In a Barnsley village as mysterious as Davy Jones’ Locker, local legend has it that within its churchyard lies the graves of ye olde pirates.
Well, shiver me timbers!
Why buccaneers would have wound up in Barnsley when the nearest coast is almost 100 miles away is anyone’s guess. But who else would possibly use skull and crossbones on their gravestones?
For generations, children from the surrounding villages have long believed this folklore tale that pirates once roamed the lands and have spent many an hour exploring the grounds of Felkirk St Peter’s Church looking for signs of the Jolly Roger.
These infamous graves date back to the plague which decimated the population in the 17th and 18th centuries; the crossbones were used to denote ‘do not dig up.’
As the church celebrates its 900th anniversary in 2020, a community group has organised a range of activities and events throughout the year to celebrate Felkirk’s rich heritage.
Felkirk is one of a few parishes in the UK named after the church rather than the village. Thought to be derived from the Anglo-Danish word ‘Fjolkirche’ meaning church of wood or planks, Felkirk was the name given to the original smaller 9th century church which burnt down and for which the records were lost.
This first church was built in the ancient village of Hoderode, the only remaining evidence of this being Hodroyd Hall just a short walk from the current church. The two sites have remained connected ever since, with celebrations being held at both Felkirk and Hodroyd to commemorate the 900th year.
Located close to the West Yorkshire border in South Hiendley near Shafton, the current church was built by Anglo-Saxon, Swain Alric in the early 1100s who passed control over to the monks at Nostell Priory in 1120.
The church served six villages: Havercroft, South Hiendley, Cold Hiendly, Shafton, Brierley and Grimethorpe. As the population grew, the parish boundaries shifted and today the church accommodates the communities of Shafton and South Hiendley.
The history surrounding the church is extraordinary, as too are the renovations it has undergone throughout the years to adapt to the changing congregation.
Their deep, plain octagonal font with runes inscribed inside is believed to be one of the oldest still in continual use and has been baptising people for well over 1,000 years, dating back to the 10th century when a child would be fully immersed in the water.
The Victorian restorations in 1875 included a new font as they deemed the original one ‘rather plain’ and was replaced with a more elaborate font.
In the 1930s, the original font was found in a farmer’s field where it was being used as a cow trough. It was returned to its rightful place, with its replacement now being used by St George’s Church, Lupset.
There have been many internal alterations and configurations since its inception, with many funded by the residing family of Hodroyd Hall.
When you stand in the centre of the church, the pillars are higher at the left-hand side. This is where the gallery used to be used by the Monckton family who owned Hodroyd Hall. The original Galway family pew, with its magnificent marquetry, is still in the church today.
In the vestry to the left of the altar is a large plaque commemorating John Monckton, 1st Viscount of Galway, who was a Whig politician in the mid-1700s. He inherited Hodroyd Hall in 1722 which has been his family’s seat since the early 18th century.
Although a Yorkshireman, he was made an Irish peer as a reward for his support and also to enable the government to keep their majority in Parliament – if he had been an English peer, he’d have sat in the House of Lords.
Many of the Monckton family are buried in a crypt underneath the church which was sealed in the 19th century.
In recent years, there has been many renovations to stop the 900-year-old church from crumbling into the history books.
Standing in the grounds is the Elizabethan village school dating back to 1580 which was turned into a community room in 2003 thanks to monies from the National Lottery.
Towards the rear of the church, the Lancet stained-glass window dating back to the 13th century has recently been restored. The last recorded restoration was in 1876 and so the lead, glass and stonework had all drastically deteriorated, meaning the window had been covered up for many years to prevent further damage.
As the church is Grade I listed, Historic England enabled the renovation which was estimated at around £20,000. It cost close to £30,000 to complete with a large proportion raised through generous donations from parishioners.
To mark their momentous 900th anniversary in 2020, there will be many events happening throughout the year such as a pancake themed family fun day on Saturday 22nd February, Festival of Voice performance by the Sandal Singers on Saturday 7th March, and a big Yorkshire Day party on 8th August.
All the events are organised by community group, Felkirk 900 along with Stephen Aviss, the current owner of Hodroyd Hall, who will be opening his home for an evening of fine dining and live entertainment at the Valentine’s Fantasia on Saturday 15th February.
An opera singer from Surrey, Stephen fell in love with Yorkshire and its friendly people while performing in Leeds. He saw Hodroyd Hall advertised on a property listing website and knew he had to buy it.
“I was ruled by my heart, not my head – my wife thought I’d gone crazy. It’s been half uninhabited for 30 years and there are around 25 to 30 rooms in total over 11,500 square feet so we’ve been focusing on which rooms to sort first,” Stephen says.
Although the façade is a real draw, Stephen has found the history surrounding the hall to be most fascinating.
It is thought there has been some building on-site since the 1100s but the hall that stands today was first acquired by the Gargraves from Nostell Priory in the 16th century. Thomas Gargraves was the Speaker of the House of Commons and was related to other Yorkshire families such as the Wickersleys, Wentworths, Swyfts and Reresbys.
Thomas’ great-grandaughter, Prudence, married Dr Richard Berrie in the 1620s with the couple inheriting Hodroyd.
Story says that Berrie was the physician to Oliver Cromwell who is thought to have stayed at Hodroyd during the Civil War when he was injured. Berrie was reputed to have played both sides of the Royalist/Parliamentarian divide and was investigated in London for three years – he never returned to Hodroyd.
Again, through marriage, Hodroyd passed to the Monckton family in 1692 who would go on to own most of the parish and made significant changes to the infrastructure such as moving the main road for better access to Hodroyd. Their coat of arms still hangs proudly on the front of the hall.
To find out more about Felkirk and its 900th celebrations, visit their Facebook page.