and rain. Thomas Nottingham of High Newstead was probably the last to be buried inside St. Martins in 1766.

Plans and a beautiful artist’s impression of the new church were drawn up. The road into East Witton from Masham was to be moved and the land to be exchanged amounted to eight acres. The new church would be entered through the tower, but would have a porch both south and north, and there would be a gallery for the singers between the tower and the back pews. It was hoped that the new church would be ready by Spring 1811.

The vicar of East Witton was Leonard Howson; he had come to the parish in the New Year of 1754 and served with great faithfulness. He married Mary Ballan of Jervaulx in 1756 and baptized five of his own children at St. Martins. I am sure that he greatly anticipated the opening of the new church but, like Moses gazing at the promised land, he never entered it. The Revd. Howson passed into glory on 24th. June 1811, having served God in East Witton for fifty six years. This left the parish in a dilemma; the old church had been pulled down, the vicar had died, no shepherd and no sheep pen.

A search for a new incumbent ended with William Jones, clerk, M.A., curate of Enford in Wiltshire, Diocese of Sarum. As the Earl of Ailesbury held estates in Wiltshire as well as at Jervaulx, Jones was probably recruited through him. However, the Revd. Jones was not filled with too much excitement at the prospect of the cold North and kept delaying his journey to Yorkshire - there was no house available to him in East Witton. Eventually he did move in October 1811, and lived with John Claridge, the Earl of Ailesbury’s agent, at Jervaulx.

At this point the new church was nowhere near being completed, but plans had to be made well in advance to book the Bishop to come all the way from Chester for the consecration. Lengthy correspondence was entered into trying to arrange a date which would suit the Bishop. The date would then be postponed because the building work had been delayed, this would inconvenience the Bishop, and so it went on. The threat of a French invasion was felt in 1811 when the Bishop was put off yet again because “The calling of the local Militia has impeded the building for some time past and although the roof is on I fear it will only be barely covered in by the time you mention. If it were possible to put off the Bishop’s visit ....”. Some of the local craftsmen - masons, carpenters etc. had been called to bear arms.

William Jones arrived to a parish in chaos. Even when the building was finally completed in the Spring of 1812, there was a delay before the Bishop came for the consecration. This meant that the Revd. Jones had still not declared his allegiance to the 39 Articles; he had not been able to publicly baptize infants; local couples had to go outside the parish to get married; no one had gathered together a congregation for reading the Book of Common Prayer and public worship for fourteen months, and some parishioners had wanted their dead to be buried in the new churchyard but it was not yet holy ground.

However, all was finally completed. The first stone had been laid on 27th. April 1810, and the sentences of consecration of the new church and churchyard were said on 1st. October 1812. The Bishop arrived at Jervaulx on 30th. September, with his entourage, for dinner at six o’clock, ready for the service the following day. And the Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist was at last fully operational. There had been no marriages in the village since 1810, and the first couple to take their vows in the new church were George Lye of East Witton and Ruth Harrison of Masham on 23rd. November 1812. Thus one chapter of East Witton’s history ended and another began.

Marion Moverley