St James' Church



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The first church in Bilbrough was probably Norman.  A picture of the first church shows a small church with a tower at the West End and entry to the church by a south door. The windows are Gothic. The Chantry Chapel is now all that remains of that ancient church. The old church seated 76 and catered for a village of under 200 people. In 1873 the old church was pulled down and rebuilt by the architect G Fowler Jones. A font, perhaps Norman, was taken out of the old church when it was rebuilt and is now in the garden of the Old Rectory.  

The new church, seating 156 people, was built in the Norman style. It cost £2,264 – not much when it is considered that the average parsonage at the time cost £1,500 to build.  Thomas Fairfax provided the money and also built a Public School at a cost of £154.  There was a private school in the parish in the 18th century. An entry in the Book of Accounts for 1st December 1782, shows ‘Work done at ye Schoolhouse and materials 6/9’ and on 14th January 1782 details ‘School windows mending 1/2d’. On 11th November 1810, there is a payment ‘To Mr Blanchard for Advertisement for a Schoolmaster £1 1.0d.’)

Looking round the Church

West End

The font dates from 1873

The small chamber organ was used by Dr Jackson in York Minster during the repairs to the Minster, is perhaps 150 years old.

The pews are of deal with pitch pin ends (1873)

The coloured kneelers were made a few years ago by parishioners.

The roof timbers are worth a glance.

The pulpit is of oak (1873)

The glass in the chancel window is from the old church – probably Victorian – the rest of the glass (unfortunately not clear) was put in in 1873.


The South Chapel

Built in the late Perpendicular style (15th century), the responds, column and the two arches which separate the Chapel from the nave have typical West Riding detail.  The exterior of the Chapel is mostly of late medieval date, but the upper part of the gables are by G Fowler Jones.

  “In the Chapel there is the big 15th century tomb chest of John Norton, Founder of the Chapel, with shields and quatrefoils on the northside, some co-eval panelling on the east side, but with the remainder of the east side and the whole of the south and west sides built up in plain ashlar.  The ledger slab contains the indentation of a number of brasses.  (According to H Speight in Lower Wharfedale the stone corbels on either side of the east window of the Chapel were for lamps which were to be kept lit; mass was to be said in Chapel for the repose of his soul and for this he left a benefaction of about £5 a year for the mass priest.)

The other large tomb is that of Thomas, Third Lord Fairfax of Cameron – ‘Black Tom’.  He was born 17th January 1612 at Denton Hall near Otley.  He was Knighted by Charles I in York, January 1641and became Commander in Chief of the Parliamentary Army which defeated Charles I at Naseby in June 1645.  Fairfax was a moderate.  He opposed the execution of Charles I and eventually the politics became too much for him.  In 1650 he retired to his estates of which Bilbrough was one.  He briefly re-emerged into public life in 1659 and 1660 to play a significant part in the restoration of Charles II.

We owe the saving of the great wealth of medieval stained glass and church fittings in York Minster to him.  He married Anne, daughter of Lord Vere of Tilbury, who is buried with him in his tomb.  He died at Nun Appleton Hall 12th November, 1671. The tomb was erected by Fairfax’s daughter Mary, Duchess of Buckingham.  Her tutor was the poet Andrew Marvell and Bilbrough is featured in some of his poems. Markham says that Ingrish Hill was a favourite resort of the retired general’  (see Andrew Marvell’s poem on Bilbrough Hill.)  The black marble ledger which forms the top of the tomb was fine lettering and in incised Coat of Arms.  The east and south sides of the tomb chest are rough ashlar.  The north side of the tomb chest has three pilasters, deeply carved with trophies, ribbons and garlands.  These separate two panels containing very richly carved shields, crests and matelling.  The west end of the tomb chest has two pilasters richly carved with trophies, ribbons and garlands.  The centre panel has superbly carved shield, crest, mantelling and supporters.

In 1984 the Parochial Church Council launched an appeal for the restoration of the chapel and tomb.  The eminent historian Dame C.V. Wedgwood wrote a commendation for the appeal brochure.  The Dean and Chapter of York Minster instructed their stonemasons to restore the tomb.  This was an expression of their gratitude for the orders that Fairfax gave when the City of York capitulated after the battle of Marston Moor and which prevented the destruction of the stained glass in the Minster and other churches in York.  York Civic Trust presented an illuminated wall plaque for the chapel which tells the story of Fairfax.  A leather bound book on an oak stand contains the names of those who contributed to the appeal and who came not only from the United Kingdom but from much further afield.


The Chancel

This was re-ordered under the direction of Mr G Pace F.R.I.B.A. and dedicated by the Archbishop of York in January 1971.  The medieval altar stone was taken from the chancel floor (under the old altar) and incorporated into the present altar table.  The reredos comes from St Sampson’s redundant York Church.  The floor was paved with old York stone.  The cross designed by Mr Pace was made by Mr H Hagyard of Healaugh, of iron, beaten when cold, and was gilded by Bellerby’s of York.  The old Victorian tiles round the chancel walls were removed.


Communion Plate

The chalice and cover were made by Cusson of York 1618.

The silver paten and flagon were made by Langlands, Newcastle, 1756 and inscribed ‘The gift of the parishioners 1763’. (Treaty of Paris at the end of seven years’ War.)



The Registers date from 1695 and in addition there are two volumes of Accounts.  The first volume is entitled ‘The Book of Accounts for the Town and Parish of Bilbrough’ begun in December 1718, a note records that the last town’s book was dated 1590, and burnt in a fire at the house of the Parish Clerk, Arthur March.  These volumes contain the accounts of churchwardens, the overseers of the poor, the surveyors of the Highways, and the parish constable. 

The poor were a problem from Elizabethan times onward and the registers show how poor people were hurried from the parish as the parish where they came from was responsible for looking after them.  Bilbrough has a ‘Poor House’ and there was a Workhouse in Tadcaster:  Entries show:

 February 3rd 1779  To Poor Houses thatching 2/- 

October 28th 1779 for Glazing Poor Houses 10d

July 11th 1781  “Our proportion to Tadcaster’s Workhouse £1 6s.” 

“Richard Rawden of Bilbrough by his Deed dated 23rd day of December, 1758, did give 6d on Sunday weekly to six poor person of Bilbrough attending Divine Service, who are most in need either in money or bread.” 

Every church had a Poor Box.  We see no such poverty nowadays.


There are entries about the repair of the roads, the grazing on the common land, the payment for destruction of pests; for three dozen sparrows 1/-; for fox’s head 1/-; for foumart’s head (polecat) 4d. (April 3rd 1778)


November 5th was kept – “Ale and candles 1/3. 1779”


Entries record cost of cleaning and repairing church and getting bread and wine for sacrament Sunday i.e. on Easter, Whitsun and Christmas (the only occasions when Communion was given in many churches in the 18th Century).


There is an entry (1720) about subscriptions for the sinking of a well for the village.


Archbishop Herring asked for returns from the clergy in 1743, and the Bilbrough returns are of interest:

There were about thirty families in the parish, one private school “where children are taught to read and learn their Catechism at their parents’ expense, who take care to bring them to church.”


There was no vicarage; the incumbent lived at Askham Richard.

“Public service is performed in my church only once every Lord’s Day, the other part of the Day it is performed at my church in Askham Richard.”

“The sacrament is administered in my Church at least three times a year.”

“When I catechise, which is in Lent, the parents send their children to be catechised.”


The Parish Registers have an entry of the baptism of the child of George Teazle ‘soldier at the beacon, 1808.’  The beacon, on Ingrish Hill was one of a chain of beacons to warn the country if Napoleon landed.  Remains of the beacon were found by Mr Atkinson some years ago.

It is interesting to note from the Registers how self sufficient even so small a village as Bilbrough was.  Occupantions recorded:  butcher, tailor, cordwainer, joiner, labourer, farmer, school teacher, shoemaker, wheelwright, shop keeper, blacksmith and victualler (at the Three Hares).


Apart from Black Tom, Bilbrough has gained fame from the poet Andrew Marvell.  He was for a few years tutor to Maria, Black Tom’s daughter, and lived at Nun Appleton.  The poem ‘Upon the Hill and Grove of Bil-borrow’ is dedicated to Lord Fairfax.  This hill – Ingrish Hill – had a grove of trees on top, and though Marvell says it was visible to sailors coming up the Humber, it is more likely it was the Ouse when ‘after a long journey, and upon catching sight of Bilbrough Hill, sailors could prepare to unload their cargo at York, still in Marvell’s time a significant port.’  (R Wilson, Dept. of English, York University.)


The Altar Table

Before you leave the church look again at the east end and the Altar Table, the focal point of all Catholic Churches.  The Altar Table is both ancient and modern.  It is ancient in that the medieval altar stone with the five consecration crosses (five for the five wounds of the Christ) has been re-used.  It is also modern, made in 1970 to incorporate the old stone.


So the altar-table reminds us that while we can learn from the past, we not be fettered by the past.  The present age has rejected a good deal of the cant, hypocrisy, humbug, pomposity, of a former age.  No doubt future ages will reject much that we prize.  The church always needs the renewal of the Holy Spirit.  Strong winds of change disturb and bewilder.  But “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and for ever,”  (Hebrews, Ch.13, V.5.)   The Holy Table for the Lord’s own service on the Lord’s own day still stands as the place where Jesus is known in the Breaking of the Bread.  A modern Communion Service ends:  “Go forth in peace”…  Take into the world what you have learned in the House of God.


The Bell Tower

The home of the Bell Ringers

In May 1988, the existing bell frame was found to be dangerous and any further ringing or chiming would be hazardous as this was likely to collapse the bell frame with disastrous consequences. It was essential that a new steel frame was made as soon as possible.  It was also necessary to replace the separate ringing and chiming mechanisms of the bells.


A new frame capable of supporting five bells was manufactured locally and installed.  The three restored and re-tuned bells were re-hung in the new steel frame in 1991. The Millennium Bell Appeal formed the final part of this earlier project by raising funds to buy and install the remaining two bells in the frame. The new bells were dedicated at a special service held on Sunday 14th November 1999 by the Right Reverend Humphrey Taylor, Bishop of Selby.

The Bells comprise:






Mears & Stainbank, London


3  -  2  -  0


Thomas Mears II, London 


4  -  2  - 24


George Dalton, York 


5  -  0  - 27


George Dalton, York


6  -  0  - 16


George Dalton, York


6  -  2  - 24


The bells were rung on 31st December 1999 to celebrate the Millennium and joined in the New Year celebrations by being rung at midday on 1st January 2000 with all the church bells in Great Britain.

The peal is tuned to the key of B flat (945Hz)





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This site was last updated 05-06-2004