When I was helping to scan the Aysgarth and Upper Wensleydale Parish Magazines for the Friends of the Countryside Museum archives it was very difficult not to be tempted into reading some of the fascinating stories in The Church Monthly annuals in which they were published. Now I’m “locked down” I do have time to go back and read those books more carefully – and to share some of the most fascinating stories and illustrations.
I start with some wonderful illustrations of children at play. The first two pages were published in July 1892:
Those below were published in 1894, probably in February.
From The Church Monthly, 1892 and 1894, published by The “Church Monthly” Office, Ludgate Circus, London. My thanks to Aysgarth Parochial Church Council for allowing me to reproduce these from books owned by St Andrew’s Church.
The carved wooden pulpit at St Andrew’s Church, Aysgarth, has an unusual feature: on the central panel there is an old woman.
I like to think that the man who donated the pulpit to the church, Frank Sayer Graham, had her included in memory of his mother who, in the Victorian era, would have been described as a fallen woman!
In 1851 Frank’s mother, Elizabeth, then 25-years-old, was listed as the house servant of 59-years-old Francis Sayer of Aysgarth. Her son was born in 1859 in West Witton and she returned to Aysgarth as Mr Sayer’s housekeeper. It was not until Mr Sayer died that Frank added Sayer to his name. According to the 1881 census he was an unemployed clerk living with his mother.
He did eventually inherit from his father and ten years later was living in Aysgarth on his own means with his wife Mary.
He used his inheritance to build in Aysgarth a state of the art Edwardian house (Heather Cottage) which embraced the Arts and Crafts movement of the time and a fascinating Edwardian rock garden.
This is now the only remaining Edwardian rock garden in North Yorkshire. It was said that between 1906 and 1913 1,500 tons of native stone were used to build it.
Frank also developed a successful business which included exporting live grouse from Scotland to the German Kaiser and silver grey rabbit furs from the warren at Lady Hill in Wensleydale to pre-revolution Russia.
The love of his life was his first wife, Mary but she died in December 1911, aged just 45. To remember her he commissioned that magnificent pulpit. The architects (Messrs Hicks and Charlewood), the company which dealt with the wood carving (Ralph Hedley and Son) and Robert Beall who did the stonework were all based in Newcastle upon Tyne.
The vicar of Aysgarth, the Rev William K Wyley reported in the Upper Wensleydale ParishMagazine in April 1915 that the Bishop of Richmond would dedicate the pulpit that month. He added: “The service will be choral and the Bishop will preach.”
He continued: “The pulpit is of richly carved Crown Austrian Oak of natural colour. The shape is octagonal and the design is XV (15th) Century Gothic in keeping with the ancient Abbot’s Stall and the Rood Screen from Jervaulx Abbey.
“It stands upon a graceful base of Beerstone (which is similar in appearance to Caen stone [of the reredos] but of a harder nature); this base is richly moulded, with traceries and carving.
“The pulpit has four panels, well set back in niches with groined roofs and Ogee-shaped crocketed canopies above, which are designed to accord with those at the end of the Abbot’s Stall.”
He described how other features of the pulpit were not only in accord with the Abbot’s Stall but also with the Jervaulx Screen.
The subject of the central panel of the pulpit, he said, was based on the hymn “Lead kindly light” and represented Jesus about to heal the man born blind (John 9:5).
He noted: “The artist has included the mother of the blind man without direct Scriptural authority.”
The panel on the south side illustrated the hymn “Fight the good fight” as this was another of Mrs Graham’s favourites. That on the north side was on the theme of Holy Innocents’ Day based on Rev 14:1-5.
On the final panel there is an inscription which reads: “To the Glory of God and in affectionate remembrance of Mary Elizabeth Graham of Aysgarth, who fell asleep on Holy Innocents’ Day 1911… She sweetened the lives of others and in their love survives.”
The story goes that, when Mary was dying, she asked Frank to marry her sister. This he did but there was, it seemed, little love in the marriage. When he died in 1946 he left his widow the following: A house in Wales, £100, some wooden items that Mary had made, and “a Hoover Sweeper Absolute”. (from Will transcribed by Marian Kirby)
Above: The Doctor’s Window at St Andrew’s Church, Aysgarth, which depicts the raising of the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-15).
Before the National Health Service (NHS) was introduced in Britain in 1948 many people could not afford to go and see a doctor, as a retired doctor, Margaret Hoyle explained:
“You didn’t get the ‘walking wounded’ and there was no preventative medicine then or early diagnosis. People would treat themselves with herbal medicines as long as they could – and medical attention would probably be out of the reach of many because they had to pay a fee.”
That would certainly have been the situation that Dr Matthew Willis (left) would have found in the 1860s when he became the first doctor to live in Aysgarth. He was born in Aysgarth as his father had a grocery and drapery shop in the village. He qualified as a doctor in Edinburgh.
Dr Willis became known for being kind to the poor but sadly he died of tuberculosis in February 1871. His patients wanted to ensure he wasn’t forgotten and so paid for the stained glass window at St Andrew’s which has become known as the “Doctor’s Window”.
There are now plaques near that window in memory of three other doctors who had been based at Aysgarth. These include Dr William (Will) Pickles who became famous after the publication in 1939 of his book Epidemiology in a Country Practice.
Mrs Hoyle said: “The causes of infectious diseases were still being discovered. He was in a unique position at that time because the dales folk were then fairly circumscribed. If someone came in (from outside the dale) it was noticed. So if there was an epidemic he could pinpoint when it came in and the incubation period.” His careful statistical studies were written up by his wife Gertrude (Gerty) the daughter of the wealthy Burnley mill owner, Harry Tunstill, who owned Thornton Lodge at Thornton Rust.
Dr Pickles joined the Aysgarth practice in 1913 but was away for two years when he was serving as a surgeon with the Royal Navy. He died in 1969. Doctors Derek and Margaret Hoyle ran the practice from 1979 until they retired in 1995.
I interviewed Mrs Hoyle in 2009 when we were preparing for the Heritage Event at St Andrew’s.