Chris­tian Eng­land: The Church of St. Michael and St. Ge­orge, Castle­ton, York­shire

The York­shire church that be­came a First World War me­mo­rial

This England - - News - John Wat­son

The vast ex­panse of the North York Moors must be one of the most ad­mired land­scapes in the North of Eng­land, a spec­tac­u­lar vi­sion of rolling beauty moulded over cen­turies, not only by na­ture’s gen­tle forces but also, in later days, by the hand of mankind as agri­cul­ture and farm­steads de­vel­oped, epit­o­mis­ing man’s eter­nal strug­gle to tame its bleak but won­der­ful rugged­ness.

My story cen­tres around the small but thriv­ing vil­lage of Castle­ton nes­tled among th­ese moors, an area that holds quite an emo­tional tie for me as I was born and brought up here.

With reli­gion very strong at the be­gin­ning of the 20th cen­tury, es­pe­cially in ru­ral ar­eas, the Rev­erend Ge­orge Bird be­lieved the time was ripe for a new church for his flock rather than the old iron struc­tured “tin taber­na­cle” which had stood at the base of the vil­lage since 1863.

The com­mu­nity were in full agree­ment, so fund-rais­ing be­gan in earnest and over the next few years a sum of £1,100 was raised. But this proved fu­tile as Ger­many be­came a much more se­ri­ous threat with the out­break of the First World War in 1914. Many thought it would soon be over, but it took four long years of fight­ing and tremen­dous loss of life be­fore peace was fi­nally de­clared.

By this time the Rev­erend Bird had moved on and the project was taken up by the en­thu­si­as­tic new vicar, the Rev. Syd­ney Smith, and now the build­ing had taken on a far greater im­por­tance. It

would be built as a last­ing me­mo­rial to the 24 brave men from the par­ish who had made the supreme sacri­fice.

Costs had risen dra­mat­i­cally due to the war ef­fort and the ap­peal for do­na­tions was quickly taken up again, but even after sev­eral gen­er­ous grants and a hearty re­sponse from parish­ioners, it could not meet the cost.

Saviour of the project was Castle­ton busi­ness­man Fred Flintoft, sug­gest­ing the use of lo­cal trades­men in­stead of im­port­ing out­side labour. Costs could be cut dra­mat­i­cally, and he would act as hon­orary clerk of works.

There was only one firm at that time with the knowl­edge and crafts­man­ship to carry out such a project: stone­ma­sons Messrs. Robert, Jack and Tom Lid­dell from Moor­sholm who read­ily agreed to un­der­take the build­ing work and ma­sonry, with all join­ery work car­ried out by Danby’s Joseph Un­der­wood.

This was a mam­moth task for such a small firm, but they were ma­sons of the high­est or­der. John Lid­dell, son of Tom, takes up the story on the early prob­lems.

“The very first weeks they en­coun­tered trou­ble. The east end foun­da­tion proved to be on un­sta­ble ground and after many nights pon­der­ing, the only so­lu­tion the broth­ers could come up with was to widen the foun­da­tion to a mas­sive 12ft width, spread­ing the weight of the struc­ture over a big­ger area.” As John states, “It proved to be the cor­rect de­ci­sion as there is still no sign of move­ment in the struc­ture.”

Lon­don ar­chi­tects Messrs. Tem­ple, Moore and Moore, great de­sign­ers of many churches in their day, were re­tained for the project and the new build­ing would fol­low the tra­di­tional ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign of cen­turies-old church his­tory.

The late Vis­count Downe not only gave the site for the build­ing, but also the stone for the erec­tion of the build­ing free of charge and with a do­na­tion of £300. Also his son, the Rt. Hon.vis­count Downe CMG DSO, would lay the foun­da­tion stone on 24th July 1924.

Trans­port of the stone in­volved much lo­cal labour and was from stone quar­ries high above Castle­ton. One bears the name Wind­holes, ob­vi­ous from its po­si­tion, the other, Brown­hill, less so, pos­si­bly stem­ming from the rich, brown colour of the stone or, I sus­pect, more likely to de­rive from the Celtic word “bron”, mean­ing breast.

Th­ese quar­ries bear many a child­hood mem­ory for me, where just a lit­tle sen­ti­ment seeps in. One that never dims is of burst­ing through knee-high heather at the Brown­hill quarry en­trance to

be met by a swirling mass of rau­cous jack­daws and a huge, dom­i­nant rock face that ap­peared to blot out the clear blue sky. Or, that was how my child­ish eyes saw it, not hav­ing reached dou­ble fig­ures in age. I also re­mem­ber the skinned knees and el­bows as I tried des­per­ately to reach the deep, nar­row fis­sures in the cliff face where their nests were buried.

The old moor­land track is barely vis­i­ble now, wind­ing its way steeply to­ward the en­trance as, with the pas­sage of time, Mother Na­ture pa­tiently claws it back to her breast. But, with care­ful scru­tiny, it is still de­tectable just to the right of the fiercely ris­ing road lead­ing you over the high­est point of th­ese moors from Castle­ton to Hut­ton-leHole. A good marker are the old stone wa­ter­ing troughs set at the right-hand side of the road for horse and trav­eller in years past. Look im­me­di­ately right and there stands the old stone post jut­ting out of the hill­side, still stand­ing at the en­trance.

I of­ten wan­der here still. Noth­ing changes. The only signs of life are a few sheep, along with the sharp “caback, caback” call of the grouse star­tled into flight from the sur­round­ing heather, and jack­daws as rau­cous as ever. Ven­ture there as the sun dips and shad­ows lengthen and with very lit­tle imag­i­na­tion it is easy to imag­ine the chat­ter of work­men, the rat­tle of chains on block and tackle and the thud of heavy ham­mers.

Early dwellings in th­ese dales were built from rough, tum­ble stones dragged from moor and fields. Lit­tle is left of th­ese now; in some cases there are just foun­da­tions. The many quar­ries dot­ted around th­ese moors would spring into ex­is­tence in the strong build­ing pe­riod be­tween 1700 to the mid­dle of the 19th cen­tury.

Brown­hill quarry might have been worked ear­lier. If it had, it lay dor­mant for al­most a cen­tury un­til surg­ing to life again in the early 1920s as Castle­ton in­hab­i­tants fi­nally re­alised their dream of a new church.

The stone to be quar­ried first had to be un­earthed, then a chase chis­elled deep in the stone face, fol­lowed by wedges ham­mered home to split the stone from the sheer rock face. Der­ricks with block and tackle were con­structed to lower th­ese enor­mous blocks of stone to the ground where the ma­sons cut and dressed them into walling stone. This was car­ried out by the Weather­ill fam­ily from Ainthorpe and done be­fore trans­porta­tion. Arches, lin­tels, trac­ery and other del­i­cate dress­ings that could eas­ily be dam­aged were all car­ried out on site at Castle­ton.

This brought much needed work and money into the area as stone lead­ing was taken on by lo­cal farm­ers, three of whom were Tommy Boyes of Conn House Farm, Fred Wat­son of Did­der­howe Farm and Wal­ter Booth from Holly Lodge.

Trans­port was by horse and cart, although Tommy Boyes also used an old army truck and made the com­ment that he had never vis­ited a church so of­ten in all his life.

The church has an im­pos­ing 52ft tower, giv­ing com­mand­ing views of the sur­round­ing dis­trict, and a slim, cen­tral Gothic arch de­sign win­dow just be­low the lou­vred top tower. The main Gothic style porch en­trance and win­dows all have beau­ti­fully dressed hooded mould­ings above them which helps di­vert rain away from the glass and a small, slim side door is topped with a shoul­der arch. All pews are fin­ished with the adze, and rood screen, pul­pit and lectern were carved by the fa­mous “mouse­man” Robert Thomp­son from Thirsk.

The rock-face stone struc­ture, with walls nearly three feet thick, has lost its early stark­ness, the stone weath­ered to its fa­mil­iar oven-baked tone blend­ing well within its sur­round­ings and all gables are crowned with stone crosses of dif­fer­ing de­tail.

The church is ded­i­cated to St. Michael and St. Ge­orge, of which rel­e­vant crosses and dates are chis­elled on the foun­da­tion stone. The trees planted at the time have now grown, adding a ma­tu­rity to the site.

Not only is the church a mar­vel­lous tes­ta­ment to the skill, ta­lent and ded­i­ca­tion of th­ese mas­ter crafts­men, who learnt their trade in th­ese very vil­lages, it is also a truly fit­ting me­mo­rial to the brave men of the par­ish who gave their ev­ery­thing for their coun­try.


Castle­ton Ridge over­look­ing Danby Dale.

The church con­tains a num­ber of Robert Thomp­son’s carved mice which are in rather bet­ter con­di­tion than the weather-beaten ex­am­ple out­side.

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