Penistone Parish Church

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The Church
Penistone Church is a Grade 1 Listed Building (23rd June 1965), dedicated to St. John the Baptist and has long stood as the main landmark above all other features. The founder appears to have been Sweyn of Hoylandswaine, who lived in the twelfth century, but there are clues that the site was used by Christians well before then. There are still people with the name of 'Swaine' in the area.

Tower 2000A piece of Anglo-Saxon cross-shaft was re-used by Norman builders in the construction of an internal pillar near the pulpit and the church is built upon the foundations of an earlier church from around 900 AD. The herringbone pattern of the masonry would have been plastered over but, along with other clues, it helps to date the oldest parts of the church at around a thousand years old.

There is a story that, before Penistone Church was built, there had been an attempt to build the parish church at Snowden Hill. Work began on a suitable site but was spirited away to Penistone by night, through some invisible agency. The result was that the Snowden Hill church was never built. According to an on-line document (the Wheat Collection - txt), it explains the name of 'Church Yard Field' at Snowden Hill.

Some parts of the church are dated around 1200. Penistone Church was recorded in the Archbishop of York's 1232 records as dedicated to St John the Baptist. Priests belonging to a church in Penistone are referred to in documents dating from around 1200 (see the list below). Most of the present building was erected in the 1300s and added to over the years, as with most churches in this country. The first vicar of Penistone Church was appointed in 1413 as, up until then, the rectors had been local landowners.

During a period of relative prosperity around 1500, the square Norman tower on the West side was added. It was built in 'the Perpendicular style of Gothic architecture.' It is 80 ft high and had eight pinnacles although two of these were laid in the churchyard during restoration work in 1904. Our tower is similar in style to the tower at Silkstone church, which was completed in 1495.

The date stone above the porch shows 1702. It was built using old stones from the mediæval ruin of St John's Chapel in Chapel Lane. The porch seats are old grave covers taken from the same place. It is likely that St John's Chapel had been regarded as a chantry and suffered as a result of King Edward VI's 'Dissolution of the Chantries' act in 1547.

In 1930, £1,500 was raised to repair damage done by death-watch beetles and this was completed in 1932. The organ was a gift from Salem United Reformed Church of Bradford and installed in 1975. The lychgate was built in 1959 as a memorial to Rev. Canon William Turnbull, who was vicar at the church 1855-1915 and responsible for some major restorations during the Victorian era. In 1975 a local pensioner made a stainless steel fish weathervane for the tower, the fish being a secret sign of the early Christians and the steel referring to local industry.

For more details and dates, please visit the Archealogical Data Service page where you can download a 'Watching Brief' (pdf).

The Interior
Referring to the numbered diagram below, here are the key features of Penistone Church. The notes in this section are mostly based on a leaflet available in Penistone Church. Features are also listed in great, if baffling, detail in the Penistone Church section on the English Heritage website, from N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England, 1967.

Church Interior plan

The warm-coloured gritstone of the church is likely to have been quarried from Harden Clough near Dunford Bridge, about five miles away. Some of the stained glass is from the seventeenth century. One of these celebrates the marriage of Godfrey Bosville (pronounced 'Boswell') of Gunthwaite and Bridget Hotham, in 1681. The Bosvilles were the most influential family in the Tudor and Stuart period. In recent times the windows have had to be protected by sheets of perspex to minimise damage from the attentions of vacuous youths who have no idea what they are destroying.

Saxon Stone South side - wide viewchurch, 1977View from the pulpit

Prof. David Hey's 'A History of Penistone and District' refers to the glass mostly dating from the long ministry of Canon W S Turnbull, who was vicar from 1855 to his death in 1913. From the same book: In 1542 Richard Wattes, the vicar, had bequeathed 'a pare of organs to the Churche of Penniston' and 'a plainage book for the organs'. The first organ was fitted in the Northern chantry. A better organ was purchased by public subscription in 1768.

From another book by David Hey: 'Several South Yorkshire churches... (list includes Penistone) ... have nave arcades that date from a transitional period about the year 1200.' - the transition being the Norman style, giving way to early English Gothic. It was extended about two hundred years later and the 80 ft high tower was built around 1500.

lychgateOld Church InteriorPorch1923 Clock

An in-depth study of the church features can be found in the booklet and a book by local historian Prof. David Hey. The old picture above shows the church interior before the alteration of the altar choir stalls during the time of Rev. Baxter.

The Church Clock
Paul TaylorThere has long been a clock on the West face of the church tower but it has been said that there was a 'scratch sundial' on the church before then. The Penistone Almanac of 1925 refers to the clock being repaired in 1698 at a cost of £3 4/-, which clearly pre-dates a new clock being installed on Easter Sunday, 10th April 1817, at a cost of £87.

In 1924, just over a century later, the clock was becoming worn out and was replaced at the same time as the bells were re-cast and re-hung. The new clock had a second face fitted to overlook the then new Shrewsbury Road (from 1913) and a Westminster Chime was added at the same time (see below).

The Old Bells
It is likely that Penistone Church's six (later eight) bells were installed when the tower was built around 1500 and, until about 1860, they were rung each day to a regular schedule and on foggy days to guide travellers:

We usually associate church bells with weddings and funerals but they were also rung for special occasions such as Royal events, on orders from the Government and on foggy days. To remember the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, Penistone bell-ringers of 5th March 1696 were paid eight shillings to ring the bells. That same year, 4s 6d was paid for 'a bel-rop and 2d for bringing it home'. The thwarting of the Gunpowder Plot was commemorated for many years after 1605 by special sermons and ringing the church bells, which later evolved into the still-popular Bonfire Night (or Guy Fawkes Night) of today.

The original six bells of Penistone Church Tower had Heraldic Arms and inscriptions as follows:

In 1755, the second bell 'Venite Exultimus Domino' was taken to Joseph Ludlam, Bell Founders of Rotherham for re-casting. The company appears to have been in business from 1750 to 1761 (Bell Founder's Database) and to have also been locksmiths. The six bells appear to have been re-hung in 1807, as an expenditure of £62 18s 5d for the bells had been entered in the Accounts of that year.

The New Clock and Bells of 1924
On Wednesday, 6th February 1924, a public meeting was held to consider a report from Messrs Taylor and Sons, bell-founders of Loughborough, about the condition of the church bells. The result was a decision to have the six bells re-cast and re-hung. Subsequently, it was resolved to add two smaller bells to complete the octave with a carillon of eight bells.

The Parochial Church Council met Wednesday, 28th May 1924 and made the decision to replace the clock, as the existing clock was becoming unreliable after doing service for 100 years. The clock order was placed with Messrs Potts of Leeds. It was also decided to add a new clock face on the South side of the tower, to overlook the new Shrewsbury Road. The bells and clock were removed mid-June 1924.

An appeal for funds had been generously responded to and Mr GAB Lockley of Cubley Hall chose to pay for Westminster Chimes to be added, as a new feature. Messrs Taylor and Sons would install the bells and Westminster Chimes and Messrs Potts of Leeds would fit the new clock. The total estimated cost was £1,162.

On Saturday, 20th December 1924, the new clock and bells were dedicated in a ceremony by the Ven. Archdeacon Harvey of Huddersfield. The total cost of the new clock and bells had come to £1,217. The first Peal of the eight new bells was heard on Saturday 3rd January 1925. The bell sequence was described (Almanac) as: Kent Treble Bob Major, with 5,184 changes.

The following details are from a National Bell Register (see Diocese of Wakefield - xls spreadsheet). Diameters are in Inches and Weights (units not declared but probably) in cwt, lb and oz. Further information was drawn from Dove's Guide for Church Bell Ringers (Penistone). Both give the bell founder as John Taylor and Co.

Bell Diameter Weight Note
1 25" 3 - 2 - 15 F#
2 25.5" 3 - 2 - 8 E#
3 27.5" 4 - 0 - 15 D#
4 29.5" 5 - 0 - 0 C#
5 32" 6 - 0 - 10 B
6 34" 7 - 1 - 12 A#
7 37.5" 9 - 2 - 0 G#
8 42.5" 14 - 1 - 12 F#

Until the winding mechanism was motorised in the late 2000s, the clock's weight had to be wound to the top about three times a week. The Westminster Chime mechanism can be disconnected from the bells during bell-ringing and the Remembrance Ceremony each November. The clock mechanism can be viewed on open days, it nameplate gives the manufacturing date as 1923.

The carillon has a very good tone and can be heard all over Penistone during practice sessions on Thursday evenings, at weddings and special occasions. It is interesting that a funeral toll was rung in May 2015, on the occasion of a commemoration service in Penistone Church, marking the 70th anniversary of the end of war in Europe. There is a custom to ring a toll once for every year of someone's life and it is likely that the VE70 toll counted to 70.

The Wedding Bells can always be assured to attract a gathering of on-lookers to the church walls when a ceremony takes place. The ladies are always very inquisitive about the style of the wedding dress. Take a look at the Church Tower page for more pictures of the bells and clock mechanism.

Church Records
Penistone Church in the snowThese can be found at the West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield and their coverage is: Baptisms: 1644 - 1944, Marriages: 1644 - 1974 and Burials: 1644-1977. Transcripts of Penistone Church marriage register, for various years (see this list), can also be purchased from Barnsley Family History Society.

The Burial Board of the Ecclesiastic Parish of Penistone was formed in February 1870. After Stottercliff Cemetery was opened in 1880, all further burials in Penistone area took place there. Burial records for Stottercliff Cemetery can be found at Ardsley Crematorium, Barnsley. See also the page for Stottercliff Cemetery.

Rectors and Vicars
The list below is a from Mr John Ness Dransfield's great book of 1906, 'A History of the Parish of Penistone' and other sources in Penistone Library, which has most of the old vicars/rectors of the olden days. A full listing is being compiled on the Penistone Vicars page.

Penistone Rectors

Penistone Vicars
Up until the first vicar of Penistone Church was appointed in 1413, rectors had been local landowners.

Around the time of Henry Swyft, an Act of Conformity (19th May 1662) came into force which prescribed the form of public prayers, administration of sacraments and other rites of the Established Church of England, following all the rites and ceremonies and doctrines prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer. The edition of the Book of Common Prayer prescribed by the Act was so new that most people had never seen a copy.

Although Henry Swyft was popular with the inhabitants, he did not conform as strictly as he was supposed to and came into conflict with the law on several occasions. This led to some visits to jail. Also at that time, it became unclear who had a legitimate right to present the next vicar of Penistone. The default position was for the king and queen to present the next incumbent, who was chosen as Edmund Haigh in May 1690.

The lapse in the right of presentation was resolved in 1717, by inquest, in favour of William Godfrey of Gunthwaite. Local historian John Ness Dransfield held the opinion that Godfrey did not have the best claim in this matter.

Religious Variations in the Area
Quakerism was well established in the area and the Quaker Society of Friends continues in their meeting house at High Flatts. There is a Quaker section on this website (link below) which takes a look at the Friends' Meeting Place of High Flatts and local Quaker burial grounds. Bullhouse Chapel is one of the very oldest nonconformist chapels in this country (link below), with a continuous history from 1692 to the present day. For such a small chapel, it is interesting that its congregation in 1715 was 200 people. See the sections on Quakers and Bullhouse Chapel.

St Mary's Roman Catholic church was built in the 1950s on Talbot Road to support Penistone's increasing population. With the influx of Eastern Europeans in recent times, the UK's Roman Catholics now outnumber other religious groups for the first time in centuries. Anglicans come in second place. Methodism in all of its variations has always been strong in this area right from its early beginnings, with several chapels in the area.

The old St Paul's chapel next to the Library was badly infested with woodworm and was demolished, to be replaced by St Andrew's on the same site. St Paul's congregation was combined with Netherfield Congregational Church which was deconsecrated and turned into a dwelling (near Penistone Grammar School). In Thurlstone, the Wesleyan chapel and the Primitive Methodists were very strong, although now the latter is the only one which continues. There has not been any significant import of other religions into our area. See also the St Leonard's Church, Wortley website.

The Book of Martyrs
Regarding the non-conformists, Penistone Church is supposed to have a 'Book of Martyrs' to be kept in perpetuity. On page 15 of JN Dransfield's 'History of the Parish of Penistone' (link below), you can discover that, as at Bradfield and Stannington, a copy of the Book of Martyrs was kept in this church. It was given by the same hand which presented the copy to Bradfield, John Shaw the ejected vicar of Rotherham, as appears by this inscription:

"This second volume of the Book of Martyrs was given by John Shaw, of Rotherham, clerke. May 19, 1666, unto the parish church of Peniston, there to be constantly kept, to be read by any of the inhabitants of that parish, or others that desire there to read therein. And the good Lord give a gracious blessing to all the readers and hearers of it there read. So heartily prays the donour hereof, John Shaw."

The actual text of the book may be found on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL). For further reading on the Book of Martyrs, please see John Foxe at Wikipedia.

Graveyard records for the Barnsley area, including Penistone, are kept at the Crematorium, Ardsley, Barnsley. According to 'Diocesi Eboracensi', Penistone church register books start from 1644, with some defective marriage entries for 1750 - 1745 and 1786 - 1812.

Genealogists might consult larger branches of 'The Church of the Latter Day Saints' (Mormons) to study their church records. The peculiar advantage of the Mormons is that they claim to be able to convert ancestors to their religion and this has led them to collect vast repositories of church records.

not clickable New guide booklet

2007 Changes
As part of a drive to make Penistone Church more relevent to the community, various new facilities have been installed and Open Doors events introduced. The new facilities include toilets with wheelchair access and a kitchen area. The font was moved from the vestibule into the main part of the church and a large block of pews were removed to make a dining area. Chairs are available to accommodate large services. In 2013 and 2014, Penistone Church was the venue for Beer Festivals organised by Denby Dale Lions Club. Please see the Church Tour page.

Guide Booklet
A well illustrated booklet has been produced containing the history of churches of Penistone Team Ministry, which includes: Penistone Parish Church, Thurlstone St Saviour's, Carlecotes St. Anne's, Midhopestones St. James' and Oxspring St. Aidan's. The picture above shows the cover. Local graphics designer Adele Tolladay worked her usual magic (at 'Gablelake') to make it a pleasant object for the bookshelf. It can be purchased form Penistone church, which is usually open Saturday mornings and Market Days for tea and biscuits or light lunches.

See also Heritage Inspired for Penistone Church.

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