History of St Mary’s

The following text is to be found in a frame in the church: 

Woodkirk means wooden church, originally a cell of Black Canons under Nostel Priory, it was formed in the reign of Henry I (1100-1135). Although only a cell to the Priory, it was of considerable extent, as was proved by the foundations of it extending over the gardens and Parsonage premises. In the valley beyond the east of the church the Canons had their fish ponds. The Church had an excellent water supply which was obtained from a well some 1.5-2 miles away, and piped in leaden pipes to the church, the pipes being laid in the 15th century. 

A fair was held at Woodkirk, and during the reign of Edward II (1284-1327), it was reckoned amongst the most famous in the country, and to which it is said merchants from France, Spain, and even Germany came to sell their merchandise. During the time of the fair, the Priest and clerk stood ready all day, to marry all such as were desirous to enter the matrimonial state. Miracle plays were performed at the fair, the object to bring religion home in a tangible form to the frequenters. The fair was later to become Lee Fair and lasted for three weeks and three days. At this present day only the first day (Lee Gap) and the last day (Latter Lee) are celebrated. The predominant industry of the area was “stonequarrying” followed by brick manufacturing and some coal mining.

In 1832, a great storm blew the roof in to the church and the walls and roof had to be rebuilt, as can be seen in this picture from one of the church windows. The ceiling and floor were replaced in 2007. The pipe organ was replaced with a Viscount digital organ in April 2010. St Mary’s contains the local war memorial, remembering those who dies in the first and second world wars.

The ceiling and floor were replaced in 2007.

The pipe organ was replaced with a Viscount digital organ in April 2010.

Wakefield Family History have a detailed page about the men on the memorial. It can be found here.

IN JULY 1831 the collapse of the nave roof of Woodkirk Church revealed mediaeval wall paintings that had been hidden behind lathe and plaster walls during the Reformation. With Chantrell’s help, Norrison Scatchard, a local antiquary who may be one of the gentle-men painted here, attempted to save them, but ‘all of it was doomed to destruction by the Goths and Vandals of the nineteenth century’. It was just this sort of thing that eventually led to the formation of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings by William Morris in 1877. Having begun as an architecture pupil in Sir John Soane’s office, Chantrell went on to establish a practice in Leeds specialising in church buildings. He became a church surveyor, in which capacity he tried to help Scatchard save Woodkirk, and was also a respected antiquary.