St Felix Church Felixkirk North Yorkshire

The Church

St Felix Church Felixkirk Thirsk North YorkshireThere is no known link with St Felix (felix = happy in Latin) who came to convert Sigbert, King of the East Saxons in 604 and was Bishop of Dunwich and East Anglia from 630 A.D. The old name of the village gave way to that of Saint Felix, the patron saint.

Before 1175 the church seems to have consisted of an aisleless nave and chancel which was probably apsidal. In the last quarter of the 12th century the aisles were added and the two great pillars were built to carry the arches which replaced the earlier north and south walls of the nave. Later the eastern portion of the chancel was replaced by a rectangular sanctuary. The ground plan remained in this form till 1859 until substantially rebuilt in 1860 by William Hey Dykes. The present, very beautiful church with its unusual rounded apse owes much to Dykes' genius. Canon Johnstone, younger son of Lord Derwent, and his curate, Revd. W.A. Norris, raised 1,600 for the restoration.

Tour of the Church

Entering through the modern porch one can see the basin of an early font which is believed to have come from a long-disappeared church in the neighbouring village of Sutton-under-Whitestonecliffe. The font in the church is modern. Looking up at the south-west corner of the inner roof of the nave, almost hidden by the first roof truss, it is possible to see the quoins of the south wall of the nave of the pre-1175 church. The tower is later than the early church, probably 16th century. Under the nave walkway is a cast iron stove and a duct for the hot gases which led up to the chancel steps and thence to a flue to the north of the pulpit. This extremely effective heating system had to be abandoned when no-one could be found to stoke the stove; but its passing is much regretted in cold weather!

The chancel arch is Norman in appearance but opinions differ on how much of it dates from the pre-1300 church and how much from Dykes. The columns and capitals, at least, are generally agreed to be original. In both walls of the quire are lancet windows dating from the pre-1175 church. The blocked doorway in the south wall is said by Bogg to have come from an earlier door in the south aisle. Two large iron crooks can be seen at the top of the chancel arch columns. These once supported curtains known as a Lenten Veil which hid the sanctuary from the congregation and possibly kept the draughts away from the knights!

The next arch, separating the quire from the apse, was rebuilt by Dykes using some earlier material and is Norman in conception. The walls of the western part of the apse are straight and slightly convergent and lead into the interlacing Romanesque arcading which dates from Dykes' restoration. The present apse is said to have been built on, or in conformity with, the foundations of the original apse. In the north wall of the apse, in the straight portion of the wall, is a two-light window dating from pre-1300 and containing portions of mediaeval glass. The arms on the four escutcheons are of Walkingham (upper left), Cantilupe (upper right), de Roos (lower left) and Elsley (lower right). The first three figure prominently in the early history of the church and the Elsley family lived at Mount St John in the last century. In the tracery at the top there is a representation of the Trinity. Under the window is the effigy in stone of a Crusader knight and, on the south side, a contemporary effigy of a woman, assumed to be his wife (see below for history of this couple).

Returning to the south aisle, there is a fine example of today's stained glass in a window in memory of Brig. Walker, last of the three generations of Walkers at Mount St John and Ravensthorpe in nearby Boltby

The Arms and the Figures

Authors differ over the identity of the two effigies. One suggestion is that they are of the de Roos family, lords of Helmsley and owners of the fortified manor at Old Ravensthorpe between Thirlby and Boltby within this parish. However it is more generally held that the woman is Eva de Boltby, a local heiress, who had three husbands. The first, John de Walkingham (d.1284), the second Richard Knut of Kepwick who must have died not long after and, thirdly, William de Cantilupe, Lord of Ravensthorpe (m. Eva 1292, d.1309). As you have seen, the arms of de Roos, de Walkingham and de Cantilupe all appear in the apse window but those of the short-lived Knut do not. A further confusion arises over the lady's name; possibly Lady Joan or Lady Eva of Boltby (d.1309), perhaps of the de Roos family herself. The de Cantilupes died out in 1391. The old manor was replaced by an eighteenth century house on the west side of Boltby where part of the Walker family lived until the 1940s.

The Bells, Tower and Organ

At a guess the tower is 16th century and used to have a gallery and internal ladders for access (look at the stonework where the beams rested). When the Walcker organ (German) was plumbed in, literally, for it had an hydraulic action, in March 1888 the north aisle roof was raised and the exterior spiral steps to the clock and bell chamber were added.

The treble and two other bells were made and added in 1898 to the three already there which date from 1620. Of these the tenor bell is 8 cwt and 36" in diameter, inscribed "All glory to God on High to all Eternity, 1656". The fifth bell is 6 cwt and inscribed "Jesus be our Speed, 1620".

Finally, in the churchyard, there is the tombstone of Hannah Cornforth, who died aged 21 in 1853, with the inscription (readable in 1859 at least):

Twenty years I was a maid,

One year I was a wife,

Eighteen hours a mother,

And then departed life.

See, too, the 12th century knight's headstone outside the vestry window.

Other information and points of interest for reference:

The Walker family were iron founders from Sheffield and cast the cannon for the Victory and other R.N. ships during the Napoleonic Wars.

Other effigies of knights to be seen in conjunction with the one here: Robert de Moreby, 1286-1336, at Stillingfleet is in exactly the same style (but more an apprentice's work than our rather de luxe version); both carved at the same workshop at Skipton in the old West Riding; also Nicholas de Cantilupe of the 13th century at St Mary's, Ilkeston, Derbyshire.

A tomb of a member of the de Roos family, dating from the 14th century, is in the round church of the Temple, Fleet Street, London.

De Roos bougets (heraldic water vessel devices) are to be seen clearly on the London effigy, on Helmsley Castle, on the gatehouse of I<irkham Priory, in the glass of York Minster and Trinity Church, York. (No doubt a member of the family was prudent enough to have a flask of water with him and, refreshing his king after a battle, earned his title, still part of the Earls of Mowbray's style.)

The Calendar Close Rolls 1256-1419 mention Roger de Mowbray and Nicholas de Boltby; summoned to do the king's business and fight in Wales versus Llewellyn ap Griffin, or in Scotland if the Nevilles required them. Other references are mainly legal to do with the tenure of Boltby, Thirlby and Ravensthorpe through inheritance, escheatage, default or royal pardon (1 391), mentioning Nicholas' son by Philippa 14th December 1272, Adam and his late wife Annora, 1282, along with relations of the de Cantilupes, namely John de Hastings, Earl of Pembroke (some of which family have effigies in the Temple Church from 1219).

St Felix. A small cameo of him is in the glass by the north chancel door at Blythborough, Suffolk. Dunwich, just to the east, was a prosperous mediaeval harbour and city, which now lies two miles out under the North Sea. It was a rotten borough afterwards.

A.J.N.

Bibliography:

William Grainge, Vale of Mowbray, 1859.
Edmund Bogg, Richmondshire and the Vale of Mowbray, 1906.
Nicholas Pevsner, Yorkshire - The North Riding, Penguin 1966.
Archives at County Hall, Northallerton.

Acknowledgements:
Miss Ruth Mitchell
Rev. P.R.A.R. Hoare
Major E. Chetwynd-Stapylton - Churchwarden.

Organ Information

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