March 2018


newsletter march 2018



Dear Friend

“I remember, I remember” not “the house where I was born”, but as a small girl having to recite a poem to visitors. Heaven only knows what they had done to deserve this, but it happened with monotonous regularity. I remember one (in my opinion) particularly saccharine, nay, mawkish offering, in which a surly King Winter was exhorted (with dramatic actions) to depart his court and “step outside” by a pert and bossy Spring who would then reign in his stead. Hmmm. All of which brings me to the point of hoping that we can, at long last, bid a vicious Winter farewell, and warmly welcome a restorative Spring and Summer.

As you will have perceived, this is a pre-amble leading to a fascinating set of reminiscences of life at St Gregory’s Minster, gathered in conversations with Edward, Gwen and Dorothy Wood. The Wood family began farming locally in 1891, and from that time has had close associations with the Minster. Edward, having been christened at St Gregory’s, went on to sing in the choir with family members. He remembers how the organ bellows had to be pumped by a small boy (Edward took his turn), and how amusing (for some) it was if the organ ran out of air, whereupon the organist hissed instructions crossly until order was restored. He recalled that “you needed strength to work the bellows – hard work for a small boy”. Edward, like his father (Thomas Barker Wood) in due course became a churchwarden, serving for many years. He recalled the huge undertaking to close down the ancient Boiler House (more of which later) and remove the floor gratings connected with the heating system. He remembers that ladies used to get their stiletto heels stuck in the gratings, which was a nuisance for all concerned!  He and his brother Michael used to maintain the stocks of kindling and coke for the boiler, which was “quite an operation during the winter months”.

Edward told me of a local legend about the Minster. It is said that a great pile of big stones had been gathered at the entrance to Wombleton, on what is now the A170, where the Minster was going to be built. Over several nights these stones were mysteriously removed to the present site; it was agreed that this meant that the Minster should be built in the dale instead. He mentioned the two Minster bells, which are thought to be “in conversation” with the bells of Kirkbymoorside church. Those bells ask “Who rings the bells?” and are answered by St Gregory’s bells with “I do!” Edward also remembers the rood screen being erected in the chancel, and then subsequently being removed to the north wall. (It is a locally made piece, beautiful, and worth notice). Likewise, he remembers the visit of Sir John Betjeman to the Minster: “he delivered a very good sermon”.   He said that his brother told him about the marriage in the Minster of former Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden, to a local lady. (Edward’s brother was a chorister and so was in a prime position to view events). Edward also told me that the ancient red cedar (by the church gate, at the top of the path) grew from a Canadian seed. (There are other Canadian “links” within the Minster).

As a young man, Edward met and married Gwen. They were married at Gwen’s home church, but on arrival at St Gregory’s, Gwen was warmly welcomed, and in due course found herself helping in various ways. She became churchwarden at St Gregory’s, following encouragement from Leslie Mathews. “Leslie taught me to be churchwarden” she said. Until fairly recently there used to be two separate churchwardens - one for St Gregory’s and one for St Hilda’s. Gwen has maintained links with both churches, and helped, amongst other things, to organise new kneelers for both.  She remembers, how, following a visit from a botanical expert, the Minster graveyard was found to hold eighty species of significantly important wildflowers. Following this discovery it was decided that grazing sheep would be barred from the graveyard until the first weeks in July, at which point it was hoped the flowers would have re-seeded the area. 

Dorothy joined the Wood family when she married Michael, Edward’s brother. She first came to the Minster on a school trip. Her family moved to the Benefice, and she joined the choir at Easter, 1950, where she remained as a chorister, on and off, for some four decades or so. She married Michael at the Minster in 1953. She told me how she and Michael would come down to the Minster on a Saturday evening “after a local dance”, where Michael would go into the boiler house to stoke up the fire, in readiness for the Sunday services. She would check that carpeting was over the heat grids “to keep the smoke out of the church.” Dorothy decided to leave the choir about twelve years ago, but she, Edward and Gwen, still continue to further, in so many ways, the existence and outreach of the Minster. Thank you all.

The Friends’ Annual General Meeting will take place on Saturday, 12th May 2018, in the Minster, at 2.30 pm. This will be followed by the Kirkdale Lecture, given this year by Dr Philip Moore, on “The History of Church Music”.  Refreshments will be offered thereafter at St Hilda’s, Beadlam, in the Millennium Room. On Sunday 13th May the Litany of Commemoration of the Founders and Benefactors of St Gregory’s Minster will be read during the Choral Service, and Luncheon (pre-booked) will follow at The Kirkbymoorside Golf Club. Information and booking forms for the Luncheon are attached; please reply as promptly as possible.  I look forward to seeing you on 12th and 13th May.  Members of our Friends and of Lastingham Church Friends are jointly organising a day-trip by coach to Hexham Abbey, on Tuesday 18th September 2018. Further details will follow in due course.

Sincerely, with very best wishes, and with thanks, as ever, for being a Friend,

Heather Harris


Tel: 01723 850558; email:


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.