A short history of All Saints, Brompton by Sawdon

All Saints’ Church is a splendid example of a traditional English church set in the delightful landscape of rural North Yorkshire. Those married there include the poet, William Wordsworth in 1802, whilst those buried there include Sir George Cayley, the internationally renowned inventor, in 1857. Sir George’s inventions include the World’s first successfully flown aeroplane, which flew in Brompton Dale as a glider in 1853.

There was probably a place of worship of timber construction on the site well before the Norman Conquest of 1066. The earliest references to the church include the Domesday Book of 1086. The family of a Norman nobleman, Eustace Fitz John, is likely to have been rewarded for service to King William, with the gift of the village to him. His descendants initially gave certain rights connected with the Church to the pre-Reformation Roman Catholic Old Malton Priory, and in 1295, the gift was enhanced by William de Vesci, who transferred the lordship of the manor of Brompton, in effect the right of ownership of all land in Brompton and the income arising therefrom. This would have made the Priory even wealthier.

The Reformation of the 16th. century, which started with the dissolution of the monasteries by the profligate King Henry VIII, eventually touched all communities in England, culminating in various State edicts of the 1540’s, which confirmed the move towards Protestantism. The public face of this change of established church was the iconoclastic removal of ancient ornaments and elaborate religious features of churches, often of great intrinsic value to the benefit of the State, and the requirement to adopt the Book of Common Prayer of 1552. One important fitting that was removed at the time was a wooden rood-screen over the step at the entrance to the Chancel. There is clear evidence of where it was attached to the church masonry.

The simplification of the appearance of church buildings and the rites of the Church could have had a profound effect on the generally humble local population were it not for the fact that they were in no position to complain given that the King’s control of the Church of England was absolute and also, he had become lord of the manor after the dissolution of Old Malton Priory.

The Church of England continues to this day exerting its influence on society as far as it can, although there have been several interludes such as when Roman Catholicism became the State religion for a few years under Queen Mary, and the inter-regnum of the 17th. century resulting from the English Civil War.
Many such events have affected All Saints’ over the centuries and what we see today is a reflective blend of all such influences.

This evolving process is demonstrated today by the oldest extant parts of the church building being the 14th. century tower, enclosing a peel of bells, the oldest dating to c.1500, and the north asile, today’s northern part of the building. In addition, there are a few recycled chevron stones probably from an earlier church at the entrance to the tower, as well as two capital stones inserted into the eastern wall of the southern most chapel.

Today’s northern part of the church nave was probably extended substantially to the south in the 15th. century as the population expanded in more God fearing times. The altar would have moved at the same time from the eastern end of the north aisle to a newly built chancel and sanctuary that we see today.


Whilst this accounts for the structural features, the church fittings have changed, notably from 18th. century box pews to Victorian pine seating, besides other results of late 19th. century Victorianisation, such as tinted window panes, parquet flooring, replacement choir stalls and pulpit, and the addition of a decorated organ, which initially was placed above the painted gallery at the western end.

The most notable objects to see and enjoy today are firstly, the studded oak front door from the 14th. century. It has an interesting history having supposedly been thrown into Brompton Ponds, to the immediate south of the church, by Cromwell’s troops in the English Civil War of the mid-17th. century. It was retrieved in 1793. The troops are also thought to have been responsible for the various grooves in the masonry on stonework in and out of the building, as they sharpened their weapons.

In addition, there is a 17th. century poor box made from a single piece of wood, a 17th. century table which was once a simple altar, a c.1500 oak church chest for holding parish registers and records, a 13th. century stone font and a 19th. century large brass chandelier. Absent, however, is any church plate of value, including two antique communion cups dated 1690 and 1703, which are stored securely at the York Minster Treasury. Similarly, the parish registers from 1584 have been deposited at the North Yorkshire County Record Office.
There are several interesting memorial stones and brasses within the church, the most important of which is the elaborate 17th. century example for Sir William Cayley Bart. in the chancel and also, the 16th. century memorial to James Westropp in the north wall which states that he served three monarchs, i.e. King Edward VI, Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I. In addition, there is a marble memorial to Anne Harland, mother of Edward Harland, founder of Harland and Wolff, Belfast shipbuilders.

There are many stained glass windows in the church including some fine more modern examples including the bird window in the north wall dedicated to Sir Kenelm Cayley Bart. and the large window depicting scenes from the village installed in memory of Sir Kenelm and Lady Cayley.

Externally, the church sits in a typical churchyard of sometimes higgledy piggledy gravestones. Of note there is the broach spire with a large clock face, embattled parapets and gargoyles, and two Marian stone figures, from the 13th. and 14th. centuries, incorporated into the eastern wall of the church.

The church is well worth a visit and is generally open to visitors during daylight hours, who would be especially welcome to attend services.

Vivian Bairstow





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