THE CHURCH of ST. NICHOLAS,
Stillington, North Yorkshire.
It is recorded in the Doomsday book that the Manor of Stillington was held by the Canons of St. Peter at York. In the description of the estate, however, there is no reference to the existence of a church. The manorial property was allocated to the endowment of a prebend* which was instituted by the Diocesan authorities not later than the year 1258. Evidence of this lies in the record of an action raised in the courts at Westminster by the prebendary of that date. However, no record has been discovered of a vicar having served in the parish prior to Peter de Topcliffe in 1329. The manor continued in the hands of the prebendary and was in the Liberty of St. Peter until 1616 when a lease, or assignment, was made to William Ramsden. In 1625 Christopher Croft had a lease of it for a term of three lives and in 1649 the Parliamentary trustees for the sale of lands belonging to the Dean and Chapter of York sold the manor to George Gill of Leeds. That same year he sold it to Christopher Croft who then appears to have obtained a grant of it from the Dean and Chapter after the Restoration. He was Lord Mayor of York in the time of Charles I, and was knighted on the occasion of his entertaining that monarch at his own house.
* Prebend = a clergyman's stipend (salary) drawn from a special endowment (funds or property donated)
THE BUILDING GENERAL
This consists of a chancel 32.25 ft by 16 ft with north vestry, a nave 44.25 ft. by 16 ft with side aisles, making a total width of 33.50 ft. The total length is 87.75 ft. The measurements are all internal. The church was so largely rebuilt in 1840 that little indication of its history is left. It is believed that the Nave and the Tower were rebuilt in 1840, but probably much of the old work was reused and much left in situ. At that date the nave and the aisles were included under one roof and the chancel roof follows the same pitch. Mr.W.H.Brierley F.R.I.B.A., F.S.A.(Architect) in a request report to the Rev. M.H.Smith in 1906 states that the building is an interesting structure dating from the 15th century with traces in the Chancel of earlier work i.e. 12th Century Priests door and 13th Century lancet arch in the tower.
CHANCEL AND VESTRY
The Chancel has a five light east window with a traceried four- centered head, and in the south wall are two square-headed two-light windows, also traceried in the head. Between the last two is a priest's door and further east in the same wall is a plain piscina.
The Chancel arch dies into the wall on either side. The Vestry on the north side is of 15th century date, with a single light square-headed east window. Above the Chancel steps is the Royal Court of Arms dated 1739 (these are now extremely rare) which was ordered by the then Monarch, George II, to be displayed in church where parishoners were of doubtful allegiance. It is interesting to note that the treble bell was cast in 1739 during the time that Richard Musgrave was vicar. Also in the Chancel is a hatchment displaying the Croft coat of Arms (Quarterly indented erminois and gules with a leopard rampant gules in the quarter), with monuments on the north wall to the Croft family. There is also a tablet in the North aisle dedicated to Mrs.Jane Staniforth (d 1775) & her husband William (d 1782) and, also in the Chancel, a tablet to the Rev John Varey (d 1794). The North Vestry door was replaced in 1954 in memory of Mrs. Hughes, and a new door was placed in the priests doorway in 1950 as a memorial to Mr. E. E. Newman who was organist at Stillington Church for 25 years (1923 -1948). The War Memorial by Robert Thompson of Kilburn was dedicated in 1946.
NAVE AND AISLES
The nave and aisles are four bays long, the arcades springing from octagonal piers without capitals. The aisles are lit by square-headed two-light windows similar to those in the south wall of the Chancel. The roofs all date from 1840, and the curious corbels to the flat aisle roofs are probably also of that date.There was a singing gallery at the west end of the nave which was removed in October 1932. The 1914-18 War Memorial of stone was erected and dedicated in 1920. In the Chancel is a blue stone which has contained two shields of arms but the brasses are removed. Torr says that a Sir Christopher Croft, was buried at Stillington, 3rd April 1605, in the Chancel, under a blue gravestone.However, on a page in the Church Register there is written in the early 1800's:
"On the Inscription Plate on the large Grey Marble in the Chancel. John(James) Willford Pre: of Stillington, Vicar of this Worshipful Place applied himself with like zeal to the(Spirit and) Profession of Divine Wisdom, in which being enriched with great maturity of knowledge he imparted the same to the People by such Assiduities in preaching, and exemplifed in himself in the Holiness of it, that he merited in the Highest World the Promised reward and Glory. Here rests his body, his Soul was translated hence 26th March, 1605 in the 52nd year of his Age, leaving behind him his sorrowful Wife Elizabeth, Daughter of Richard Ashenden Esq, and five children by her, John & James and Jane & Cicely & Catherine".
Note: Cicely married Christopher Croft at St.Denis Walmgate in 1610. Sir Christopher Croft was Lord Mayor of York in both 1629 and 1641 and was knighted in 1641 and is buried at St. Michael's Spurriergate, York.
In the third bay of the south side is a shallow porch with a pointed outer doorway. Built into the wall in the porch above the arched head of the south door is a stone slab sculptured in low relief which is stated to be a representation of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of the church. T.Whellan's Topography of the North Riding attributes the sculpture of St.Nicholas to the 12th or 13th Century. The porch was completely restored in 1840 and the exterior stone cross added by the P.C.C. in 1930. The Main door was given in memory of Ada Jane Horner, in February 1932, by her husband T.C.Horner J.P.
Some of the stones in the Chancel walls, outside the church, have grooves worn with the sharpening of tools or weapons. Just above these grooves is an old sundial marked in the stone; the lead marker has been broken off. This is to be found just to the right of the Priest's door. The stone cross on the roof was given by Mrs.Newman & Miss Maskill (sisters) in 1950, in memory of Mr.E.E.Newman who was organist for twenty five years. The reproduction Victorian Street Lamp beside the entrance path was made by Don Barker of Wigginton, York, and was installed in February 1997. It was given in Memory of Donald Holmes by his wife Moira. Baptistry & Font A new font was given to the memory of Mrs.Caroline Haffenden, the daughter of Admiral William Croft, in 1871. However on 22nd October 1932 it was taken out, with the old font brought back into use from where it had been stored behind the main entrance door. After a period out of doors the Haffenden font was transferred to Wass Church. The old octagonal one (believed to be Norman) used to stand under the tower.
The Baptistry was rearranged in memory of Margaret Elizabeth Willis who died on 16th November 1981, by her husband Dr. Francis Peter Willis.
In a plan prepared in 1840, prior to the church being rebuilt, the tower & porch are shown in the position of the present porch with the west wall shown in a position some seven feet to the east of where it now stands. The tower used to have pinnacles but these were taken down in the early years of the Nineteenth Century as they were in danger of falling. Extensive repair and maintenance work to the tower was completed in 1914 without the pinnacles being replaced: the outbreak of war prevented this being done and it has not since been accomplished. The tower comprises of three stages with diagonal buttresses at the angles rising to the base of the belfry. The walls of the belfry stage are set back considerably on the exterior and are each pierced by a pointed two - lighted window of 15th century character. The plain parapet is corbelled out, and in the centre of each side is a diminutive gablet. Bells The tower contains three bells: the first inscribed "Exultabo in deo 1698" John Dade, Vicar, 5 3/4.cwts Founder S.S.Ebor; the second, a pre-reformation bell, is inscribed in black letters "+ Sancta ihs Maria ihc Hora ihc pro nobis"; the third "Deo Gloria, 1739". The treble was recast in 1942 to the Memory of John Leslie Hutchinson R.N. of H.M.S. Kashmir sunk in the battle of Crete in 1941. All the bells were rehung during the 1914 restoration of the tower.
There is no record of the maker or when the clock was first installed but a meeting was held in June 1869 to consult parishioners with regard to repairs needed. An extensive restoration of the works was completed in 1903 and the clock had a overhaul was in 1938, with a dial restoration taking place in 1961.The clock stopped in 1996. Brothers Charles and Allan Hutchinson have had the clock repaired in memory of their late father John Best Hutchinson. He was Churchwarden for sixty years, during which time he looked after the clock. He died in 1980. His son Allan continued with the winding of the clock from 1976 until his death in 2000.The Newey family has been connected with the repair and restoration of the Church clock for three generations. Geoffrey Newey has carried out the most recent restoration. The clock was re-dedicated by the Bishop of Selby on 9th February 1997. ( See the leaflet ' The History of Stillington Clock' for more details)
In the East window is a small fragment of ancient glass, possibly from York Minster. The portion of modern stained glass in the East Window was a family memorial to Miss Mina North who died in 1986. The stained glass of the window on the north side of the nave was given by Mrs. Mary Denton and her sons John and Malcolm in memory of her husband and their father Charles Edward Denton, who was born in Stillington in 1902, was one of the first pupils at Stillington School when it opened in 1907. He eventually returned as headmaster of the village school from 1945 to 1967. Charles was an avid gardener, hence the chrysanthemums in the tracery of the window, along with the Lord's weathervane to indicate his love of cricket. Daffodils are represented with a book and pen, symbols of his vocation. The window depicts St. Nicholas, patron saint of the Church: both saint and teacher are remembered for their concern for children. A memorial to the late Ruth Thompson was fitted as part of the East Window on 20th March 2001. The window depicts the Lamb and flag. Ruth had a great love of flowers and was involved with the flowers at St. Nicholas for many years, and also the lamb depicts the lamb of God, being Jesus the Son of God, who said "Suffer the children to come to me". Ruth was very much involved with work with children during her life. Her husband Peter Thompson arranged for the window to be inserted.
Within the church are some fine examples of Robert Thompson of Kilburn work viz: the Communion Rails in memory of the Bullen family, Choir Stalls and Pulpit, the Lectern and the screen around the Altar. The Tower screen which was erected in 1935. Also the Side-Altar of 1936 presented by Miss Maskill and Miss Spink and as previously mentioned the War memorial in the Chancel. The oak kneeler for the side altar was made in the late 1930's and given by Mr.J.B.Hutchinson, (Vicar's Warden for 60 years). The bookcase on the wall by the south door was made by Mr. Grainger of Brandsby whose sign is an acorn, in 1966, in memory of John Robert Colbeck, who was Sidesman for 20 years, and died in December 1963. It was given by his wife.The combined Bookcase and Cupboard near the main door was made by Michael Cole of Stillington and was given by the family of Mrs.Mary Moore who had served the church as Sacristan and Deputy Warden. It was dedicated in 1996. The four oak Candle Sconces, two by the Font and two in the Sanctuary are a gift from Mr.Bill Cox and his family, given in September 1996 in memory of his wife Frances and son David. They were made by Norman Darnley of Huby. The two Candle Stands were given by Geoff Benson in Memory of his wife Margaret, and were dedicated on 8th March 1998.
This includes a Chalice inscribed "William Willkinson, Robert Morlay, Chourch-wardens of Stillinton, 1664". This was carefully restored and brought back into use by Clarkson of Northallerton in May 1939. Also another Chalice, inscribed " TO THE GLORY OF GOD AND IN MEMORY OF MY FATHER HERBERT WILLIAM SMITH PRIEST. MY MOTHER JENNIE AND BROTHER DONOVAN BRAND. CHRISTMAS 1960." There is a silver salver inscribed "To the Glory of God and in Memory of Richard S. Kerrison. Presented by his Parents to St.Nicholas' Church Stillington. July 5th 1919."
Before 1812 are as follows:(1) mixed entries 1666 to 1702;(2)mixed entries 1703 to 1778, marriages to 1753 only (on a fly leaf of this book are signatures of Laurence Sterne, vicar 1744 and 1767); (3) marriages 1754 to 1812; (4) baptisims and burials 1778 . All registers not in current use are lodged with the Borthwick Institute at York University and may be consulted by family historians by appointment.
The old vicarage was pulled down and the present one erected, in 1895, in its place. This is now in private ownership.
In 1654 Jane Rawden left a cottage-house and yard to the poor with a common share upon, containing seventeen acres & six Perches upon West Moor (Green Lane). Ten acres are farmed and the remainder is natural woodland. In 1713 William Cook left to the poor 5 shillings to be paid every St. Thomas's Day out of his allotment in the Roobers, and in 1715 Alice Cook left to poor widows the sum of 5s. out of the same property. In 1836 John Calvert by will bequeathed £100 to be invested and the income applied for the benefit of poor widows. The legacy was invested in £102.13.11d consols (with the official trustees). The dividends, amounting to £2.11.4d., are applied in gifts of money. These gifts are recorded on the Boards on the west wall of the church. According to the "History Topography & Directory of North Yorkshire Part 11", printed in 1890, there were three cottages for the poor in the village. These no longer exist. The charity is made up of eight trustees, four of whom are nominated by the Parish Council and one ex-officio who is the Vicar of the Parish of Stillington. The remainder of the trustees are co-opted. The current income of the above is £1000 per annum. This is mainly distributed at Christmas. The trustees are at liberty to consider any need in the parish. The Bellfield Extract from Stillington Award of 1767 page 67 Clerk. "We also order, award, set out and allot to the said Stephen Croft, William Stainforth and Roger Bellwood and their heirs and assigns in trust for the clerk of Stillington for the time being for ever Two acres, Two roods and Ten perches on the same field, part of which same allotment is in lieu of one baulk called North Skeuf Baulk, for finding bell-strings, Bawdries and other necessaries about the bells in the Church of Stillington aforesaid"
Spiritual jurisdiction was invested in Stillington Prebendal Peculiar Court, a tiny ecclesiastical court. Records should have been turned in to the dean and chapter of York, the parish laying within the Liberty of St. Peter, an odd political entity governed by the dean and chapter. In 1755, when Sterne presided, William Johnson and Jane Nelson were "presented" for "the Crime of fornication together, they since being married". In another the case Jane Harbottle, a poor woman who had had three illegitimate children, was along with Robert Jepson (one of the supposed fathers) "presented" for the Crime of Fornication. Jane pleaded guilty and had to walk to York where she was to pay her fine (fourpence) and receive in return a printed penance. On her return to Stillington she had to read her penance "wheras I good people fogetting my Duty to Almighty God, have committed the Detestable Sin of Fornication with Robert Jepson a married man."etc Robert Jepson did not support the child and the "Jury Book" the following spring shows that the Parish set aside ££5.10s at the rate of 7 pence per week. Jepson did not appear before the Church Court and was eventually Excommunicated on 31st August 1755. On 14 February 1760, two years after Jane's death, he appealed to the superior spiritual court of the dean and chapter on the grounds that he was not guilty. He won his appeal and was received back into the parish where, in 1769, was elected to the jury.
The name of Lawrence Sterne is closely connected with the village of Stillington. In March 1742-3, soon after his marriage, he was instituted to the living in fulfilment of a promise made to his wife by Lord Fairfax. Sterne held it in conjunction with Sutton (1744-1768) where he lived for nearly twenty years,conducting the morning service at Sutton, walking across the fields to Stillington in the afternoon to preach his weekly sermon, unless other attractions presented themselves en route. One Sunday no vicar appeared to conduct the afternoon service, afterwards the parishioners discovered that a covey of partridges raised by his pointer had engrossed the attention of their pastor so that Sterne had returned home to get his gun leaving them sitting in the church. Being deeply unpopular with his parishioners they refused to render him assistance when he was nearly drowning through the ice breaking under him while skating on one of the ponds at Stillington Carr. It was to him that Stillington owes an Act enclosing 1400 acres in 1766. He surrendered the tithes of wool and lambs receiving in compensation a share in the common land. Sterne had a great admirer in the squire, Stephen Croft, who was perhaps the first to see Tristram Shandy. It was at Stillington Hall that Sterne threw the manuscript of his famous novel into the fire on finding it unappreciated by Croft's friends. Croft rescued it before it could burn.
THE METHODIST CONNECTION IN STILLINGTON
The present chapel was officially opened on 1st May 1971, replacing a chapel of 1844. It was built as a multi-purpose building, and incorporated the original school room, which was built in 1860 and located to the rear of the old chapel. A row of terraced houses now occupies the site of the original chapel in Main Street near the present chapel. Relations between chapel and church are good. There are joint activities - monthly family services, a pastoral care scheme and a craft group, which also runs cream teas, craft and cake stalls on Bank Holiday Mondays at the chapel.
OTHER ITEMS OF INTEREST
In 1660 Henry Bridgeman was appointed to the prebend of Stillington, which he held amongst various other benefices, though he appears never to have lived here. He was later made Bishop of Sodor and Man.
© Grahame Richardson 2009.