Visit Coxwold Church – a unique survivor
- 2 December 2018 -
With the arrival of December, Christmas is not far behind! Which means many of us will be attending a Carol Service. In Coxwold that is on Monday 17 December at 7pm. However, in Coxwold we are lucky to have a really unique church that can be enjoyed all the year round – whether you are religious or simply interested in the heritage. It really is a fascinating building both inside and out. Well worth visiting, hopefully whilst you are staying with us at Coxwold Cottages! A Church whose history is closely intertwined with a local stately home is normally a fascinating place to visit. A great example in Northamptonshire, where we used to live, was St. Mary’s in Great Brington which was the estate Church of Althorp. Here in Coxwold, St Michael’s Church, with its close associations to nearby Newburgh Priory, is another wonderful example of just such a Church.
St Michael’s Church stands at the top of the hill in Coxwold, almost opposite Shandy Hall. It is one of the oldest churches in Yorkshire. It is believed to have been built on the site of a pagan temple, whose spring now flows out at the crossroads, almost opposite Forge Cottage where our holiday cottage is located. The earliest surviving mention of Coxwold Church is in a letter from Pope Paul I way back in 797 AD. In the letter, the Pope instructed King Eadbert of Northumbria to repair three minsters – York, Ripon… and Coxwold. That is pretty exalted company and shows the importance of the Coxwold Church at the time. Over the centuries, the Saxon Church was replaced by a Norman one before being replaced in the 1420s by the Church you see, almost unchanged, today.
The Coxwold Church tower is octagonal from the foot – very rare. Look up at the bosses in the nave ceiling which mostly date from the 1420s and depict the armorials of various prominent Yorkshire families – an amazing survival. You soon start realising that this is no ordinary parish Church. Coxwold Church is perhaps best known for the magnificent monuments dating from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, mostly to the Belasyse-Fauconberg-Wombwell family of nearby Newburgh Priory. There is also a large royal coat of arms dating from the Hanoverian period, Queen Mary’s signature appears in the visitors book and there are even four wooden mice, carved by Robert “Mouseman” Thompson of neighbouring Kilburn. So many associations…
In the eighteenth century, Coxwold Church gained notoriety when a famous vicar resided at his parsonage in Coxwold which he named Shandy Hall. That vicar was the Reverend Laurence Sterne (incumbent from 1760-68) who wrote much of famous Tristram Shandy novel and all of Sentimental Journey at Shandy Hall, Coxwold. Laurence Sterne’s original gravestone is now inside the porch of Coxwold Church – an amazing tale of being buried three times, the subject of a future blog no doubt! Without spoiling the story, Laurence Sterne’s final resting place is in Coxwold, reburied for what we hope to be the final time in 1969. A most unusual communion rail inside Coxwold Church stretches out like a long tongue into the chancel and is said to have been designed by Laurence Sterne.
In the Coxwold Churchyard, in a yew enclosed area, is the grave of Sir George Wombwell who took part in the Charge of the Light Brigade. Inside is a plaque in memory of another Wombwell, Captain Stephen Wombwell, who died of a fever during the Boer War. On the brass plaque are the names of those friends who contributed to the windows above – a veritable who’s who of the time, including names such as Cavendish, Churchill, Hoare, Villiers and Oppenheim! The Coxwold Church lychgate was also erected in Captain Wombwell’s memory.