All Saints Church, Driffield

Built in 12th Century: First mentioned in Domesday Book 1086, Perpendicular Gothic style church, Peal of three bells

When the years had wrought their changes
He, our own unchanging God
Thought on this His habitation
Looked on His decayed abode
Heard our prayers and helped our counsels
Blessed the silver and the gold
Till once more His house is standing
Firm and stately as of old

A Brief History

From the earliest days of Christianity in northern England there has been a place of worship in Driffield. The beginnings of faith here would have led to the building of a simple wooden structure. But as faith grew and wealth became available, grander building were built to the glory of God, many of which have left their mark on the building that still stands proudly above Driffield today.

Saxon Times

There was a church here (possibly destroyed by a fire) at the time of the Doomsday survey in 1086. Some large blocks of masonry, with a rather crude type of torus moulding are now built into the inner wall of the tower ringing chamber. They may have come from this Saxon building.

Norman Times

A Norman church, without side aisles, was probably built on the site about the beginning of the 12th century, and the present clerestory windows may be remains of it, re-used on the late 12th century nave.

The Late 12th Century

This church received its present general pattern about the years 1170-1200, broad nave with arcades of four round arches (chamfered) leading to the aisles, small round-headed clerestory windows whose exterior arch is supported on shafts with a Norman looking base, and plain cylindrical nave piers. The bases of there piers provide the most specific evidence of the late 12th century dating - a hollow "water holding" base surmounting a flattened roll mounding.

The rectangular, rather low chancel is of the same period, with its deeply splayed window openings. Notice also the typical water-leaf capitals on the base of the font, the keel moulding which runs under the clerestory windows and along the south side of the Chancel: all these are of the late 12th century. Similarly Characteristic of the period are the flat pilaster buttresses on the outer wall of the Chancel, and nearby, the arch mouldings and still-leaf capitals of the Priest's Door (in the Chancel). The North Door of the Nave is of about the same date also. The South Door with its more elaborate mouldings appears to be a little later.

The 14th Century

The South Aisle was widened and given new windows; square headed, with curvilinear tracery circa 1330-40. The Chancel arch was rebuilt.

The 15th Century

The North Aisle was rebuilt with the windows of the perpendicular style; the East Window and those on the south side of the Chancel are of this period 0 the deep interior splays of the latter probably remain from the late 12th century window openings.

The 19th Century

Between 1878 and 1880 extensive restoration was carried out by George Gilbert Scott Jnr. The North Aisle was extended eastwards and widened, forming a Lady Chapel on the north side of the Chancel; the whole Church was re-roofed and re-pewed; the south porch was built; the organ gallery, which had been at the west end was removed and a new organ placed in a chamber over the vestry.

The 20th Century

The Chancel and Lady Chapel screens were inserted (1904-0); the central and side aisled were re-floored with Oak blocks; the font was moved to the east end of the South Aisle; the organ gallery was built under the tower arch and the rebuilt and enlarged organ placed on it (1967-71).

Features of the Church

The 500 year old Tower

The tower is a dominant landmark in the area and it gives the Church it's own special air of distinction. It combines grace and splendour with strength and solidity. Much of its effect depends on the skilful way in which the buttresses are designed: set in right angled pairs at each corner, they are offset at five stages and lightened by niches, canopies, panelling and gables. They terminate in pairs of semi-pinnacles set side-by-side to give the effect of a chamfer. Higher up the tower, above the belfry windows, there is a cornice with its vivid gargoyle faces, and the richly carved panelling of the parapets. The eight pinnacles at the top, 110 feet from the ground, also elaborately panelled are somewhat unsatisfactory and heavy in appearance: they date for the 1880 restoration, which gave them a distinctly debased type of crocket decoration. In spite of this the tower is a great artistic success - a "showpiece" as one authority described it.

The tower was probably built in the middle of the 15th century. Like many of the great towers of East Anglia it is probably a "wool tower" - the result of a group of wealthy landed gentry simply deciding to devote some of their sheep farming profits to the greater glory of God. In the tower are three ancient bells, which from the dates upon them appear to have been cast at different periods, sometime after the erection of the tower.  For some years previous to the reformation a custom had crept in of engraving inscriptions in bells, and each of these bells bear a Latin inscription.

On the first bell is - "Hec Campana Beate Trinitate flat A.D. 1593. R. B."
On the second bell - "In honore Sancte Tinitatis Anno Domini 1593"
On the third bell - "In altissimo Deo Gloria 1685.  T.D. churchwarden. S. S. Ebor"

The English of the above inscriptions may be rendered as follows -
1.Bell - "Let this bell be sacred to the blessed Trinity. A.D. 1593 R. B.
2.Bell - "In honour of the Holy Trinity.  A.D. 1593
3.Bell - "Glory to God in the highest. 1685. T. D. churchwarden. S. S. York

Who "T.D. churchwarden," who thus immortalises himself by having his initials put on the last bell, is, at this distance of time not easily ascertained.  "S. S. York are the initials, no doubt, of the maker's name, who evidently resided at York.

The Tebbe Chantry

Chantries were little chapels or particular altars in churched endowed with lands for the maintenance of priests to daily sing or say mass and to hold divine service for the souls of the donors. 

The Tebbe Chantry was founded in 1443, at the altar of St. Nicholas and St. Mary the Virgin, by John Tebbe. The Piscina of this altar can still be seen at the east end of the wall of the South Aisle. An endowment allowed for the provision of a chantry priest who as well as acting as an assistant curate would also probably provide elementary education for a few of the village boys.

Tebbe endowed the Chantry with two messuages (dwelling houses) and seven ox gangs of land for a chantry priest to say mass daily, which were not held of the king, but to be held in copite for his own support forever. 

Late 18th Century and early 19th Centuries: a Georgianised Church

During this era the Church went through drastic transformation. The population was bigger and so more needed to be seated. The Church would have looked very different. Barrel vaulted plaster ceilings covered in the rafters. Box pews replaced the old oak benches; a gallery was built at the west end to accommodate the Church band and mixed choir. A huge board painted with the Royal arms adorned the font of the gallery. There were colour washed walls and a three-decker pulpit. At one period a large classical screen "resembling a bookcase" shut off the whole Chancel.

Carved Stones in the Lady Chapel

These are set out on the sill of the side windows, They are all of the late 12th century date, perhaps of the original Chancel arch: capital bases, pieces of arch moulding etc. showing some of the very fine workmanship, with quite rare variations of the typical water-leaf and crocket capitals.

The Chandelier

Now in the Chancel, it was originally in the centre of the Nave: a graceful piece of Queen Anne or early Georgian craftsmanship, "stylistically and technically in the forefront of development", as one authority describes it.

The Chancel and Lady Chapel Screens

Designed by Temple Moore in 14th and 15th Century styles, made by Messrs. Shepherdson of Driffield and presented to the Church by Mr Harrison holt in 1904 ad 1909. In the latter years the few remains of the mediaeval Chancel screen were given to another Parish Church.

Stained Glass

Nearly all the windows were designed by the once famous glass painter, victor Milner, some 60 to 70 years ago. His two colourful and attractive windows in the south wall of the Chancel showing scenes from the parables are particularly interesting.

An Unknown Bishop and Gargoyles

This carving is on the outside wall of the Vestry over-looking the main street. It is a bas-relief (much weathered) of as bishop with mitre and crosier, and appears to be late 12th or 13th century.

One antiquary (someone interested in antiquities or things of the past) suggested that it is the effigy of Paulinus, the Roman missionary who first introduced Christianity into Britain and who was made the first Christian Archbishop of York.  It has generally been thought to have belonged to another earlier church possibly standing over the doorway of an ancient porch. 

Ancient architects often designed the most grotesque features for the decoration of their churches.  These figures are generally symbolic, and intended to be "sermons in stone."  The common water spouts or gargoyles are effigies of the fabulous griffin or other nondescript creature.  Two curious illustrations of symbolism are found in the south aisle.  At each angle of the top cornice is a large toad.  These, no doubt, have a significant meaning - perhaps to portray the ugliness of sin.

News Articles

For those interested in genealogy and who wondered about funerals for the un-baptized Driffield Times and General Advertiser, Apr 30, 1864 An inquest was held at Kilham on Monday on the body of a child, name of SMITH, 6 months old, who was found dead in the mother's arms on Sunday morning.  It is supposed that an apoplectic fit was the cause of death and the jury returned a verdict to that effect. Not having been baptized, the child was buried at night, without any funeral rites.


Driffield Times and General Advertiser, Aug 26, 1865


Ever since the commencement of the works at the Cemetery, it has been, to the contemplative and moralising mind, a serious question as to whom should be the first interred in the new burial ground.  Speculation would naturally point to some of our consumptive friends or relatives, or to some fever-visited or palsied neighbour; would it be some wearied life's traveller, bending beneath the cares and afflictions of many years, or perchance it might be one in the spring-tide of youth, or a beloved infant just making debut on this mortal stage.  Stern reality has, however, set all speculation aside and we find a five-weeks' child the first to fill a tiny grave in the Dissenters' section of  "God's acre."  The child was the infant son of Mr David Railton, draper, Middle-street, and the fact of this being the first interment, caused many to be present.  The ceremony was conducted by the Rev C.G. Honor, the Primitive Methodist minister.  The service read was simple and evangelical.  An oration, or rather address, was given at the conclusion to the parents and sympathisers present.  The painful and perplexing nature of the visitation was spoken of - painful to lose, as it were, so prematurely a darling child, and perplexing to think that God had given them a lovely child, and had so soon after taken it to himself.  This was a great mystery; but what we know not now we shall know hereafter.  Called to the skies to associate with angelic choirs, it would be an increased incentive to the parents and friends to follow the beloved child heavenwards.  A general exhortation was then given, the speaker remarking that life is short and uncertain, and that those with the bloom of health on their cheek might soon be numbered with the clods of the valley Driffield Times and General Advertiser, Dec 2, 1865


On Wednesday afternoon P.H. Holland, Esq., from the Burial Acts Office, London, and her Majesty's Inspector of Burial Grounds, visited Driffield for the purpose of inspecting the several places of sepulture in this town.  After viewing the church yard in company with the vicar (the Rev G. Allen), J. Rawlinson, churchwarden, Messrs H. Angas, Thos Pickering, Thos Atkinson, Thos Hopper, Wm Witty, Jas Elgey, and others, it was determined that the church yard be closed forthwith to all parties excepting widows having late husbands interred there and widowers who have buried their late wives.  The same decision was likewise mad with regard to the old burial places of the Independents in Exchange Street and Baptists grounds, at the bottom of Chapel lane.  There is no doubt but many families will read this with no small degree of sorrow, as many have sleeping there, ancestors of many generations.  The arrangement will, however, be a great public benefit, as by increasing the number of interments in the Cemetery, the burden of the ratepayers will be lessened; and as a sanitary measure, it must be for the benefit of the town.


A curious custom exists at Driffield with which the parish clerk is required to ring what is called "the harvest bell."  It is supposed that the sheaves of wheat and barley to which he was entitled were given to him for his trouble.  The origin of the custom may be attributed to expediency, when clocks and watches were few and far between, and the sun - "the shepherds' clock" - was the only guide for the husbandman. In such cases it is documented that the bell of the church would be called into requisition to call the harvester to his daily toil in the early morn and at the close of the day to warn him to cease from his labour.  Every morning at five and every evening at seven, during the harvest month, has this harvest bell pealed for centuries from the grey tower of the old parish church, telling the tale that "harvest had come," and saying to the harvester, "put in the sickle." It was the custom here up to some years past to ring the "passing bell" immediately after a death, indicating by so many strokes whether the deceased was a man, or a woman, or a child.

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All Saints Church, Driffield

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