Mexborough and Swinton Times April 5, 1929
History Of Darfield Church.
Wonders Of An Ancient Shrine.
Image from Wikipedia; By ChicXulub – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40239130
The parish church of All Saints’, Darfield is one of the oldest and most beautiful ecclesiastical buildings in South Yorkshire, and its inspection by the ordinary individual, as well as the antiquarian, will thoroughly interest. The history of this old fane was explained last week to members of the Wombwell Congregational Church Fellowship by the Rector of DarfieId (Canon A. E. Sorby).
The forty members of the Fellowship, the Rev. Rowland Hill, their minister, were shown over the church by the Rector, who pointed out and described most of the orders of antiquity enshrined within its walls
The Two Lords.
Canon Sorby said that in Anglo-Saxon times there were two lords of the manor whose possessions stretched from Doncaster through Darfield and, probably, beyond Barnsley. Very probably those lords of the manor Darfield Church, though not the church that exists to-day. If any part of the present church was their handiwork it will be the lower part of the tower, for the work of it —irregular blocks—some small and some large, with very deep joints in between was Anglo-Saxon architecture.
From the outside of the tower were visible small pillows with two uprights and sills such as were found in Anglo-Saxon architecture.
Undoubtedly the losses of the tower are indications of Anglo-Saxon work, carvings including part of a Runic Cross. This pointed to the Anglo-Saxon church having been pulled down normally Norman church built on the foundations. The Anglo-Saxon church and were not very substantial building, consisting largely of rule, nor with a very early Norman, which will probably erected during the Conquest. The most part the church will probably be pulled down and rebuilt later on.
As to documentary evidence, a witness to a deed of transferr in 1092 was Gadwynus, a priest of Darfield. This showed that on these very early times a church existed.
From the earliest days the church at Darfield would have had two rectors, representing respectively the first and second mediates if the Anglo-Saxon earls founded the church they would each endow it with lands and tithes, the lands and times been of their respect to moieties in the manner of Darfield and they would each present to the church a rector. In the early times there were many church in England with mediaties, some with two and some with as many as six rectors.
In the Parish Church the four rectors had equal rights, and their custom would be to take duty in turn, three months at a time. These mediaties had been dissolved in his (Canon Sorby’s) memory.
In Darfield there were two rectors until 1336
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“ When I came here as rector,” said Canon Sorby, “I had never heard of such a thing as a mediaty. When I got here as soon heard about it. I saw what divisions led to a divided priesthood, how this there were two parties in the church, one represented by the vicar and one by the rector. After much experience and trouble I round out about medieties.”
Not In Doomsday Book.
Canon Sorby went on to say that Darfield Church was not mentioned in the Doomsday Book. As a rule, the older churches were, and the more types of architecture there were in them.
This was due to the various processes of rebuilding. The original church existed in the foundations, and the rest was more modern work. If they looked at the gable end of the chancel of Darfield Church they would observe a slant, indicating Norman work. There were in the north and south aisles no clerestory windows, but simple windows where the arches now stood. The windows were eventually destroyed to make room for the arches. The roof was eventually raised to put in clerestory windows.
The rector pointed out the various points where constructional changes had been et. fected and mentioned the approximate dates. He explained that the original roof of Darfield Church was in a style of decoration with a sky effect. This, unfortunately, was taken down by a vicar when the rector was not in residence. The rectory was seguestrated because the rector got into debt. The son used the money to pay his father’s debts.
The ceiling was of 15th century date and of beautiful design, and should never have been pulled down. In those days no one knew much about architecture, and at least the clergy knew little. During that period much vandalism was perpetrated, and, that was an act of vandalism. Then the vicar covered the walls all over with plaster. Originally they were covered with very fine stucco, no thicker than a threepenny bit, which followed the lines of the stonework. During the process of plastering, all the old paint work was destroyed.
Eventually they decided to remove the plaster, which was superimposed, about 1864, but found that it adhered so strongly that they could not preserve the paint. Over the chancel arch there was a fine tympanum representing the Day of Judgment. If that had been preserved they would have had a very fine example of ancient work. When the plaster was taken off the dignity, richness, and solemnity of the whole building was revealed.
Darfield Church, like many ancient churches, had a rood loft, in which there was a crucifix. They had documents relating to people who wished to be buried under the “rood loft,” and the staircase and entrance to it were still to be seen. In some instances choristers were accommodated in the rood loft, and in some Holy Communion was celebrated. Evidence that an altar existed in the rood loft at Darfield was to be seen in the piscena. From the piscena could be traced drains running into the walls, through which the water passed away. There was also another recess in which the holy vessels were placed.
Miners As Wood Carvers.
Canon Sorby gave the history of the chancel screen, one of the notable features of Darfield Parish Church.
This screen was carved in the church by workers of the church at a comparatively recent date.
Canon Sorby said that at his instigation they began a class about 30 strong to learn wood carving. Two or three of the class were carpenters, and the rest were miners. They bought their own carving tools, and a professor from the School of Art at Sheffield came twice a week to give them a lessons. The first to fall out of the ranks, strangely enough, were the carpenters, the men they thought would best were the worse. The difficulty indeed was that they were carpenters and could not “unlearn” the use of the chisel is employed in carpentry. That class of 30 eventually dwindled down to eight, and they were all miners. They kept up the work at the Rectory, and went on carving until they had that beautiful finish screen that was visible before them. Of course, as was the case with ordinary workmen, they had to have their refreshment, and cheese and cake and beer were distributed as necessity demanded. The screen took two years to make, but it represented a great achievement.
Canon Sorby said they were fortunate in Darfur than having had the advantage of a great deal of voluntary work. Recently they had electric light installed and to accommodate the work the members worked hours and hours for nothing. Again, the bell chamber was wainscoted by the bell ringers themselves, and in that respect the chamber was probably one of the finest in the country.
The people of Darfield love their church as they (the Congregationalists), probably loved their church at Wombwell.
Proceeding to the pulpit, another striking feature of the interior ornamentation of Darfield Church, Canon Sorby explained that the pulpit was Jacobean, and a copy of one at the Chapel of Ease at great Houghton. He himself copied the cresting of the pulpit from that at the top of the font, which was also a Jacobean. The two harmonised and were in keeping with the rest of the furniture in the church. The cresting represented the Holy Spirit descending on the disciples with tongues of fire.
A great deal of interest was displayed in the pews, which at Darfield are quite perpendicular and have no ornamentation. The rector said these were Jacobean work, and erected about 1620. The pillars of the doors to the pews, he points out, surmounted by “acorns,” and these were pierced so that rush lights might be inserted in them. Candles, of course, followed; then oil, and then electric light. “What is going to supersede electric light,” observed Canon Sorby whimsically, “I leave you to prophesy.”
They would observe that the injuries of the pews very very much. There were “butterfly” hinges, and “coxcomb” hinges, of about Elizabeth’s time. “You can see how beautiful is the work of these days,” said Canon Sorby. “The work today is not fit to look at compared with it.”
Canon Sorby next indicated a number of carved oak panels immediately inside the south entrance to the church. These, he explained, originally formed part of a reading desk a place in their present position by a former Rector. When the pass was taken off the church it was discovered that the panels were rotten. They took them down, exposed them to the sun for six weeks and cured the rot. The shield, the unicorny and initials “W.W.” represented the arms of William Wombwell, of Wombwell.
Pointing to the ceiling over the south aisle, Canon Sorby said that the beautiful painting of sky effect was of dated about 1335. Originally the ceiling of the chancel corresponded with this. Who painted it they did not know. It was not oil painting, nor water: nor durecsco . The point was that the ceiling always maintain its colouring, and the remarkable thing was that this stars could sometimes be discerned on the bare stonework from which the painting had been removed. The rector indicated Gothic carving in which style the English carved and also carving of the Renaissance period when the influence of the Gothic and the Italian carvers were combined.
An Easter Sepulchre
Indicating a comparatively large stone arch in the east wall of what is known as the “Lady Chapel,” Canon Sorby said that this was probably used in former times as an Easter Sepulchre. It was the custom on Good Friday after celebrating the Holy Communion to leave part of the elements in the Easter Sepulchre where they represented the risen body of our Lord. The Girls Friendly Society had supplied the beautiful pavement to the Lady Chapel which Canon Sorby is obviously very proud is the lovely War Memorial in the Lady Chapel. This is a figure of Saint George on a decorated panel. It is composed of Connemara marble from the West of Ireland, alabaster panels, and glass mosaic. The limbus around St George’s head is mother of Pearl. It is by Powell’s of London and represents the best work of its kind existing.
About the recumbent figures of the night and the lady in Darfield Church there has been much speculation. It is believed that they were bought Darfield Church on the dissolution of the Monastery. Experts in London had examined photographs of them and while they were unable to identify them they could give the name of the sculptures. The knight was sculptured in Derby in 1582 and the lady, who properly had nothing whatever to do with him, was of a much later period. They were probably brought to Darfield for preservation.
Canon Sorby mentioned that about the middle of last century it was the custom to hold day schools in churches. In the reign of Edward VI ancient monuments were thought to be the work of the devil, and monuments, paintings and screens were smashed. This also occurred in a Cromwell’s time. In ancient times there were no pews in churches, and in old churches accounts there were payments for straw on which the people had to kneel. In the Fen district of Lincolnshire the payments were for reeds. Instead of pews they had only stone benches. In the agricultural districts the farmers brought their dogs to church and pews were provided for dogs. Altar rails were put up to prevent trespass and to stop dogs from getting into the more sacred places. Under the chancel of Darfield Parish Church hundreds of people were buried. Burials and churches were now no longer legal but there was nothing to prevent human ashes been deposited in churches after cremation.
The fine old Norman chest in Darfield Parish Church was used at one time, the rector explained, for the reception of “Peter’s pence.” Church documents were also kept in it. In Darfield Parish at one time were Great Houghton, Little Houghton, Darfield, Billingsley, Wombwell, Worsbrough and Ardsley. To the box there were seven locks and seven keys and if anyone wish to examine documents in the box was necessary for representatives of each of those seven places to be present with their keys before access could be gained to it.
In The Bell Chamber.
The visitors were afterwards conducted to the bell chamber where the mechanism was explained to them. Most of the members of the party tried their hand at bell ringing. Canon Sorby mentioned that one bell weighed 27 cwt. and another was of pre-reformation days. They hoped eventually to have two more bells, one for each end of the octave.
The Rev. Rowland Hill thanked Canon Sorby for his kindness in conducting the party. Mr. Hill said he had never been so thrilled in a church before. He imagined it was through being in close touch with a man who knew it in detail and who had such a tremendous love for it.
He said the rector’s reference to the stars that refused to be dimmed reminded him of a church he had seen in Constantinople where the figure Christ came through in precisely the same way.