Old St Oswald's Church
As part of York's 2017 Festival of Ideas, FFH organised a very well attended day-long conference on The Historic Mystery of Old St Oswald's.
The conference was be chaired by John Oxley, the City of York Principal Archaeologist
Speakers included Professor Jane Hawkes, one of the UK's leading experts in Anglo-Saxon sculpture who contextualised the Cross fragment found in the church with the place of sculpture in Anglo-Saxon England.
We also had Dr Clare Stancliffe of Durham University, an expert on the Anglo-Saxon church and spoke on "St Oswald - Who was he? Why here?"
A welcome additional speaker was Dr Eric Cambridge, who presented possible contexts for the Origin of the Church and its Dedication. (Dr Stancliffe and Dr Cambridge were co-editors of 'Oswald - Northumbrian King to European Saint' published in 1995 by Paul Watkins. An excellent and definitive guide to the subject)
Archaeologist, Lorna Watts told how she and her husband, Philip Rahtz, undertook the excavations in the 1980s, working with students from the newly established Dept of Archaeology at the University of York.
Christopher Rainger, Chair of FFH, gave an overview of the history of the church and the possible significance of its riverside location and adjacent well. (You can read his report by clicking on the link below)
During the lunch break, Conservation Architect, Ian Hayton, led a tour of the new church.
The afternoon began with a Panel Discussion chaired by York City Principal Archaeologist, John Oxley, taking questions from conference attendees. Prof Hawkes and Dr Stancliffe, were joined by Dr Peter Addyman, Lorna Watts, Dr Mary Garrison, Dr Louise Wheatley and Allan Francis, current owner of St Oswald's Hall.
The afternoon ended with a tour of the churchyard led by Allan Francis.
To read the Conference Timetable click HERE
Why not watch and listen to Prof Jane Hawkes talking in the old churchyard about the stone cross fragment found in 1980 built into the nave of the church during its conversion into a private house.
Jane wonderfully sums up much of what was said during the conference and her enthusiasm at seeing the stone for the first time really comes through. It's 20 minutes of pure joy for anyone who is interested in the subject! Click HERE - and to read a transcript, click HERE
Old St Oswald's Church - A Brief Overview
The old church of St Oswald stands on slightly elevated ground close to the east bank of the river Ouse at the end of St Oswald’s Road, approx. 500m from the centre of the village. It has a Grade II* listing.
The church is generally built of Tadcaster Magnesium Limestone and has a simple chancel and nave. The nave was built in the first half of the 12th century, with the chancel added towards the end of that century. The east wall of the chancel was rebuilt in the 13th century and a large window inserted in the first half of the 14th century. Both nave and chancel were re-roofed in the 15th century. In the 17th century, larger windows were installed on the south walls of both nave and chancel, and the roof was re-modelled.
Archaeology appears to show the present brick tower of 1795 was built on the foundations of a 13-14th century tower. Also in 1795, a vestry and gallery were built at the west end of the nave. A further faculty was granted on 13th February 1819, to install new pews and a new pulpit. These works probably reflect the increasing population and wealth of Fulford.
Except for a short dispensation during the Black Death, burials were not permitted at St Oswald’s until after the Dissolution, when St Mary's Abbey, which owned the church, was closed. Fulford began to grow as a suburb of York during the 19th century and the small church and graveyard was becoming inadequate for the increasing population. A large new church of St Oswald’s was built in Main Street, Fulford and consecrated in 1866, after which the old building was placed in the care of the Church Commissioners.
The church was used as a mortuary chapel until its sale to Mr Roy Grant in 1980. Mr Grant commissioned the architect, Patrick Lorimer, of Anthony Richardson and Partners, to design the conversion of the two-cell church and tower into a hall-house, now known as St Oswald’s Hall.
Archaeological investigations were undertaken during the conversion works, by Professor Philip Rahtz, the founding head of the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, and his wife, Lorna Watts. York Archaeological Trust (YAT), also undertook a detailed examination of the building, drawing on an earlier report by Dr Eric Gee, for the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments. Further investigations were undertaken in 1984 and 1986-87 by students of the Department of Archaeology at the University of York.
The excavations discovered a number of Mesolithic flints and evidence of Roman occupation. A fragment of pottery, believed to be Anglian, was found in a pre-church context during excavations adjacent to the church tower. The earliest evidence of a Christian presence on the site is a small piece of 9th /10th century Anglian-form cross-shaft, retrieved from the north wall of the chancel. This find is very significant in dating the origins of a Christian presence on the site.
Philip Rahtz and Lorna Watts wrote an unpublished draft report on their work in 2000. Interim Reports were published by YAT in 1981, and for the Church Commissioners.
In 2010, Philip Rahtz passed the files to the late Richard Hall, then the Director of Archaeology at YAT, but funds have not been available for publication. YAT has kindly granted access to these documents to Fishergate, Fulford & Heslington Local History Society (FFH) to encourage further study.
FFH are raising funds so that YAT can bring the Rahtz/Watts investigations to publication and make their research papers on the church available for further scholarly investigation.
Old St Oswald’s is the oldest building in Fulford. These archaeological investigations and the associated detailed examination of the building, are an extremely valuable contribution to understanding the reason for its remote location and dedication.
The location of the church presents two possible options which are not necessarily mutually exclusive: either the village began in the area around the church and later relocated to its present site; or the church pre-dates the foundation of the village and was originally a chapel associated with a ferry and/or ford across the river Ouse and possible associations with springs and wells at the site. The dedication to St Oswald also raises interesting and related questions.
Many of the Rahtz/Watts documents are now available on this website, along with a discussion paper by the Society’s Chairman, Chris Rainger. See the column on the right.
Looking south from Clifford's Tower towards the old church of St Oswald in Fulford. c.1705, by Francis Place. Image: British Museum
Note how the steeple appears to rise from the nave of the church, rather than being a separate tower. Either the artist misinterpreted what he saw, or the roof-top steeple was an interim measure after the reported structural decay of the 14th century tower in the 17th century and its 1795 replacement we see today.
Look carefully and you can see the gable end of a building immediately behind and to the right of the church. This is Well House, which stood where the present Lych Gate now is, but was demolished in the mid-19th century when the churchyard was enlarged.
The old churchyard was mostly cleared of its tombstones in the 1980s and many were laid against the boundary wall, but some remain in-situ with railings still intact.
A layout plan and list of the tombstone inscriptions was made by pupils from Fulford School in the 1970s and can be inspected at the Borthwick Institute.
Recently, the East Yorkshire Family History Society have published a catalogue with the inscriptions listed in number and alphabetical order.
Copies of the catalogue can be obtained direct from the East Yorkshire Family History Society or from FFH for £4 + postage via the Contact Us page of this website.
Old St Oswald's Documents for you to download
Our Chairman, Chris Rainger, has written the following overview of the archaeological investigations undertaken in the 1980’s, with an assessment of the history of the church and its dedication. HERE
The following documents from the Rahtz/Watts archive have been kindly shared with FFH by York Archaeological Trust
Draft Report on the Archaeological Investigations, Building History and Description, by Philip Rahtz and Lorna Watts. HERE
Note: This document has been scanned from the original papers and may contain some miss-transcriptions from the original text.
Report by Dr Eric Gee for the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments. HERE
Interim Report of 1981 on the archaeological investigations by Philip Rahtz and Lorna Watts for YAT. HERE
David Brinklow's 1981article in York Archaeology Trust 'Interim' newsletter HERE
Report of 1981 by Philip Rahtz and Lorna Watts for the Church Commissioners HERE
Pages from the Victoria County History on Fulford's churches. HERE
Dispensation of 1389 to permit burials in the churchyard during the Black Death. (normally, villagers of Fulford had to take their dead to St Olave's church in York) HERE
Archaeological Investigations - Location Plan. HERE
Archaeology Report for Cutting I. HERE
Archaeology Report for Cutting I - Further drawings and photographs. HERE
Archaeology Report for Cutting II. HERE
Archaeological Report II - Further Drawings and photographs. HERE
Archaeological Report for Cutting III. HERE
Archaeological Report for Cutting IV. HERE
Archaeological Report for Cutting V. HERE
The Churchyard; description and history. HERE
Archaeology report for cutting the service trench across the churchyard. HERE
An architect's drawing of the conversion of the church into a private house is HERE
Conveyance and map from sale of Well House to enlarge the churchyard in 1869-70 HERE and to read more about Well House, click HERE
To find out more about the Anglian-form 9-10th century stone cross, visit the website of the Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture. HERE
Here are some pictures of the old church of St Oswald
Thanks to York Explore for George Nicholson drawings and photograph of Fulford Pumping Station.
Thanks to York Explore for George Nicholson drawings and photograph of Fulford Pumping Station.