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ST MARY'S CHURCH, CHURCH FENTON 

Serving the community of Church Fenton


Meet St Mary's 

The Parish of Church Fenton (or Kirk Fenton as it is sometimes known) which is now part of the New Ainsty Deanery in the Diocese of York, was originally part of the Barkston Ash Wapentake in the West Riding of Yorkshire. The first record of its existence can be found in a grant of hides (an old measure for land) made by King Edgar in 963AD to Aeslac of Sherburn – in- Elmet. Aeslac probably bequeathed this land to St Peter’s at York as by 1030 a description of the Archbishop’s estates included ‘all Fenton except half a plough land’.

By the time of the Doomsday Survey the land was in the possession of Ilbert de Lacey but there is no mention of a church. It is likely that one existed as a chapel of ease for the mother church at Sherburn – in Elmet. This building was only recognised as a separate entity in the early thirteen century when it became a Parish Church after Archbishop Walter De Gray divided up the old prebend of Sherburn and created the new parish of Fenton. The change was confirmed by Pope Honorious III in 1218. From that date until 1240 Fenton was served by stipendiary chaplains but, after a petition by Sewal de Bovill, Canon of York a perpetual Vicar was appointed. The first was William who was already serving as the Stipendiary.

The Building
The church consists of a long nave, north and south transepts with a south aisle, a south porch and a central tower above the crossing. The cruciform structure is said to be rare in the district and is reputed to be one of the smallest completely cruciform churches in the country carrying so large a tower. John Betjeman mentions it in ‘A Guide to English Parish Churches’. Today it is dedicated to St Mary but at some time it was originally dedicated to St John the Baptist as indicated by the step down at the entrance. It can also be found by this name on old OS maps.

The original architecture of the building shows that it dates from the period 1225-1250.

During its life the building has had many additions and refurbishments to meet changing need. These continue but its purpose remains the same.

A Tour of the Building
Turn right at the main doors .The first small window is dedicated to Samuel Anson Chevin, a former Head Gardner, and is composed of twelve tulip heads coloured to represent tongues of fire. It was given by his son, a former organist at the church.

Beneath the window is the bowl of the original 13th Century font which was in use until 1844.

Carry on down to the South Transept. This light airy chapel was originally dedicated to St Michael and up until 2010 had an oak alter and the lids of two stone coffins set into the floor. During alteration work that year the related coffins and their occupants were found in the footings.
After archaeological investigation the coffins were covered over with new stone slabs and left in situ. The original lids have been placed close to them in an inspection area under the floor.
It is likely that this part was originally a chantry chapel and the occupants were chantry priests but so far no record of their names has been found.

The oak Altar originally sited here was recently donated to Sherburn –in – Elmet church and can be seen there.

The double lancet window has sculptured corbels and was added about 1280 along with the south aisle.

The large south window dates from 1330 although the glass is modern. Designed by John Harvey it represents the leaves of a tree and a dove and was inspired by the book of Revelations ‘the leaves of a tree for the healing of the nations’. Beneath this window is a partially hidden wall tomb niche with an ogee arch. This was probably the original position for the effigy of the lady sited in the chancel.

To the side is a small window made up of fragments of 14th Century glass. The original was probably destroyed during the Commonwealth period and the person undertaking the work clearly did so with enthusiasm despite the orders of Thomas Fairfax to avoid such destruction.

Turn right into the chancel. On the right hand side is a rare medieval stone coffin for a child and on the left the stone effigy of a lady which was found, upside down being used as a flagstone, during the major restoration of 1844. Dating from the first quarter of the 14 century local legend names her as Amy Ryder. However, there is no historical basis for this. The motif at the feet is unusual as represents a dragon and a lion – good and evil- contending for her soul.

The three window lights of Sts Peter, John and James were installed in 1858 in memory of the last prebendary of Fenton, John Bull by his brother Henry, Rector of Lathbury, Bucks.

The glass in the lancets of the main east window is Victorian although the stone tracery dates from 1330 as does the patchwork of glass in the upper part. Again, probably broken or hidden during the English Civil War, if you look carefully you can see sprigs of oak and acorns and two small birds which were the emblem of Archbishop Walter De Gray, the founder of the church.

The altar, which is medieval and incised with five crosses, was another victim of the Reformation and was also found serving as a paving slab during restoration work. The piscina is 13th Century.

The two chairs are Jacobean and the grave slabs all date from the 17th Century.

Continue to the base of the tower. To the right is a 15th Century carved screen with was originally in the chancel but now discreetly hides the kitchen, a recent addition.

The 17th Century oak table was originally the altar in the south transept and is still in use for morning service.

The 15th Century tower contains three bells cast in 1710, 1780 and 1793 and reconditioned by John Taylor of Loughborough in 1972-3.  One bell is impressed with the figure of St John, another clue to the previous dedication of the building.

It also houses the clock which was moved here in 1780 from a clock house in the body of the church. Reconstructed in 1871; 1919 and 1952, in 2000 an electric winding system was installed.

As you continue down the main aisle the war memorial to Church Fenton men who gave their lives in both World Wars can be seen on the right hand side.

The font was a gift from G T Jones of York after he had undertaken the major restoration of the church in 1844. Also in use is a small portable front which came from St George’s Chapel, RAF Church Fenton.

The large west window is unremarkable Victorian glass but, above it can be seen clue showing that there may at some time have been a musician’s gallery.

And finally….. in the smallest room, added in 2010 to meet the requirements of the Disability Act, is a stained glass window in memory of John Savill-Metcalf who served gallantly in the Second World War and his sister Mary Metcalf who gave 60 years service to the community as a nurse.