Giggleswick Vicars and Their Times


Giggleswick Vicars and their Times       Kathleen Kinder     modified February 2015

For some time I have been wanting to take a long cool look  at the past vicars and incumbents of our church and relate them to the wider history  of the times in which they lived. I've found out all kinds of interesting things. I'm also left with a load of unanswered questions  as the task proved to be much more complicated than I first imagined. Nevertheless, it has been  a fascinating study and I'm so glad I attempted it. Until the 1830s, the ancient parish of Giggleswick included the modern parishes  of Settle, Langcliffe, Stainforth and Rathmell with Wigglesworth.

The origins of our village, according to the name Giggleswick, appear to be Anglian-Norse - Anglian because the Angles settled north of the Wash, the Saxons to the south and west of it. Some pre-Conquest fragments  were found during the church restoration of 1890-2, but the most deciding factor to my mind, which indicates that there was a church here in pre-Conquest times, is the cross stump outside the south door.  It is badly defaced, but its shape is similar to other Anglian and pre-Conquest crosses illustrated in W.G. Collingwood's Early Northumbrian Crosses. These were commonly placed on the sunny south side of the church, often opposite the side door. One wonders if they were meeting points for sermons or village notices, or whether like their contemporary Celtic equivalents they guarded an entrance to the Sacred Space of the church. In Anglo-Saxon times, these were often the only stone artefact on consecrated ground since most of the churches were made of wattle and daub with thatched roofs. See the south-side crosses at Whalley, Gisburn, Linton and Ilkley (the latter now inside the church). There are plenty of examples elsewhere.  No professional authority has mentioned the Giggleswick cross stump - a fact which I find truly amazing!

On the north west  back corner of the church you will find on the wall a list of Giggleswick vicars beginning with Walter de Vestiario who was vicar from 1230-76. 46 years seems a very long time and one wonders if he was resident here all the time or if someone else sometimes did his duties for him.  During the Middle Ages it was not uncommon to find parish priests  absenting themselves for long periods from their charges. Chaucer had some biting words for such in his Canterbury Tales. The name Walter is Norman but Vestiario is surely Italian. Was he I wonder, from Sicily, since the Normans had  conquered Sicily by 1091?

There is a fuller list beginning with 6 rectors,  in Brayshaw  & Robinson's History of the Ancient Parish of Giggleswick (HAPG). A rector had more authority than a vicar who exercised his priestly ministry on behalf of his patron who could be a lord of the manor, a monastic house or bishop. The first rector was William c. 1160. This was some 70 years after the Domesday book (1089), which gave Giggleswick in common with every other settlement in England, a place in written records. The Norman Conquest also brought with it a much more rigid feudal system than the one introduced by the Anglo-Saxons, although indications are that in our area the feudal system operated in a more haphazard way, partly because Giggleswick was isolated  geographically. Much of the land in northern and southern parts of the ancient parish, at least until the Dissolution, passed into the ownership of the monasteries of  Furness and Sawley for whom the local people worked or from whom they leased their land. There are many places in the Dales where we can still see the outlines of the strips of land known as lynchets,  cultivated by the villeins or serfs under the authority of their lord or monastic house.   At the time of the Domesday Book, Giggleswick parish land was largely owned by Roger de Poitou, a Norman Knight from his name, no doubt rewarded by a gift of land for his faithful service to his king..  However,  for much of the medieval period, the great Percy family were lords of the manor of Giggleswick until the Reformation when  the equally famous Cliffords assumed dominance.   

 At this time and indeed, until 1836, when Giggleswick  Church came under  the jurisdiction of the new diocese of Ripon, the ancient parish  stretching from Wigglesworth in the south to Stainforth in the north, was in the diocese of York.  Bradford diocese was not created until 1919. Lancfranc was William the Conqueror's great Archbishop of Canterbury and his reforming zeal not only provided the initial inspiration for the building of magnificent Norman abbeys and cathedrals like Durham, but his concern stretched down to reach  every part of English church life. It is interesting that in Giggleswick Church we can still see at the base of one of the pillars (near the kitchen) some faint carving which dates from the Norman church  which probably was the first one to be built in stone on the site. Other fragments from this period were found during the Victorian restoration.

In 1231, Walter Vestiario surrendered his rights as rector to the Benedictine priors of Finchale and Durham,   to become their first vicar. Finchale Priory retained the right to appoint the vicars of Giggleswick until the Reformation. In 1275, when John was vicar, John of Giggleswick is recorded as having volunteered to go to the Holy Land to fight in the Crusades.  The 14th century was notable for a series of catastrophes which affected every part of English life. In 1314 the Scots defeated the English decisively at  Bannockburn. In the years that followed, Scottish raiders made deep incursions into northern England and in 1319, burned down the Norman church in Giggleswick. This was during the time when William of Alverton was vicar. The church seems to have been repaired by the end of the century but one wonders where the folk worshipped when it was in ruins. Vicars however, continued to be appointed to the parish, but there is a gap of 74 years between William Stamlyn (1339) and John Holderness (1413). Such a long gap may be explained by the fact that in 1349, the Black Death swept into England from the Continent. In a very short time, a third of the population were dead. Clergy too were not spared.  In the huge diocese of Lincoln, for example, over half the clergy died. The Black Death returned some 10 years later, this time killing mostly children. Then in 1379, the imposition of the poll tax brought about the grassroots rebellion  known as the Peasants Revolt. There are  records of Giggleswick residents who dutifully paid the tax, but there is no record of any who refused!

One interesting development in the church during this time of uncertainty was the growth of the practice of venerating the Virgin Mary and the saints.  Most ordinary people did not read and there were few Bibles anyway. Mary and the saints seemed much more accessible than God, who was envisaged more of a dreadful judge than a loving Father. The crucifixion of Our Lord too was more of a reminder of our sin than of God's love for us. One fascinating point, perhaps related to this practice is that there is no record of our patronal saint St Alkelda, as being associated with our church until the early 16th century. The records of Finchale Priory make no mention of her. Legend has it that she was an Anglo-Saxon lady martyred by heathen Danish women. Another suggestion is that she was entirely fictitious, that her name was a corruption of the OE "haelikeld" for holy well.  The veneration of holy wells  and springs was also popular during the Middle Ages (as indeed, it had been since pagan times)  and Giggleswick had several, principally the Ebbing and Flowing Well, Bank Well and the one called St Alkelda's well, now covered by the headmaster's house  at Giggleswick School.

Like the previous one, the 15th century was a century of conflict, being dominated by the Wars of the Roses. Giggleswick also felt the impact of those. The Craven area was overwhelmingly Lancastrian and it is significant that many of its churches which had suffered damage from various attacks and skirmishes, were rebuilt upon the accession of Henry VII (1485) and Giggleswick was one . It is not surprising that our church has a decidedly early Tudor flavour. 1485 was the year in which Hugo Wren became vicar. The HAPG tells us that his incumbency was interrupted in 1493 when Christopher Tennant took over temporarily, but that Wren returned to the post in 1496. Why the interruption, we do not know.  Wren stayed  until 1507 when James Carr, founder of Giggleswick School became vicar. His arrival ushered in an entirely new era for Giggleswick. If the previous 2 centuries had been tumultuous, they were nothing compared to what the 16th and 17th centuries had in store.

At the end of the 15th century, Giggleswick Church had more priests in attendance than   ever   before. There would be the vicar and several chantry priests. Each of the latter were employed by the patrons of the "chantries"  but could also help the vicar with his parish duties in times of  need. A chantry was a chapel or altar situated in a corner of the church, where the priest in charge could "chant" masses for the souls of the benefactors who set up the chantry,  or where he could pray or say mass constantly to Our Lady and the saints. Where our organ now is,  the Tempest chantry was situated. The chantry to Our Lady, from the presence of the piscina (washing recess) in the south wall, must have been in the location of our Memorial Chapel. There was also a chantry of the Rood (Cross). In 1499, the chantry priest for the latter was James Carr, who used  the money set aside for the chantry to educate local boys. Here begins the story of Giggleswick School. Carr became vicar in 1507,  but returned to full-time  duties as a schoolmaster in 1509,  funding the school at first out of his own pocket.  Later  he received a grant towards the cost of his work from the Prior of Durham

The School  proved very successful and won considerable fame. By the time of James Carr's death (1518), its future seemed assured, and then the Reformation happened. The ethos of the chantries was completely alien to Protestant thinking so they were abolished by Edward VI in 1549 and the money appropriated by the Crown. Since some of its funding came from the Rood chantry,  Giggleswick School was threatened. John Nowell, one of the king's chaplains, appointed by the Crown to be Giggleswick's vicar in 1549,  may well have spoken on behalf of the School. In any case, it was reprieved and gained its charter from the king in 1553. Nowell continued his close association with the School as many vicars have done since. He served Giggleswick School as teacher and later, as governor.

How, I  wonder, did our 16th century Giggleswick, Settle and Rathmell  forebears  cope with going from the Latin Mass to the English Prayer Books of 1549-52, returning to the Mass in Mary Tudor's time and then back to the Prayer Book of the Elizabethan Settlement? How did the vicar,  John Nowell  manage change?  As a king's appointment, he must have been Protestant, no doubt sent to convert Giggleswick from its deep Roman Catholic sympathies, yet he survived well into Mary's reign. Recent studies have shown that much of rural England took around a hundred years to be weaned away from the Mass towards acceptance of the Prayer Book. The north particularly, was more conservative than the south.  The dissolution of the monasteries must have caused considerable hardship to many ordinary people in Giggleswick. One hopes they quickly found employment with the families who bought  the monastic lands from the Crown.  Our parish  had been a centre for the Pilgrimage of Grace, the ill-fated Roman Catholic rebellion against  King Henry VIII.  In 1536, Sir Stephen Hammerton of Wigglesworth Hall was one who responded to a notice nailed  to the door of Giggleswick Church, calling the men of Craven to arms. He was later hanged as a traitor.

When we think of the Plague we tend to think only of the Black Death of the 14th century and the Great Plague of the 17th, but  bubonic plague (carried by  fleas on the black rat), was an ever present reality until the 18th century. In 1597, when Christopher Shute was vicar, plague struck our village with savage ferocity. In that year, 127 burials were recorded in the graveyard, but we do not know which of the dead died of plague. The Plague Stone  commemorating the outbreak of 1597, can be seen opposite the entrance to Close House, near the Craven Arms hotel..

During the Reformation, Giggleswick had plate, bells, iron and lead confiscated by the Crown. We have no means of knowing whether Giggleswick's fixed stone altar was destroyed in the Tudor period or whether it was left to Oliver Cromwell's followers to smash it up. There could have been several temporary Communion Tables from the time of Edward V1 until the final 17th century oak one appeared, which we now cherish as part of our heritage. Giggleswick  has an Elizabethan Communion Cup dated 1585, acquired during Christopher Shute's incumbency. Chalices  were outlawed in Elizabeth's reign and had to be replaced by cups, which Protestants regarded as being  more in accordance with the biblical  account of the Lord's Supper. Chalices, which are wider and more bowl-shaped than cups,  are touched only by the communicant's lips.  The  church's east window had stained glass until at least 1620, but  that most surely would have been destroyed  by the Parliamentarians.

I trace Giggleswick's low church  affiliation from its Parliamentarian days. There is a tradition that Major General Lambert, of Calton, near Airton, one of Oliver's close associates, stabled his horses and lodged his men in Giggleswick Church during one local campaign against the Royalists. During the renovations of 1890-2, as surface plaster was removed, large, fire-shaped burn marks appeared at regular intervals  on the church's inside walls.  Maybe, there is truth in that particular story.

Anthony Lister * vicar from 1638-84,  was an ardent Parliamentarian. Lister's long incumbency of 46 years  was broken at least for one period when George Winship took over as vicar. The latter's initials (GW) are carved on the magnificent  1680 oak pulpit. There is a certain mystery about the activities of Anthony Lister,  but  we know that his views were so Presbyterian that in 1662, the year of the updated Prayer  Book, he refused to subscribe to the Act of Uniformity and was evicted from his living. He recanted and was re-instated in Giggleswick.  Anthony Lister was not the only one to quarrel with the Establishment.. Quakers are recorded as refusing to pay tithes and  interrupting church services in Giggleswick Church. Then there was the famous Nonconformist,  Richard Frankland who started a dissenting academy at Rathmell which later became Manchester College, a training institution for Congregational ministers.

During the 18th century, Giggleswick Church seemed to reflect  the latitudinarian, broad-based, no extremism tendencies  of the national church. There is an intriguing reference to a church festival in 1739 when 10 gallons of wine were consumed by the communicants. There could have been nearly 1000 communicants of course, but I'm still trying to work out the arithmetic! The ardent Catholic and  Puritan piety of previous ages had certainly  been forgotten. Methodism made no mark on the parish.  John Wesley may have visited Settle, but Giggleswick took no notice.  Anglican Evangelicalism, which produced William Wilberforce amongst others, also passed Giggleswick by. One who seemed to be the archetypal, easy-going 18th century sporting vicar, was John Clapham, an eccentric no doubt, but at least his character enlivens an otherwise dull period. He  had  some irreverent tendencies and thought nothing of bargaining for livestock in the chancel of the church. He had a hot temper but  a kind heart and gave money to many a worthy cause within the parish.                                                                            

The 19th century saw some sweeping changes, not the least the break up of the ancient parish of Giggleswick when Settle, Langcliffe, Stainforth and Rathmell built their own churches and formed their own parishes. Giggleswick now began to see the need to re-organise and renovate its ancient church building to suit a much reduced parish. The alterations took place from 1890-2 during William Coulthurst' long incumbency. The renovated church looked very different from its pre-1890 state as we can see from photographs before and after. For all its ultra Protestant Anglican tradition, the new look Giggleswick

 Church showed distinct traces of the  high church Oxford Movement which had been the main influence in the C. of E. during the 19th century. To see what it looked like before 1890, one would need to go to Slaidburn Church where the 3 decker pulpit placed halfway down the church, is still  the main eye-focus,  while the tiny "holy table" is no altar. Its surface is usually covered by a short white cloth which ensures that all can see it is a table

In our church, the pulpit is at the side and the eye focus is  on the sanctuary where the beautiful stained glass   east window (early 20th century)  has replaced the plain glass which would have been there since  the mid 17th century. This is  in accordance with what the Oxford Movement taught about the presence in church of consecrated objects of visual appeal. Actually, they were prophetic in this respect as even nonconformist churches, bare as a board some 40 years ago, are now as alive with colourful worship aids as are many Anglican churches. Moreover,  a central focus, east end "altar" was seen by Anglo-Catholics to be essential, before the Eucharist could be restored as the   main service, although it was well into the 20th century before many Anglican churches were to give the Eucharist pre-eminence before the Prayer Book Offices. You will note that we now happily call Communion cups chalices. The old bitter controversies for which many died, both Catholic and Protestant, are in many respects, just  bad memories.  The 17th century "holy table" in Giggleswick Church has assumed most gracefully, its new, central role as an altar, its large cover cloths changed according to liturgical season, although what the 17th century Presbyterian  vicar,  Anthony Lister  would have said, I'll leave  to the  imagination. One continuing custom  however, would have pleased him: No candles are ever lit on  Giggleswick's main "holy table".  However, in 2014, the PCC conceded to the wishes of the Wednesday morning communicants and 2 candles are lit above the altar in the Memorial Chapel during the mid week morning service of Holy Communion.  

(*Note below  - see p.3. - is  not included with the magazine articles)

In 1645, during Anthony Lister's incumbency (and incidentally, HAPG does not agree with the Vicars' board in church on his exact dates), Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth government  banned  the BCP. For 16 years until the Act of Uniformity and the restoration of the revised BCP in 1662, the English Church was forced to use the Presbyterian/Puritan Offices known as the Directory of Public Worship. No doubt this suited Anthony Lister admirably. Consider then  just how  many changes English Anglicans had to cope with in a 100 years!  Anthony Lister must have had many good points; the Poor Box (1684) as well as the magnificent 3 decker pulpit and the Holy Table also appeared during his time as vicar, or was George Winship responsible for all these? We can see his initials on the pulpit. We shall probably never know the answers to our questions.


Brayshaw & Robinson, A History of the Ancient Parish of Giggleswick - Halton & co., 1932  (HAPG)

Cross, F.L, . The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, OUP 1952

Duffy, Eamon,  The Stripping of the Altars, Yale University Press 1992

Feiling, Keith, A History of England,  Book Club Associates 1972




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