Parish history

All Saint’s Parish Church, Ledsham

The bottom part of the church tower, is part of an Anglo-Saxon porch. The doorway, the little window and surrounding wall are thought to be part of a large stone building that was an important centre of Christianity, perhaps a monastery. The church has been altered many times since but parts of the earliest building are still clearly visible. The porch was built upwards in Norman times (12th century) and there is an area (around where the clock now is) of random stonework and then a Norman belfry with the distinctive rounded arch.

The carving around the door was done in Victorian times but may be a copy of what was there originally and the spire was added later too. The groundplan of the church was extended several times, with many of the tiny Anglo-Saxon windows replaced by larger ones in the 13th century and still larger ones in the 15th century. The south door of the tower is surrounded by carved foliate decoration that may originate in the 8th century but was restored by Henry Curzon during the 1871 restoration.

Inside the church are some magnificent monuments, including those of Sir John (d. 1671) and Lady Sarah Lewis of Ledston Hall. Against the north chancel wall is a monument to Lady Elizabeth (Betty) Hastings (d. 1739), two years after undergoing an operation for breast cancer.

Ledston Hall chapel

The Chapel of St Thomas a Becket can be found in Ledston Hall. Ledston Hall was the home of Lady Elizabeth Hastings, daughter of the 7th Earl of Huntingdon, known to everyone as “Lady Betty” whose name features in many areas of the Parish to this date.The hall was originally a grange and chapel built by the monks of Pontefract Priory. It is a grade I listed building and several associated buildings and garden features are also listed. Ledston Hall chapel is a private chapel belonging to the trust set up to manage the estate of Sir Granville Wheler, last descendant of Lady Elizabeth Hastings.

The first building on the site of the Hall was originally a Chapel built by the monks from Pontefract Priory, reputed to have been built in the 12th Century. The Hall as we know it today was built over a period of time in the 16th and 17th Century. This Hall was formerly the seat of the ancient family of Withams, until Henry Witham, Esq. sold it to Sir Thomas Wentworth, afterwards Earl of Strafford, who made improvements in the house. His son William sold it to Sir John Lewis, Bart. who died here in 1671. Sir John added much to the beauty of the house, gardens, and park, which he surrounded with a stone wall. He also erected and endowed a Hospital here for the maintenance of ten aged poor people, who, by his will, were required religiously to observe the Sabbath day and to be present at Church in the time of divine service and sermon. It afterwards became the seat of Lady Elizabeth Hastings, daughter of Theophilus, Earl of Huntingdon, by the eldest daughter and co heir of Sir John Lewis, in 1690.

Not a lot more is known of the actual history of Ledston Hall. It is known though, that in the 16th Century a maid at the Hall called Mary Pannell made a potion for the ill son of the house amd was later accused of witchcraft because the potion mixed to rub on the body was mistakenly given to the young boy to drink, by the boys Mother. This proved fatal to her son and Mary was sent to York on trial and hanged for witchcraft. She was found guilty and brought back the area where her body was burned on the nearby hill still known today as Mary Pannell Hill where her ghost is reputed to have been seen in more recent times.

Ledston Hall also featured in the television show “Most Haunted:Live” on 27 October 2007 and was given the name “Wheler Priory” for security reasons at the time (Wheler being the surname of the last family owning the hall).

St James’ Church, Fairburn

In 1844 a Methodist Chapel was built near the entrance to Piper Hill in Fairburn. This was deemed to be a threat to the Church of England because the Parish Church, All Saints at Ledsham, was a six-mile round trip for the villagers of Fairburn.  It was decided to build a church in Fairburn and in November 1846 the present church, dedicated to St. James, was consecrated. The church is a good example of mid-nineteenth century church architecture. Heating was originally provided by a fire in the unusual fireplace on the north side of the nave. The chimney is still a feature of the outside of the church and was used for the central heating until 1966, when electric heating was installed.

The John and Matilda Jackson, living in Ardeen House almost opposite the Church and which later became the Parsonage and then the Vicarage, were instrumental in the building of the new church and provided funds for this purpose. There is a window in the church, to the right of the organ, dedicated to one of John’s brothers, Henry Jackson who was born in Fairburn in May 1790 and died in February 1852 and also his son Henry Frederick Jackson born in May 1834 and died in September 1858.  This window and the one to the left of the altar and the east window above the altar are all attributed to a famous Victorian stained-glass artisan, William Wailes, who designed church windows for many places including Gloucester Cathedral, Bridlington Priory and more locally, St Mary’s at South Milford which was built at approximately the same time as St James’. John (died 1868) and Matilda (died 1863) Jackson are buried in Fairburn graveyard in the left-hand corner behind the church; their grave is marked with a small Celtic cross.

The centenary year, 1946, saw the church licensed for the solemnization of marriages so couples no longer had to travel to Ledsham for their ceremony.

During the erection of a new pulpit a piece of paper was found containing the words below in beautiful handwriting:  This precedes the building of St James’ by over a hundred years and it is uncertain where the verse originated.

“Reader look, hear and see
The ages that have past
The years that have rolled by
Since the writer wrote his last
Geo. Gibson
Aged 77 years, 1720”

The tall candlesticks in the chancel had the base and top made from oak and bell metal from material obtained after a fire at York Minster. The following words are engraved on the metal of the candleholder – York Minster, Burnt May 20, 1840.

The east window is coloured and depicts the four apostles and gospel writers, with the Greek letters and the Latin I.H.S. and the English, Jesus said unto them “Verily I say unto you, except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood ye have no life in you. Who so eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day.” incorporated in the design.

There is only one bell fixed in the rather shortened steeple at the west end of the church above the large window – the lower part of which, used to be large double doors leading into church. The font is rather simple, raised on a high plinth, is hexagonal and has a huge wooden lid and a pulley attachment with a counter- balancing weight. Unfortunately, this is no longer used.

The pulpit was installed and dedicated to Mr and Mrs William Bramley. The lectern and priest’s prayer stall were installed at the same time. The prayer stall was dedicated to Michael Badger. who was the two-year-old son of the Vicar of the time.  All of these items were probably made by the same man, a pupil of Robert (Mouseman) Thompson of Kilburn, Yorkshire, as they all have a newt carved on to their bases and Robert Thompson’s apprentices mimicked his use of  a mouse on his furniture by carving different animals on their own pieces.

The organ replaced a foot-pedalled pipe organ which may still be seen in Gillamoor Church near Kirkby Moorside and is in memory of Mrs. Makin of Beckfield Farm. The building of this organ by Wood and Wordsworth caused rather an unusual happening: the original organ proposed was objected to by the Diocesan Council for Church buildings and a Consistory Court was held in the church, presided over by the Diocesan Chancellor.

Up to the Second World War there was a curate living in Fairburn at Ardeen House (now known as The Old Vicarage) who was responsible for this part of the parish. but under the jurisdiction of the vicar, who at that time lived in Ledsham.

The Corpse Walk
Until 1846 there was no church in Fairburn. The only church in the parish (Ledsham Ledston, Fairburn and Ledston Luck) was Ledsham church, except for Ledston Hall chapel, and a medieval church in Ledston, long since lost, meant no grave yard and the dead from all the villages in the parish had to be brought to Ledsham to be buried. No good roads made funerals very difficult, especially from Fairburn to Ledsham as the distance by road would have been at least three miles, and so the procession took a shorter route over what is known as the ‘hills and hollers’ through the Wumpstall Wood (Wormstalls) and then a few hundred yards to face Ledsham Church.

This route does not sound too difficult but when one realises that the coffin was carried by hand or shoulder, usually by the dead person’s sons, across a few acres of open fields, through a wood and also taking a climb over fences and gates, the route sounds more adventurous: By the time the procession arrived at Ledsham ,they would be sorry on more than one count father or mother had died: If the dead person had only one son then other relations would have had to help out.