St Mary's Church

St Mary's Church, Ellerton


Following the surrender of Ellerton Priory on the 11 Dec 1538, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, many of the Priory buildings were burned down to recover the lead (reserved to the King), and 2 fothers (approximately 2 tons) of lead was thus recovered. However, the commissioners appointed to dissolve the monasteries were under instruction that any building that was used as a parish church should be allowed to continue.


We know that Ellerton Priory was not a large priory, housing just four canons at the surrender, and a maximum of nine during its history. We also know that it had a hospital for the care of 13 poor people, and a coventual church which was used as the local parish church. Unfortunately no plans survive to show the extent of the priory buildings, but it is said that the nave of the church was spared to continue as the parish church.


We also know from testamentary burials that the church actually consisted not only of a nave, but had a chancel or quire, (the area between the nave and the sanctuary, which houses the altar) though it is not clear if the chancel/quire was a further survival of the Dissolution, or added later, or was simply included in the term ‘nave’.


John Herbert had bought the goods and chattels of the Priory at the Dissolution, and acquired the lease of the entire site in March 1540. The title in the site was sold by the Crown to John Aske of Aughton on the 1st April 1542, and the advowson (the right to present the minister) was granted by the Crown to the Archbishops of York on the 31st October 1558.



Anciently the rector of the church was responsible for the repairs of the chancel, while the parishioners were responsible for the nave. The title to the site of Ellerton Priory acquired by John Aske in 1542 did not include the rectorship of Ellerton, it being retained by the Crown, and the Crown was notorious for neglecting its chancel repair responsibility. Consequently, in Archbishop Grindal’s Visitation of 1575 the report for Ellerton stated “they have not their quarter sermons by reason that their quere is in great decaie, the Quene’s Majestie standeth charged to repair the same.”


(1647-1652: Parliamentary Survey here: COMM/12A/17, page 366)


(1685: Archbishop Dolben’s Visitation here)


By the time of the Parochial Visitation Returns of 1723, the situation had improved. The churchwardens certified as follows:


This is to Certify you that the buttresses round the church are in good repair, all the out walls are in good repair and the inside walls are all white-washed and the holes therein are well plastered up, the windows are all glazed where they were awanting; All the floor of the church is well laid with bricks; A decent cover for the font is provided with a table of marriages; Also the buttresses walls and windows of the chancel are put all into good repair.


William Store, vicar; Josias Thornwell, churchwarden


These returns also inform us of the current chatells of the church:


A Schedule of the Books, Vestments and Vessells that belong to the Parish Church of Ellerton delivered in the Parochial Visitation of the Right Worshipful Heneage Dering, Doctor of Laws, Archdeacon of the Archdeaconry of the East Riding which was held in the Parish Church of Ellerton within the Deanery of Harthill upon the 6th day of Oct, 1723.

A surplice

A linen cloth for the communion table

A linen cloth to cover the elements

A cushion for the pulpit

A flagon and chalice


Witness our hands, Wm Store, Vicar

Josias Thorwell, Churchwarden



Ellerton has always been a sparsely populated parish (population figures here) and the church income suffered accordingly. The income from land and other sources was also very poor, compared with neighbouring parishes. Occasionally parishes were required to provide to the Diocesan Registrar a Terrier, or statement, of the Glebe of the parish, i.e. the lands, income and other appurtenances. The Terrier for 1743 shows how little the parish could rely on for its income:


A Terrier of ye lands belonging to ye Curacy of Ellerton


Impr:    A close in ye Lordship of Eastrington containing by Estimation six Acres of ground An Hempgarth at ye end of ye Almshouses containing about half an Acre of ground.


It:   A Parcel of ground in ye Lordship of Wheldrake called Hargil-close, The Arbors, ye little Middle Riddings close, a broad Cawsey land in ye West North Field, by Estimation half an Acre.


All ye Abovementioned grounds were given by Henry Robinson of Buckton in ye County of York Esq., to ye Church of Ellerton, provided yt ye said Minister shall likewise preach at Aughton for ever.


It:   Paid by ye Kings Receiver Four Pounds Sixteen shillings & Eight Pence at ye Feast of St. Michael yearly.


It:  Sixty Acres of land taken up & Inclosed from ye Common of Ellerton for ye benefit of ye said Church.


It:   The Sum of Five Pounds being ye Interest of Two Hundred Pounds, Assigned by ye Governors of ye Bounty of Queen Anne for ye Augmentation of ye said Church


It:  One Acre of plowing land, lyeing in a parcel of ground called Snape-Hurn


It:   A ChurchYard & Hempgarth adjoining


This is a true & perfect Terrier of all ye lands (for Houses there are none) belonging to ye Curacy of Ellerton.


Witness our hands this 22 of August 1743


 Wm Store, Curate; Richard Dudding, Jn Williamson, Churchwardens; George Johnson, Parishioner


In 1764 the vicar of Ellerton petitioned the parishioners:


Whereas the Parish Church of Ellerton is but endowed with about ten Pounds a Year, and has only divine Service performed there one Sunday in three; if the Lord and Freeholders of the said Parish shall be pleased to agree to the taking up and inclosing so much of the Common of Ellerton aforesaid as may entitle the said Church to the late Queen’s Bounty, the said Vicar promises to perform Divine Services in that Church at least two Sundays in three; and he and his Successors will be ever bound to pray for those their benefactors.


William Store


The parishioners consented to the petition, but it wasn’t until 1802 that the Enclosure Act for Ellerton was passed, and not until the 13th January 1810 that the final award was registered at the East Riding Registry of Deeds.


In 1831 Thomas Allen in his A New and Complete History of the County of York described the church of Ellerton as follows:


It is in the most disgraceful state of neglect, and must, ere long, fall to the ground, if it is not speedily repaired. On the north side are three pointed windows of three lights, with elegant quatrefoils in the sweep. The east end has a square window of three lights, and the south side is similar to the north. The west front is of stone, with a small doorway, and on the apex of the roof is a small mean bell-turret. The interior is in a worse state of repair than the exterior; the roof is supported by several poles, placed in different parts of the building, and the whole is stalled in the vilest manner.


In 1840, William White in his Directory for the East Riding for that year, described the church similarly, ‘falling fast to decay’.


The final chapter on this old historic building came in 1843, when the Rural Dean made answer to the Archdeacon’s Visitation enquiries:


'Exterior of church, all very bad and much dilapidated. Floor bad. Window casements, doors bad. Windows much defaced by plaster. Open seats and a few pews, very old and bad. An ancient and large pew, said to have been occupied formerly by the squire. Font has no plug. Baptisms and christenings generally at communion table. Communion table small and poor. No cover for table. Bible old and dilapidated. No hassocks. No vestry. Parish meetings sometimes held in church. Two bells, one cracked. Some brasses have been removed. A fine old font on pedestals, but mutilated and defaced by brickwork and colouring. The church is the ruin of what has doubtless been a very fine fabric. It has suffered grievously by time and neglect. . . . There are some scanty remains of a handsome old screen.'



In 1846 the Rev. Joseph Dunnington Jefferson of Thicket Priory decided to act. The services of the noted London architect, John Loughborough Pearson, were engaged to draw up plans for a new church, with the old church due for demolition. John Simpson and William Malone of Hull, stonemasons and carpenters, were engaged by Jefferson to do the work, at an estimate of £695, and they made bond, dated the 18th August 1846, to complete the work.

Pearson re-used what remained of the mediaeval glass from the old Priory church. This consisted of eight complete shields of arms of patrons of the church and other notable families, parts of others and many fragments of borders etc. This glass was arranged in the tracery sections of the nave windows. Most of the main parts of the windows were filled with clear diamond shaped quarries with blue or red borders.


The new church was consecrated by the Archbishop of York on the 26 April 1848, attended by many senior clergymen, including the Archdeacon of the East Riding, and services then resumed immediately with morning and evening prayers and sermons. After the sermons collections were made towards defraying the cost of erecting a substantial wall around the churchyard. In the morning the collection, including a cheque for £100 from the Rev. J. D. Jefferson, amounted to £110 14s. 4d and in the afternoon to £4 14s. 4d.


The Church Commissioners were approached with a hope of offsetting some of the cost, which was partially successful when in April 1849 they allowed Jefferson £79. 16s. 2d. in respect of drawback of duties on bricks and foreign wood, used in rebuilding the Church.


On the 1st April 1850, the Rev. Joseph Dunnington Jefferson purchased the rectory, church and advowson of Ellerton and East Cottingwith with specified composition tithe rents, from the devisees of Sir Christopher Bethell Codrington, the previous owner, who had died in February 1843, for £1,180. 2s. 7d.


The next century was one of relative ‘health’ for Ellerton Church. The new building was ‘quite pretty’ and of sound construction, and the parishioners were not in fear anymore of the roof or walls falling in on them. The minister was in receipt of extra funds, courtesy of Queen Anne’s bounty, and other income due to various bequests and endowments.


Mention has already been made of the poor endowments of the church as set out in the  Terrier of 1743. Mention has also been made of the enclosure of 1810 and how this would entitle the church to further grants from Queen Anne’s Bounty (payments to augment poor livings). The difference between the Terrier of 1743 and the Terrier of 1853 is quite striking. Whereas the income from Queen Anne’s Bounty in 1743 amounted to just £5 per annum (the interest on £200), by 1853 the incumbent was reporting a grant of £400 from Queen Anne’s Bounty, which was laid out in the purchase of land, to produce regular rental income. [The Terrier for 1853 is printed in full in the People, Parish Records, Terriers subsection].


The town directories for the period from the rebuilding of Ellerton church to 1925 show a certain optimism, sadly lacking from the period previous to the reconstruction. Here are a selection of the comments:


Post Office Directory North and East Ridings of Yorkshire: 1857

The church of St. Mary is a handsome stone building, with spire and 2 bells.


Post Office Directory of North and East Ridings of Yorkshire with the City of York: 1872

The church of St. Mary is a handsome stone building, in the Norman style, with a small spire and 2 bells: the interior consists of nave, aisle, and chancel: all the windows contain a portion of stained glass from the Old Priory.


Kelly's Post Office Directory of the North & East Ridings of Yorkshire: 1889

The church of St. Mary is a building of stone, in the Norman style, having chancel, nave, north aisle, south porch, and a belfy with small spire containing 2 bells; all the windows contain portions of stained glass from the ancient Priory: there are 100 sittings.


History, Topography, and Directory of East Yorkshire T. Bulmer & co.: 1892

There are no remains of the conventual buildings, and the parish church, which had been the nave of the priory church, was rebuilt about 50 years ago. It is dedicated to St. Mary, and consists of chancel, nave, porch, and bell turret, containing two bells. The style is Norman. In the windows are fragments of ancient stained glass, representing shields of arms, but it is impossible now to assign the arms to their respective bearers. There are two old oak stalls in the chancel, which are supposed to have belonged to the old priory.


Kelly's Directory of the North and East Ridings of Yorkshire: 1913 (same in 1925)

The church of St. Mary is a building of stone in the Decorated style, consisting of chancel, nave, south porch and a belfry with small spire containing 2 bells: all the windows retain portions of stained glass from the ancient Priory: there are 220 sittings.


The church also appears to have been endowed with additional pews, as the capacity in 1889 was reported as being 100 sittings, but was reported as 200 sittings in 1913.


The plate of the church was examined in 1912 and the results printed in 'Yorkshire Church Plate', Vol i, Yorkshire Archaeological Society, Extra Series, 1912:


Silver: Ancient Communion Cup and modern Paten.

Pewter: Flagon and Plate.


The cup is of the usual type of the Elizabethan vessels, and has the characteristic belt of leaf design encircling the bowl, around which it interlaces three times. Its dimensions are: Height 6|, dia. at lip 3j, of foot 34, depth of bowl 3! in. Hall-marks : (i) illegible; (2) l.h.c.; (3) l.p.; (4) sm. Old Eng. N (London, 1570).


The paten is a simple plate with a cross patee upon the rim, and inscribed: "Church of S. Mary Ellerton Priory 1909." Marks, London, 1907.


The pewter flagon is a plain tankard 11 high, with domed cover and thumb-piece. There are no marks nor inscription.


The pewter plate is 9 in dia., and is marked with an X crowned, and with the letter E, for Ellerton.


The church was still sound as late as 1972, when it was examined by Nikolaus Pevsner, and described in his series of volumes entitled ‘The Buildings of England: Yorkshire: The East Riding’ as follows -


“a substantial building, though not large. Ashlar of varying colours. Nave and chancel and bellcote square with two corners chamfered. It is set diagonally on a big mid-butress. It is, so Mr Quiney tells me, copies from that at Shipton Oliffe in Gloucestershire, which was illustrated in Parker’s much used Glossary. Ellerton church has Dec tracery in the E. window, reticulated. Stained Glass: Seven shields of arms, probably 14th century, in the tracery of the nave windows (B. Johnson).”


Further Decay

However, despite the new church, congregations slackened off considerably, due in no small part to the absence of a permanent onsite minister. The minister of Aughton was also curate of Ellerton, and attended Ellerton only on a part-time basis. There was also local ‘competition’ from the Methodist chapel.


Throughout the first half of the twentieth century congregations continued to fall, and by 1970 congregations as few as five persons were common.


In 1978 the parish church of St. Mary’s Ellerton was made redundant, and the building and churchyard once again began to fall into decay due to lack of maintenance and vandalism.


Second Rebirth

In 1984 all that could be salvaged was done so. The medieval stained glass windows were removed and can now be seen in a window in the north aisle of Selby Abbey.


On the brink of its planned demolition, the church was taken into the custody of the Ellerton Church Preservation Trust, which had been set up in 1995.


For further information and a continuation of the story of the church, please visit the Ellerton Church Preservation Trust website.