Bishop Wilton is mentioned in the Domesday Book in the eleventh century when, as a relatively small settlement, the village had a church and a priest. The land was in the possession of the Archbishop of York. Indeed, the dedication of the church to St. Edith has sometimes been attributed to Aeldred, Archbishop of York from 1061, who had previously been Bishop of Wiltshire where, at Wilton Abbey, St. Edith had taken Holy Orders.
The history of Bishop Wilton can, in fact, be traced back even earlier. In his history of 1736, Francis Drake described how the Manor of ‘Wilton’ was amongst the lands given by Athelstan, King of Northumbria, who died in 939 AD, to Archbishop Wulstanus of York. To the east of the village, in a field named Hall Garth or Hall Garth Close, there was once a palace believed to have been built by Archbishop Grey in the first half of the thirteenth century and, most probably, destroyed towards the end of the fourteenth century when Archbishop Neville of York, amongst others, had his lands and good seized in the political turmoil of the reign of Richard II. The manor at Bishop Wilton remained in the hands of the Archbishops of York until 1544 when it passed to the Crown.
The manor house, now demolished, which stood to the west of the church.
Although the present church at Bishop Wilton was restored for Sir Tatton Sykes in 1858-5 by J. L. Pearson, a Gothic Revival architect whose other work includes Truro Cathedral, much remains of the Norman church. Indeed, St. Edith’s Church is a fine example of what could be achieved by an architect who sought not to destroy the medieval fabric but rather to preserve as much of it as possible and to incorporate it in the new design.
A good example of the way in which Pearson used original material is to be found in the south doorway. About half of the re-built doorway consists of the original Norman carvings. The new carvings – discernible from the lighter colour of the stone – are in keeping with the Romanesque originals.
The south doorway is richly decorated with carvings of animals, human figures, beakheads, fantastical creatures and abstract designs
There are Romanesque carvings too in the chancel arch although the present arch owes more to J. L. Pearson and his restoration work than to the Norman craftsmen. The arch was re-built using fragments of the original which were found elsewhere in the church fabric.
Details from the chancel arch.
The nave looking towards the chancel.
The church at Bishop Wilton consists of a chancel, a nave with two aisles, a north transept which now serves as vestry, a south porch and a tower. The organ is accessed by means of a small room on the north side of the chance. The arcades date from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The late fourteenth-century tower is unusual in that it stands within the nave, so much so that its north and south arches almost touch those of the north and south aisles. The tower, supported by three arches and the west wall of the nave, retains some of its medieval carvings.
Medieval carvings found on the tower.
Beneath the tower is a font of Caen stone surmounted by an elaborately carved cover. The font is richly carved with figures of eight saints. From west, moving in a clockwise direction, these are: St. John the Baptist St. Cuthbert, St. Chad, St. Paulinus St. Philip, St. Oswald and St. Columba. The cover, with gothic tracery and spires, is decorated with the Four Evangelists and four doctors of the western church. From west and moving clockwise are St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke and St. John alternating with St. Gregory, St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Jerome and St. Ambrose. Dating from 1902, the font cover is by Temple Moore who was probably responsible for the font itself.
The octagonal pulpit is also of Caen stone. Near to the pulpit is a medieval stoup – a basin for holy water - with a projecting bowl.
Across the chancel arch is a brass and iron screen by another architect who made his name in the Gothic Revival of the nineteenth century, namely G. E. Street. No expense was spared in the restoration of St. Edith’s Church.
The mosaic floor of the nave is another striking feature of St. Edith’s Church. This dates not from the nineteenth-century restoration but from 1902 and is the work of Salviati & Co. of Italy. The design is a copy of a floor in the Vatican which, in turn, replicates an earlier original from the second century AD. The story told locally is that the mosaic in St. Edith’s was shipped from Italy and later transported from Fangfoss Station by horse and cart to Bishop Wilton.
The elaborately decorated roof is another striking feature of Bishop Wilton Church. The entry for Bishop Wilton in Bulmer’s Directory of 1892 records that around eight thousand gold leaves were used to decorate the roof and that this part of the restoration work alone cost in the region of £700.
There is also some very fine wood carving to be found in the church. The introduction of carved oak pews has been attributed to Temple Moore. These replaced the plain oak pews of J. L. Pearson’s restoration. There is more than one green man to be found on the pew ends. Apart from the pews, some of the most impressive wood carving is to be found in the north transept, now used as a vestry but also the Chapel of St. Helen. An earlier historical guide to St. Edith’s noted that the screen here was designed by Temple Moore.
Wood carvings in Chapel of St. Helen in the north transept.
Note the individualised features and gestures of the angels in the Chapel of St. Helen, left and centre. Right, one of the carved heads on the pew ends in the nave.
St. Edith’s Church has some very fine examples of Victorian stained glass, most from the workshop of Clayton and Bell of London. The west window can be dated with some accuracy from an entry in the School Log Book for Friday October 16th, 1863:
Some of the children have had leave from school this afternoon to go and gather evergreens for the decoration of the church ready for Monday when the Archbishop of York will hold a confirmation and also for the new stained glass window in the East in memory of the Late Sir Tatton Sykes Bart which has been finished this week.
This particular window is of great iconographic significance with regard to the history of the church. It depicts St. Edith of Wilton, flanked by King Athelstan and St. John of Beverley.
The three main lights in the west window of Bishop Wilton Church: King Athelstan, St. Edith of Wilton and St. John of Beverley.
St. John of Beverley, believed to have been born at Harpham, was Bishop of Hexham and Bishop of York before founding a monastery in Beverley. After visiting the shrine of St. John in around 938 AD, King Athelstan granted the right of sanctuary to Beverley. He attributed his subsequent defeat of the Scots to the prayers he offered at the shrine of St. John and, as an expression of gratitude, gave lands – including the manor of Bishop Wilton - to the See of York.
The central panel of the window depicts St. Edith – St. Edith of Wilton, to be precise – to whom the church at Bishop Wilton is dedicated. The dedication of the church at Bishop Wilton to St. Edith has been discussed in detail by Kate Pratt in one of the Bishop Wilton Local History Bulletins. It is an unusual dedication in that there is only one other church dedicated to St. Edith. This is at Baverstock, a village located close to Wilton in Wiltshire.
Edith’s story is a fascinating one. Wulfthryth, the mother of Edith, was a lay member of the community at Wilton Nunnery. She had a child by King Edgar – this child was Edith – but soon returned to Wilton where Edith grew up. Edith died when just twenty-two years old and was buried at Wilton. She was elevated to sainthood by King Aethelred, her half-brother, and many miracles were recorded at her shrine.
Details of Edith’s life and her after-life as a saint are recorded by the French hagiographer, Goscelin, in his ‘Life of St. Edith’. King Canute, amongst others, was a devoted follower and the cult of St. Edith grew. Another of her followers was Aelred who, as noted earlier, became Archbishop of York. It was Aelred who crowned William the Conqueror on Christmas Day, 1066. If, as seems likely, the first church at Bishop Wilton was built at the instigation of Aelred, what would make more sense than to dedicate that church to the saint whose cult he had followed, the saint who had saved him from drowning when crossing the Adriatic on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
In the north aisle of the church, the window to the west of the north door depicts The Annunciation, the Visit of Mary to Elizabeth, the Nativity of Jesus and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.
Scenes from the Life of Jesus
Also in the North Aisle is a window depicting scenes from the life of Jesus: Jesus working as a carpenter while Mary and Joseph look on; Jesus in the Temple; Jesus baptised by John the Baptist; and the Sermon on the Mount.
Corporal Acts of Mercy in the Chapel of St. Helen
In the north transept, the Chapel of St. Helen, the window on the west wall depicts the Corporal Acts of Mercy. On the left side, from top to bottom, we see Clothing the Naked, Giving Water to the Thirsty, Feeding the Hungry; on the right, from top to bottom, we see Visiting the Sick, Offering Hospitality to the Stranger, Ministering to Prisoners. Normally there are seven Corporal Acts of Mercy but here there are depictions of just six, Burying the Dead having been omitted.
The east window depicts The Last Supper, The Crucifixion and The Resurrection. However, this window is largely obscured by a reredos – a gift from Sir Tatton Sykes in 1880 – in the form of a Calvary triptych, a copy of an original from Brugge which is in a museum at Cologne.
On the north wall of the chancel is a window depicting The Passover Feast, Water Springing from the Rock in the Wilderness and Manna in the Wilderness. On the South Wall is a window depicting three miracles, another with a Jesse Tree and a third depicting the Lamb of God.
The south aisle has a rich array of stained glass. Above the altar, dedicated to Our Lady, at the east end of the aisle is a window depicting scenes from the Gospels. On the left, from top to bottom, are: Peter saved from drowning in the Sea of Galilee, Jairus’s daughter restored to life, Jesus curing a blind man. In the centre, from top to bottom: The healing of Peter’s mother-in-law; the young man of Nain restored to life; the healing of the paralytic lowered through a roof. On the right, from top to bottom: A deaf mute is cured, Lazarus is restored to life, a woman with haemorrhaging being healed as she touches the hem of Jesus’s garment.
On the altar of Our Lady in the south aisle is a copy of the Wilton Dyptich. The original was painted for Richard II, who is depicted in the dyptich. The original, which is now in the National Gallery, was at one time in the possession of the Herbert family – the Earls of Pembroke – whose home at Wilton had been the convent where St. Edith lived. .
The east window in the south aisle of Bishop Wilton Church
The disciples enter the Temple; Dorcas is restored to life.
The remaining three windows in the south aisle depict scenes from the Acts of the Apostles. The first shows the disciples entering the Temple after the Resurrection, Peter and John healing a lame man in the Temple, the restoration to life of Dorcas – also known as Tabitha – who was renowned for her good works.
Window at the east end of the south aisle.
South aisle windows with scenes from the life of St. Paul.
The next window, shows at bottom left, Stephen, one of the first seven deacons; top left, Stephen being stoned to death. Top right shows Peter beginning the preaching; bottom right shows St. Philip baptising the Ethiopian eunuch.
Next to that, nearest the south door, is a window showing scenes from the life of St. Paul. Bottom left depicts a scene when St. Paul receives the faith; top left, St. Paul preaches in Athens; bottom right, St. Paul revives the youth Eutyches who, falling asleep while St. Paul preaches, topples from a third-storey window; and top right, St. Paul is beheaded.
There are several memorial plaques in the south aisle at Bishop Wilton in memory of members of the Hildyard family. At one time, the Hildyard family were to be found at Winestead in Holderness.
Sir William Hildyard was born and baptised at Beverley in 1582. He died at Bishop Wilton on 6th October, 1632. In the National Archives is a record of a court case in which Sir William Hildyard took action against several men who were charged with ‘Bessetting Sir William Hildyard’s house at Bishop Wilton’ as well as affray, resisting arrest, jury-packing – influencing the choice of jurors to determine a particular outcome or verdict in court cases – and other offences. Richard Darley of Buttercrambe married Elizabeth, daughter and co-heir of Sir William Hildyard. Welbury Norton was the grandson of William Hildyard.
The Latin inscription ‘Vive et frui’ means ‘Live and enjoy’.
There are other memorial plaques in the church, some of which were clearly moved in the course of the mid-nineteenth-century restoration. One, in memory of the Revd. William Metcalfe, who was vicar at Bishop Wilton for forty-seven years, and his wife Isabel, is placed so high up on the west wall of the north aisle that it is not easy to read. William died in 1833 aged eighty-four, his widow six years later aged sixty-seven.
There are wall plaques in memory of a son and daughter of Revd. Edward Peters, vicar of Bishop Wilton, and his wife Ada Annie; their daughter, Margaret Annie, who died aged twenty-six, and their son, Gerard Peters, who died on active service in France in 1917. There are memorial plaques too to members of the Bardwell family of Bolton Hall and to L. Dales of Bishop Wilton.
Amongst the memorials in church is one to members of the Eldridge family. An obituary report for the Revd. J. A. Eldridge appeared in the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer on 11th January, 1905.
The Revd. John Adams Eldridge, who had for over forty-seven years been vicar of the parish, died yesterday at Bishop Wilton, York. Mr. Eldridge, who was 90 years of age, had been in orders for over 63 years. Before he went to Bishop Wilton he held the perpetual curacy of St. James’s, Sutton, Hull. Previously he held curacies at Bridlington and Sigglesthorne.
Mr. Eldridge had not occupied the pulpit at Bishop Wilton for some time, but quite recently he performed a marriage ceremony. He commemorated the 90th anniversary of his birth in December last and his long occupation of the living by planting in the churchyard a young horse chestnut tree. Lung troubles have been the source of a good deal of ill-health to him at various times, and latterly he has been a victim to muscular rheumatism, which has confined him to his house. His mental faculties were up to the end wholly unimpaired. The funeral will take place at Bishop Wilton on Friday.
At this time the vicar lived in a house near the church, the one with railings shown on the photograph below. The church path is almost opposite the steps leading up from the bridge.
After the death of Revd. Eldridge, a new vicarage was built on the edge of the village
On 21st July, 1909, the London Evening Standard carried the following advertising notice: Yorkshire Wolds – Vicarage to Let, Aug. – Sep., or part (also for York Pageant, July 26-31); bracing air; picturesque country, at foot of Yorkshire Wolds; three reception, six bed rooms, servants’ room, bath-room; croquet, tennis; pony cart extra.
The rent, without extras, was five guineas a week.
This vicarage, later a rectory, was in use until the departure of the Revd. James Finnemore in 2016. It was sold in 2018.
Today Bishop Wilton is part of the Garrowby Hill Benefice along with the parishes of Kirby Underdale, Bugthorpe, Skirpenbeck and Full Sutton. The benefice house is a modern dormer bungalow opposite the new village hall in Bishop Wilton.
There has been ongoing restoration work at St. Edith’s Church. The weather cock has been re-guilded. Towards the end of the twentieth century, Colin Robinson, an electrician from the village, designed and installed an impressive new lighting scheme for the church. Most recently the clock has been restored. On the reverse of the hour hand was written 16/5/80.
In recent years, the tower has been strengthened with steel rods and the spire re-mortared. The spire rises to a height of 120 feet.
Photographs ©Ruth Beckett and Ian Jones. All text ©Ruth Beckett.
The church bells, which are not in use, are of historical importance. The treble dates from 1649 and is the work of Abraham Smith of the ‘bell house’ at Toft Green in York. The tenor was made by his son Samuel in 1687. The middle bell is from 1791 and is by Robert Dalton of York.
Above the communion table is a handsome triptych, a copy of two triptychs held in the Wallraf-Richartz Museum Cologne. It was the gifted to St Ediths by Sir Tatton Sykes (5th Baronet) in 1883.
The frame we know was produced by Foord and Dickinson, Wardour Street London. (Famous in their time but long out of business.) They worked for the National Gallery. Also, we know that J.M.W. Turner, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Holman Hunt, Edward Burne-Jones and James McNeill Whistler all used Foord and Dickinson to frame their work.
They were painted (copied) by an artist called Peter Hoegen in 1882. Hoegen was a pupil of Edward von Steinle. Steinle was in the employ of the museum around the time the copies were made.
The altarpiece is in fact based on two artworks held by the Wallraf-Richartz Museum: The central picture and the two pictures flanking it seem to be copies of a triptych which was painted for the prominent Rotterdam family Kievit and which might once have been placed near the family tomb in the Laurentskerk (Groote Kerk) in Rotterdam. This is attributed to the Master of Delft. The original centre three panels were painted around 1520-1525 The two outer pictures seem to be copies of a triptych commissioned by Margarethe Pastor and her husband of Cologne. Their landscapes were painted by a pupil of Jan van Scorel, then the portraits were added in Cologne by Bartholomäus Bruyn the Elder.