History of St Oswald’s Church
This is taken from our visitors card available in the church
You are standing on ground which has been consecrated as a place of worship since before 1180. When Uctred was appointed to serve here in 1200 he became the first in a long line of priests that has continued to this day.
Aysgarth Church was Mother Church of the district and Askrigg was a chapel-of-ease covering the whole area from a little west of the Aysgarth to the dale head. Eventually, from about the 15th century, as the population expanded, further parishes were created at Hawes, Hardraw, Lunds and Stalling Busk. When the dale’s population began to decline from the 19th century, the reverse happened as parishes were conjoined: Hardraw and Lunds (1858); Askrigg and Stalling Busk (1930); Hawes and Hardraw (1953).
The small parish church of St Matthew’s at Stalling Busk is situated on the hill overlooking Semerwater. It was built in 1909 and at that time was very innovative as it is a beautiful example of Art Nouveau architecture with lovely stained glass windows. It is well worth a visit.
Prior to the building of St Oswald’s Church, there was a religious presence in the area. Local tradition suggests that an area at the east of the village, known as Kirk Close, had a preaching cross called St Oswald’s and perhaps a Saxon church. If there was no church building the spiritual needs of local folk were met by travelling monks who preached beside the cross and baptised people. Evidence shows that in 1145 Cistercian monks established Fors Abbey, a wooden building at Dale Grange, a mile west of Askrigg. However, the climate was too harsh so the abbey was abandoned and the monks moved to Jervaulx c15 miles east of Askrigg. The Cistercians continued to own extensive estates in the dale and took tithes (a tenth of all produce) from their Askrigg lands.
The monasteries were dissolved in 1539 and later Queen Mary gave the tithes to Trinity College, Cambridge. From that time, therefore, the labour of the dale’s hill farmer contributed to the glorious buildings and the scholarship of Trinity College. Trinity appointed the priest at Aysgarth (and still does) and Aysgarth in turn found and appointed a priest at Askrigg.
The present building of St Oswald dates from about 1446 with the nave and south aisle being in the Late Early-English and Perpendicular styles. The main glory is the nave ceiling with its beautiful beams, said by Pevsner to be the finest in the North Riding. The north aisle was added slightly later and because the arches do not fit the piers which are in the round Norman style, an unlikely tradition has been perpetuated that the round piers came from a monk’s chapel at Fors Abbey. The south aisle was rebuilt in a restoration about 1770. The whole church underwent a disastrous and extensive restoration in 1853. Changes included replacing the simple windows with a mock gothic style and adding many furnishings. Fortunately, the basic shape was not touched, neither were the fine proportions spoilt.