The History of St Mary’s Parish

Down the hill from Harrogate, came a weary pedestrian. As it was a fine day, he had thought the walk would be pleasant, but by the time he had reached the High Bridge, he was glad to rest his arms on the parapet and admire the scene, forgetting his arduous efforts.

He surveyed the happy throng below, rowing up and down the River Nidd. He admired the elegant arches of the railway viaduct a little way down the river. High on the left rose the tower of the Parish Church, once dedicated to Our Lady, but now to St. John In the distance rose the walls of the once massive castle. Only the keep remains. It was here that the knights who murdered St Thomas Becket took refuge.

Now, refreshed, he resumed his walk and mounted the gentle slope of Bond End. A little way up, he came to a solid stone building resembling a hall, on the right. But the Statue of Blessed Mary on its wall indicated that it was a religious place. So it was. “The Catholic Church of St. Mary” ran the inscription at the door, He passed through the doors and peeped inside. There he saw a typical example of a country church—the altar clearly to be seen at the end—and the gallery above at the west end. Some notices attracted his attention on the board, one evidently of a historical nature. Taking it down, he went into the church and sat gratefully on one of the seats. And this is something of what he read.

The recorded story of St. Mary’s Knaresborough begins in 1693 when English Benedictines became chaplains to the Plumptons, whose ancient home lay about two miles south of the town. The names of the secular clergy who ministered in the district before that date have not been recorded, but some well known names of parishioners are known, such as the Knaresboroughs of Farnham and Byrnands of Knaresborough, Swales of Rudfarlington, Trappes of Nidd Hall, Percys of Scotton, some Slingsbys at Scriven and Inglebys at Ripley. Robert Bickerdyke martyred at York in 1586 and Fr. Wilks, Confessor, in 1642 were born here. Guy Fawkes’ mother lived and died at Scotton. The Plumptons remained Catho­lic to the last. In 1749 the family name of Plumpton died out—the estates were sold—and the chapel was closed. The priest therefore had to find somewhere else to live, and stayed in a farm at Thistle Hill for some time. This priest was John Charlton, O.S.B. Being in danger of prosecution for marrying a couple; he had to leave England for a time.

So about 1775, some land was purchased at Follifoot, about two miles from Knaresborough, and on it was erected a large house to serve as priests’ house, chapel and school. In this chapel on July 3rd 1796, Bishop Gibson confirmed one hundred catechumens of different ages.

The names of the Benedictine priests who served as chaplains to Plumpton Hall, and at Follifoot, have been preserved: 


1693-1702William Cuthbert Hutton alias Salvin1702
1702-1717Richard Bernard Bartlett1735
1717-1725John Maurus Buckley1729
1726-1740Francis Rich1740
1740-1745Anthony Cuthbert Hutchinson1760


1745-1762John Charlton1786


1762-1764Bede Newton1777


1765-1787John Joseph Storey 1799
1787-1791Richard Bernard Butler1825
1791-1795Stephen Hodgson1816
1795-1802Thomas Anselm Appleton1842

In 1791, a Catholic Relief Act was passed by Parliament, and many new chapels were built in the country. Consequently, the house at Follifoot was sold to Mr. Jackson of Hewood for £650, with five acres of land and a property was bought in Briggate in 1797. The house at Follifoot is still in occupation and is known as the Priory. The priest went to live in Knaresborough for the first time on 2nd August 1797. This building in Briggate was built in 1790 by a cotton manufacturer who failed owing to the war with the French Republic. It cost £450. The commodious building en­abled the priest to carry on his work more fruitfully. On 9th November 1808, Bishop Gibson confirmed about sixty persons in it. Little is known of the activities in the parish at that time, but the names of the priests who served there have been preserved.

1802-1808Matthew Denis Appleton1829
1808-1816Alban Molyneux1860
1816Thomas Jerome Brindle1871
1816Vincent Joseph Glover1840
1817-1824Thomas Austin Rolling1864
1825-1828Richard Ambrose Prest1860
1828-1830Robert Basil Bretherton1837
1830-1838Ralph Ephrem Pratt1875

Some of these priests were notable. Fr. Alban Molyneux was President of the English Benedictines. He helped to build St. Alban’s Warrington with his own hands. Fr. Appleton and Fr. Ambrose Prest were both Priors of Ampleforth. Fr. Brindle was Regent of Priory Park College near Bath and afterwards Vicar General of the Clifton Diocese.

When the Catholic Emancipation Act was passed in 1829, most of the Penal Laws were thereby repealed. So in 1831, some land was bought in Bond End and on it a house and church were built. There are no records of the building neither of the church nor of its opening, but Father Pratt probably carried it out. Tradition says that the stones for the church were brought by Mr. Swale from the ruins of the old pre-Reformation chapel of St. Hilda at Rudfarlington. The buildings are now much the same as in 1831, except for certain alterations and improvements. They are recog­nised by the authorities as buildings of special historic importance and interest. Behind the church is a pleasant tree-shaded garden.

The parish remained static for some years and witnessed the formation of new chapels in the neighbourhood, viz. Allerton Park by Lord Stourton in 1807 : Harrogate in 1861 ; Rudding Park by Sir Percival Radcliffe in 1874 and Starbeck in 1911. This left the mother parish much smaller, but nevertheless a school was built after 1870 at a cost of about £600.

The three large paintings in the Church were supposed to have been brought by Father Lynass, but they suffered some damage during a fire in the church in 1961. However these pictures were of no great value.

At one time, some relics of Blessed Ambrose Barlow, O.S.B., who was martyred in 1641 at Lancaster, were kept at St. Mary’s The main relic was his left hand. In Fr. Rollings’ time, the hand was given to the Stanbrook community of Benedictine nuns, where it now rests. It probably came from the Plumpton family.

In 1967, a new primary school was opened on a site off Tentergate Road, which cost nearly £50.000. The following year the building was completed with five classrooms and in 1969 there were 165 children in it.

It is interesting to look upon the photographs of the last twelve priests in charge of St. Mary’s, who preserved the Faith in Knaresborough so well. These are kept in the presbytery. The priests who served at Bond End all this time are worthy of being recorded: 

1838-1856William Jerome Hampson1867
1856-1873George Ambrose Gillett1874
1873-1883Edward Benedict Lynass1883
1883-1889Charles Gregory Smith
1889-1891Essington Dunstan Ross1902
1891-1896Charles Gregory Smith (again)1896
1896Henry Basil Hurworth1907
1896-1913Alfred Paulinus Wilson1915
1913-1938Abbot Ildephonsus Cummins1938
1939-1942Gerard Blackmore1950
1942-1945Theodore Rylance1958
1945-1950Patrick Gabriel McNally
1950-1954Lawrence Antony Spiller
1955-Reginald Denis Marshall
Jerome Lambert
Theo Young
1998-2002Andrew McCaffrey
2002-Cassian Dickie

Of these, Fr. Hurworth and Fr. Wilson were Canons of New­port and Menevia, and Abbot Cummins was titular Abbot of St. Mary’s Abbey. York. Fr. Smith died suddenly in 1896.

The pilgrim now replaced the records and set off for the walk along the picturesque riverside to visit the Shrine and the Cave, musing as he went on the devoted work of the Benedictine Fathers long since gone to their reward.

Note: Acknowledgement should be made to Abbot Cummins who collected the old records and commented on them.