Visit originally planned and researched by our friend and original Society member, the late Les Bloom.

In July the Local History and Vernacular Buildings group visited three notable churches within neighbouring Newby Hall Park and the Fountains Abbey estate.  The event had been researched and prepared by our late member Les Bloom but had to be postponed twice, completed now with Les in our thoughts.

Two of Yorkshire’s most remarkable Victorian churches were built here in memory of a young man murdered by Greek brigands.  Christ the Consoler, Skelton-on-Ure, and St. Mary the Virgin, Studley Royal, were built in the early 1870s to commemorate the life of Frederick Vyner of Newby Hall, whose plight caused anxiety to Queen Victoria, and whose untimely death at the age of 23 was a national scandal, rocking the foreign policy of the government.

Young Frederick Vyner set out from Athens in a party of eight to visit Marathon on 11th April 1870.  The party included Lord and Lady Muncaster from Ravenglass in Cumberland.  They were escorted by four mounted police and twelve foot soldiers, to protect them from the region’s many marauding bandits.  On the return the carriages managed to get out of sight of the soldiers and, in an overgrown ravine, armed brigands attacked the vehicles and shot two policemen.  The travellers were forced to climb into the mountains where they were interrogated, following which a ransom demand of 32,000 English sovereigns was sent to the Greek government.  Meanwhile Vyner and friends negotiated with the brigands, and the demands were modified to £25,000 (£1.25 million in today’s value), or an amnesty.  Gladstone’s government, in which Frederick’s brother the Earl of Ripon was Lord President of the Council, had been pursuing a policy of detente with the Greeks, which made the situation very difficult.  Eventually the captors were asked to accept the modified ransom, but they realised they had valuable persons in their hands, worth vast sums.  Negotiations broke down and troops were sent to rescue the prisoners, but gunfire broke out and panic ensued, Vyner and others were shot, some escaped.  The grief in Newby Hall was intense, which inspired the building of the two impressive churches in memorium.

Vyner Coat of Arms

Frederick’s sister was Henrietta who was married to the Earl of Ripon, whose estate was Studley Royal.  Frederick Vyner’s mother, Lady Mary, daughter of Earl de Grey, raised a vast sum of money which was put towards the building of Christ the Consoler church in Skelton-on-Ure, in memory of Frederick, in the grounds of Newby Hall, with designs by William Burges.   Inside Skelton church is rich marble, black in the nave, multicoloured in the chancel.  Stained glass windows depict the

Resurrection, and carvings of Thomas Nicholls are of The Four Ages of Man.  Burges’s estimate for this church was £10,000 but by the time it was complete in 1876 it had cost the Vyners around £25,000.

Christ the Consoler Skelton-on-Ure
Doorway at Christ the Consoler

We know there are also remarkable features within St. Mary’s church in Studley Royal, but we were unable to gain access as it had just closed.  Lady Ripon, Vyner’s sister, was the main inspirer of this church, but it is not a church that reflects mourning.  It is instead a paean of praise to the Creator and its theme is Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained.  Another building of interest here is the Choristers House, again designed by William Burges and built in 1873, for George Frederick Samuel Robinson, and used as a music school.  The nearby Obelisk also drew our attention, created by Elizabeth Sophia Lawrence during the time she lived in Studley Royal, between 1808 and her death in 1845.  She was succeeded by Thomas Philip, 2nd Earl de Grey, a distant relative.

Deer at Studley Royal
Choristers House

The two churches are considered to have no parallel in the UK.  The Church of Christ the Consoler at Skelton is maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust, and St. Mary’s Church in Studley Royal is owned by English Heritage, administered by the National Trust.
(Much of the above information is found in The Yorkshire Journal, Issue 46, Autumn 2004.)

Meanwhile, the small and modest church St. Lawrence the Martyr, set in the peaceful and charming hamlet of Aldfield, one mile east of Fountains Abbey, was the parish church serving surrounding farms and communities in the 13th century.  The church suffered near destruction, probably by raiding Scots, but was rebuilt and has undergone various restorations.  The dedication refers to St. Lawrence, a Roman deacon martyred in AD258.  For decades the two larger churches replaced this church and St. Helens in Skelton but both regained their parish status in 1970.  Within the neat confines of Aldfield church are three bays with box pews, an oak three-decker pulpit, painted wooden panels each side of the altar, stonework and a sundial considered to be part of the earlier church, and a marble font designed like the 13th century one in Fountains Abbey museum which is considered to have come from the private chapel of Studley Hall.  Church House opposite also has many 17th century features and stonework, but is much modernised.

The day presented us with interesting history, magnificent architecture, the charming villages of Skelton, Studley Roger and Aldfield, lush and expansive parkland, and a bright and warm day.

Day organised by Phyllida Oates.

Photos: Peg Wright, June Clarkson & Phyllida Oates

UWFS Members at Skelton on Ure

Further interest

English Heritage manages two properties relating to the De Grey family: Wrest Park and the De Grey Mausoleum in Bedfordshire.

Aldfield Church is a Georgian Gothic church, whereas Christ the Consoler and St Mary’s are Victorian Gothic Revival, designed by the Architect William Burges.

St Mary’s Church Studley Royal

St Mary’s Studley Royal
Inside St Mary’s
St Mary’s

Inside Christ the Consoler

Oriel Window inside Christ the Consoler
Frieze inside Christ the Consoler