The Parish of Fewston

Some history of the parish

For more than three hundred years the Church of St. Michael and St. Lawrence, Fewston has been the focal point of life in the village and in the wider Washburn Valley. It is not the first church on this site — there were at least two earlier ones - the second of which burned down in 1696. Within a year that church had been replaced by the building you see today, a witness to the faith of its parishioners.

Over the years thousands of people have come through the church doors for many different reasons. Some in search of their roots, some to pray, some to worship, others to be baptized, married and until 1896 when the graveyard closed, to be buried.

The church registers give some fascinating insights into events from some of these past lives. On the 4 May 1740 ‘there fell a great snow’ although Thomas Dale and Sarah Hardcastle were able to turn up for their wedding on May 8th. But as well as happiness there was much tragedy. The burial of more than one child in the family at the same time being not uncommon especially in an age when plague was endemic.

In the nineteenth century pauper apprentices, orphan children some as young as eight, who came from the cities to be employed in West House Mill at Blubberhouses, were brought to the church to recite the catechism. We are told that they did it so well that a member of the congregation gave them a guinea.

In the days before the welfare state the parishioners were responsible for much charitable giving. In 1716 John Jeffrey of Trees House made an endowment for four poor children to receive an education, each of whom was also to have a cap while Timothy Ellis, a yeoman farmer and also a generous benefactor, gave £24 to the Vicar ‘towards instructing Eight Poor Children in the English tongue’.

Since the present church was built the church has been served by nineteen members of the clergy. One, the Rev. John Marks Ashley (1873-1900) was not appreciated in Fewston. A classical scholar, he was said to be able ‘to talk well but that is not what is wanted here.’ Another vicar, John Gwyther who preceded him and whose tomb stands beside the porch, was unfavourably featured in ‘The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton’ published in 1857 by George Eliot, the eminent Victorian novelist.

Tomb of John Gwyther

Many visitors from all over the world still come to Fewston Church to enjoy the the peace and stillness which is such a feature of this church and its situation high up on the hill overlooking Swinsty Reservoir.