St Mary’s Church

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St Mary’s Church was built for Sir Tatton Sykes of Sledmere house for the astronomical sum of £60,000 in 1893-8. It was the grandest of the churches he funded and was one of the last estate churches to be built. It is a splendid building close to Sledmere House.

The church replaced two earlier buildings on this site. The first church was built around 1200 and parts of the tower still survive. By the C18th this was in very poor condition and Richard Sykes was given permission to pull it down and build a new church. There is nothing left of this church apart from a few Sykes memorials moved into the present church.

Sir Tatton Syles employed Temple Lushington Moore to build a new church for him. Moore was a respected architect who had been articled to George Gilbert Scott. Everything was of the highest quality including a state of the art late C19th hot air heating system. Unfortunately this is now too expensive to run. The organ was of high quality and the acoustics in the church are good. It is an excellent example of a Victorian Gothic church which has remained virtually unaltered since it was built.

It is a large church with very long nave and chancel with a short square tower at the west end. The outside is fairly plain apart from the splendid gargoyles. The south porch has a central carving of the Mary crowned Queen of Heaven holding the Christ Child. On her right is St Peter holding the upturned cross he was crucified on. On the left is a bishop who could be either St John of Beverley or St Wilfred of York. Above the porch is a small room.

The inside of the church is dark and on a dull day there is little light through the stained glass windows. The large candelabras throw dark shadows making photography difficult when the lights are turned on. Photography using natural light was pushing the camera to its limits.

There is an elegant nave with tall fluted pillars with pointed arches separating nave and side aisles. Attractive wooden pews have carved poppyheads and decoration along the backs of the seats. The pulpit has carefully carved panels.

The carved stone font at the back of the north aisle has a very tall carved lid.

Separating nave and chancel is an lovely carved rood screen with panelling along the base with open carving below the fan vaulted canopy. Across the top is the panelled rood loft . Above is a crucifix with Christ crucified with the Virgin Mary on one side and St John on the other. Unfortunately the doors into the chancel were locked.

The chancel is much more elaborate than the nave with a carved wooden ceiling and choir stalls. On the walls are stone carvings of saints set below crocketted pinnacles. On the north wall is a huge organ. The carved wooden reredos has the crucified Christ in the centre with the twelve apostles on either side. The white urn on the south wall contains the ashes of Dame Virginia Sykes, wife of the seventh baronet, who died in 1970 and was a regular worshipper in the church. She is the only member of the family to be interred in the church. The others are buried in the churchyard on the north side of the church.

Both altars at the ends of the side aisles have lovely carved backs with floral designs. The south altar has an aumbry cupboard and piscina with a consecration cross between the two. The north altar has a carved reredos above it. In the centre is the blessed Virgin with the Christ Child. On either side are St John and St Luke with St Anslem and St Athanasius on the outside.

This is a splendid example of Victorian Gothic, but to appreciate the interior, choose a bright sunny day to visit.

The church is open daily and is reached down a driveway opposite the Eleanor Cross, just west of Sledmere House on the B 1251. The splendid wrought iron gates are kept closed – mind your head as you go through the smaller gateway. There is parking along the verge of the narrow lane by the Wagoner’s Memorial. There are a couple of low steps down into the church.

There are more pictures “here.”:

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