Church History: 18th & 19th centuries

The Quakers began to make themselves felt in the parish in the last quarter of the 17th century. There was at least one incidence of a “disturbance” in Giggleswick Church and several across the river in Settle township. There was lasting evidence of the Commonwealth period in the layout of the worship area in Giggleswick Church, evidence which was only removed in the restoration and renovations of 1890-2, when 17th century Puritan was exchanged for 19th century Anglo-Catholic influence, which after all, meant mostly a return to early church practices. In the Red Book there are several excellent b&w photos which show what the church was like before 1890-2. The centre piece was the imposing 3 decker oak pulpit, its middle lectern beautifully carved with the emblems of the sons of Jacob. The minister preached from the top decker underneath an impressive sounding board canopy, which really does work at sending out a speaker’s voice loud and clear. The lowest decker or “snuggery”which was dispensed with in 1890-2, was where the parish clerk sat. His job was to whip out stray dogs in the church, keep the door shut and deal with any disturbances. The position of the pulpit was halfway down the nave against a south side pillar, near the main door. There were several galleries. One on the west side near the tower was for the singers and musicians. Before the renovations of 1890-2, the church could hold a 1000 worshippers from the whole of the ancient parish which included Settle, Langcliffe, Stainforth and Rathmell with Wigglesworth. Afterwards, the numbers for just Giggleswick alone were reduced to 650, but on many occasions, during the 19th century, most congregations were far from large. The box pews one sees in the photographs had been renewed in 1820-1, and dispensed with altogether in 1890-2.

In the Red Book, there is one copy of a drawing of the church labelled “St Alkald’s Church, Giggleswick”. To judge from the costume of the two men walking on Church Street, the drawing must be dated between 1860-92, after which the latinised name “St Alkelda” first appeared. We do not know whether the modified name appeared first in Middleham or in Giggleswick. The name Alkald or Alkeld was the original name of her holy well. Another drawing shows 2 ladies in late Victorian costume, no earlier, because the tall Victorian monument is visible by the south door. The graveyard is notable for its lack of vertical grave slabs.

The internal layout and furnishings of a church tell of the theology, beliefs and practices of the people who worship there. The first to strike a modern worshipper is that in the pre-1892 Giggleswick church, the main eye focus was the pulpit. The worshippers sat with their backs to the holy table – altar situated in the east end of the church. To partake of the Sacrament of Holy Communion, communicants moved to the box pews surrounding the holy table at the east end. The Prayer Book service of Holy Communion followed a shortened Matins or Evensong service. People could choose to stay or leave. There is one Giggleswick entry from the 19th century, complaining of the unseemly haste of some worshippers to get out of the building before the service of Holy Communion began.

As the holy table was movable it could be placed, to a position north-south, if necessary for the convenience of those who sat around. In 1757, according to information from the church wardens’ records and pasted in the Red Book, the Sacrament of Holy Communion was only administered (as per some current Nonconformist practice), 3 times a year plus Easter, when it was the vicar’s job to provide the bread and wine at his own expense. At one festival during 1739 no less than 10 gallons of wine were consumed by communicants. It does not say who paid for all that. This practice of regular Matins and Evensong, plus occasional celebrations of Holy Communion tacked on to the Service of the Word, continued in many Anglican churches, Giggleswick amongst them, well into the 20th century.

The 18th and most of the 19th centuries were relatively quiet as far as any major upheaval affecting Giggleswick Church was concerned. Methodism had arrived in Settle by the end of the 18th century, but it never apparently touched Giggleswick Church. Neither was there any indication that local Anglican worship had been influenced by the Anglo-Catholic Tractarian movement which burst upon the national scene in the 1830s, around the time Settle Parish Church was built. The worship tradition of the latter was eventually considered “higher” than that of Giggleswick. The Evangelical Movement in the Church of England did not make its mark in Giggleswick Church until more than a century later, although lying loose in the Red Book, there is a pamphlet dated 1833, advertising various Anglican Evangelical societies like SPCK, CMS and the British and Foreign Bible Society. This pamphlet, noted the curate, Revd Rowland Ingram, afterwards vicar, could be bought in Settle.

From the late 17th century, during what is known as the Enlightenment, through to after World War II, the churchmanship of St Alkelda’s could be generally described as latitudinarian or “broad church” (as the Rev Theodore Brocklehurst described himself), descended from an 18th century deist and “rationalist” Christian tradition, certainly not Evangelical or Anglo-Catholic.

Thomas Brayshaw was secretary of the committee which over- saw the church’s structural renovations of 1890-2, most of which he seems to have approved without comment. In actual fact, to judge from contemporary photographs what took place was more like a re-building than a restoration. The roof was completely rebuilt. The paving of part of the floor was removed and the crypt revealed, where not only were there ancient tombs and burials, but distinct evidence of the foundations of an early Anglo-Saxon church. The crypt was re-sealed in 1892. The galleries and box pews were removed and once the flooring was restored, two parts of the 3 decker pulpit were moved to the north-east area of the chancel. The new organ would eventually go behind it. The holy table was placed on a slightly raised dais below the large east window, where in 1891, there appeared the magnificent, richly coloured stained glass depictions of the Crucifixion on the left and the Ascension on the right.

The layout as planned by the Lancaster architects Paley and Austin, and described by Thomas Brayshaw as “conservative”, may have been in the fashionable Art Nouveau style, but it was undoubtedly influenced by the High Church movement. The whole church was now a visual testament to Word (pulpit) and Sacrament (holy table – altar). The altar, placed as it was in the east, and not the pulpit, was the main focal point. Baptism as formerly, took place in the font at the west. The nave represents the journey of life moving east towards death. The worshipper faces east, towards the place of resurrection. In 1899, a reredos, built by the architects Paley and Austin (designer unknown), appeared behind the holy table giving that more of the character of an altar than a holy table. Ordering the reredos seems to have been the responsibility of the then vicar, Revd Addison Crofton. See the article Giggleswick Vicars and their Times.

The reredos aroused a storm of controversy amongst members of the church. Thomas Brayshaw records a motion passed by the Select Vestry of the 24 (predecessor of the parochial church council, the PCC), condemning the reredos as out of keeping with the oak furniture of the church, hiding the bottom of the beautiful east window (which it does) and criticising its colour scheme. There were no comments about the sacramental theology it reflects. The reredos is planned in 3 sections, like a triptych. The centre has a depiction of a vine with grapes and Jesus’ words “Do this in remembrance of me”. On left and right sides are two angels swinging censers. Incense had been absent from Giggleswick Church since before the Reformation. The whole scene though, is thoroughly Biblical.

In Brayshaw’s criticism of the reredos, he failed to appreciate the appropriate imagery of the Vine above the altar, and of the angels casting before the throne of God, the prayers of worshippers, mingled with incense from the angels’ swinging censers, (Revelation 8, v3-4). The “broad church” tradition frequently down played the revelatory , mythic, symbolic and “other dimension of reality” aspects of Christianity, in preference for the “sensible”, so-called “scientific” and “rational”.