In 2017, about a year after I published this page, I was contacted by local historian Mike Stallybrass with a whole raft of new background material about Old Malton Church. Not least, Mike sheds a little light on the font I “discovered” (rather in the way that Columbus “found” America that, after all, nobody had ever lost!) in the grounds of the nursing home. Many churches have people like Mike who have forgotten more than anybody else (and certainly itinerant scribblers like myself) ever knew about their churches and settlements. Rather than reconstruct the whole page I have chosen with his kind permission to reproduce Mike’s words more or less verbatim, with only the slightest editing. Thanks, Mike.
“Old Malton was part of the estates gifted to the Gilbertines by Eustace Fitzjohn towards the end of the “anarchy” * in 1149. There was an existing Saxon stone parish church at Malton (probably originally a Minster church), so when the Gilbertines built their monastery, they built a new church on the site of the Saxon one, and it remained a parish church as well as being the priory church. Very little is known about the Saxon church, but some bits of the earlier church were found about 5 years ago, during the construction of an accessible toilet for the church, and a couple of stone fragments from the older church are on display at the west end.
Unusually for the Gilbertines, Malton was only a house of Canons, and had no nuns. For a while, it was where the order was run from (St Gilbert retired there when he was over 90, and spent the last dozen years of his life at Malton).
Early in the Anarchy, Eustace had sided with Matilda, and at one point there was a small garrison of Scots in Malton (as it was then called). Archbishop Thurston of York, on hearing about the garrison, came and burnt Malton to the ground (in 1143). The poor villagers decided that it would be best to rebuild their homes in the lee of the castle, a mile away, in case the Archbishop decided to repeat that sort of unfriendly act. The new settlement was thus called New Malton, to distinguish it from Malton. It was only in the nineteenth century that Malton became regularly known as Old Malton, and only in the last century that New Malton has progressively dropped the New.
The settlement at New Malton, in the parish of Malton, grew quite rapidly, and towards the end of the twelfth century, the Gilbertines decided that they needed to build not one, but two chapels of ease in New Malton. So both St Leonard’s and St Michael’s churches were built in a couple of years, starting in 1190. St Leonard’s church, beside the site of the Castle, was made redundant in the 1970’s, and was gifted to the Catholic church in 1972, as they were looking for a larger building to replace the original Catholic church (which was one of the very first Catholic churches to be built, once it became legal to do so in 1829). St Leonard’s, dating from 1190, is thus now the oldest place of Catholic worship in the country! It is notable that St Leonard’s, although it was only originally a chapel of ease, has what appears to be a late Saxon font. It is presumed that the font was originally the font from St Mary’s Old Malton, and that it was moved to the other church in the parish when Temple Moore did a make-over at Old Malton, including installing a new font, in the 1880s. The font in St Leonard’s is thought to be considerably older than the font (said to have been previously used as a cattle trough in a nearby farmyard) to be found in the garden of the Abbey Old People’s home next to St Mary’s.
A few years ago the interior stonework in St Mary’s was cleaned, removing the accumulated soot from centuries of heating using a coal burning stove in the chancel. During this work, traces of medieval paintwork was found in a number of places. But the most startling discovery was from the mason’s marks, which showed that Old Malton Priory was built by the same group of masons who built Ripon Cathedral **. They were presumably shuttling between the two sites. The two must have been very similar, though Ripon is about 10% larger in ach dimension than Old Malton was originally. And the greatest surprise of all was the discovery that in the North West corner, the oldest stonework is at the top of the nave wall, the youngest at the bottom. How come? About 1500, there was a severe fire in the church, which resulted in the collapse of the NW front tower. The then prior, one Roger Shotton, instigated some elaborate reconstruction work, which included the building of a new Chapter house. Nigel Copsey, the mason who was doing the majority of the cleaning work, came absolutely fizzing down from the scaffolding, when he realised that the stonework of the blind arcading at the top of the NW nave wall, part of the reconstruction following the fire, could be dated by the mason’s marks to 1149, and was presumably recycled stone from the original chapter house! The bases of the pillars on the north side had to be significantly strengthened – hence the youngest stonework being at the bottom, with part of the original structure of the church (ca 1170 at that point) as the arches topping the pillars, and below the recycled chapter-house lining (all visible on the top right in the 4th photo on your website).
Incidentally, while the original priory church would have been very like Ripon Cathedral, more than ¾ of the building was demolished in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries – the chancel, transepts, and aisles were all demolished, plus the easternmost two bays of the nave. The clerestory was removed, and the roof lowered. In a petition to the Archbishop to allow the work to be done, the churchwardens noted that even after all the proposed demolition, the church would still be able to hold three times the population of the parish!”
* The (Great) Anarchy is a name given to a long period of Civil War during the reign of King Stephen, Stephen was the nephew of Henry I whose heir apparent, William died in a shipwreck. On Henry's death in 1135, Stephen seized the throne, sidelining Henry's daughter Matilda (aka "Maude"). No shrinking violet, Maude fought Stephen for the crown in a civil war that lasted for many years. Despite never being crowned, Matilda controlled large areas of the country and even captured Stephen at the Battle of Lincoln in 1141. Unfortunately for Matilda her half-brother and military leader, Robert of Gloucester, was captured at the "Rout of Winchester" in the same year and Matilda traded Stephen for his release. She had the last laugh, however. Her son became Henry II on the death of Stephen in 1154. LW
** Although I do believe it was perfectly possible that the same masons were shuttling between the two sites (a distance of thirty-eight miles), I am not alone in being very cautious about the significance of “mason’s marks”. As with so much concerning the craft of mediaeval stonemasonry, little is documented and therefore much is assumed. I discuss the masons marks subject in my page on the Stonemasons and their World.