St Mary’s Church History

Before 1869 the parish church of Thixendale was at Wharram Percy. Churchgoers had to walk over three miles across the wolds for their services. In medieval times Thixendale had a chapel of ease dedicated to St. Stephen but in 1541 the Wharram vicar complained that his congregation was being reduced by the use of such chapels, and the archbishop then limited their use to a weekly service for the sick and infirm. Five years later all the township chapels were closed leaving Wharram Percy the only place of worship for Thixendale, Raisthorpe, Burdale and Towthorpe. There is a list of the vicars of Wharram Percy on the back wall of the church.

In 1854 the Anglican schoolroom in Thixendale was licensed for public worship, but there were no facilities for baptisms, marriages and funerals. Lady Sykes presented a communion plate for use in Thixendale at this time.

The Sykes of Sledmere owned most of Thixendale from 1791 until 1941 when the farms and houses in the village were sold .

From the 1st Earl to the 4th Earl restorations of various Wolds churches were meticulously undertaken. The 5th Earl, Sir Tatton Sykes, made major improvements to the village in the 1870s. Under his patronage, the church of St. Mary the Virgin and its vicarage were built between 1868 and 1870, under the renowned architect George Edmund Street. The builders were Simpson and Malone of Hull.

Sir Tatton Sykes also continued the financing work on 16 other rural churches between 1866 and 1913. These churches constitute the route of the Sykes Churches Trail .
His bust adorns all of the Wold’s churches he restored or rebuilt. He was concerned with many village matters. One letter, asking for the church bell to be rung to celebrate his wedding, lists twelve other villages where he was equally involved. His wife, Lady Sykes, also contributed to the welfare of needy villagers and in the severe winter of 1895 wrote to the vicar expressing her wish that a soup kitchen should be opened at her expense and a ton of coal be distributed.

The building was designed in the high church gothic style with emphasis on the sacrament. Street set out a strong nave axis with the font in its own sacred space at one end and the altar indicating the ultimate sacrifice at the other, the beginning and end of the Christian cycle. He also designed an interesting asymmetry of archways, pillars and windows so that nothing will detract from the focus towards the chancel and altar.

One of the distinctive features of this beautiful little church is the stained glass. The majority of the windows were supplied by Clayton and Bell of London. Street used this firm for the design and manufacture of windows in most of the churches that he built in East Yorkshire.

The creation window is of outstanding quality and is based on a design which was used by Clayton and Bell for wall paintings which can still be seen in the church at Garton on the Wolds. The mediaeval art of making stained glass had been forgotten and was reinvented during the Victorian era. The windows can be considered works of art in their own right made by great artists. The standard of abstract design is exceptional and could be considered ahead of its time. Sadly some of the painted details on the hands and faces have worn off, but the rich colours, particularly the red, yellow and purple, so distinctive of Clayton and Bell’s artistry, remain.

Street’s eye for detail can be seen in the way the arches over the side windows fade into the splays .

Looking to the back of the church the most striking feature is the circular rose window .

Below it the triptych displays the names of local soldiers who fought in the Great War .

The Rev. William Fox was the first vicar from 1871 to 1911. At the beginning of his ministry in Thixendale he established a choir of men and boys and in his diary records that one of the choristers, John Hood aged 11 died from smallpox in January 1872.

He was succeeded by the Rev. Herbert Congreve Home from 1912 to 1921, and then by the blind Rev. Wilfred Armitage Schofield.

Elizabeth Jewison, from Raisthorpe, provided the musical accompaniment on a harmonium until her death in August 1877. On November 1st 1877, Sir Tatton Sykes provided a new organ for the church at a cost of £199. It was dedicated at the harvest thanksgiving.

The churchyard cross was added in 1874. It has had a plaque added to commemorate the dead of the 1st and 2nd World Wars.

The lychgate was completed in 1875 in matching stone and tiled roof.

The vestry and boilerhouse were added in 1875 by Simpson and Mallory . The first vicar’s diary shows that it was used for the first time on February 13th 1876.

The Antique Thixendale Cross

For many years Thixendale church had two crosses on the altar but it was only after an e-mail from a knowledgeable visitor that it was discovered that one of the crosses was very old and could be quite valuable. There was great excitement and worry as to how to keep it safe.

For a while the antique cross was removed from the altar and locked in the vestry while an expert from York Minster was contacted to come and look at the cross. She confirmed that it was valuable, quite rare but not unique, probably dating from the late fifteenth century.

A search of the Reverend Fox’s diary in Beverley records office revealed that the he had presented the cross to the church in 1898. Although he describes the cross in detail he does not say why he presented it to the church at this time but it could be celebrating 30 years since the foundation stone of the church was laid.

The PCC had to decide what to do with the cross, as it could not be kept on display for security reasons. Apart from the cost of insuring the cross the church would have to be kept locked all the time, which would prevent the free and open access to all. It decided to apply to the diocese for a faculty to sell the cross. It was agreed that the cross would be auctioned by Christie’s and there would be a reserve of £5000.

Unfortunately the bidding at auction did not reach the reserve. Although there were several bidders interested in buying it at a lower price after the sale it was decided to try and find a buyer locally.

Happily the antique cross was bought by the East Riding of Yorkshire Treasure House in Beverley for the sum of £5350 and so remains in the locality – and the church now has under-pew heaters!


The organ, built by Forster and Andrews of Hull in 1877, is an incredibly fine example of their workmanship and is a beautiful instrument with gilded decoration on the tin front pipes .

Of particular historical significance is the fact that there have been no alterations to the organ since it was built apart from the addition of an electric blower.

The organ was presented to the church in 1877 by Sir Tatton Sykes and cost £199.00. It replaced the harmonium which had been played by Mrs Elizabeth Jewison.

At the dedication of the new organ in November 1877 Mr J R Young of Hull was appointed as organist. Later, in September 1878, Mr Thomas Andrew from Wharram was appointed as the organist. The journey to Thixendale from Wharram for Sunday services must have been rather time consuming and Mr Andrew soon moved into Thixendale where he stayed for nearly 18 years.

Thomas Andrew was a talented musician who later formed the Thixendale Church Choir Brass Band which played for ecclesiastical and secular events; progressing from a Drum and Fife band to a band of some importance with brass instruments and uniforms! (Thomas Andrew, band leader and organist is sitting on the drum)

Playing the organ for services and rehearsing the band for performances at church and secular events must have kept Mr Andrew busy and in addition he had to find time to write out music by hand on manuscript paper. His two manuscript books full of transcribed music are in the Treasure House at Beverley. This scrap of music was recently unearthed in a drawer in the vestry

On 12th August 1896 Thomas Andrew resigned as organist and conductor and left the village. Miss Miriam Sedman, daughter of Churchwarden Mr Sedman, undertook to fulfil the duties of Organist from this time.

The vital post of organ blower was fulfilled by John Henry Adams from 1877 to 1885 when Frederick Lacy took over. He was followed by Joseph Butterick who left the village with his family in 1888 when George Dent took over. In 1898 the organ blower is noted as being Edward Harben. Kate Moore recalled undertaking the job in the 1930s. Some time after electricity arrived in 1947 an electric blower was fitted.

The organ did sterling service for many years until the 1980s but when the regular organist, Mary Brader, could no longer play, it fell into disuse and gradually deteriorated. By the year 2000 the organ was unplayable.

In 2006 the PCC discovered that the cause of the serious damp problem affecting the organ chamber was water from the flat roof of the old boiler house; so this building was demolished at a cost of £3000. Having worked hard to raise this sum it was rather a setback to discover asbestos in the old boiler, which also had to be removed safely before any demolition could start, adding a further £3500 to the costs.

The Reverend Fox had left a bequest in his will to establish The Fox Organ Fund and this was used to launch the organ restoration appeal.

By 2009 the organ was fully restored to its former glory with the help appeal funds and a lottery grant.

The story of the restoration work which was carried out in 2009 is told on the interactive touchscreen in the church. The tale is fascinating and is well worth a visit to the church where the sound-and-light tour narrated by famous BBC Radio presenter and actor Nigel Forde will guide you round the church.


Here are two short recordings from Dr Francis Jackson’s CD playing the newly refurbished organ.

01 – Mendelssohn 6-sonatas for organ No 3

Georgian Suite – Jig

The Restoration of Thixendale Church

(From a document dated 29 January 1991)

Nearly two years have passed since the repair and re-covering of the main roof to the nave and the repair to the most serious of the defects has averted disaster. There are signs of similar deterioration caused by the rusting of nails to both tiles and battens over the smaller chancel roof. The vestry roof to the rear (built four years later) may have the same problem in the future. There are iron rainwater gutters and downpipes need replacing.

The enormous efforts made at fund raising by the village over all the recent years are most impressive and a matter for profound gratitude. £5.687.51 is available from this work and it is estimated that approximately £2000 in grants will be available from the Diocese of York and the North Riding County Council. It is therefore the intention of the Church Council to obtain tenders for the next phase of the work in the knowledge that there are likely to be further fund raising events this summer to complete the necessary amount needed for this stage. We even have to pay VAT on the work!

There is an equally serious need for money at the Village Hall and in future all fund raising will be a joint effort spread between the two buildings.

The Church Wardens and the Parochial Church Council are most appreciative of the efforts by the Community so far and look forward to further implementing the restoration work in the coming months.

Safeguarding Procedures

Please refer to Diocese of York information