Building » Knaresborough – St Mary

Knaresborough – St Mary

Bond End, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire

Although built forty years after the Second Relief Act and two years after Catholic Emancipation, this church displays a high degree of architectural reticence, disguised as a domestic appendage to the contemporary presbytery. The design is restrainedly classical. The continuous frontage of church and presbytery forms an important grouping in the conservation area. The church retains its original internal volume and a restored plaster ceiling but has otherwise lost is historic furnishings.

Before the Reformation, Knaresborough was associated with a number of shrines. A John Mason was licensed to carve a shrine into the cliff face by the river in 1409, in thanks for the intervention of the Blessed Virgin in saving his son. Further down the River Nidd lies the scheduled ancient monument of St Robert’s cave, the remains of a medieval hermitage.

The Benedictine mission first arrived in the Knaresborough area with the provision of chaplains to Plompton Hall. By 1750 a chapel had been established at nearby Follifoot. In 1797 Fr Anselm Appleton, the first prior of Ampleforth Abbey, bought a disused linen factory in Union Street, Knaresborough and established a chapel and priest’s house.

The present church was built in a restrained classical style between 1831-2. It was internally remodelled in 1973, when the interior was partially stripped out while retaining the altar at the east end. A subsequent reordering in 2001 saw the interior turned round by 90 degrees, with the sanctuary resited on the long axis in front of the (liturgical) south wall, and the seating rearranged in a semi-circular pattern around this. The western organ gallery was removed and the entrance moved from the front porch to the rear garden elevation with the creation of a new narthex. The fibrous plaster ceiling was repaired and renewed with moulds from existing details. There is new oak furniture throughout. The furniture and  metalwork in the Blessed Sacrament chapel was made by craftsmen brought from Ampleforth Abbey.

The only extant original feature of the interior is the plaster ceiling which has been repaired with moulds from the existing decorative elements. The rest is entirely stripped-out and plain; giving the impression of a tall, open, rectangular space. The sanctuary is raised slightly and has a half-corona light fitting over it. To the rear of the sanctuary on the south wall hang carved wooden figures of Christ, the Virgin Mary and St John. To the west lies the separate chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, furnished with fittings made by craftsmen from Ampleforth Abbey.

List descriptions



Church of St Mary. 1831. Coursed squared gritstone, Westmorland slate roof. 2 storeys, 5 bays, central 3 bays slightly projecting and pedimented. C20 glazed door in addition to right. Ground floor: central single-storey porch, now blocked to form chapel, flanked by 6-pane sashes with C20 frame far right. Single-storey projecting bay to left. Round-arched niche with statue above porch. Other windows are tall sashes with 4 panes, the upper 2 segmental-arched, with projecting sills, first-floor sill band to central 3 bays and first floor lintel band. Eaves cornice, central triangular pediment with cross in relief. Ashlar coping. Conical ventilator to roof. Rear: ground- floor windows blocked, first-floor windows as front.

Interior: C20 redecoration and fittings. 2 cast-iron columns with acanthus capitals support balcony at west end. Ceiling divided into 8 panels with egg-and-dart mouldings. Large roundel with fan motif to centre panel and roundels with flower and leaf motifs to outer panels. Organ built 1860 and installed 1961. The building was designed to look like a private house, shortly after the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829. The foundations are said to have come from the ruins of St Hilda’s Chapel, Rudfarlington, but no early stonework was visible at resurvey.

Anon, Handbook of Knaresborough, (c1889-1900) p 31. H Speight, Nidderdale, (1906) p 48.

Listing NGR: SE3465957324



Presbytery. 1831. Coursed squared gritstone, Westmorland slate roof. 3 storeys, 3 first-floor windows, central window blind. Central 6-panel door with overlight, bay window to right, sash with glazing bars to left. First floor: sashes with glazing bars. Second floor: 3 blind windows in false wall raised to meet the eaves line of the church (q.v.). Large stack right, serves house and probably church also. Rear: central half-glazed door in porch facing west onto ground behind the church. Bay window to left, 6-pane sash to right. Hipped roof. Listing NGR: SE3467357330

Heritage Details

Architect: Not known

Original Date: 1831

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II