Building » Bishop Thornton – St Joseph

Bishop Thornton – St Joseph

Colber Lane, Bishop Thornton, Harrogate, North Yorkshire

The oldest surviving purpose-built church still in use in the Diocese of Leeds. The presbytery was built first, about the time of the Catholic Relief Act of 1791. The attached church was built about twenty years later, displaying the reticent Nonconformist character typical of Catholic church building in the early nineteenth  century. The building is of particular interest for its age and for its historical associations; its interior retains its historic character and ambience, but few early furnishings.

The early history of the mission is somewhat unclear, with some accounts stating that there was a remarkable absence of any ties to a great house or individual family and others indicating that the village may have been served by itinerant priests possibly based at nearby Raventofts Hall and protected by the Ingibly family. By the middle of the eighteenth century a more formal state of affairs had evolved, with a book of accounts surviving at Bishop Thornton which dates back to 1746. Entries in this detail accounts for a priest carrying out duties across a wide geographical area, stretching over to Pateley Bridge and onto Ripon and even Harrogate. Payments include monies for the monthly shoeing of horses. Before the building of the present church the top storey of the presbytery may have used to say Mass. This house was built about the time of the passing of the Second Relief Act in 1791 and contains a large room with no windows facing onto the street. That this space was ‘public’ is perhaps evidenced by the decorative staircase rising through the house.

The present church was built onto the presbytery in 1809, by Fr Charles Saul. He remained priest until his death in 1813. He and the next incumbent Fr Richard Talbot are buried under the present sanctuary.

The church has never been structurally altered or extended, but considerable restoration work was carried out by Weightman & Brown of York in 1980-1.


See list description, below. Many of the present fittings and fixtures were introduced by Fr Herman Geurts, who was at Bishop Thornton between 1875 and 1929. The carved wooden Gothic reredos and altar, possibly of Belgian origin, were installed by Bishop William Gordon of Leeds in memory of his parents, who are buried in the churchyard. The church contains a slab of the original altar of the medieval Walworth Chapel. The windows contain modern stained glass by John Hardman Co.; they depict: the work of priests in the parish, Cardinal Newman, Mary Ward (the founder of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary) and local martyrs. The plain white painted walls are adorned by a series of oil paintings of the Stations of the Cross, said to have come from Holland.

List description (church and presbytery)


Presbytery and church. Presbytery 1790 and Church 1809 for Richard Talbot and Charles Saul on land given by Stephen Ingilby of Raventoftus (qv). Restored C20. Coursed squared gritstone, concrete tile roof. Presbytery: 2 storeys with attics, 3 bays. Central glazed door with C20 porch, flanked by 4-light windows with flat-faced mullions, some renewed C20. First floor: 3- and 4-light windows of similar type. End stacks. Left return: 2-light mullioned window lights tall attic storey.

Interior: the original chapel was in the attic of this house, and is reported to contain a collar-beam roof, reused. Not seen at resurvey. Church attached to right of presbytery: 4 bays, each with a plain round-headed window. Stone cross at right gable end. Entrance porch at east end (right) with board door. Interior: original 6-panel double doors with strap hinges between porch and body of church; a narrow 6- panel door links the chapel to the presbytery. No other original fittings.

The strong local Roman Catholic tradition is recorded in the mid C20 stained glass windows. The site for the Presbytery was given by Stephen Ingilby who lived at Raventofts Hall (qv). Raventofts had been an important refuge for Catholics and the priest serving the Medieval church of Saint John, (the tower only survives (qv)), lived at the house. Stephen Ingilby was a conformist and probably wanted to remove the recusant connection from Raventofts.

Heritage Details

Architect: Unknown

Original Date: 1809

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II