Church History

Doomsday and Monks



Welcome to St Mary's church, and a long tradition of Christian worship. There is evidence that Christians worshipped on this site as long as1500 years ago and a lively, worshipping community still meet here today.

The Doomsday Book refers to Egglesfeld (meaning 'church in a field'), so it is likely that a church existed here many years before the Norman Conquest in 1066.

In Anglo Saxon times, when parish boundaries were first marked out, Ecclesfield was important enough to become the mother church of an enormous West Riding moorland parish. It covered nearly 50,000 acres, stretching to the county boundaries and including Bradfield. Even up until the 1840's it was still the parish church of places such as Wadsley, Grenoside, High Green, Chapeltown, Shiregreen, Wincobank, Southey and Parson Cross.

The church was built in a prominent position, on a knoll of higher ground. The earliest mention of a church here is in 1141 and traces of the Norman church still exist in the interior of the present building. The oldest parts of the church are the pillars in the nave and the half-pillars that take the arches into the western wall. The north aisle pillars are circular and the south aisle ones are octagonal. Such variations are common in Medieval Churches and Pevsner, the historian, thinks they were first built around 1200 and were reworked later. The early 14th century church had a similar plan to the present one with nave, aisles, crossing and tower, transepts and chapels. The central tower symbolised its size and importance.

Monks at St Mary's

After the Norman Conquest, William de Lovetot (the Norman Lord of Hallamshire) gave Ecclesfield to the Benedictine Abbey of St Wandrille, near Rouen in Normandy. It was some time later that the monks first came to Ecclesfield; the exact date is unclear. There was probably only a small cell of two or three. They never achieved any fame for their spiritual influence and they were slack in their duties. In 1310 the Archbishop of York had to force them to observe their religious duties and to appoint a vicar.

Within a year Robert de Bosco had been installed in a new vicarage and a new church was being built. The abbey continued to appoint vicars until the 1380's when all foreign priories were dissolved by Richard II. The property passed to the new Carthusian Priory of St Anne, near Coventry. They continued to be responsible for the upkeep of the chancel and faithfully installed vicars, but never sent any monks to Ecclesfield. The Order was dissolved during Henry VIII's Reformation, and the property was handed back by the Lords of Hallamshire.

The building of the present church was begun in 1478 by the vicar, Thomas Clark. The monks continued to be responsible for the chancel but the brunt of the cost was born by the parishioners. Everyone combined their efforts to make Ecclesfield church as good as, if not better than that of their neighbours. The church was completed about 1500 and from the outside is very similar to the largely perpendicular style building we see today.