Thomas Brayshaw

1854-1931, local historian and antiquarian.

St Alkelda’s Church, Giggleswick has at least one other unique quality, apart from having a little known Anglo-Saxon saint as patron, which incidentally, is a distinction it shares with just one church, St Mary and St Alkelda’s, 33 miles away in Middleham, Wensleydale. There can be very few parish churches in the UK which have had so much of their history researched and recorded and left for posterity in pamphlets, magazines, newspaper articles and book form. The most valued item in Giggleswick Church’s archives is the Red Book, a huge, bound, “scrapbook” compilation of material relating to Giggleswick Church, and which is the size and weight of a great Victorian family Bible.

The person responsible for this huge collection was Thomas Brayshaw, 1854-1931, a member of a distinguished local family whose forebears had lived in the area of the ancient parish of Giggleswick for generations. Thomas Brayshaw was educated at Giggleswick School. He lived in Stackhouse with his wife, Alice and 3 children, was a solicitor in Settle, and served his local church St Alkelda’s, as church warden and holder of several church offices for many years. Although the Red Book is concerned chiefly with Giggleswick Church, Brayshaw’s complete collection contains material which relates to the whole of the ancient parish of Giggleswick. Before 1838, and the creation of separate parishes, the ancient parish had comprised of Giggleswick, Settle, Langcliffe, Stainforth and Rathmell with Wigglesworth. Giggleswick School’s Brayshaw Room holds the largest amount of Brayshaw’s Collection. The Folly Museum, Settle, has some Brayshaw material while Giggleswick Church has its own Brayshaw archives, the Red Book being the most significant in the collection.

Brayshaw’s latter years were marred by a deteriorating relationship with the Revd Theodore P. Brocklehurst, vicar of Giggleswick from 1900 to 1933, who seemed to have been a law unto himself and a flagrant breaker of Anglican rules and regulations. Brayshaw gives plenty of evidence of Brocklehurst’s questionable behaviour in the Red Book. Brayshaw began his criticisms of Brocklehurst almost from the beginning of the latter’s ministry in 1900, but crisis point came in 1920 with the publication of the Rev Dr J.C. Cox’s book The Parish Church of Giggleswick in Craven introduced by the vicar, the Rev Theodore P Brocklehurst, while the preface was written by a Rev G.H. Brown, who comments, amongst other things, that “it was time that the story of the ancient church be put into worthy and appropriate shape”. When one considers that Thomas Brayshaw had been writing pamphlets, booklets, articles and tracts on the church’s history since the 1880s, it is not surprising he was furious. He wrote a long letter to the Craven Herald (copy in the church archives) in which he criticises Dr Cox’s book from cover to cover. The book however, hit Brayshaw at his weakest point. He had no experience of organising his material and writing it down in large book form. Relations with Brocklehurst appear to have deteriorated so much that on his death in 1931, Thomas Brayshaw was not buried in the family grave in St Alkelda’s church yard, but in Holy Ascension’s church yard in Settle.

Today, Thomas Brayshaw is most famous as co-author with Ralph Robinson, of the book A History of the Ancient Parish of Giggleswick, published after Brayshaw’s death in 1932. Brayshaw not only was a great collector of written, typed and visual items of local interest, he had a remarkable eye for anything he came across which had anything to do with the history and archaeology of the ancient parish of Giggleswick, its people and its church. His talent for collecting was common knowledge in the neighbourhood and an amazing amount of material was gifted to him by others. No doubt his reputation, popularity and professional background as a solicitor were great aids to him in this respect. He wrote plenty of pamphlets and articles himself, copies of which went into his collection. One gets the impression from his style that Brayshaw may have been an inveterate collector of historical material and writer of tracts and pamphlets, but he was not equipped to write a large book on his own. In the Red Book, material, composed of private letters, formal documents, type -written tracts, a selection of church magazines, extracts of Brayshaw’s privately published Notes on Giggleswick Church, articles from Giggleswick School’s Chronicle, press cuttings, posters, drawings and photographs etc. , is not always in chronological order. The pages however, are numbered and that certainly is an advantage. It is still too easy to miss an item after even several readings. That there is a newspaper cutting recording the Rev Theodore Brocklehurst’s death which took place after Brayshaw’s, indicates that there was at least one other, apart from Brayshaw, who added to the contents of the Red Book.

After Brayshaw’s death, it was left to Ralph Robinson, a professional writer and author, to select and organise from the formidable mass of the Brayshaw collection, appropriate material to create a large book to suit the occasion. A History of the Ancient Parish of Giggleswick soon became a best seller amongst the local population and further afield. Today, it is the most quoted in current publications on the history of the ancient parish and its church, much more so than its earlier, slighter rival, J.C. Cox’s The Parish Church of Giggleswick in Craven although this needs to be studied alongside A History of the Ancient Parish of Giggleswick, especially for the Finchale Priory records relating to Giggleswick Church in chapter 2. A History of the Ancient Parish of Giggleswick is Ralph Robinson’s great achievement as it is also Thomas Brayshaw’s. To give Ralph Robinson equal prominence with Thomas Brayshaw may come as a surprise. A History of the Ancient Parish of Giggleswick contains a number of quotations from “Mr Brayshaw’s Collection”, making it clear that it was Ralph Robinson who was the author and editor, and Thomas Brayshaw, the chief supplier of material.

Brayshaw was not a trained historian. He limited himself to drawing conclusions almost entirely within the context of his own parish. He was also limited in some of his judgements by the conservatism of his rationalist churchmanship, which seemed to have more of the characteristics of an 18th century deist Anglican like that of one of his own heroes, Archdeacon William Paley, who like Brayshaw, was educated at Giggleswick School where his father was headmaster. William Paley was a famous 18th century theologian and philosopher, whose firm belief was certainly in Christ as Redeemer and Saviour, but who described God as the supreme Designer responsible for a rational, smooth running universe. His thesis was later challenged by Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

Thomas Brayshaw appears to have been a member of the local Castleberg Free Masons lodge to judge from 2 small flyers in the Red Book. A previous vicar from 1892-1900, Revd Addison Crofton had been their chaplain. Free masonry is characterised by a kind of deist theology. Maybe Brayshaw and other local “broad church” Anglicans saw a connection there, although the Christological and Trinitarian content would be missing. The flyers advertise an event in 1888, organised by the local Free Masons’ lodge in aid of the church renovations of 1890-2, and in which “Brother” Brayshaw took part, giving lectures on the history of St Alkelda’s Church. This event took place in the “Music Hall” (Victoria Hall), Settle. The Free Masons also contributed money for the panels at the side of the holy table -altar. Whether or not they contributed money for the reredos, (which Brayshaw did not like, and he did not much like the side panels either), the Red Book does not say. Of the reredos, he wrote in the Red Book, “…is of a very handsome description, but in style it is hardly consistent with the other woodwork in the church.” He was more scathing elsewhere. Brayshaw’s antipathy to the reredos seems to have been shared by quite a few local people. See my article on this web site A History of Giggleswick Church.

Brayshaw never made any comment on the High Church influences of the structural re-ordering, yet the new arrangements were radically different to what he had been accustomed. He was very keen to record what had taken place and did so sometimes without comment, but on other occasions, he added in his beautiful hand writing, a comment or two at the side of the item in question. There are many of his quality b&w photographs as well as drawings from other sources in the Red Book, which show what the church looked like, before, during and after the renovations. Some of those photographs and drawings have been re-photographed beautifully for this web site by John Lockwood.

Brayshaw did not understand the nature of the Anglo Saxon – Celtic beliefs of Northumbria which had nurtured early Christians in Giggleswick, the evidence of whose worship site was revealed during the 1890-2 restorations, and which now lies underneath the south east end of the present church. Moreover, Anglo-Saxon Christian worship items have recently been discovered by archaeologists not far from the church in the caves and subterranean passages of Giggleswick Scar. Thomas Brayshaw thought that the stone shaft by the south door was “probably” the remains of a sun dial, even though there was one above the church door. He did express a desire to dig it up to find out, a desire I share with him! He obviously had no knowledge of early Northumbrian missionaries who had left their “rood” shaft in the ground after preaching the Good News to the villagers. Evidence is in the Bede’s History of the English Church and People and in the early written Life of the northern saint, Kentigern. The rood shaft was eventually replaced by a stone cross and a church then built behind it. See my article in the 2015 issue of the North Craven Heritage Trust Journal on St Alkelda, south side crosses and holy wells:

If Brayshaw had examined the top of the Giggleswick cross shaft he would have found 4 depressions where Major General John Lambert’s Cromwellian soldiers had wrenched off the head. An even better example is seen in Kirkby Malham church yard, just 5 miles away, where twisted lead casings are still visible in the 4 depressions. More evidence is on the tops of the cross shafts in Waddington church yard, near Clitheroe.

Brayshaw was scathing about holy wells and their so-called efficacy to heal, yet according to Christian Celtic practice, St Alkelda’s church is placed in the Sacred Space between 3 holy wells, the Ebbing and flowing well, Bank Well and St Alkelda’s well, now under the headmaster’s house Holywell Toft, in the grounds of Giggleswick School. There is growing evidence from churches elsewhere that the name of the church’s patronal saint could well have been borrowed from that of the ancient holy well of St Alkelda. Her name could have been an affectionate nickname. Haelig keld is an Anglo-Saxon-Norse composite word for “holy well”. Various spellings appeared -Awkeld, Alkald, Alkeld. Modern research has shown that Alkelda who baptised converts in her holy wells was “probably a historical person”. Tradition has it that she was martyred by 2 Danish women at the end of the 9th-early 10th century. How she came to Giggleswick no-one knows, but the tradition is strong here too. Middleham and Giggleswick are the only two churches whose patronal saint she is.

Brayshaw insisted that Middleham Church’s living like that of Giggleswick was owned by Finchale Priory during the Middle Ages, a belief firmly denied by Middleham authorities. He does not comment that in Finchale Priory’s financial records of 1376-7, there is one intriguing entry of a debt of £5.4s 10d owed jointly by Giggleswick and Middleham churches, as given in chapter 2 of J.C Cox’s The Parish Church of Giggleswick in Craven . Brayshaw did not believe that St Alkelda had ever existed, but he had never researched the written medieval records at Middleham, nor had he learnt of the re-discovery of Alkelda’s tomb in Middleham Church in 1878. See the text and photographs relating to Middleham on St Alkelda’s Way the website and in the pilgrimage Guide Book St Alkelda’s Way.

Some conclusions Brayshaw drew from his study of the material he had gathered, may have been prejudiced, or even wrong, limited as he was by his dedicated parochialism, lack of knowledge, his churchman-ship and his understanding, but nevertheless, he amassed a huge amount of local historical material which has proved, and is proving, of great value to the researchers who follow after him. For the historical material on this website, I owe a great debt to Thomas Brayshaw.

Acknowledgements – The Brayshaw photo kindly contributed by Barbara Gent, archivist, the Brayshaw Collection, Giggleswick School