The Old Church of St Stephen, Fylingdales
You do not have to be religious to visit and enter a church. In England there are many hundreds from magnificent great stone cathedrals and minsters constructed nearly a thousand years ago to more humble village churches, chapels and meeting houses. Many are of architectural merit, from the ornate and opulent to the plain and simple, Norman to Victorian.
All are steeped in history and part of the fabric of the local community. Each has its own story to tell, a fascinating insight into the lives and deaths of those who went before. Here is one such church in North Yorkshire, the ‘old church’ of St. Stephen which stands on a hillside on the fringes of the rugged moors overlooking the sea. The nondescript exterior certainly gives no clue to the most unusual interior.
The church you see today on the hillside overlooking Robin Hoods Bay was built in 1822, although the first church, of which there is no remaining trace, probably dates back to the 11th century. The present building replaced an earlier church which was dark, small and in poor condition. With the help of donations and a local benefactor it was rebuilt in ‘Gothic revival’ style with sandstone walls, slate roof and wooden bell cupola.
Church services were moved to a new St Stephen’s Church built some distance away in 1870 and this building served as a mortuary chapel for a number of years, although services did resume in 1917 for a number of years. It is now a ‘redundant’ Anglican church in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.
However, it is the interior which hides the church’s most striking feature.
The Church’s Interior
The interior of the church retains the original Georgian fittings from the 1820s. Wooden box pews, a most unusual three-decker pulpit and an upstairs L-shaped panelled gallery running round two sides of the church supported on Tuscan columns. Tall arched windows in the south wall allow the light to flood in.
The three-decker pulpit stands in the middle of the church with the clerk’s desk at the front, reading desk and pulpit rising in tiers behind. A semi-octagonal tester designed to increase the volume of the speaker’s voice is affixed to the wall above.
Rows of box pews with doors and all individually numbered are arranged to face the pulpit. They would be filled by families or individuals paying an annual fee for its use. There are more box pews upstairs with one grander, green baize lined box pew.
Elsewhere in the church there are Benefaction Boards on the wall listing the names of those who gave to the church between 1708 and 1847. The font is 17th century and from an older church. In a corner ‘Maiden’s Garlands’ made from up to 100 feet of ribbon hang from the ceiling. They date from the 19th century and were carried at the funeral processions of maidens.