History of the Village

Horton in Ribblesdale was historically a part of Ewcross wapentake in the West Riding of Yorkshire. It became a parish town in the early 12th century when the church of St. Oswald was established. This church was historically associated with the Deanery of Chester, and was part of the Diocese of York - though, today it is part of the Diocese of Bradford. The surviving parish records date back to 1556.

In the 13th century the village and parish were ruled by rival monastic orders at Jervaulx Abbey and Fountains Abbey. Their dispute stemmed from a 1220 transfer of property here by William de Mowbray to the Fountains monks, which challenged the primacy of an earlier grant by Henry III to Jervaulx's predecessors at Fors Abbey. Not until 1315 was this dispute firmly settled, when Edward II confirmed the Abbot of Jervaulx as Lord of Horton in Ribblesdale.

During the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the monks' interests at Horton in Ribblesdale were attributed with an annual income of £32 and 5 shillings; and were given to the Earl of Lennox. He, in turn, disposed of the manor lands about 1569 or 1570 to a syndicate consisting of John Lennard, Ralph Scrope, Ralph Rokebie, Sampson Lennard, William Forest, Robert Cloughe and Henry Dyxon.

It seems the manor lands were eventually held solely by the family of John Lennard, the first named member of the syndicate. His daughter Lady Anne Lennard married Sir Leonard Bosville of Bradburne in Kent and together they sold their interests at Horton in Ribblesdale during the reign of Charles II to a partnership consisting of Lawrence Burton, Richard Wigglesworth and Francis Howson.

In 1597 Horton in Ribblesdale, like so much of northern England, was struck by a killer plague. This is confirmed by the parish burial register, which lists 74 deaths that year compared to just 17 deaths during the preceding and succeeding years. Those lost to this pandemic amounted to roughly one-eighth of the parish's population.

History of the Church – early History

The building dates from the early 1100’s, probably during the reign of Henry 1 or Stephen. It was a time of great expansion in the church, Norwich Cathedral, Southwell Minster and Fountains Abbey being completed and the first Crusade going to the Holy Land to defend the faith.

Then as now it was the centre of a wide spread parish, along with upper stretches of the river Ribble in the shadow of Penyghent, surrounded by land owned by the great Monastic houses of Fountains, Furness and Jervaulx. Originally it was the hub of the more distant hamlets and isolated farms, now houses are clustered more closely.

The church is most impressive in its simplicity and must have been quite awe-inspiring to the inhabitants of the small wooden farmsteads who worshipped there around 900 years ago. Its construction would have been paid for by the local landowners and the local workers using local materials supervised by a professional master mason acting as architect and foreman.

The advowson (right to appoint a clergyman to a living) belonged to Jervaulx through a long period of dispute with Furness, but by 1249 was given to the prioress of Clemmenthorpe (near York) who had authority to appoint and dismiss priests. Unfortunately no records remain to show how frequently she exercised this right. In the reign of George 1 the advowson belonged to Dr Wilson the Dean of Carlisle. He was an absentee patron who owned Beecroft Hall, but did not visit Horton much and showed little interest in the Church. It later passed to the Rev Dr George Holden who was vicar from 1798 to 1821. The Church is now in the Diocese of Bradford, the Bishop being patron. The living was supported by tithes, but was not as wealthy as it would appear as the three Cistercian monasteries, the main landowners, claimed exemption from paying them.

The living remained a poor one. In 1716 the stipend was £12 a year; in 1769, £30 and by 1809 £40, out of which, there being no vicarage, the incumbent paid rent for his house and any land he required. However, the vicars frequently supplemented their incomes as schoolmasters, like John Carr (1712-1745) and William Paley (1769-1782) who were headmasters of Giggleswick Grammar School or like Dr Holden who was master of Horton Grammar School.

The Church is dedicated to St Oswald one of the early English Martyrs. He lived from 605 to 642 and was converted to Christianity as a teenager during exile in Scotland, by the monks of Iona.

In 633 he returned to Northumbria and began to establish Christianity there. His success was finalised by victory over King Caedwallon at Heavenfield near Hexham, where, before the battle he raised a cross as his standard.

Missionaries were sent for from Scotland and with Aidan as Bishop they set up their centre on Lindisfarne in 635. Oswald also saw to the completion of the Minster at York.

After Oswald was killed as Oswestry fighting the pagan King Pendra of Mercia, he was canonised, a fitting memory to this “most Christian king of Northumbria, a man beloved by God”. (Bede).

The Building

The basis character of the building has remained unspoiled despite alterations, large and small, which have been made as needs and fashions have demanded.

The original Norman church was beautifully well-proportioned and squat, sited below the magnificent backcloth of Penyghent. Imagine it with a wooden or even thatch roof, impressive south door but as yet no tower. The chevron and dog-tooth moulding of the arch over the door is a good example of the Norman decoration. Many features of the church show evidence of the efforts made to combat the elements and so help finances, like the door itself. It is centre hinged allowing it to half-open during the winter – the lock too is a miniature masterpiece of ingenuity.

Inside, the heavy, stone tub-shaped font with its fascinating herringbone pattern is also a reminder of this early period. However, the most impressive feature is the nave: so well proportioned is the building that the actual size of the arches is surprising and seems much bigger than is possible for the shell to contain. This gives a great feeling of strength and permanence, despite a pronounced lean to the south by the pillars. Each of the four pillars on the North Arcade is different. With one exception they are cylindrical but the decoration on the capitals is different on each one with representations of the Trinity and the Virgin Mary. On some the Mason’s marks can be seen.

Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries

This was the next most important period of the building, and it was during this time that the tower was added, remains of the Norman building are to be found on its East wall. This addition remains an impressive feature and sturdy sentinel of the village. The oldest glass in the church is to be found on the West wall of the tower. Belonging to this period it shows the heads of Thomas a Becket and the Virgin Mary and part of the arms of Jervaulx Abbey. The chancel was added at this time, but its windows are much later with three lights showing the Nativity, the Crucifixion and the Ascension although the small inserts of much plainer glass above the main lights are probably medieval. The windows of the North and South aisles are straight headed, some with cusped lights. They were fitted with most effective tinted glass set in a chevron pattern at a later date. The two light window of the Lady Chapel represents the raising of the widow’s son at Nain.

Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

During this period of relative prosperity, the bells were introduced. There are three of them, the tenor being dated 1614. Papers concerning the bells tell us that “the middle bell at Horton was cast anew in 1776. In 1770 the little was cast anew. Paid for ye casting £10.1.2, carrying and re-carrying from York to Settle £2.0.0”.

Most of the church plate dates from this time as well – all the silverware is now in safe keeping. There are two silver chalices, one hall marked and dated York 1679, maker Marmaduke Best, and the other dated 1722 was donated by the Wilsons of Beecroft Hall, together with a large silver footed paten made by John Boddington dated 1717. There is also a modern one which matches the chalice of 1679. Two large pewter flagons, without spouts, of around 1700 were said to have been used at funerals, when they were filled with mulled ale and handed round the company – particularly welcome in the winter. A silver communion service for use at communion of the sick was bought to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897. The silver collection is completed with a wine flagon of 1906 and a wafer box dated 1948.

Several interesting memorial brasses can be seen in the North Aisle. Three have been brought into the Church from tombstones to protect them from the weather. One commemorates John Armistead who endowed the Free Grammar   School in 1725.

Another school master features, who was here for only a short time – Richard Thornton, “a fighter of fraud discord and disputes, zealous for peace concord and probity”.

Nineteenth Century

Some inevitable reconstruction took place in Victorian times and the church had a major face lift in 1879, despite an extensive one fifty years earlier, when the singers’ gallery at the West End was replaced and the church was furnished with box pews and a three decker pulpit.

Corbels on the upper part of the inner wall of both North and South aisles are evidence of the earlier clerestory, removed when the roof was raised and covered in a single span. The roof windows also disappeared in this reconstruction as did the recently introduced box-pews, three decker pulpit and singers’ gallery. The new furnishings, the present ones, included oak pews, pulpit, lectern, screens, choirstalls and the reredos, which, like the windows of the East End, are a memorial to members of the Foster family.

Photographs in the window embrasures of the North aisle show the effects of these alterations.

It was another fifteen years before the organ was installed. Built by Sagar of Leeds, who employed an apprentice J J Binns, later himself to become a well-known builder, it is typical of its era – tracker action, two manual, with a straight pedal board, but lacking any brightness of tone despite a rebuild by Hopkins of York in 1906.

Twentieth Century

Without doubt the most important addition was the introduction of electricity in 1937, donated by the Langstroth family of the USA, “In memory of their ancestors 1559-1767”.

The two other major alterations were the glazed screen at the West End and the Lady Chapel at the East End.

The Screen was donated by the parishioners from Selside in 1965. A template was made to fit the arch and the screen built to this pattern. Imagine the consternation of the joiners when they found it would not fit. However, when reversed it was found to fit perfectly! In 1969, from money donated by friends and parishioners, existing pews at the East End were remodelled, and turned to face east instead of towards the Chancel to form the present lady Chapel. The remaining wood was used to make an alter rail and credence table. The Altar was previously the High Altar until it was replaced in 1946.

Twenty First Century

Despite the current lack of funds two projects are in the planning stage with one of these quite imminent. The bell rack has spaces for two more bells to complete the set and these have been identified as becoming available from another church in the South of England. It is estimated that the cost of purchasing, transporting and fitting these two bells could be in the region of £20,000 to £25,000 a considerable amount of money. A bell-ringing group has recently reformed including a number of young people from the village who meet regularly and are progressing well. Despite a noteworthy donation already being generously given a significant amount is still required to complete the task.

In order to make the church more user-friendly during the whole week it is felt that toilets should be provided and facilities sympathetically upgraded to create an open centre available to the whole community and our many visitors.


Structural features show the use of local materials including the great slabs of Helwith Bridge slate to roof the two lych gates and to make a path between them.

Mason’s marks can be found on the stone-work of the church walls and interesting disfiguration on the stones around the South door are said to have been worn by archers sharpening arrows while practising at the front of the church. An unusual feature of the gravestones is the table style of several of them.

In the clear atmosphere, without the shadow of trees, many lichens are found growing on the walls and gravestones. The house tucked cosily away behind the east End of the Church was until 1854 the Horton Free Grammar School.

The Tide Tables and Horton-in-Ribblesdale

There is a little known fact that the tide tables used throughout the world today have a direct link to not one but two former vicars of St. Oswald’s Church, Horton-in-Ribblesdale, a father and son both sharing the same name, Rev. George Holden.

The first reliable tide tables were produced by the brothers George and Richard Holden in 1770 based on tide measurements taken by William Hutchinson in Liverpool during the period 1764-1767. The Holden tide tables were continuously published for over 200 years.

Richard and George Holden were two of thirteen children born to Francis Holden, from Champion in the parish of Slaidburn and Hanna Prockter of Clapham who married on 17th September 1716 at Thornton-in-Lonsdale. Richard was baptised on 9th March 1718 and George on 12th May 1723.

The two vicars of Horton-in-Ribblesdale were the son and grandson of the first George Holden and supported their respective fathers in the continuing development of the tide tables. George senior passed away in 1793, his son George was baptised on 29th December 1757.

From records held in the Borthwick Institute, York University, we know that on 21st August 1783 George Holden was licensed to the Free Grammar School at Horton-in-Ribblesdale having obtained a LL.D from Glasgow University in 1778. He had married Ann Procter of Horton-in-Ribblesdale parish on 14th September 1782. The Borthwick Institutes records show that on 21st May 1798 George was instituted as perpetual curate of Horton-in-Ribblesdale in the diocese of York “on his own petition asserting that he was patron thereof in full right” (i.e. he held the advowson of the church). He died 31st December 1820.

His son George was born in Horton-in-Ribblesdale and baptised on 12th June 1783. He took an M.A from Glasgow University in 1805. On 14th August 1808 he was ordained a priest in the diocese of York. He was licensed to the curacy of Brafferton near Thirsk and then appointed perpetual curate at the Ancient Chapel of Maghull near Liverpool where he remained until he died on 19th March 1865. From 1821 till June 1825 he also held the perpetual curacy at Horton-in-Ribblesdale made vacant by the death of his father.

Church Brass Inscriptions

The following descriptions illustrate two of our interesting brass inscriptions:-

Medie interutrumque Maritum

Laudantur Reliquiae


ROBERTI prius RICHARDI posterius

Thalamum occupantis


Decori Œconomiæ Hospitii cultricis

Obiit 25 September 1736 Vixit ann 56


In the midst between either husband are eulogised the remains of Elizabeth who occupied the bedchamber of Robert first and Richard afterwards, a matron who cultivated virtue household management and hospitality.

She died 25 September 1736.   She lived 56 years.

Memoriae Sacros


dudum hic Viciniæ Ludi magistri

Viri fraudis Dissidii Litium iugilantis

Paci Concordiae Probitatis Studiosi

nec non ELIZABETHE Tori Consortis

Parentum vita defunctorum

Sepulchrales hosce lapides

Ingenua pietatis pignora

Propriis impensis

Statuendos curavit

CATHARINA filia unigenita

Obiit 29 Aug 1744 vixit ann 57


Sacred to the memory of Richard Thornton recently the schoolmaster of this neighbourhood a fighter of fraud discord and disputes, zealous for peace concord and probity, as well as of Elizabeth his bedfellow.   Catharine their only daughter took care at her own expense to set up these sepulchral stones as genuine pledges of affection of her deceased parents.

He died 29 August 1744, he lived 57 years.


The Church has always been an important centre for local life. The farmsteads of this exceptionally large parish lay some distance away from the church, but in the Middle-Ages everyone met here on Sundays, when news could be exchanged and corporate worship welded the community together.

We hope the Church will continue to fulfil this function for present and future parishioners, and will provide a centre of welcome to visitors enjoying our beautiful countryside.


St Oswald's Church Horton-in-Ribbledale 

This ancient church built in the early 12th Century stands in the shadow of Penyghent, one of the Three Peaks. The building has many interesting features unique in the Dales, particularly the Norman doorway and tub font with herringbone decoration. The church is open each day. 

Priest - Rev Stephen Dawson - 07977141869

Email - scudawson@hotmail.com