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ST JOHN THE BAPTIST CHURCH, KIRKBY WHARFE & ULLESKELF

Serving the communities of Kirkby Wharfe & Ulleskelf


Meet St John's 

For over 1000 years there has been a Church at Kirkby Wharfe and from Norman times it has been the centre of the Parish of not only this small village but also the hamlets of Grimston, North Milford, and the village of Ulleskelf.
Being the only public building in the three hamlets where people can meet, the Church is small and there is a welcoming and warm atmosphere for all, including children, at the Traditional Services which are held twice a month.

A Brief History
The villages of Kirkby Wharfe, Grimston and North Milford were largely destroyed by William the Conqueror in the Harrying of the North in 1069 and there is no mention of a church building, but in the Domesday Book, the name is Chirchebi (Church Village) and kirke-bi implies that there was a church here in Viking times. It was probably built of wood, wattle and plaster, as fragments of Anglo Saxon stone crosses dating from about the 10th century were found under the floor during later restoration and are displayed in the church.
Thereafter, the parishes were part of larger Norman holdings of Ilbert de Lacy, Baron of Pontefract. From 1333 the Prebends of Wetwang were the patrons until 1857 when patronage moved to Archbishop Thompson of York (d 1890), thence to the Fielden family, owners of the Grimston Estate, who continue to generously support the Church.
The building is a grade II* listed monument and one enters the Church from the south, via the late Norman Doorway (1160). Outside there are two other Grade II listed items: a four faced sundial on top of a stone shaft and stepped plinth and a mediaeval stone grave slab dated as being c 13th or 14th century.
We are fortunate to have church records dating back to 1583, when the old “Moor Kirk Fair” existed from the time of Elizabeth 1st and moved to Tadcaster in the early 19th century. It has been revived on Kirkby Wharfe village green each June/July for the last 10 years.

The Building
The church was built in three periods:

  • In c. 1150-70 the Norman style accounts for the nave and its columns, as well as parts of the inner south door.

  • Between 1300 and 1400 the church was finished in the Perpendicular style. For the next 450 years it survived, although records show that it was frequently poorly maintained.

  • In 1861 the second Lord Londesborough, embarked on an extensive restoration and extension of the church adding the north and south aisles, a porch and the Londesborough chapel off the north of the chancel. He also embellished the interior with items he had collected from all over Europe and some unique stained glass windows.


A tour of the interior
There are two fonts – one is an ornate mid 19th century presented by the Shillito family from Ulleskelf and the other is a round cylindrical stone font that may date from the Norman period.
Beyond the fonts in the north west corner are the remains of three Anglo Saxon crosses dating from the 10th century. The largest upright one has two figures, either St Mary and St John or Adam and Eve, with plait work and key patterns on the side. The two stone fragments on the floor also contain good examples of knot work design, plaits and pellets.
In the middle of the north aisle we find a plain window with 14th century stained glass  panels with the coats of arms of the Nevilles, Stanhopes and Percys. Further along by the vestry door on the floor is a stone child’s coffin reputed to be Roman, as there was a Roman villa in the village.
Going past the organ we enter the Londesborough chapel to the north of the chancel. On a bench in the far corner is a marble slab with a Latin inscription. It is reputed to have been found in a local farmyard – hence the hole in it. However, recent research shows that it was originally found in Rome at the base of the Colonna di Foca when it was excavated in 1813; how it found its way to Kirkby Wharfe is unknown. The Latin inscription is from a mother to her son Cyril and says; I the unhappiest of mothers have made this for you.
Between the chapel and the chancel is a wooden screen which dates from the 15th or 16th century and came from North Milford Hall, home of the Leedes family. Its panels depict delightful domestic scenes of baking, brewing, washing and playing cards, as well as a court jester.
The two East windows in the chancel and the Londesborough chapel were installed by Lord Londesborough when he restored the church in 1861. They were designed by a Belgian artist, Jean Baptiste Capronnier, and are among the 66 windows in Yorkshire produced by his Brussels studios.
There are three windows on the south side of the chancel:

  • The one closest to the altar depicts St Francis and is by Harry Harvey of York. It was donated in 1980 by Nancy Fielden, widow of John Fielden of Grimston Park.

  • The next middle window was restored by Barley Studio in 2018 and is an extremely rare Austrian window of c 1420. Its six panels describe scenes from the life of Christ; it is recognised as being of international significance and is also one of the very few windows in England to portray the Virgin Mary.


  • The window closest to the pulpit contains a collection of 16th and 17th century Dutch, Flemish and Swiss stained glass panels collected by Lord Londesborough and installed at the restoration of the church. Most of them are secular, but some have biblical subjects.

The wall monuments and floor memorials. In the chancel floor there is a small brass memorial to William Gisborne, the Prebend of Ulleskelf in 1417. A brass tablet in the south wall of the chancel records the death of “Briane Ledes” of North Milford Hall in 1564. A nearby stone tablet shows the death in 1603 of his half brother Thomas Leedes, a recusant.
In the Londesborough chapel and in the robing room under the tower at the back of the church there are numerous 19th c memorials to the family and friends of Lord Howden and Lord Londesborough.
The tower contains a ring of three bells. The oldest bell is the treble (smallest) which is dated 1601 and bears the inscription "GOD SAVE OVR CHVRCH AND QVEEN". The bell bears the founder's mark of William Oldfield, who was casting at York in the period 1601 - 1656. The tenor or largest bell is dated 1623 and is inscribed "IESVS BE OVR SPEED" The newest bell is the second bell of the peal but has no marks or inscriptions of any kind upon it. It is believed to have been cast by the Harrison family sometime between 1763 and 1833. The bells are all hung with fittings to enable them to be swung in the traditional English manner.
A Church Guide and history is available to all visitors on request.