A simple church, with a solid Norman tower, hidden in a fold of the hills. It stands at the point where the Pennine Way (marking the spine of England) crosses the Leeds–Liverpool Canal (marking the east-west line across the middle of Britain). We like to think of our parish as the intersection of the cross that marks the centre of the nation.
The church is solidly committed to the Book of Common Prayer. The regular Sunday service is at 10.45 a.m. every Sunday. This is usually a Holy Communion, but on the second Sunday of each month Mattins.
A simple church, its 19th century vandalism by the Victorians leaves some interesting contrasts: the squat, square tower next to the dull reworking of the south aisle; a 17th century ceiling, with absurdly over-large hatchments; fine box pews, removed in the nave for the meanest open pews imaginable; all with stained glass in delightfully bad taste.
If, despite this mongrel history, it feels a prayerful place, it is. Open every day – note that anything of any value has long since been stolen, including the 16th century altar – it is much frequented for private prayer. Quiet and secluded, it is a much-loved house of God, where his children may speak to him and listen.
ST PETER’S CHURCH
The first church was probably from the 10th century, attached to the Saxon manor, the outline of which can vaguely be seen in the field to the south. The dedication to St Peter was a popular one among the Saxons, and may suggest a relatively early origin. Whatever may have been here before, it is probable that there was a small wooden church on this site over a thousand years ago.
The Normans, as energetic conquerors, were quick to establish their own presence (and remove that of their predecessors). The present, stone building was begun some time between 1147 and 1186, probably during the reign of Henry II. Originally the church was under the authority of the monks of Kirkstall Abbey, but by 1186 it was being administered by the canons of Bolton Abbey.
The oldest part of the church is the tower. This is a typical example of the massive and sturdy Norman church building, complete with battlements. The belfry has a ring of three bells. Further examples of Norman work, including the characteristic zig-zag marking of their arches, can be seen in a number of stones in the north and east walls of the church.
Another piece of possible Norman work is the massive font at the western end of the church near the entrance. It would seem that earlier decoration or pictorial carving has been hacked off on four sides, and that the original drain was taken out to one side. It may originally have been the stone at the top of a column. It is certainly unusual, and has gone through a number of metamorphoses. The Victorian restorers drilled a new drain through the centre, and placed it on an old grinding wheel supported by three round stones.
Close to the font, at the side of the tower arch is a fragment of an old Saxon cross. It originates from Knaresborough and is carved from Knaresborough stone. One suggestion is that it depicts the Christian hero in the form of the mythical god Thor (God of Thunder) defending himself using his hammer (or cross) with its magical powers, against the serpent. The serpent can be seen coiled around all four surfaces of the shaft.
On the altar steps (under the carpet) is carved a crusader’s sword. This is most likely from a crusader’s tomb, that stood within the church itself, relocated during a later re-ordering that sought to open out the sanctuary. The church differs from many others of its period in that it has a ceiling rather than the usual timbered roof.
The box pew on the north wall is for the Rector’s family, that in the south aisle is for the Lord of the Manor and his family. The ones in the nave have been removed and replaced by the particularly crude and cramped examples of the late Victorian period. It is true that there were more people living in the parish than at present, but even so the zeal to pack ’em in like sardines is unbecoming.
It was about this time that the wonderfully poor quality and inappropriate east window was put in – the iconography is a little confused: Peter has been made to look like Paul, traditionally the older of the two and bald, and vice versa. It has a continental quality of 19th century sentimental piety. It is so wildly incongruous, it has gained a certain charm.
The 17th century boards with the Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer would originally have been at this east end.
LORDS OF THE MANOR
Three local families have, during the centuries, had a considerable impact upon the church and the village. These were the Martons, the Hebers and the Roundells. All were Lords of the Manor.
Of the Martons, virtually nothing is known: they may even be an antiquarian invention, a projection back into history based on there being the same name for the two hamlets. The Heber family took over in the 16th or 17th century, and by the 18th had outgrown their Yorkshire manor and moved to better estates further south. They held the living of the church, and many of the rectors were Hebers or married to a Heber daughter. There are several memorials to them on the walls of the church.
After the bankruptcy of the Hebers, the Roundell family finally became Lords of the Manor in 1841 (many bitter disputes are recorded in Heber family correspondence, hence their popular title ‘the dreaded Roundells’) and again there are several memorials to them. They married well and managed to acquire the Thornton fortune of the Richardson family, before an alliance with the Currer family near Kildwick (after whom Charlotte Brontë named the author of her own novels). Particularly evident are the five hatchments (coats of arms) of the Roundell family, two on the north wall and another three in the south aisle.
The Pennine Way used to go right the through the churchyard, until it was diverted along the Leeds–Liverpool Canal. Started in 1771, the full length was completed in 1816. In 1793 during the construction of the local section (virtually the highest and certainly the most beautiful section) a number of the navvies died of smallpox and are buried in the churchyard.