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Friday, 2 October 2015

St Mary's Chapel, Lead

St Mary's Chapel, Lead, Towton, Saxton, Crooked Billet, North Yorkshire

In a field opposite the Crooked Billet pub near Saxton, in North Yorkshire, stands the tiny chapel of St Mary’s, Lead.  Cross the field over Cock Beck, which was said to run red with blood after the nearby Battle of Towton in 1461, and you are stepping through a vanished hamlet to where the medieval Lead Hall once stood.  Lumps in the ground betray the presence of absent structures, pathways, ponds and field patterns, where people once lived and worked.  Now, the only inhabitants are sheep.

Vanished village, deserted village, Yorkshire, Lead

Long ago, this area was part of the ancient British Kingdom of Elmet, conquered by Northumbria in the 7th century.  Four hundred years later, at the time of the Norman Conquest, the local landowner was Gunnarr – suggesting Danish origins.  Lead is well within the old area of the Danelaw, though the place-name itself might be Old English (Anglo-Saxon), from laed (‘water channel’) – probably not, as some sources suggest, hleo-wudu (‘wood with shelter’).  At the time of the Domesday Survey of 1086, Lead was owned by Ilbert de Lacy, who is said to have fought with William the Conqueror at Hastings and to have taken part in the Norman King’s almost genocidal Harrying of the North in 1069.  By the 13th century, the Manor of Lead was in the hands of the Tyas family, vassals of the de Lacys.  It then passed to the Scargills (or Skargills), Vavasours (of nearby Hazlewood Castle) and then the Gascoignes.

St Mary's Chapel, Manor of Lead, medieval, Yorkshire

We’ll probably never know exactly what happened to the manor house, the hamlet, or the people: whether the lands were enclosed for pasture, the hall became surplus to requirements – there are any number of speculative possibilities.  There’s a farmhouse near the site today; perhaps the manor house was simply too expensive to maintain and a more modest building was sufficient.  The last recorded resident of the manor was Sir Robert Scargill, who died in 1531; but the remains of ‘Lead Hall’ were shown on maps as recently as the 1950s.

Late medieval, benches, pews, 3-tiered pulpit, rustic altar

St Mary’s was the private chapel for Lead Hall, never a parish church.  At one time twice its current size, it must have been a relatively impressive building - in all likelihood the only fully stone construction on the estate.  It was built around 1150, possibly on the site of an earlier church or chapel, with later additions in the 13th and 14th centuries.  In 1596, it was noted that “the Chappell of leade is in utter Ruyne and decaye,” though it seems to have had varied fortunes since.  It was repaired in 1784 and, found in a poor state by a group of walkers, restored by them in 1932.  It has subsequently often been referred to as “the Ramblers’ church” – one of several bearing that title in Britain.  Christopher Winn in his book, “I Never knew That About Yorkshire”, also calls it Yorkshire’s smallest church – a claim that might be disputed by St James’s, Fordon and St Andrew’s, Upleatham.

Late medieval, benches, pews, 3-tiered pulpit, rustic altar

Inside, the chapel exudes what feels like an illusory simplicity.  There is no electricity and, once you’ve shut the old timber door behind you, you could be miles from anywhere.  There’s that distinctive old stone and wood smell.  The plain font is medieval, the benches late medieval, the rare 3-tiered pulpit 18th century.  On the wall are old biblical texts.  In the truncated nave, in front of the altar (itself made of an erstwhile tombstone), are 5 massive grave slabs.  Three of these bear the coat of arms of the Tyas family, who built the chapel.  Under them lie the 13th century remains of Sir Baldwin (nobilis miles Baldwinius Teutonicus), his son Franco and his wife Margery.  A fourth might be the 15th century grave of Lady Johanna Skargill and the fifth possibly a priest, identity unknown.  Some sources say all the graves are of the Tyas family – I’m not sure if that’s true.  The name, incidentally, is an interesting one: you will have noticed the Latin ‘Baldwin Teutonic’ (or ‘German’).  Apparently, Tyas is by some convoluted route an Anglicised version of the old French ‘Tieis’ which allegedly means ‘German’.  In any event, stay awhile with the old owners and soak up the atmosphere of this curious historic building, the only remnant of an extinct estate; but don’t leave without looking at the inscriptions on the back of the door.

Tyas, family, graves, Lead Chapel, Yorkshire

A word should be said about the Battle of Towton.  Despite what you may see elsewhere, nothing I have read suggests that St Mary’s Lead had any direct association with or part to play in the battle, though it is possible that some of the soldiers may have sought solace in it, before or after the fighting.  There is a local legend that the adjacent Crooked Billet pub stands on the site of an earlier hostelry used as an HQ by the Yorkist faction and, possibly, as a resting place by the wounded Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (‘the Kingmaker’) during the battle. 

Lead Church, Ramblers' Church, Yorkshire

Lead Chapel has played a part in a more recent drama, however.  It was one of the locations used in a TV drama, ‘Dark Angel’ about Victorian serial poisoner Mary Ann Cotton starring Joanne Froggatt (Anna Bates in Downton Abbey), scheduled to be screened in 2016.

The face of the Lord shall not be turned from thee

Lead Chapel, the Ramblers’ church, is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust – visit St Mary’s page at theChurches Conservation Trust’s website.

Lead Church, belfry, North Yorkshire

46 comments:

  1. Wow Mike, this is the most ancient-looking church you've shown us. It seems to fit the landscape, you know? I always picture Yorkshire as looking somewhat lonesome and windswept, but I still want to visit there. I want to see James Herriot country. I love the windows in this church, the carved writing on the door, and the grave slabs in front of the altar. I can see why you were drawn to go inside this church.

    Thanks for sharing with us -- hope you have a great weekend!

    Denise at Forest Manor

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  2. Your photos are amazing! And so is the history of this place! Thank you for the tour!

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  3. I thought I had hear of another Ramblers church which was on to of a hill some where .No doubt as you say there are more. Fascinating story you have told about the church and it is good to see it is still there and used which is more than you can say for the hall

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  4. Another great article Mike - Lead Chapel is one of my favourite places, so great to read about it! Thanks for the heads-up about the upcoming TV drama next year.

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  5. What a beautiful little chapel, inside and out!

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  6. What a lovey chapel steeped in history. It reminds me of the tiniest little chapel I went to a funeral at a few years ago high on Exmoor.

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  7. What an amazing little place. I think I might make a point of going to find that.

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  8. Just love your first paragraph. And I do hope we'll hear more about the Crooked Billet someday. The interior photos exude a sense of peace and reverence and history. I would love to visit.

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  9. Thanks for that. The place oozes history. Oh, and thank God for historians, lest we'd know nothing of our sordid past.

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  10. Well, it does look like that little chapel is out in the middle of nowhere. What a beautiful and simple building. Here, it would have been replaced by a bank or McDonalds years ago. I love it that you show us these places, markers of a generations-long Christian witness. It's the kind of building I love to visit. About Joanne Froggatt, I hope she isn't crying her way through the new movie, poor girl.

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    1. From what I gather, she poisons her way through it...

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  11. I love your glimpses into the past

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  12. A simple building with a long and complicated history. Thanks for sharing.

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  13. Thank you for taking us on your adventure. I always learn a great deal about Britain when visiting you! Have a wonderful weekend! Cathy

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  14. The sky in the exterior shots gives the chapel and its setting something of a desolate feel. The chapel itself feels old and full of memory, but enduring.

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  15. Great post about an area I know nothing about.

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  16. What a wonderful little building. I rather like the idea of retiring to the pub in the middle of a battle.

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    1. I rather like the idea of staying in the pub and giving the battle a miss.

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  17. A truly intriguing place! Have there never been excavations at the site or other attempts to reconstruct the layout of the hall and hamlet? I am glad the chapel was open so that you could go in and show us these pictures.

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    1. Yes, I believe there have been several excavations. I haven't seen a reconstructed layout or plan of the site - but that doesn't mean there isn't one, lurking out there!

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  18. I'm amazed at the age of this place, Mike! Thanks for another great history story.

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  19. What a charming little chapel - as soon as I saw your photos I could smell it - a little bit of moss growing on the walls along with that fusty smell of antiquity. I would love to visit it too.

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  20. Old but not entirely forgotten it would seem.

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  21. Small chapels like that offer an intimacy that large buildings cannot.

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  22. What an incredible and beautiful church, and setting for it too. It is so good that churches like this are being cared for and kept for us all to share.

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  23. For me, this is just the best tour. I love the ancient church and the history, both seen and unseen.

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  24. Amazing images of the church, very nice the inside too!

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  25. There is something special about smaller churches.
    I was so pleased to read that this is under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.

    Hope you have a pleasant weekend.

    All the best Jan

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  26. That little church strikes me as an incredibly sad place. Maybe because its the only thing remaining of a once vibrant area and its long ago story is no longer fully known. Thanks for sharing.

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  27. Very interesting history of this lonely looking chapel.

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  28. Amazing. What an ancient building. I love the text of the wall and the old signs. And the tombs on the floor- my favourite part of an old church. Thank-you for the tour and history lesson once again. I love them!

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  29. Very comprehensive post Mike. You must either do a lot of research online or already know a great deal about the subject as I know how long putting together a post like that takes with the detail involved. One of the pleasures of travelling nowadays is going to different areas then finding out afterwards about the history of the place. The internet is a great help for historians of all levels as before it would often involve talking to locals in person or going round libraries and other public buildings on foot, demanding more time and patience than most people can afford to give.

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    1. Thank you, kind sir! My research comes from all over the place. But of course the internet is invaluable - and without it we wouldn't be here, would we?

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  30. It's a little eery to see this chapel in the middle of nowhere and to imagine all that must have been surrounding it before.

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  31. Wow, well done. Thank you for sharing.
    Will you watch the program Dark Angel when it comes out?
    Carla

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  32. It's always fascinating to know a little of the history. We are so fortunate to still have some of these ancient buildings, so glad they have not all become bumps in the ground.

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  33. What a lovely church, I have been to Yorkshire many times and I did not know it existed. Maybe I will be lucky next time...

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  34. i enjoy the wide open spaces. gorgeous stone work. what a beauty. so lovely. thank you for sharing, Mike. hope you are well. ( :

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  35. Great pictures! Thanks for the interesting history.

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  36. I like the Give Alms sign very much. I will look out for the film that you mention. If it comes out in 2016 in Britain, it might be shown in the USA by 2020!

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  37. Once again, a thrilling and romantic sound to this place (I am commenting in reverse date order, so have just been with you in Dorset). What a stunning place to find. I ought to post about a truly fabulous church in Nottinghamshire I went to, also small and full of fascinating things. It is currently very hard for me to find time to blog, due mostly I suppose to my own inefficiency. I specially like places with no electricity.

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  38. A lovely adventure again. What is it about the word Crooked, it's like Harbor to me, or Hollow put them with a few other words to name a place and it always sound very inviting! Beautiful photos. Thanks.

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  39. Fantastic. I have a fondness for old churches. Nothing like this exists where I live.

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Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to www.bitaboutbritain.com and most of the material here will gradually be updated and moved over to that new site. Please drop in there, click on the blog page, and take a look round. TTFN - Mike.