Harton Benefice

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Whitwell History


The Church of St John the Evangelist Whitwell on the Hill







The Church of St John the Evangelist Whitwell on the Hill was erected at the sole expense of Lady Louisa Katherine Lechmere following her marriage to Sir Edmund Anthony Harley Lechmere, in fulfilment of a wish of her late father.  The foundation stone was laid on 6 October 1858 and the church was consecrated on 21 August 1860 by the Archbishop of York, the Right Reverend CT Longley

Description of the Church

The Church is remarkably well situated and commands a lovely and extensive view.  The windings of the river below are plainly marked by the soft and full-foliage woods of Kirkham and Howsham; broken here and there by sunny slopes of meadow land or golden cornfields.  These in turn are succeeded by the more distant outline of the dark blue Wolds.  From the upper windows of the spire, (unfortunately not accessible to the public) there is a grand and unrivalled panorama, extending eastwards to the wild moors above Whitby and Scarborough  and north to the Hambleton Hills and the rugged outline of Rolleston Scar.  The nearby ruins of Sheriff Hutton Castle are backed by a faint outline of the Wensleydale Hills; further west Brimham Craggs rise above Harrogate and the entrance to Wharfdale.  York Minster towers like a monarch over every object on the plain and the central two western towers are clearly distinguished by the naked eye.  To the south-east lies the church of Holme-on-the-Hill, Sidney Smith’s “most visible church on earth”, and on a very clear day the cliffs of the north corner of Lincolnshire overhanging the junction of the Ouse and the Trent may be detected by a practised eye.

The plans for the church itself were furnished by G E Street Esq. PSA.  It is pure geometric Gothic in style and consists of a nave and chancel, eighty feet long. 

On the south side at the intersection of the nave and the chancel rises a very handsome tower surmounted by a broached tower, one hundred and thirteen feet in height containing a peal of six very rich toned bells, cast by Messrs Warner of London.  The weight of the tenor bell is 13 cwt.  There is an inscription on the bells as follows:

  1. Father Glory be to thee
  2. Glory to the Blessed Son
  3. Glory to the Spirit be
  4. Glory to the Three in One
  5. As it was, is now, shall be
  6. Filling all eternity

The roof is timbered and highly pitched, covered with red tiles.  The floor of the whole church is tiled with Monton’s encaustic tiles and a “dado” of the same material is raised in the interior, approximately five feet high and surmounted by a string-course which is continual around the church.  This gives character and a warm appearance to the side walls. 

The font is situated at the extremity of the nave.  It rests on a square base of red Mansfield stone supported by Derbyshire marble columns.  The font itself is Caen stone inlaid with discs of alabaster and richly coloured marble spars.

The pulpit is also of Caen stone, inlaid in the same manner as the font.  The desk of the pulpit rests on a slender column of marble, springing from a curiously carved figure, which is meant to represent the demon of infidelity.  By its crouching attitude and look of suffering it appears to be crushed beneath the Word of God’s truth, expounded from the pulpit above!

The lectern is of oak, carved in the form of a pelican, on whose outstretched wings the Bible is placed.  The bird is in the act of pecking at her breast to feed her young with her own blood, and has thus from a very early Christian age been considered as an appropriate emblem of our blessed Saviour, who shed his blood for mankind.

The tiling of the floor is proportionately richer as one approaches the east end of the church.  Two steps divide the nave from the chancel, which is seated with oak stalls on each side to house the choir. At the end of one of the seats is the prayer desk for the clergy. The communion rails are brass and are made portable so they can be placed around the font on the occasion of baptism.

The reredos is an exquisite work of art – carved arcades on either side of Mansfield stone and in the centre, on a groundwork of diapered alabaster, is placed a Greek cross of dark red Languedoc marble.  Upon this is suspended a delicately carved crown of thorns of pink alabaster.  Various other marbles are used in the design – Galway green marble, Devonshire red, Rouge Royal, and Derbyshire spars.  Beneath the reredos and immediately above the communion table is engraved in old English characters the words:  By Thy Cross and Passion, good Lord, deliver us.


Over the reredos is the east window erected by Sir Edmund Lechmere as a memorial of his wife’s late father and grandfather.  It was executed by Messrs Clayton and Bell and is composed of three lights, the centre representing the Crucifixion; the two side lights contain on the one side figures of the Blessed Virgin and the two Marys, and on the other side the Apostle St John, Joseph of Arimathea with his box of embalming ointment, and a Roman centurion.

The two remaining chancel windows are by Messrs Wailes of Newcastle; and were presented to the church by Mr and Mrs Stephens of Foston Hall.  The north one represents the Annunciation and the scene of the Nativity in the manger at Bethlehem.The south one represents the Resurrection and the Ascension.  The figure of our Lord in these two latter subjects is remarkably well drawn, with the faces almost touchingly gentle and divine.  The west window, also by Messrs Wailes, was erected by the generous efforts of the tenants on the Whitwell estate in token of their esteem for the founder.  The four lights contain figures of the four Evangelists and the emblems of each.  The whole church is seated with open


benches of solid oak.

In addition to the magnificent east and west windows and the two chancel there are further windows:  In the south west nave is a window consisting of three lights, the centre depicting St Elizabeth of Hungary and the sides, St Margaret and St Catherine.  This window is dedicated tothe memory of Ethel Elizabeth Brotherton of Kirkham Abbey.  The window in the north east nave also consists of three lights, the Last Supper in the centre and the Resurrection and the Blessed Virgin with St John on the sides.  It was erected to the glory of God and in memory of their mother, Selina, Viscountess  Milton, by Mary, Viscountess Portman and Cecil G S Foljambe.  The window in the south east nave is of three lights; in the centre is the transfiguration and in the sides are Peter, James and John and the inscription reads: To the glory of God and in memory of his mother, Louisa Katherine Lechmere, by her son, Nicholas 1905.

The Organ

Beneath the tower is placed a small but sweet tuned organ built by Willis, with one row of keys reaching from C to F, four and one half octaves, two more with pedals, and seven stops. The organ was completely overhauled in 1990/91 at a cost of over £10,000 and is regularly tuned and maintained.

Monuments and Memorials

On the north wall of the nave is an alabaster and bronze memorial to Sir Edmund Anthony Lechmere MP.  On the south wall of the nave are oak bookshelves in memory of Hannah Best.  On the south wall of the nave is a marble memorial tablet in memory of Joceline Charles William Savile Foljambe. Also on the south wall is a memorial to Cecil George Savile fourth Earl of Liverpool. 

The list of vicars of Whitwell Church on the north wall of the nave is a memorial to Colonel Harold Robinson Pease and his wife, Hester.

On the north side of the east window is a painted plaster figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary and on the south side, a figure of St John, given to St John’s by a church in Cheshire in 1961.

A porch on the south side and a vestry on the north complete the description of the church which holds approximately one hundred and fifty people.

The public high road goes along the western wall and the churchyard is entered by a massive lych-gate, an ancient resting place for the coffin where mourners waited until the clergyman came out to meet the corpse. (Lych being an old Saxon word for corpse) The Lychgatewas re-tiled in 1996 at a cost of £4000



Additional Notes

A silver chalice, silver paten, a pewter paten and a silver flagon were given to the church in 1865 and each of them is inscribed “In honorem Dei etin usum Ecclesiae ebor D d Edmundus a N Lechmere 1865”

The Walnut Tree

There had been a very lovely walnut tree in the churchyard for a great many years.  The tree by the 1980s was almost dead  and by 1996 was becoming dangerous due to its closeness to the boundary wall and the road.  It was therefore removed and replaced in 1997 by a new walnut tree in the hope that the tree will grow and give pleasure to future generations.

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