St Mary the Virgin, Pateley Bridge


Sometimes the only thing worth doing in the pouring rain is visiting ruined churches. St Mary’s had caught my eye from looking at an OS map of Pateley Bridge and on one wet afternoon I slid up the hill to explore it.

Surprising St Mary’s only stopped being in use in 1826. I had presumed it was a much earlier relic. A decision was made within the parish to build a new church in the town as St Mary’s was too small and (up a hill) too inconvenient.

There’s been a church on the site since at least 1320. As you approach the church from the top, its hidden by yews, so the walls emerge as you step down the path. From this direction, you’re looking towards the east end, but it’s not until you go inside that you can appreciate the site.

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One end – the alter end is raised and it feels strange to climb the steps without a roof. On the walls inside the church are some interesting features in the stonework – a hollow chamber and two carved pieces.

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There have been two periods of re-building, one in the seventeenth century and one in the early twentieth. This last phase made the church tower safe and repointed much of the rest of the site. It’s interesting as it was done as a memorial:


I love this. Thank you Gertrude Elizabeth Illingworth.

Other memorials that stand out are a bizarre octagonal gravestone, a lovely seventeenth slab and a nifty gravestone with a skull.

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It’s clear that the community was vibrant and people who led rich lives lie here now. Peaking into other people’s lives in always fun and I do wish I’d been at the church in 1867 when Abraham Righteous and Mary Christmas Carolina were christened:

7.9.1867 Leeds Times

7 September 1867 Leeds Times

Likewise, I would have liked to have known the organist Thomas Thorpe and also to imagine where the organ was in the church?

3.2.1870 Bradford Observer

3 February 1870 Bradford Observer

According the British Association of Organ Studies Thomas Thorpe was an original subscrbier to Hopkins & Rimbaut’s complete work on the organ. He was also a non-conformist and a bookseller, apparently. It’s interesting that he’s organist in a church not his own (but then he would have earned a fee). I’d love to hear either of those tunes!

Grainge’s Nidderdale written in 1863 describes the old church – but confuses the dedicationand calls it St Cuthbert – which was the name given to the newly built church. Apart from that (major) mistake he gives an interesting survey on what you could see at the time. You can read his pdf here. The description of the tower is particularly interesting, as it is locked today (but you can see it on Heritage OPen Days, I think). Bearing in mind the church had a loww roof and galleries put in for the congregation, along with its square plan – I think it would have felt a bit like Whitby parish church parish – FULL in its heyday.


I’ll leave you with Grainge:

Thouhg the church be in ruins, and divine service no longer performed within its walls, there is a solmenity attached to a church and burial ground which no other places possess. The most careless must reflect on his own destiny as he walks over the mounds beneath which repose the ashes of what were once sensitive beings like himself. even this place, deserted though it may be, will always be an interesting spot to the moralist and the anitquary.

NidderdaleGrainge pdf

Thank you for the desert, Friends of St Mary’s Churchyard, Pateley Bridge – on this wet, wet day your efforts were truly appreciated.




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