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St Peters Church, Church Lane, Rylstone


St Peters Church is an active Anglican parish church in the deanery of Skipton, the Archdeaconery of Richmond and Craven and the diocese of Leeds. It is part of the benefice of Linton, Burnsall and Rylstone. The church serves the parishes of Rylstone, Bordley, Cracoe and Hetton. The church is a Grade II listed building (button). There is no resident vicar, however Rev. Matthew Wood, rector of the benefice, has pastoral responsibility for the parish. Services are currently held in the church on the first Sunday of the month.


The church is on a slight promontory, east of the village and adjacent to the site of the original manor house (now Old Hall Farm buildings), see photo below.


The building is on an orientation of 15 degrees off the east-west axis and at a height of approximately 215 metres above sea level. Access to the church from the village and the B6265 Skipton-Grassington road is by Church (previously Chapel) Lane.

Description of existing church


St Peters has a four-bay nave with a clerestory and chancel in one range, north and south aisles, a south porch and a west tower. The height of the tower is approximately 17 metres above ground level.


The nave and chancel have pitched graduated stone slate roofs with timber rafters supported on timber purlins spanning between nine scissor -type timber trusses. The trusses are carried on stone corbels.


The north and south aisles roofs are mono-pitched graduated stone slate roofs with timber rafters supported on timber roof purlins. The timber purlins are supported on timber principal rafters.


The tower has a pyramidal pitched roof with blue slates supported on timber rafters and hipped beams which span between the tower walls.


The nave roof and clerestory walls are supported on six octagonal stone piers (three on each side of the nave) supporting double chamfered stone masonry arches and the clerestory walls above.


The church walls are mixture of random rubble and coursed gritstone masonry, with ashlar facing in some areas. It is assumed that the walls are generally of traditional double skin construction with rubble core filling. The wall widths vary and are approximately 1000mm (tower), 700mm (church), 650 mm (chancel) and 500mm (vestry). Externally, the walls are un-rendered. Internally the walls are generally plastered, except for the chancel where the masonry has recently been exposed. The tower masonry is in three stages with a moulded crenelated parapet.


Angled stone masonry buttresses provide lateral stability to the wall structures at the corners of the tower, main church, chancel and porch.


The clerestory windows are all of clear glass with a pair of windows of three lights at the west end, one on each side, and the remaining windows of two lights. The side aisle windows are all of two lights and of stained glass, installed by various families as memorials to relatives. The east (chancel) window is of stained glass and is of four lights and the two west windows and east window in the south aisle are all of two lights and stained glass. The tower windows are of two lights in clear glass except the west windows which are of 3 lights and stained glass. The porch has two windows each with a single light of stained glass.


There is a small crypt/cellar used as a boiler house under the north side of the tower.


The ground floor is partly stone-flagged and partly covered in memorials/gravestones. The memorial inscriptions were recorded by the group (see list below) and by Gwen Ascough and Ivy Oliver of the Wharfedale Family History Group in 1996.(button).

Memorial Inscriptions

List of memorial inscriptions within the church


Gravestones in the floor at East end of Nave going from N–S:

  1. Here lies the body of Mr David Yates of Lainger House who departed this life February 20th in the 83rd year of his age AD 1733.

  2. Here lies the body of Mrs Susanna Yates wife of Mr David Yates who departed this life March the 7th day in ye 35(?)th year of her age AD 1733.

  3. (Under central carpet) In memory of Elizabeth Procter wife of Robert Procter of Bordley and daughter of Anne Parkinson of Hetton who departed this life the ..... day of September 1809 (?) aged 61 years. Also the above Robert Procter who departed this life the 20th day of August 1810? 1812? aged 74 years.

  4. Here lies the body of Mrs Sarah Yates daughter of Mr David and Mrs Susanna Yates of Lainger House who departed this life March the 29th day AD 1742.


Several more gravestones south of these but under pews:


Two stones in thecentral aisle, under carpet, (edges missing as have wooden base for pews built on top), going E–W:

  1. Here lies the body of Mrs (?) Frances (?) Yates (?) ........................20 th (?) day of April in the year of our Lord ...6 aged 75 years.

  2. Here lye the bodies of John and Nicholas sons to James Parkinson of Hetton

who departed this life, Nicholas the 6th of August in the 3rd year of his age and John the (doesn’t look like 0!) of August in the 5th year of his life 1741. We lye interred within this silent(?) grave. No wealth, no want, no earthly friends .........crave our parents may rejoice to see for why we are gone before, in .... into felicity. Also Joshua, son to ye James Parkinson... (rest missing).

Church furnishings and artefacts

The existing open pews were likely to have replaced the box pews when the church was restored in 1852, as the layout of pews is broadly like the proposed layout shown on the architect’s restoration drawing.


Fixed to the pews on the south side of the aisle at the front of the church is a low reading desk and seat.


The pulpit on the other side of the aisle is octagonal in plan and has timber partitions on a stone base with stone steps and was part of the restoration works. The movable lectern and bible are not original. A brass lectern was replaced with a timber lectern donated by Col. Butcher in 1965 (see photo below). The timber desk is supported on a carved timber eagle.


                                  Photo of St Peters pulpit and reading desk

At the east end of the church is the stone font with timber cover which was likely part of the 1852 restoration works (see photo below).


On the north and south nave arcades, there are two carved shields. On the north side, the shield shows an eagle displayed (see photo below).

eagle in St Peters.jpg

On the south side the shield shows the coat of arms of John Coigniers (alias Norton) on the left and the Radcliffe family on the right.  'Bearing in dexter pale a maunch and bend for Norton and in sinister pale a bend engrailed with escalop for difference for Radcliffe and a Satire for Rilleston quarterly', (see photo below).


There is also a shield of the royal arms painted on wood, hanging on the west wall.

On the west wall near the font there are two memorial tablets inscribed with the names of the men from the villages who were killed in the two world wars. There is also a memorial tablet to an Australian army soldier in the first world war.

Other pictures/ memorials in the main body of the church include a sketch of the seating plan and church dated 1798 and a plaque in marble in memory of Richard, son of Abraham and Sarah Chamberlain on the north wall, and a memorial to the brothers Gerald and Michael Maude on the south wall.

The chantry is separated from the church by a timber communion rail with gate.

The chantry includes a table with two candlesticks and a bible holder. There is a brass memorial to Richard Waddilove on the south wall.




There is a marble plaque in memory of Rev Charles Henry Lowe, rector of St Peters from 1891 to 1932, on the north wall. 


The church silver includes a William III chalice of 1697, made by William Parr of London, two tumbler cups, one made by William Busfield of York in 1696; and a Victorian flagon and paten dated 1852 made in Sheffield.


The most interesting item in the church historically is a small round-headed window carved from a single piece of sandstone (see photo below).

Richard Waddilove

The window has been built into the chimney flue of the C19th fireplace in the vestry. Although there is no obvious saxon tooling, the window head is cut into an earlier piece of carved stonework that appears to be anglo-saxon. The 'twisted rope' decoration is also a feature seen in anglo-saxon stonework, so stylistically this stone would appear to be anglo-saxon, re-used from earlier carved work perhaps depicting a halo or from a cross centre.


A.C. Armstrong notes:

'This window head looks Anglian. There is a similar one at Kirkburton. The this one looks recut as if the decoration belongs to something else and is recut as a window.

The decoration does not match the window arch'.

On the walls of the vestry there is a photo of Rev. Lowe, a sketch of the church by Rev. William Bury before it was restored in 1852, a framed table of parochial fees, and a list of weights of St Peters bells..



The tower belfry contains three bells. The bells were originally cast by Charles and George Mears of the Whitechapel Bell foundry in London and supplied in 1658. The bells were recast in 1853 following the church restoration. At that time Rev. William Bury, the rector of Burnsall and Rylstone, recorded in his scrapbook the measurements of the bells as follows:

                   Diameter at bottom    Height                      Inscription

Little bell         2ft 5.5 ins               2ft 0 ins                   In God is aid

Middle bell      2ft 8.5 ins               2ft 3ins                Ora pro nobis   Gabriel

Large bell       3ft 0ins                   2ft 5.5 ins        Gloria in excelsis Deo CW WB 1658


                                        Photo of bell ringing St Peters 2019

The large tenor bell weighs 7.25 cwt and is called Gloria after the inscription on it. The bells were repaired and renovated in 1990. There is an original headstock in the ringing chamber. The ropes originally used are unusual in that they not only have a sally but also a 'fluffy' tail end and two 'fluffy' tufts below the sally. As they were a bit too cumbersome to use for full circle ringing, they have been replaced.



Not much is known of the church music in the early years of St Peters. It is probable that the music if any would have been dominated by plain-chant. This would have been superseded, after the 11th century by gregorian chant, which in turn may have been supplanted during the reformation in the mid-16th century, by classical settings for masses, hymns and magnificats.

The earliest record, we have of music in St Peters, is from 'other things useful and necessary to Psalmody'. The instruments purchased, included a violincello with stick and case. It is likely that the band played on a timber-built gallery partly supported off the west wall of the nave ie the tower wall and partly on posts.


A sketch plan of St Peters around 1850 before the 1852 restoration shows a 'Singing Gallery' in front of the tower supported at the front by four timber posts (see below):


                                Sketch plan about 1850 showing the Singing Gallery

This sketch confirms that St Peters had an active choir during the 19th century. 'West gallery' church music was very popular at the time with two or three-part choral harmonies and accompanying instruments such as the cello.

A sketch of how the gallery might have appeared at St Peters is shown below:


                           Sketch of possible west gallery at St Peters before restoration

It was not until 1932 that an organ was installed, unlike many churches in our area where the organ took over from the band in the victorian era. The organ was a gift from the Standeven family at Scale House. It was built by Albert Keates of Sheffield and has two manuals. Albert Keates was influenced by the German organ builder, Johann Friedrich Schulze, and adopted his style in the manufacture of diapasons, which gives Keates’s organs their distinctive tone.



There are four suspended chandelier electric lights over the nave.


It is likely that the original heating, if any, would have been from open fires in the church. By the 19th century a stove either wood or coal fired would have been introduced. A sketch (see below) by Rev. Bury of the interior of the St Peters in 1843, before St Peters was restored, shows a cast-iron stove near the middle of the church on the side of the nave.


                             Sketch of interior of St Peters by Rev. Bury showing stove

The stove would have dominated the centre of the church, being very close to the pulpit (to keep the parson warm?)! The weight of the cast-iron chimney pipe say approx. 30 metres height would have been huge, and the stresses on the cast-iron stove due to the cantilevered load would have been considerable!


The 1852 restoration drawings do not show any details of the heating (deemed to be below the architects’ payscale!). However the restoration specification covers the building of two stone chimneys, one for a fireplace in the vestry and another with location not given, probably for a boiler in the undercroft. The current heating system consists of a series of hot water pipes in the aisles and nave with water heated by an electric boiler, housed in the undercroft under the tower.


St Peters churchyard is approx. 0.6 hectares (1.5 acres) in area, and is covered by grass with scattered gravestones (see photo below):


There are over 300 graves on the site. The memorial inscriptions on the graves were recorded by Gwen Ascough and Ivy Oliver of the Wharfedale Family History Group in 1996. (button). Four of the graves are commonwealth war graves, including a grave of Captain M.D.W. Maude, an officer of the Yorkshire Hussars. The largest memorial is a stone-built mausoleum, housing the tombs of the Standeven family.


The churchyard is surrounded by a drystone wall with four gates into the church:

  • the lych gate at the front on Church Lane is made from english oak and was erected in 1945.

  • a pedestrian gate at the east of the churchyard allowing access from Old Hall Farm.

  • a recently installed five-barred gate at the west end, and

  • a pedestrian gate in the north boundary being access to the rectory.


On the south side of the church yard between the boundary wall and road there are very worn paving stones set into the ground probably the original footpath to the chapel.




The original rectory is to the north of the churchyard and was built in 1870. It is now in private ownership, being sold by public auction in 1978.


There are remains of possible anglo-saxon masonry and artefacts found in the building such as the round headed window in the vestry (see above). Traces of linear earthworks can be seen in the neighbouring field south west of the church. There are also well-defined right-angled earthwork footings in the church yard north of the church indicating previous buildings. These features could all indicate the presence of an anglo-saxon church originally on the site. In Pointers to the Past, edited by Heather Beaumont, it is stated that in pre-norman times the parish of Burnsall had outlying chapelries and it is possible that St Peters could have been one of them.


The Norman rebuilding was probably about 1160 to 1170. We know that in the 12C Symon Presb: (presbiter) de Rilleston witnessed a deed of William de Rillestun, who died in 1175. St Peter’s status would have been that of a chapelry attached to the manorial hall (chapel of ease), within the ecclesiastical parish of Burnsall. There are two fragments of stone shaft capitals outside the porch which appear to be norman. A sketch of St Peters dated 1798 (see below) shows a round headed door in the porch which might be norman.


There are various remains in St Peters, which appear to be of 14th century origin. In the porch a bank of cusped window heads has been recycled to form stone benches. Porches were traditionally where parish business was carried out. The window heads may have come from the west walls or side chapels when they were restored in 1852.There is also a possible 14th century window quatrefoil reset in the porch windows. The 1798 sketch shows the east gable wall to have two flat buttresses and long thin gothic windows to the chancel and its side aisles indicating a date of 13th or 14th century.


The unusual flat-headed windows of the belfry, and new nave clerestory, the crenelated porch, the widened -out aisles wrapping around the tower and with aisle chantry chapels around the chancel, also shown on the 1798 sketch, all indicate a perpendicular style of say late 15th to early 16th century. By 1539 St Peters began to have a parish register. Button?


In the early 18th century, georgian values led to the opening up the medieval church to a squarish 'preaching box' with a shallow sanctuary rather than a chancel separate from the nave. The nave was used for preaching with lots of box pew seating as shown on the 1798 seating plan presently hanging on the north wall. (see photo below):


The painted wooden royal crest, hanging on the west wall, would have been the coat of arms of the king Georges up to 1801 when the royal arms were changed to reflect the Act of Union with Ireland.


The 1798 sketch (see below) shows a prominent tower and the caption proclaims, 'The Steeple with three bells'.


Towers and bellringing were popular at that time. The plan shows a four-bay nave and a choir/chancel which is walled off from the chancel aisles. The earlier separated chancel and side chapels were likely to have been demolished in this period and moved into the main church. The south east chancel aisle is, significantly, labelled 'hall quire repaired by the Duke of Devonshire'. This displaced side chapel area was inherited by the Devonshires by marriage to the Cliffords and by purchase from the Nortons of Rylstone Hall. The north east aisle area has the seating pew for Bordley Hall which replaced the earlier side chapel area dedicated to Bordley Hall. The clerestory is depicted narrower than the tower and only of two bays which seems odd, but might be artistic licence.  Perhaps the old, narrow and short, saxon or norman church had been retained?

In the 19th century the interpretation of St Peters’ historical development presents us with a dilemma. On the one hand, sources suggest that the church suffered at least two major rebuilding works. On the other hand, close inspection of the church as it is now and comparison with sketches of the church earlier show that the church has remained relatively untouched, except for the rebuilding of the chancel, the removal and restoration of the clerestory walls and alterations to the windows.


What is the evidence that wholesale demolition and rebuilding took place? A newspaper article of 1876 reports that the 'church was demolished in 1820 and replaced by a structure that was described as a veritable blot on a charming landscape and was one of the ugliest churches in the district'!


A drawing in 1851 possibly by Rev. William Bury, the rector of Burnsall and Rylstone at the time, shows this blot on the landscape. (see drawing below).


                                     Drawing of St Peters by Rev. Bury 1851

The 1852 rebuilding is fairly well documented. The church council appointed  architects, Sharpe and Paley of Lancaster, for the design of the  works. In 1850 the architects prepared three drawings and a specification of work. The drawings are entitled 'Plans for Restoration' and show that the church is to be rebuilt but the tower is to be retained and extended in height a further 10 feet. The hand-written specification is entitled 'Specification of the Work and the Materials to be used in the Rebuilding of the Church of St Peter…' and indicates that the church is to be demolished and rebuilt except for the tower, using the stone available from the demolition. It also implies new footings are to be provided. The drawings and specification were approved by the rural dean Rev. Canon William Boyd and the faculty for the works was obtained. The contract for the work was let to a local builder, Thomas Wright, for approx. £1000 (approx. £140,000 in today’s money). An article at the time tells us that the stone came from Cracoe Fell Top Quarry.


Then during construction, 'it was found that the Tower was in so insecure a state, as to lead the committee to resolve to build it also'. The additional cost was approx. £400 bringing the total building cost to £1400. Mr Richard Waddilove was the main benefactor contributing £1000.


The evidence above would lead us to believe that the 1852 restoration was a major rebuild and that there was unlikely to be much of the earlier church left!


Incidentally, inspection of the church as it is now and comparing dimensions with Sharpe and Paley’s drawings show that the church was built broadly according to the architect’s plans except for some discrepancies in the lengths of church at the junction to the tower.

What is the evidence for the alterations being relatively minor?


Examination of the Bury sketch of the church and a layout of pews in approximately 1850 (see above), and another sketch of the interior dated 1843 (see below).,.


Comparison of dimensions and other features with the Sharpe and Paley drawings show that the church and tower outlines are generally similar, except that Paley has added a chancel, restored the 18th century two bay clerestory to the full length of the church, and reduced the number of windows. Also where the plaster on the internal face of the east wall has recently been removed to expose the masonry, there are signs of earlier roof lines (see photo below) in the masonry.

st peters church.JPG

There are signs of a steeper roof line which could have been a narrower saxo-norman chancel arch or east end without aisles. Above this is higher flatter roof line which may be pre-1798 designed to cover the wider medieval aisles.


These earlier roof line signs prove that the east wall was not rebuilt in 1850 but is of earlier date say 18th century if not earlier. It is also interesting to note that comparison of the pre -1852 sketch plan with the 1798 sketch plan shows the basic outline of the church as being similar.


What are we to make of these two conflicting theories?

What probably happened was somewhere in between the two with the supposed 1820 and 1852 demolitions and rebuildings being only partly implemented and much of the existing masonry being retained and existing footings being reused.


We can conclude that the 1820 works consisted of demolition of only the two bay clerestory walls shown on the 1798 sketch resulting in a simple wide and shallow pitched roof being constructed over the whole church. In the side walls, the attractive (to us) 14th century style windows were removed from the side walls and replaced with an increased number of more utilitarian windows. The whole appearance externally would have given an industrial/barnlike aspect to the church - hence the 'ugliest' criticism. Internally the two side chantry chapels dedicated to Bordley Hall and the Duke of Devonshire were removed and replaced with box pews. A west gallery was erected on timber posts to support the band and choir. One of the box pews was removed in the middle of the church to allow a heating stove to be installed. The increase in window area in the side walls would have give much better lighting. Overall these changes would have provided a much more comfortable worship space even though they wouldn’t have looked all that nice!


The 1852 works consequently consisted of restoring the church back to its traditional appearance with an added 'church warden' gothic style. A new chantry was built possibly on the 'foot-print' of the 17th century chantry or else on new footings. The roof was completely rebuilt to a steeper pitch with clerestory walls provided along the whole length of the church. The piers would have had to be rebuilt to support the additional load of the clerestory masonry. The appearance of the side walls was improved by removing the windows and replacing them with fewer and more decorative windows with stainless glass when benefactors could be found. Internally the box pews were replaced with open pews.


The musician’s gallery was removed. It is possible that the construction of the gallery, requiring the removal of the lower part of the east tower wall had weakened the tower and that therefore this tower wall and some of the adjacent north and south walls would have had to be rebuilt. The heating stove and its cast -iron chimney were removed and a new boiler installed in the undercroft.


In whatever way we interpret the details of the 1852 restoration, the works were a significant phase in the life of St Peters and have led to a period of permanence of the church fabric. Since then there has been little major work needed on the church apart from routine maintenance and repairs to the roof timbers and masonry.


Internally, a toilet was recently introduced at the rear of the church, heating and lighting has been improved and a sound system installed. The plaster to the internal faces of the chantry wall masonry was also recently removed to expose the masonry.




  1. “Old Yorkshire Dales” Arthur Raistrick Pages 31 to 32

  2. Listing entry English Heritage

  3. Yorkshire West Riding Nikolaus Pevsner   page 425

  4. St Peters Church Rylstone Vestry documents

  5. History of the Antiquities of the Deanery of Craven Thomas Whitaker

  6. Pointers to the Past Heather Beaumont

  7. Scrapbook Rev. William Bury

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