St Mary, Full Sutton

Although the present church at Full Sutton was re-built in the middle of the nineteenth century, a place of worship was first mentioned here in the early thirteenth century when a chapel was granted independence from the church at Catton. By 1615 the church is described as being in decay.

Although Full Sutton is not named in the Domesday Book as a settlement in its own right, it is generally supposed that ‘Sudtone’, meaning ‘south settlement’, formed part of the larger vill – an administrative unit which can best be understood as approximating to a parish - of Catton. It was not until the thirteenth century that the unflattering prefix ‘Foule’, from the Old English ‘ful’ which means ‘dirty’, was added to the name of the village.

A fascinating insight into Full Sutton is to be found in returns submitted as part of Archbishop Herring’s Visitations of 1743. At this time Full Sutton had no resident priest, the Rector, William Drake, having a dispensation to live at Hatfield. He writes: ‘I have a licenc’d Curate duly qualified who takes good care in the performance of his duty every Sunday morning.’ However, parish duties were not the only responsibilities undertaken by the curate, Robert Robinson. ‘He teaches ye Free School at Pocklington in the Neighbourhood.’ His allowance was £20 a year. The churchwardens were Roger Cobb and John Coultass.

At that time there were no dissenters living in the parish of Full Sutton and there was no non-conformist meeting house. There was no school in the parish and no charitable endowment of any kind.

Archbishop Thompson’s Visitation Returns of 1865 paint a very different picture. The Rector, George Thomas Terry, describes himself as ‘Resident in the parish the whole of the year.’ He ‘Performs the whole duty himself.’ There is no curate. Divine service is performed alternately morning and afternoon every Sunday and a sermon is ‘always preached on every occasion’. As the parish is very small, there are few children to instruct but when required ‘for Confirmation … they are carefully prepared and catechised in the Catechism of the Church of England’.

Out of a population of 130, ‘the average number of communicants at the Great Festivals is from 10-11’. Church attendance generally averages from forty to fifty in summer and from twenty to thirty in winter. He notes: ‘I cannot perceive either much increase or decrease during the last 18 years.’ In his view, however, ‘the want of a stove or two in winter’ does have a detrimental impact on attendance.

Things have changed with regard to non-conformists in the parish. ‘There is here a small Methodist Chapel in which they have service every Sunday when there is none in our Church.’ Although the ‘probable number of Dissenters … may be about a dozen … most inhabitants attend most places’. The Wesleyan Chapel, built in 1828, is now a house.

Rev. Terry had been headmaster of Lady Lumley’s School in Pickering and curate of Thornton Dale before being instituted to the Rectory of Full Sutton in 1845. After taking up his post at Full Sutton, he ran a private school. The following notice appeared in the Yorkshire Gazette of 27th August, 1864:

The Revd. G. T. Terry, D.D., L.L.D., Rector of the small but healthful Parish of Full Sutton, near York, continues to receive into his House SIX PRIVATE PUPILS, Sons of Noblemen, Clergymen, and Gentlemen, to prepare for the Universities, the Public Schools, and the or Professions; also for admittance to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, and for Naval Cadetships. Dr. TERRY, having had above Thirty Years’ experience in the training and management of Youth, is thus enabled speedily and judiciously to impart a thoroughly grounded Education to his Pupils, upon the soundest and most improved principles. Parents and Guardians will find here, for their Children and Wards, on their first leaving the parental roof, a very superior preparatory Education, combined with the comforts of an indulgent Home.

Terms according to age and requirements. The Quarter to commence from the time of entrance.

A prospectus was available on request.

We might compare this with education for the local children in Full Sutton. In his Visitation Returns, Revd. Terry had note: ‘There are no schools but a small village school for Children who pay a weekly pence.’ The churchwardens, however, had claimed in their returns that ‘the Rector’s neglect of Duty’ had led to the loss of the school. Furthermore, in spite of the Rector’s report to the contrary, the churchwardens claimed that ‘the youth are not Catechised’.

In 1865, Rev. Terry wrote of the fabric of the church at Full Sutton: ‘The Church is in good repair as it stands at present although there is a large aperature (sic) a crack in the west wall where when the church was rebuilt about 20 years ago and was enlarged so that the old foundation is separated from the new and endangers the wall to fall.’ Given this crack in the west wall, could the church really be said to be in ‘good repair’?

The church at Full Sutton had been re-built in 1845-6 by George Townsend Andrews. Sheriff of York in 1846-47, a period which coincided with George Hudson’s third term as mayor, Andrews designed many stations for Hudson’s railways, including the one in York which was opened in 1841. He also designed the original buildings for what is now York St. John University.

One of the earliest photographs of the present church at Full Sutton.  The church is old enough for ivy to have become established on the walls.  Note the corn stacks – pikes – in the field behind the church.

The opening of Full Sutton Church was reported in the Yorkshire Gazette of 19th April, 1845.

The opening of the new church, at Full Sutton, took place on Wednesday, the 9th, and was attended by Archdeacon Wilberforce and Lady, together with a large assemblage of ladies, clergy, and gentry in the neighbourhood. In the morning, prayers were read by the Archdeacon, and an excellent sermon was delivered by the Rev. Mr. Churton. After partaking of lunch, the evening service was performed by the Rev. Frederick Rudston Read, and a sermon was preached by the Hon. and Rev. H. D. Erskine. The exertions of the Rev. Mr. Read and his excellent sister have been unbounded and worthy of the greatest praise, in erecting a new place of worship in a village where it was much wanted, the old church being so bad. We believe that the greatest part of the expense was incurred by them ….

The report concludes by expressing pleasure at the news that ‘a living in Lincolnshire more lucrative than Mr. R’s present one’ had just fallen vacant, acknowledging that ‘the neighbourhood’ of Full Sutton would lose ‘an excellent upright man, and the poor benevolent friend’. Rev. Read moved to be the incumbent at Winteringham in Lincolnshire.

These images, probably dating from the later nineteenth century, are taken from two modern photographs found in the vestry.  Who is the gentleman whose photograph appears above each image in the original images?

The church at Full Sutton, re-built in a simple Gothic style using the old masonry, consists of chancel, nave, bell turret and south porch.  In the chancel is a sedilia – from the Latin word ‘sedile’ which means seat – in the south wall near the altar.  There are two recessed seats under a double canopy.  Traditionally, sedilia were used as seating by priests during a service.  In one of the recesses is the original piscina from the church which was discovered in the rectory garden and returned to the chancel by Rev. J. S. Davidson in the latter years of the nineteenth century.

An image which probably dates from the early years of the twentieth century. Some of the old cottages have been demolished and the church is now surrounded by mature trees.

Another photograph of Full Sutton which probably dates from the early twentieth century.

A very tranquil scene indeed in this photograph from the early twentieth century.

In the nave opposite the south door is an octagonal font of Caen stone. Adjacent to the font are two bells. In the entry for Full Sutton, Bulmer’s Directory of 1892 described how the western bell turret contained three bells, ‘one of which dates from old Catholic times’. In fact, the bell being referred to was cast around 1370 making it one of the oldest bells in the area.

Another item of interest in the church is the cross on the altar which was presented in memory of the Rev. G. S. Terry. It is dated 1877.

It was in 1936 that Full Sutton was able to celebrate the completion of restoration work which saw the re-building of the belfry, the building of two new buttresses and a new concrete foundation. The Leeds Mercury of 5th November, 1936, reported that the cost of the restoration was in excess of £200 and that the work had taken ‘some years’ to complete. A thanksgiving service was conducted by the Rev. J. K. Walker, who was in charge of the joint parish of Skirpenbeck-with-Full Sutton, assisted by Canon W. R. Shepherd of Kirby Underdale, Rural Dean, and Archdeacon A. C. England.

There had been extensive fundraising in the form of garden fetes and sales of work to raise funds not only for general repairs to the church but also for the renovation of the church organ. On 28th June, 1934, for instance, the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer reported: ‘The annual garden fete, sale of work, and jumble sale in connection with the Full Sutton Church was held yesterday at the Poplars, Full Sutton, by permission of Mr and Mrs Peter Ward. The proceedings were opened by Mrs H. Dales (York), an old resident of the village.’ Events such as this brought together the community, past and present, in support of a much-loved church.

View of the nave looking towards the chancel at Full Sutton.


There are some fine examples of Victorian stained glass in Full Sutton Church. The east window is in memory of Katharine Atkinson who died on 7th March, 1873. The sister of Rev. Frederick Thomas Read, she married Joseph Atkinson, of Bugthorpe, and in 1851 was a curate’s wife living at Kirby Underdale. Given that she too was singled out for praise for her efforts with regard to the restoration of Full Sutton, it is fitting that there should be a window in memory of her in the church.

The best description of the window is to be found in the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer of 14th March, 1874:

A memorial window has been erected in the east end of this church during the past week. It is composed of three lights, with quatrefoil tracery. In the centre one is a representation of Our Lord upon the Cross, surrounded by an Aureola, the background of the panel being composed of Cherubim of various tints of ruby. At the base of this panel is a smaller quatrefoil, with the pelican and young in it. In the side lights are the figures of the Blessed Virgin and St. John, under canopies of the perpendicular style, with bases of canopy work enriched with foliage ornament of the same character, this style of glass painting being adopted throughout the window. The tracery pieces are filled with angels veiling their faces, and the whole design of the window exhibits great study, as well as artistic excellence, and is from the studio of J. W. Knowles, York.

A brass plate was placed in the floor of the sanctuary bearing a Latin inscription in memory of Katharine Atkinson.

The east window at Full Sutton. The pelican feeding her young with her own blood has been a symbol of the Passion of Christ and the Eucharist since the Middle Ages.

There is another memorial window in the chancel at Full Sutton in memory of Ramsey Garwood and his wife Hannah. Another fine example of Victorian craftsmanship, this window depicts the Annunciation. Ramsey Garwood was a son of Edmund Garwood, vicar of Hessle. He farmed at the Manor House in Full Sutton. There are gravestones to Ramsey and Hannah Garwood in the churchyard at Full Sutton.

Another, much smaller, stained glass window is found at the west end of the church.  This contains emblems of the Four Evangelists and has an oak-leaf border.  In 1945 this window was damaged when a Spitfire crashed at Full Sutton.  The pilot, Flight Lt. Kenneth James Banks, twenty-one years old, was killed in the crash.  Half a century later the window was restored and members of Kenneth Banks’s family invited to Full Sutton to attend the blessing of the restored window.  The church was decorated with Second World War memorabilia loaned by the Yorkshire Air Museum.  There was musical entertainment in church and a supper at the home of Brian Fennell, churchwarden, and his wife Caroline

Back in 1876, the York Herald of 8th June reported the ‘opening’ of a new organ at Full Sutton, ‘the sole gift of Mr. Thomas Coates, of Full Sutton Villa’. The ceremony drew together clergy and choristers from nearby villages:

On Whit Tuesday a new organ built by Mr. Denman, of York, was opened in the church at Full Sutton. The instrument is of ample power and tone for the building. The Rev. J. Appleford of Bugthorpe, presided at the organ and the parish choir were for the first time attired in surplices. They were assisted by some of the choristers from the church at Kirby Underdale.

The Dean of York preached the sermon. ‘At the evening service the Rev. A. Shadwell, rector of Langton, occupied the pulpit.’

There are two memorial slabs on the south wall of the chancel. One is in memory of John Ramsey of Elvington, formerly one of the chief landowners in the parish. The other is a memorial to the Rev. James Rudd who was rector of Full Sutton for thirty-seven years. His obituary notice appeared in the York Herald on 3rd March, 1827, informing readers that he died at his lodgings in York. He was ‘formerly of St. John’s College, Cambridge, and for several years one of the Ministers of the new Episcopal Chapel in Edinburgh’.

In the vestry, built at the north side of the chancel, is a dole board which provides the following information about a charitable bequest made by David Beal of Full Sutton: the dole board in the vestry at Full Sutton.

By a will of 1783, John Cobb also provided charitable relief for the poor of Full Sutton, as did William and Elizabeth Cobb in the early years of the nineteenth century.  Although the Oxford Journal of 2nd June, 1810, mistakenly refers to William and Elizabeth Cobbet, a report in that publication offers a fascinating insight into the circumstances of their charitable undertaking.

On Monday the 14th of May, Elizabeth Cobbet, of Full Sutton aged 76, a maiden lady; and on Tuesday the 15th, while her trustees were consulting her brother, W.Cobbet, of Strensall, how she was to be buried, he died during the consultation, aged 74.  They were buried at Full Sutton, both in one grave.  By their frugality, and narrow way of living, they have scraped together about 14,000 l.  They have both made wills, and left 2200 l. to the poor of Strensall, Full Sutton, and High Catton, and about 2,000 l. more in small legacies.  It is not known who will enjoy the remainder of the property.  There is neither brother nor sister, nephew nor niece, cousin nor half-cousin, and it will be hard to find out the nearest a-kin.

Unfortunately there is no gravestone for Elizabeth and William Cobb.  In the burial register there is a note, ‘Sudden death’, against the name of William Cobb.

Also marked as ‘sudden’ in the burial register was the death of Sarah, wife of Robert Quarton, yeoman, of Full Sutton.  The Yorkshire Gazette of 21st February, 1835, informed readers: ‘The deceased was, through life, much esteemed by all who had the pleasure of her acquaintance; and has died justly loved and regretted by a large circle of relatives and friends.’

While on the subject of the graveyard at Full Sutton, the Yorkshire Gazette of 13th June, 1863, carried the following report: ‘During the last few weeks the mortal remains of three of the oldest inhabitants of the small parish of Full Sutton, near this city, have been committed to their kindred dust.  Their combined ages amounted to 225 years.’  A glance at the Burial Register shows us the burials in question were those of Richard Thompson, William Rispin and Hannah Chapman whose respective ages at the time of death were eighty-seven, seventy-eight and sixty.

Amongst some undated newspaper cuttings preserved in Full Sutton Church is one with the heading ‘Venerable Farmers’:  ‘Five veteran farmers whose ages total 363 years were seen talking together last Tuesday in Pocklington Auction Mart.  They were Mr George Beedham, Mr Richard Brigham, Mr Edmund Johnson (the well-known breeder of Leicester and judge of long-wool sheep), Mr J. Todd, and Mr Stuart.’

Two Johnson brothers of Full Sutton had married two Garwood sisters, Garwood being another name already mentioned in connection with Full Sutton Church.  Edmund Johnson was born in Canada when his parents, Francis and Susannah, were visiting their respective siblings.  The Johnson family had a long association with Full Sutton Grange. 

Another undated newspaper cutting in Full Sutton Church, detailing the death of Edmund Johnson in 1939, notes: ‘An inscription on a house in Full Sutton gives the initials of a member of the family and the date 1767 ….  Mr Johnson farmed at Full Sutton and Catton all his life.  He was a Churchman, and a churchwarden in these parishes.’  After a funeral service at Pocklington, where he was living at the time of his death at the age of eighty-one, Edmund Johnson was buried in the churchyard at Full Sutton.

Full Sutton Church from the north.  The footpath in the foreground was once used by children walking to school in Skirpenbeck.

All photographs ©Ruth Beckett. All text ©Ruth Beckett. 2021

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