April 2017


newsletter april 2017



Dear Friend

Many are the names recorded at St Gregory’s Minster – on the sundial, in various memorials, on charity boards, on the incumbents’ board, on kneelers, in stained glass – of men and women – some long gone, some still kept in living memory, some quite recent – who have formed part of the broad community of Kirkdale, over the centuries and bonding the centuries. At the Sunday morning service of The Friends’ Weekend (this year, May 6th–7th) we express our thankfulness for all, whether their names be remembered or lost, who in one way or another have sustained the continuity of the community gathered around Orm Gamalson’s church. And this year’s Kirkdale Lecture (May 6th) will continue to browse through the archives of Oxford University relating to Kirkdale, from which glimpses may be gained of forgotten personalities and events over the generations since, in the 17th century, Sir Henry Danvers (later Lord Danby) bequeathed ‘the impropriate Rectory or Parsonage of Kirkdale’ to the University, for the use of its rents in the upkeep of ‘the Physick Garden’ (now the Botanic Garden) which he had previously founded in Oxford.

A typical case of a mere name on the incumbents’ board emerging into more specific definition from out of musty papers in the archives is the Revd George Dixon. He it was who, as vicar in the late 1820s, wrote to the Patrons of St Gregory’s Minster – namely the Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Oxford – to advise them that the church was close to structural collapse. Such, says his letter – still in the archive there – was the recent assessment of a local builder, a Mr Rickaby of Kirkbymoorside. Most probably this was one of the two stonemasons, Francis and Thomas Rickaby, who are listed in Pigot’s Directory of 1834 with an address in West End, Kirkbymoorside. The University, legally bound to ensure the good repair of at least the chancel, agreed the engagement of Mr Rickaby to make sufficient repairs, and these were completed by 1829.

In that year, a small 44-page guide-book entitled A Description of Duncombe Park, Rivalx [sic] Abbey, and Helmsley Castle, with Notices of Byland Abbey, Kirkdale Church, &c. was ‘Printed at the Office of R. Cooper’ in ‘Kirby Moorside’. Pigot’s Directory lists ‘Robert Cooper, Post master’ at the town’s Post Office: he seems very probably to be the author and publisher of the booklet. His brief remarks on Kirkdale Church (Appendix pp. 39–40) report that ‘the chief part has been lately rebuilt’ – without giving credit to the Revd George Dixon for that timely concern which most likely saved St Gregory’s Minster from a return to the ruin from which Orm had restored it.

Mr Cooper does, however, give Mr Dixon explicit credit for something else. He mentions (p. 40) ‘a dial, with certain inscriptions (restored through the attention of the Rev. George Dixon, the present Incumbent)’. Precisely what Cooper meant by ‘restored’ is not clarified here. The sundial had already been uncovered in the late 18th century: so Cooper may have meant only that the sense of the inscription on the Anglo-Saxon sundial had been recovered – deciphered, that is, by the Vicar and translated by him from the Anglo-Saxon in which it was written.

Mr Dixon was himself a graduate of the University of Oxford – where one of the most important early modern studies of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts and their contents had only recently been published: Illustrations of Anglo-Saxon Poetry (1826), by John Josias Conybeare, Professor of Anglo-Saxon. Over this period also, in London, Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries such as Benjamin Thorpe, Frederic Madden and John Kemble were launching upon their pioneering publications of Anglo-Saxon gospels, laws, charters, annals, homilies and poetry. This was a time of ‘discovery’ of England’s pre-Conquest culture. Mr Dixon seems set upon claiming a place for his little rural church in the national story - backed up by the expression of local pride embodied in Mr Cooper’s booklet.

George Dixon’s enthusiasm for making known St Gregory’s Minster’s credentials as a pre-Conquest church bearing its own proclamation of its antiquity and origin in the language of the Anglo-Saxons was absolutely praiseworthy. However, it has to be acknowledged that the ‘translation’ of the sundial inscriptions reported by Kirkbymoorside’s Post Master (if it was he) is somewhat inaccurate and somewhat free. The word macan (in the most congested part of the right-hand panel of the dedication), which is in fact the Anglo-Saxon verb ‘to make’, the translator misunderstood as a personal name ‘Macca’. This fictive Macca is then devised to be someone who agreed with Orm, son of Gamal, to rebuild the ruined church ‘from the ground’. Also, the inscription on the ‘dial’ itself is, as given there, not a translation but rather a fairly free interpretation (see below), though admittedly more colourful than the Anglo-Saxon wording strictly read and delivered.

Mr Cooper’s short commendation of Kirkdale in 1829 is worth presenting here in full. With its sympathetic, romantic take upon the ancient church in its sentiment-inspiring natural setting, it usefully characterises the late 18th and early 19th-century response to English antiquity. Lines quoted on the title-page of the booklet well express that response: ‘Happy art thou, if thou canst call thine own / Such scenes as these; where Nature and where Time / Have worked congenial.’ The lines are by the Revd William Mason (1724–97), born and educated in Hull, poet and gardener, Precentor of York Minster, whose poem on gardening, The English Garden, the source of this quotation, was published in three volumes, 1772–82.


A Description of Duncombe Park, Rivalx [sic] Abbey, and Helmsley Castle, with Notices of Byland Abbey, Kirkdale Church, &c. [From the Appendix, p. 39]:

‘KIRKDALE CHURCH : This venerable edifice, distant about four miles from Helmsley, near the Kirby Moorside Road, would from its retired situation, if not pointed out, be likely to escape that attention from the curious traveller which it well deserves, as a relic from antiquity, connected with the beautiful romantic scenery of its vicinity. It is situated in a tranquil valley embosomed in woods. The chief part [p. 40] has been lately rebuilt; but it retains its ancient porch, comprising a dial, with certain inscriptions (restored through the attention of the Rev. George Dixon, the present Incumbent) of which the following are translations:

“Orm, Gamal’s son, bought St Gregory’s Church : then it was all gone to ruin and fallen down ; and he agreed with Maccan to renew it from the ground, to Christ and St. Gregory, in Edward’s days, the King, and Tosti’s days, the Earl.”  In the Centre of the Dial: “This is a draught exhibiting the time of day whilst the Sun is passing to and from the Winter Solstice. And Hawarth me made, and Brand the Priest.”

We learn from Dugdale’s Baronage (vol. 1, p. 313, and vol. 2, p. 416) that Tosti, the fourth son of Godwin Earl of Kent, and brother to King Harold, was created Earl of Northumberland by Edward the Confessor in the year 1056; but he (Tosti) was expelled the Kingdom, anno 1065, and lost his life the year following, at Stamford Bridge, near York, upon his returning, and attempting to recover his former power and dignity. Hence, it appears that this church must have been rebuilt, and the inscriptions placed, between the years 1056 and 1065; which must render it interesting to the antiquary, as one of the few genuine ecclesiastical Saxon remains which are ascertainable at the present day.’


So – back to the present. The Trustees hope that there will be good representation of members of the Friends at the Annual General Meeting on Saturday 6th May (2.30 p.m. at St Gregory’s Minster). The Kirkdale Lecture (‘Parsons, patronage and peasantry in the later archives of Kirkdale’) will follow the AGM, and all are invited to complimentary light refreshments afterwards in the Millennium Room, Beadlam. On Sunday, as part of the Friends’ Weekend, following the morning service of commemoration of founders and benefactors in St Gregory’s Minster, Friends who have reserved a place will gather for the Friends’ Luncheon at the Cottage Lea Hotel, Middleton. If by mischance you have not received AGM papers and a booking form for the Luncheon, please contact the Honorary Secretary, Mrs Margery Roberts (Email: margery.campbellroberts@outlook.com; Tel: 01751_430255), urgently.

Finally, the Trustees wish to thank you for your ongoing and hearteningly loyal support by subscriptions, generous donations and practical assistance in various ways; and they wish you a pleasant and sunny Summer.


Sid Bradley


Telephone: 01904_659784 - Email: hengest111@aol.com


The Trustees: Mrs Heather Harris (Chairman); Mrs Margery Roberts (Honorary Secretary); Mrs Diana Pearce (Honorary Treasurer); Reverend Susan Binks; Professor Sid Bradley; Mr Bob Chapple; Mrs Erica Dineen; Mr James Lloyd; Mr Gordon Mellor and Mr John Turner.  “The Friends of St Gregory’s Minster” is a charity registered with the Charity Commission, Charity Number 700344.