August 2016

THE FRIENDS OF ST GREGORY’S MINSTER KIRKDALE

newsletter august 2016

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Dear Friends

I had never heard of a takeover bid being made on a church until …

Recently digging into archives relating to Kirkdale in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, I came across a letter beginning:

“Sir, I am requested to act as Secretary to the Earl of Feversham and to write to you about the living of Kirkdale in this neighbourhood.”

The letter, dated 28th May 1875, is addressed to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford whose Chancellor, together with the Masters and the Scholars of the University, had owned the advowson (the rights of patronage) of St Gregory’s Minster ever since “the parsonage impropriat of Kirkedale in the County of Yorke with all the Rightes apperteyninge thereunto” was bequeathed to them by the Will of Sir Henry Danvers (Lord Danby), proved in February 1644.

    < Lord Feversham

William Ernest Duncombe (1829-1915), 1st Earl of Feversham was the owner of Duncombe Park, Helmsley, and at that time a very considerable presence in “this neighbourhood”. His wealth, generosity and concern for the spiritual well-being of his tenants, employees and other parishioners in villages where he owned property and land have benefitted, for example, Harome (St Saviour, 1861), Beadlam (St Hilda, 1882-3), Kirkdale (The Vicarage, 1894) and Rievaulx (restoration of the 13th c. Gate or Slipper Chapel, 1907). But however personally zealous Duncombe was in this respect there can be no doubt that another formidable force stood half-concealed behind the modest designation of “Secretary to the Earl of Feversham”:  Charles Norris Gray, Vicar of Helmsley.

“The Eton-and-Oxford-educated son and grandson of bishops, bearded like an Old Testament prophet, driven by unstoppable righteous energy, as keen on hygiene and sanitation as he was on high-church devotions, Gray could ‘hold his own in a boxing match against any of his parishioners with one arm tied behind his back’, according to one historian.” [Link]

The author of this appraisal of Gray (journalist Martin Vander Weyer) goes on to speak of “Gray’s determination to provide a place of worship in every hamlet under his sway” and his “passion for church-building” (largely at Duncombe’s cost). It would be naïve not to see Gray’s personal ambitions lurking behind the aristocratic front of his approach to the Oxford dignitaries.

   < Charles Norris Gray 

“Sir, I am requested to act as Secretary to the Earl of Feversham and to write to you about the living of Kirkdale in this neighbourhood. I understand that the University recently gave some intimation that they were willing to part with the advowson to the Archbishop of York, but that he did not wish to proceed in the matter. The Earl of Feversham who has some property in Kirkdale Parish would not be unwilling to take the advowson of the living in [exchange for (crossed out)] return for aid given to him towards the building of a Church or of a Parsonage House. May I ask whether the University are still desirous of parting with the advowson and how far they would be willing to meet the views of the Earl of Feversham. I remain, Mr Vice Chancellor, Sincerely, C. N. Gray.”

What Gray evidently expected to appeal to the University in this proposed transaction was the prospect it offered the University of offloading its obligation to pay a stipend to the Vicar and its legal responsibility for the upkeep of the chancel. This the university would achieve by paying the earl a sum of money which, Gray suggested, would be used to build another church or a vicarage (of which Kirkdale stood in great need). Evidently the Vice-Chancellor wrote a polite reply to Gray assuring him of personal attention to the matter.

Shortly afterwards, encouraged by what was probably no more than a bland courtesy, Gray wrote again - this time coming on more strongly. Clearly he thought it should be obvious that the earl would be doing the University a favour by taking the Kirkdale advowson off their hands. He wrote:

“I know that Lord Feversham would not be likely to accept of any proposal which was not made on very favourable terms. For we must not forget that there is 1st. No Church amidst the population but only an old unrestored one far away from any habitation in a field by itself. It would require a new church at Nawton. 2. That there is no Vicarage House. 3. That the Endowment is miserably small. 4. That it is a very extensive & difficult Parish - in fact, length without breadth. Believe me, My dear Mr Vice Chancellor, with many thanks for your kind promise of personal interest in the matter. [Etc.].”              

Time passed, apparently without any further evidence of that personal interest the Vice-Chancellor had blandly offered. Gray - now bristling, one might imagine, with that “unstoppable righteous energy” which, some said, finally drove him to his grave (though he had by then exceeded his three score years and ten) - determined to give the screw another twist or two in a new letter, 29th March 1876.

“At the present moment the University is paying a considerable sum annually to Mr Tudor [Charles Tudor, the incumbent 1863-1877], and is continually being pressed by him, and not without reason, to augment the living. It is therefore a continual loss & expense to the University and is likely to cost them still more. Under these circumstances would not the University be willing to transfer the advowson to Lord Feversham on condition that he improved the living by some fixed annual sum (from some properly invested capital of course) [inserted]. Such a plan would save the pocket of the University, for the living is a considerable annual loss to them. It would also save them from any further payment by way of increasing the living. It would also be fairest for the living, for the University could hardly honourably sell the living just to free themselves from the responsibilities which at present attach to it.”

Perhaps Charles Tudor was quietly party to this scheme: certainly, as Gray evidently knew, he had written independently to the University, cogently pleading (with a tabulation of his living costs) his need of an improved stipend. But it seems very likely that officers of the University - notable among them W. B. Gamlen, the long-serving Secretary to the Curators of the University Chest (the office which handled the University’s properties) who was in intermittent correspondence with the incumbents and took an educated interest in the church - were better informed of, and certainly possessed of more respect for, the antiquity of the Minster than was Gray.

At any rate, the earl’s commercial proposition left the University unpersuaded; and in the end the formidable Vicar Gray of Helmsley failed in his perhaps over-played bid to secure the advowson in a bargain package which, in the longer run, would more than likely have left the remote St Gregory’s Minster - the church rebuilt from a ruin by Orm Gamalson eight centuries previously - alone and deserted in its field, to sink once more into ruin, while a new parish church was built in Nawton. Instead, shortly afterwards, in 1881, the University resolved to fund (“at a cost of over £600,” the archives record) a complete rebuilding of the chancel. Mr Tudor, however, saw no adequate increase in his stipend and in 1877, a year after Gray’s failed deal with Oxford, he resigned the living to move to North Newbald in the East Riding, a more populous and probably more prosperous parish than was Kirkdale. So ended the takeover bid for St Gregory’s Minster, 1875-76.

There is much in the archives to remind us of where we, the Friends, stand in the long history of Kirkdale’s fluctuating fortunes. Thanks particularly to Frederick Powell, Vicar 1904-1930, we have inherited a church still endowed with ancient cultural treasures even though they, like the building itself, have suffered many a trauma. It is a church which embodies in its history and in its very fabric testimony to remarkable continuities in the Christian life of North Yorkshire and of the country as a whole. To share some of the responsibility for looking after this treasury is a worthy commitment for which every Friend is entitled to take credit, and from which to take justifiable satisfaction.

As we wait for various projects and plans to reach finalisation, there is little to report at this time. Forthcoming are the Patronal Festival on Sunday 4th September followed by the Friends’ Luncheon (detailed information comes to you with this Newsletter); and the week-long residential visit to Holy Island (Lindisfarne) from Monday 12th to Friday 16th September.

Further details of these and other matters of relevance and interest to the Friends can now be accessed online at the website: www.kirkdalechurches.org.uk. Please, please, if you have any interest in becoming a contributor to our new but growing website, in any area whatsoever, don’t be slow to contact us - ‘us’ being the small group of five who have put the website together in the hope that others will join in to enrich and improve the service it can give to those who visit it with a purpose or come across it while surfing the wide ocean of the internet. Initially, contact either Susan Binks (binksharome@btinternet.com) or me, Sid Bradley (SAJBradley@aol.com).

On behalf of all the Trustees, best wishes for the remainder of the summer and the autumn, especially to all those depending upon a good harvest. The next Newsletter should appear in November, with (among the rest) news about Christmas in Kirkdale.

Yours,

Sid Bradley

Chairman of the Trustees, The Friends of St Gregory’s Minster

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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.

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