All Saints, Driffield: History

From the earliest days of Christianity in northern England there has been a place of worship in Driffield. The beginnings of faith here would have led to the building of a simple wooden structure. But as faith grew and wealth became available, grander buildings were built to the glory of God, many of which have left their mark on the building that still stands proudly above Driffield today.

Saxon Times
There was a church here (probably in ruins) at the time of the Domesday survey in 1086. Some large blocks of masonry, with a rather crude type of torus moulding are built into the inner wall of the tower ringing chamber. They may have come from this Saxon building.

Norman Times
A Norman church, without side aisles, was probably built on the site about the beginning of the 12th century, and the present clerestory windows may be remains of it, re-used in the late 12th century nave: notice the signs of disturbance in the masonry of the South Clerestory wall.

A backbone of the late 12th Century
This church received its present general pattern about the years 1170-1200, broad nave with arcades of four round arches (chamfered) leading to the aisles, small round-headed clerestory windows whose exterior arch is supported on shafts with a Norman looking base, and plain cylindrical nave piers. The base of these piers provide the most specific evidence of the late 12th century dating - a hollow "water holding" base surmounting a flattened roll moulding.

The rectangular, rather low chancel is of the same period, with its deeply splayed window openings. Notice also the typical water-leaf capitals on the base of the font, the keel moulding which runs under the clerestory windows and along the south side of the Chancel: all these are of the late 12th century.

Similarly characteristic of the period are the flat pilaster buttresses on the outer wall of the Chancel, and, nearby, the arch mouldings and stiff-leaf capitals of the Priest's Door (in the chancel). The North Door of the Nave is of about the same date also. The South Door with its more elaborate mouldings appears to be a little later.

The 14th Century
The South Aisle was widened and given new windows; square headed, with curlilinear tracery c. 1330-40.
The chancel was rebuilt.

The 15th Century
The North Aisle was rebuilt, with the windows of the perpendicular style; the East window and those on the south side of the chancel are of this period - the deep interior splays of the latter probably remain from the late 12th century widow openings.

The 19th Century
Between 1878 and 1880 and extensive restoration was carried out by George Gilbert Scott Jnr. The North Aisle was extended eastwards and widened, forming a Lady Chapel on the north side of the chancel; the whole church was re-roofed and re-pewed; the south porch was built; the organ gallery, which had been at the west end was removed and a new organ placed in a chamber over the vestry.

The 20th Century
The Chancel and Lady Chapel screens were inserted (1904-9); the central and side aisles were re-floored with Oak blocks; the font was moved to the east end of the South Aisle; the organ gallery was built under the tower arch and the rebuilt and enlarged organ placed on it (1967-71)

The 500 year old tower
The tower is a dominant landmark in the area and it gives the church its own special air of distinction

It combines grace and splendour with strength and solidity. Much of its effect depends on the skilful way in which the buttresses are designed: set in right angled pairs at each corner, they are offset at five stages and lightened by niches, canopies, panelling and gablets. They terminate in pairs of semi-pinnacles set side-by-side to give the effect of a chamfer. Higher up the tower, above the belfry windows, notice the cornice with its vivid gargoyle faces, and the richly carved panelling of the parapets. The eight pinnacles at the top, 110 feet from the ground, also elaborately panelled, are somewhat unsatisfactory and heavy in appearance: they date for the 1880 restoration, which gave them a distinctly debased type of crocket decoration. In spite of this the tower is a great artistic success - a "showpiece", as one authority describes it.

The tower was probably built in the middle of the 15th century. Like many of the great towers of East Anglia it is probably a "wool tower" - the result of a group of wealthy landed gentry simply deciding to devote some of their sheep-farming profits to the greater glory of God.

The earlier life of the church

The Prebend of Driffield

About the year 1105, Henry I gave the church to the Archbishop of York. Then some time before 1166 it became a prebendal peculiar of the Dean and Chapter of York, i.e. the income of the church was to provide for the living or "prebend" of one of the Canons of York, who then became the prebendary of Driffield. He was Rector and Patron of this church. In 1485 the Prebend pf Driffield was annexed to the precentorship of York Minster, to augment the Precentor's income. This continued until 1862: since that time the Archbishop of York has been the Patron.

The Tebbe Chantry
This was founded in 1443, at the altar of St Nicholas and St Mary the Virgin, by John Tebbe. The Piscina of this altar can still be seen at the east end of the wall of the South Aisle. An endowment allowed for the provision of a chantry priest who as well as acting as an assistant curate would also probably provide elementary education for a few of the village boys.

Late 18th and early 19th Centuries: a Georgianised Church
During this era the church went through drastic transformation. The population was bigger and so more needed to be seated. The church would have looked very different. Barrel vaulted plaster ceilings covered in the rafters. Box pews replaced the old oak benches; a gallery was built at the west end to accommodate the church band and mixed choir. A huge board painted with the Royal arms adorned the front of the gallery. There were colour washed walls and a three-decker pulpit. At one period a large classical screen "resembling a bookcase" shut off the whole chancel.

Points of Interest

Carved stones in the Lady Chapel
These are set out on the sill of the side windows. They are all of the late 12th century date, perhaps of the original chancel arch: capital bases, pieces of arch moulding etc. showing some of the very fine workmanship, with quite rare variations of the typical water-leaf and crocket capitals.

The Chandelier
Now in the chancel, it was originally in the centre of the Nave: a graceful piece of Queen Anne or early Georgian craftsmanship, "stylistically and technically in the forefront of development", as one authority describes it.

The Chancel and Lady Chapel Screens
Designed by Temple Moore in 14th and 15th century styles, made by Messrs. Shepherdson of Driffield and presented to the church by Mr Harrison Holt in 1904 and 1909. In the latter years the few remains of the mediaeval chancel screen were given to Londesborough parish church (near Market Weighton) where they still form a screen under the tower.

Stained Glass
Nearly all the windows were designed by the once famous glass painter Victor Milner, some 60 to 70 years ago. His two colourful and attractive windows in the south wall of the chancel showing scenes from the parables are particularly interesting.
An Unknown Bishop
This carving is on the outside wall of the Vestry overlooking the main street. It is a bas-relief (much weathered) of as bishop, with mitre and crosier, and appears to be late 12th or early 13th century.

The Vicars of Driffield
A board containing the vicars of Driffield is adjacent to the main south door.

When was this Church built ?

Nave Transitional (Norman/Early English) c. 1170-1200 
ClerestoryTransitional c. 1170 -1200 with window masonry possibly from the Norman
Church c.1100
ChancelPerpendicular, mid 15th Century with Transitional remains (window
openings, string course, pilaster buttresses).
South AisleDecorated - Curvilinear, c. 1330-1340, with earlier door (early 13th
North AislePerpendicular, mid 15th century, but widened and rebuilt in 1880, using
original window masonry.
Tower Perpendicular, mid 15th century, possibly with Saxon remains built in.
Lady ChapelGeorge Gilbert Scott, Jnr 1880 using Perpendicular window masonry of
former north wall of chancel and east wall of old North Aisle.
PorchGeorge Gilbert Scott Jnr., 1881