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Welcome to the Heritage pages for All Saints' Parish Church, Ilkley.

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History of the Building

This page by John Le Patourel (1981) from his Guide to the Church

THERE must have been a church in Ilkley in the eighth century, some twelve hundred years ago. The evidence for this lies in the crosses; for if these are memorials, they must have been memorials to people of some consequence; and if such people chose to be buried in Ilkley, it must have been because there was a notable church here. However, although stone crosses are weighty objects, they are nevertheless moveable. One of these Ilkley crosses does indeed show signs of use as a gatepost, and the head of the largest has been brought down from Middleton Lodge in recent years. If, therefore, they are to be used as evidence for the antiquity of the church, we must be assured that they really do belong to it. Fortunately there is little difficulty here. References to them, as standing or lying in the churchyard, can be found going back through the eighteenth century to William Camden who saw them there at the end of the sixteenth. He speaks of them, it is true, as 'those engraved Roman pillars lying now in the churchyard and elsewhere', but it is clear that he is referring to the crosses. John Warburton, who passed this way in February, 1719, says that he saw 'several other antique stones in the wall of the churchyard, with dragons, bunches of grapes and other figures upon them, as is the cross in the churchyard'. Since the cross which bears the marks of the gatepost upon it is recorded as doing duty in the south gateway of the churchyard itself, it probably did not stray far. The stones were put in their present position by Vicar Snowdon (1842-78). Beside this, however, fragments of similar crosses have been found in the fabric of the church from time to time in the course of alterations. There can be no doubt, therefore, that the crosses belong to the church and are part of its history.

It is often supposed that Anglo-Saxon churches were of wood. Many of them probably were; but at Ilkley there was plenty of Roman stone lying about waiting to be used; and the Roman altars in the tower, cut to form window or door heads, are a good indica­tion that this early church was in fact built of stone. They are indeed fragments of a church that could well belong to the missionary age; and if this were so they would provide one more example of the way in which the early Christian teachers and builders adapted pre-Christian sites and materials to their own use.

We do not know what happened to this first church at Ilkley. It is not likely to have been destroyed by the Danes, for they do not appear to have troubled middle Wharfedale unduly, and there is no clear evidence of a rebuilding in Norman times. Almost the only early architectural feature in the church that can be dated is the south doorway, which belongs to the early thirteenth century. This could have been built into an existing nave, either the Saxon nave or possibly a Norman nave which had replaced it; or it might have been part of a general rebuilding in the thirteenth century. It is just possible that the bases to the pillars of the north side are older than the pillars they carry. If this were so they could be evidence of earlier thirteenth century arcades and aisles, part of a general reconstruction of which the south doorway is now the only substantial survival. This possibility apart, however, there is certainly no reason why the Anglo-Saxon building should not have survived to the thirteenth century or later, particularly since it was built of stone. Anglo-Saxon churches have survived virtually intact to this day at Ledsham and Kirk Hammertoe not very far away.

At some date, possibly in the fourteenth century, the present arcades of the nave were built. This could have been part of a reconstruction after the Scottish raids in the years following Bannockburn (1314), as elsewhere in Yorkshire; more likely, perhaps, it was later, when prosperity had returned or the lord of the manor was able to put some of the profits of the French wars into his parish church. But this is guesswork. Arcades were built when aisles were needed to enlarge a church. Of the north and south aisles that went with these arcades only that on the north survives.

During the fifteenth century the tower was built, or more probably, rebuilt. The general likelihood of there being a tower before the fifteenth century, and the enormous stones used in the construction of the present tower, both suggest that it is a reconstruction of an earlier, perhaps Saxon tower. After the tower had been built, or so it seems from the masonry of the west wall of the nave, the south arcade was moved some five feet to the south, widening the nave by that amount. It is likely that it was in this reconstruction that the old capitals (for such they seem to be) were re-used as bases for the pillars of this arcade. This moving of the south arcade would make it necessary to rebuild the south aisle. Now the present south aisle is nearly two feet wider than its fellow to the north, and there is clear evidence that when it was rebuilt again in 1860-1 it was rebuilt on the old foundations. It seems, therefore, that when the nave was widened, the south aisle was moved southwards and widened too. The present south aisle is thus the product of at least two rebuildings and one extension.

Toward the end of the fifteenth century the chantry of St. Nicholas was founded. Though there is little clear information on the point, this seems to have been, structurally, no more than the east end of the medieval south aisle screened off. Its position, therefore, was one bay west of the east end of the present south aisle. The clerestory of the nave was added early in the sixteenth century, most likely. On the north side there were apparently no windows until 1880. Though restored, three of the windows on the south side appear to be in their original form.

At the time of the Reformation, then, Ilkley had a characteristic though, so far as we know, undistinguished church of local type. It consisted of three bays, with north and south aisles, a low chancel to the east, a modest tower to the west, and a small chantry chapel somewhere on the south side, probably forming the eastern bay of the south aisle.

This building served the needs of the reformed liturgy and of the parishioners for more than three hundred years without fundamental change. Such changes as were made, were made to the furniture. The rood-screen, for example, dividing the nave from the chancel, appears to have survived into the seventeenth century, when boards bearing the Royal Arms and the Ten Commandments had been mounted upon it. An order was made for its removal in 1634. At that time the church was furnished with pews of uniform pattern, though well-to-do men of the parish were having large family pews erected. Reginald Heber, for example (the Reginald Heber who, with his family is commemorated on brasses in the chancel), 'in 1633 caused a high pew to be placed and erected at the high end of the south side of the Church of Ilkley towards the Quire adjoining to the north side or ends of Sir Peter Middletons Quire, which is not uniform to any other of the Stalls in the saide Ranke of Stalls and ... set about with five ballesters or turned posts and compassed about with a border of wood ingraved with sentences and his name and his wiles, the height whereof from the ground is 2 yeardes and a half'. The `ballesters' supported a tester and it was said that 'six persons at least may conveniently sit' in this pew. The reference in this document to 'Sir Peter Middleton's Quire' suggests that the old chantry chapel of St. Nicholas, screened off from the rest of the church and often referred to previously as 'St. Nicholas Quire', had been converted into a private pew for the Middleton Family. Both Heber's erection and the conversion of the chantry chapel were very characteristic of the time; and they were not the only family pews of this kind in the church, for the Watkin­son pew still remains to us and, by a curious coincidence, is also dated 1633. The erection of these large pews often made difficulties by disturbing existing pews, and Reginald Heber's pew caused further offence by obscuring the view of the reading desk from 'Sir Peter Middleton's Quire', whereby 'those which doe sit in his Quire aforesaid cannot so well heare divine service and sermons'. It was therefore ordered to be removed in 1634. The Middleton pew disappeared later; but the pew-doors at present mounted on the west wall of the nave may well be relics of the standard pews of the early seventeenth century. The interior of the church at that time must therefore have been much cluttered, if agreeably cluttered, with carved oak. Further investigation may make it possible to give an impression of its appearance in the eighteenth and early nine­teenth century before the oak pewing was removed in 1830.

The great change came in 1860-1, when the church was virtually reconstructed. The old chancel was taken down together with the vestry attached to it; likewise the east wall of nave and aisles and the whole of the south aisle, with the south porch. Nave and aisles were then extended some 16 feet to the east, that is, one additional bay was built, and the chance] rebuilt, probably to its original dimensions, east of this again. Thus the easternmost pillars and the easternmost bay of the present nave and aisles, and all to the east of that, date from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The south aisle of the nave and the porch were rebuilt on the old foundations, and the south clerestory refaced on the outside, if not rebuilt. An organ chamber and vestry were built'to the north of the chancel as a continuation of the north aisle of the nave and a furnace room or heating chamber excavated beneath them. New furnishings were provided throughout, though monuments and memorials were preserved and replaced. New roofs were made for the aisles, the chancel, and the extension to the nave, but part at least of the roof over the western three bays of the nave may be old.

Such a restoration was clearly not inspired by the false anti­quarianism that has ruined so many of our medieval buildings, though the new work was made to match the old very closely. It was honest and practical. An ancient medieval fabric, designed for medieval liturgical needs, had fairly adequately met the requirements of the Anglican Church through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in so remote a place as Ilkley then was. But with the new ideas of the 'ecclesiologists' and the growth of Ilkley as a middle-class residential area (though the railway did not come until 1864-5), considerable adaptation was needed. So the church was enlarged, provided with open pews and choirstalls, and made acceptable to middle-class notions of decorum and comfort. As the faculty put it, the design was `to render the said church in every respect neat, uniform and commodious and fitting and proper for the celebration of Divine Worship and convenient to the Parish­ioners and Inhabitants of the said Parish of Ilkley'. Open pews and heating-chamber go together, practically as well as liturgically.

During this reconstruction, services were held in the old Grammar School. An ancient memorial, dated 1550, but having an inscription that was otherwise scarcely legible, was found under the old chancel and moved to Middleton Lodge, for the impropriator, Peter Middle­ton, having acknowledged his liability to maintain the chancel and having contributed to the cost of the reconstruction, had a right to objects found there. When all was ready, the church was re-opened by the Bishop of Ripon on 6 May 1861.

There were further alterations and repairs in 1880-2. Until then the interior walls had been covered with plaster and painted with scroll-work and passages from Scripture. This plaster was removed, new clerestory windows cut in the north wall of the nave, new vestries constructed and a new organ built by Lewis of Brixton. Finally, in 1927, the present Choir Vestry and the Chapel were erected under the direction of Sir Charles Nicholson; and the opportunity was taken to move the Middleton effigy from its obscure position in the south aisle to a niche specially prepared for it in the chapel. The chapel was furnished as a war memorial in 1946, and the organ restored, extended and provided with a handsome new case in 1953.