The Churches and Chapels of the
Stainforth, Thorne & Hatfield area.

Many thanks to Christine Hemsworth for this interesting article.

Although I grew up in Stainforth I have spent all of my adult life elsewhere, but my interest in the village and its locality had never wained. I have spent about fifteen years reseaching my family history and in doing so discovered a great deal about the life of Stainforth and its people. The following taken from my own researches, the material discovered in Stainforth Library, and snippets from books sent to me from other rearchers, from Arthur Mee's West Riding of Yorkshire, newspaper articles, and Stainforth's own Norman Barras.

Though part of Hatfield parish until I885, Stainforth always seems to have had a life of its own, so although it had no "Parish Church" until the 1930's it was not short of places to worship.

One Stainforth Chapel was lost to the village through Chantry's Act in the time of Edward the sixth. This Chapel it was said "is distant from the paryshe church of Haytefeld aforeseyd one myle and one half and necessarie to contynue for the inhabitants of Staneford, which can not travayle lo theyre paryshe church in Winter for niyre and water’ and the incumbent, James Hebden, "52 years of age, unlearned. hath none other living"

The Pilgrimage of Grace of 1536, "....the King was truly informed that there was a new insurrection made by the northern men, who had assembled themselves into a huge and great army of warlike men, well appointed with captains, horse, armour and artillery, to the number of 40,000 men, who had encamped themselves in Yorkshire. And these men had bound themselves to each other by their oath to be faithful and obedient to their captain.
The also declared, by their proclamation solemnly made, that their insurrection should extend no further than to the maintenance and defence of the faith of Christ and the deliverance of holy church
.", was a memorable week for Stainforth with the King’s Army defending the Ford against the southward march of the Yorkshire insurgents. The great battle expected did not take place for "there fell so much rain That night that the River Don swelled so high that Doncaster Bridge was overflown, so that the two armies could not possibly come near one another to engage'
The monasteries as we know where dissovled and King Henry became Head of the Church of England and Stainforth in about 1548- lost its little Church and their parish priest was prevented from performing his spiritual duties.

There was to be no other Catholic Church until 1956 when the present Church of Our Lady of the Assumption was built, (to take a look at their website go to links) People worshipped in the Old Market Hall a loved village landmark now sadly gone.

The Churches
The churches of Fishlake Hatfield and Thorne were begun in Norman times and they dominated the landscape, Hatfield was the first to be built followed by Fishlake Bramwith and Thorne, these are where the families were christened, married and interred. There are family graves in Barnby Dun, and those of the infamous Portington family with whom my family can claim a distant connection.
Arthur Mee gives us a good if rather romantic view of the churches in this region, see if you recognise them.

Thorne Church
Hatfield Church.
The church at Hatfield mentioned in the Doomsday Book was most likely a timber one, built by the Anglo Saxons. The present Hatfield Church has grown from one built at the close of Norman days. Of that twelfth century church there are still the tall arcades with pointed arches on round pillars, the west window of the north aisle, the west doorway through which we enter and the south doorway with a hood, both these doorways being Norman.
A striking feature of the medieval reconstruction of the church are six arches spanning the north aisle, making it like a cloister walk to the north transept. The rest of the church - the clerestory, the shallow transepts, the spacious chancel and chapels, and the great central tower is fifteenth century. The tower rests on four great arches with lovely mouldings, and above them are four windows flooding the crossing with light. there are beautiful old roofs with floral bosses, an ancient chancel screen with tracaried vaulting supporting the floor of the vanished loft, and part of a simple old screen between the north chapel and the transept. In the other chapel are old pews, and the medieval south door has old iron hinges.

Hatfield Church
A fine medieval chest has scratch carvings of circles and stars and rounded archading, and another grand old chest is bound with iron, and studded with a mass of great nails and has a slot for coins. The font is over 700 years old. There is a chained copy of Jewels Apology. The south chapel has a 15th century altar tomb and fragments of old armour( Mee 1941). As a child one was led to believe that this armour was that of the Black Prince. The church was restored in 1873 and some works continued until 1891 at a cost of£2017.00.
The registers here date from 1566 and are written on parchment until 1777 from that date forward they were written on paper.

The Warrenne family owned Hatfield and the surrounding lands. They built the later churches of Fishlake and Thorne.
Hatfield held parochial rights over Hatfield Thorne Fishlake and Stainforth. The church is dedicated to St Lawrence, and it is here that this writer has discovered the baptismal records of many of my ancestors and all their children through the generations.

A Church built in 1819 known as St Matthews Church was a brick barn-looking Chapel and and has been described as the ugliest Church in England. The Vicar writing in the Church's Terrier of 1897. "The Church is dedicated to St Matthew It is built of brick roofed with slates. It was built in 1819 and is in shape and style of architecture exactly like a Nonconformist Chapel. There is a small projecting Chancel and a Vestry. It sounds plain and ordinary, but not particualrly ugly.
(To see their website go to links)

Fishlake Church
This church dedicated to St Cuthbert was built by the Normans and refashioned in three medieval centuries the church has splendid fifteenth century work to show in the high tower with strange gargoyles looking down. A statue of St Cuthbert holding the head of St Oswald former king of Northumbria. The head of St Oswald was placed in the coffin of St Cuthbert for safe keeping.. Legend tells of how when the Danes invaded the North East coast of Britain the Monks of Lindisfarne carried the body of St Cuthbert away to safety. Wherever the body of St Cuthbert rested on its journey a cross was erected and sometimes a church. Fishlake was the furthest south of all the places visited to avoid the Danes. When the coffin was opened there were two skulls in it.
In the fine clerestory of the nave and chancel, adorned with heads of men and women, a king and a bishop by the windows. The second William De Warrenne granted it to the Priory at Lewes in about 1200 AD. The chancel has 14th century windows and a Norman one; and the cast window has seven lights. There are a few fragments of old glass, the rest of the windows allowing the light to stream through unhindered. From the 13th century come the nave arcades, with pointed arches on round pillars, and the pointed chancel arch with rich mouldings. The lofty tower arch reaches the nave roof, one of the simple old roofs remaining everywhere here. There are 15th century screens, a 14th century font with eight canopied statues and a Jacobean cover with a dove, an old chest, and part of a pew made in the year Shakespeare died. A curious notice in the belfry forbids anyone to ring the bells (one of the finest peals for miles round) in hat or spurs.
There are 17th century gravestones, and an inscription to Thomas Simpson of 1740 in a frame with foliage, cross-bones, a chalice, a skull, a face, and a dove. The figure brasses are gone from the tomb of Robert Marshal], a vicar who died in 1505, but its sides are enriched with inscriptions and symbols, among them a chalice and paten, bells, books, skulls, and a balance.
There are two old porches. The south porch (with a modern front) shelters the architectural glory of this place, a Norman doorwaybelieved to be one of the finest examples of Norman stonework in the county. Projecting from the wall in great splendour. Its arch is of four orders, resting on, shafts at each side with capitals of foliage in which we see dragons fighting, knights tilting, a monk rowing, a griffin, an angel, and a demon. The inner side of the arch has formal carving, including honeysuckle pattern, which comes again in the second order with an array of 35 grotesque heads and two figures. Then comes a hunting scene, men carrying a coffin, a demon with a rake, and a canopied figure holding a staff. On the outside of the arch are many roundels with figures in scenes almost worn away. The door for which all this is so beautiful a frame has worn carving of stars and leaves and band-work, and looks old enough to be Norman too. We understand that it was brought from Roche Abbey.

In the 19th Century there was rapid development of Nonconformity in Stainforth. In the 1851 census "St Matthews Church was described as "A licensed Room’ by the Vicar of Hatfield "Minister of the above named Room’ There were 32 present at the only service on Census Sunday. But the Wesleyan Chapel opened in 1822, boasted an attendance of 383 children and adults at its three services and the Primitive Methodists, round figures, reached 290 at their three services. The Unitarians, with Chapel from 1817, had 24 at their single service.

"In Sykehouse: on the 21st February 1744 John Wesley tells us "William Holmes met us at Doncaster and piloted us through the mire and water and snow lately fallen to Sykehouse. I began preaching as soon as I came in, and exhorted them to follow after the great gift of God. This visit must have been brought about by the zeal of that ‘David Taylor’ who, the Vicar of Fishlake and Sykehouse complained to his Archbishop "seduces the people, mostly of Sykehouse’." "John Wesley preached at Doncaster for the last time in 1790 and ‘not withstanding his great age, eighty seven years his discourse was delivered with wonderful energy."
By this time Chapels were established throughout the area though membership was sometimes small: Sykehouse (7), Fishlake (13), Thorne (85), Hatfield Woodhouse (14) and Stainforth (2) By 1822 further Wesleyan Chapels had been founded at Barnby Dun, Hatfield, Armthorpe Askern and Fenwick.
In 1797 Alexander Kilham like John Wesley himself, a native of Epworth, challenged the new denomination to be more Protestant and more truly a free Church. He broke away from the old Wesleyan Methodist Connexion to found the Methodist New Connexion. This tougher version of Methodism was, for a time, popular in the Thorne area with two Chapels in Thorne, one in Hatfield Woodhouse and one in Fishlake.
Since Methodist Union, the slow but inevitable concentration of Methodist work in fewer Churches has been hard on the usually smaller and poorer Primitive Methodist buildings and few now are still in use. But at Bamby Dun it was the Primitive building that survived. At Thorne however, in 1970 the former Primitive Chapel closed and the congregation joined with King Street At Stainforth in 1971 the two Churches united with the sale of the Primitive Chapel.
"The Wesleyan Methodists were always the strongest of the Methodist Connexons Village Chapels - usually one room with a stove and seating 30-40 people, were opened at Stainforth (1820). Fenwick (1821), Askern (1825), Hatfield Woodhouse (1825).Moss(1828) and Barnby Dun (1836). But Stainforth could seat 164 and had 25 adults. The coming of coal led to the foundation in 1912 of the South Yorkshire Coalfields Mission Circuit’ and today there are Methodist Churches in this area at Armthorpe. Askem, Barnby Dun, Hatfield Woodhouse, Thorne, Stainforth and Dunsville."
The first Primitive Methodist Chapel was built in 1832 at a cost of £50. Twenty years later the debt was still £45- and the annual income £26s.6d. In 1900 they gave up and the Chapel was closed But then the pit was sunk (Markham Main) and in 1912 Sir A B Markham gave the site for a new Chapel. By 1927 a new large Sunday School/Chapel was built to meet the needs of a growing Sunday School and congregation The site was big enough for a Church and Manse as well but these have never been built.
At Barnby Dun one of the few surviving typical 19th century Village Chapels can be seen. Hatfield Woodhouse has a new Chapel of ‘an imaginative and pleasing design with modern facilities", At Thorne, since the Union of 1932, six Methodist societies have become one but they still worship in the fine King Street Chapel which is a rare surviving example of a typical big 19th century Chapel "They were usually plain and rectangular with a central high, impressive-looking pulpit with choir and organ behind and a large gallery round three sides’
I have not mentioned St Edwin's at Dunscroft, I remember the old hall, and seeing the new church built a wonderful "modern design" Ben Brown had written extensively about Hatfield and his books might still be available - a splendid piece of research in old photographs, and there you will see the construction of St Edwin's.

"Anglican revival came late to Stainforth. It might have been Tomlinson's comment in his 1882 History ‘that the building in which the single weekly service is held is so uninviting that very few people attend that convinced the Vicar of Hatfield that something must be done. The decision was taken to create and endow a new parish The documentation of this illuminates the confused pattern of parish boundaries in the neighbourhood. The new parish is to comprise not only all those two contiguous portions of the parish of Hatfield wills Stainforth and of the parish of Barnby-upon
-Don which together constitute and are coextensive with the limits of the main body of the township of Stainforth but also five detached portions’ of the parishes of Hatfield Fishlake and Thorne."

Later in the year the Ecclesiastical Commissioners gave ‘one capital sum of one hundred and fifty pounds towards the cost of providing a parsonage’. This Vicarage, now an old peoples house still stands with the date 1885 over the door. It is a vast house of unimaginable ugliness! After a new, more manageable, house was built it became a convent of Roman Catholic nuns for a time. The Doncaster Chronicle of the 28th January 1885 gives a clear account of the creation of the new parish:

‘Stainforth. The New Parish Church. The Archbishop has presented the Revd William Smith, MA of Queens College, Cambridge. sometime master at the Doncaster Grammar School and now curate of St Mary's Beverley, to the incumbency of the new parish of Stainforth The separation of the parish of Stainforth from that of Hatfield is entirely owing to the praiseworthy exertions of the Vicar of Hatfield (the Revd S P Haydon) For the last twenty-one years there has been accumulated a fund for the purpose of the better spiritual provision of that township. His Grace the Archbishop of York, having duly considered the matter and having discovered a local claim upon the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, through portions of the parish of Fishlake being comprised in the proposed district, obtained the promise of £200 a year for the new parish- After this the Trustees of the fund raised in 1863, now amounting to some £940 made it available for the benefit of the new benefice. And quite lately the Hon Mrs Meynell Ingram has promised a site whereon to build a vicarage fit for the incumbent".

The Salvation Army "opened fire" in Stainforth about 1920. It first had a marquee on the waste ground beside Riggotts ( apologies to the new owner, but it will always be Riggots to me) butchers shop on Church Road, this blew down in the middle of one of their meetings. They later built the "Corps" Hall further down Church Road where they enjoyed a huge following for many years. with their "Open Air" meetings and "Faith Teas" and in my experience very lively Sunday Schools. Many of my school friends at Junction Road school attended here, were you one?

Christine Hemsworth


Links to web sites of some of the Churches mentioned in this article:

Our Lady of Assumption & Ss Joseph and Nicholas

Hatfield Church On Line

Doncaster Methodists - Stainforth & Dunscroft

St.Mary's Stainforth (This is a page on the Stainforth 2001 site)





Stainforth 2001 Homepage