Building » Malton – St Leonard and St Mary

Malton – St Leonard and St Mary

Church Hill, Malton, North Yorkshire

Much restored church of twelfth century origin, occupying a prominent position in the townscape on the east side of Malton. Built as a chapel-of-ease for the nearby Gilbertine monastery, this is possibly the first parish church in England to revert to Catholic use. The most notable feature of the interior is the Romanesque arcading on the north side of the nave and chancel. 

The church of St Leonard was built in the late twelfth century as a chapel-of-ease to the Gilbertine monastery at Old Malton. It passed out of Catholic hands at the Reformation and became an Anglican parish church for four centuries, during which time it was rebuilt and adapted at various times.

Legal Catholic public worship returned to Malton with the building of St Mary’s chapel in Wells Lane in 1841. This building (which survives today in secular use) has a Nonconformist character externally but had a richly decorated sanctuary with Ionic columns and pilasters.

In the 1960s St Leonards became surplus to the requirements of the Anglicans of Malton and was offered to the diocese of Middlesbrough, a conveyance that was completed in 1971.  A new presbytery with attached meeting room was built on the eastern side of the churchyard, and opened in 1973. St Mary’s was retained as a parish hall, with the adjacent presbytery (purchased in 1879), until both were sold off in 1991.

In 1984 the spire of St Leonard’s church was struck by lightning and had to be completely rebuilt. Works of repair and refacing of the tower took place in 1988-9, and at the same time the interior was reordered to facilitate modern Catholic worship.

The church is fully described in the list entry, which was revised and expanded (and the building upgraded to II*) in 2015, following Taking Stock.

List description


Summary: Church of late C12 origins, retaining at least 24 pieces of medieval figurative carving. In 1971 it became the first English parish church to be returned to Roman Catholic use. The 1970s presbytery in the churchyard to the north east of the church is not included in the listing.

Reasons for Designation: The Roman Catholic church of St Leonard and St Mary is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons: * Date: the church features significant, in situ medieval fabric including the two late C12 Romanesque arcades and the three stages of the tower dating to the C15; * Sculpture: the church retains a relatively rare survival of at least 24 individual pieces of late C12 and C13 figurative carving; * Fittings and monuments: of particular note are the C12 font, the 1716 hatchment, the peel of eight bells dating to 1768 as well as the unusual memorial to Arthur Gibson; * Roman Catholic history: as the first English parish church to be returned to Roman Catholic use following the Reformation, the stained glass window from Malton’s Catholic chapel of St Mary acts as a physical marker of that special interest.

History: The church was founded in the second half of the C12 as a chapel of ease for the Gilbertine Priory of St Mary at Old Malton. The tower was added in the C15 and the church was retained as a parish church following the Dissolution. The tower was heightened in the C19 and given a spire. In 1907, the church was extensively restored with the south sides of the nave and chancel rebuilt and the north side and east end re-fenestrated. Map evidence suggests that the rebuilding did not alter the footprint of the building. By the 1960s the Church of England deemed St Leonard’s church to be surplus to requirements and it was offered to the Roman Catholic Church as a gift. In 1971 it became the first English parish church to be returned to Roman Catholic use, extending the dedication to include St Mary, being the dedication of the Catholic chapel in Wells Street from which the congregation transferred. In the late 1980s the tower was extensively repaired and the spire rebuilt. Around this time the interior was also reordered, placing the altar on the south side of the nave.

Details: Parish church, now Roman Catholic church. Late C12 origins with C15 tower and C19 spire (latter rebuilt after 1984), extensive restoration and rebuilding 1907. MATERIALS: ashlar, original stonework being Hildenley limestone, later repairs and rebuilding in sandstone; red plain tiled roofs to chancel and nave, lead roof to north aisle; timber and slate spire. Stone crosses to the eastern gables of the nave and chancel. PLAN: chancel and nave, both with a north aisle; west tower; small, shallow north porch at the eastern end of the nave’s aisle.

EXTERIOR: Chancel: this is of three bays with diagonal buttresses to the east end and off-set buttresses to the south wall. The east window is a 5-light, 2-stage panel-traceried window without cusps, set in a 2-centred arch with a hoodmould with stops in the form of male and female crowned heads. The three south windows are each of 3-lights set in 4-centred arches with hoodmoulds. A sill band links the windows, extending around buttresses and also continuing along the south wall of the nave and the eastern part of the north aisle. Nave: this is of four bays the third from the west being blind. The windows are 2-centred with hoodmoulds with 3-light, 2-stage uncusped tracery. The south wall has a stepped buttress to the east gable, and a slighter, pilaster buttress to the west gable. North aisle: this has a buttress and a raised coping in line with the junction between the nave and chancel. The windows are C15 in style, being in the form of groups of two and three lancets with 4-centred heads, each group set beneath a square-headed hoodmould. Towards the east end there is a vestry door set in a C15 style surround. A similar doorway to a small, shallow porch with a stone roof is set immediately west of the aisle’s central buttress. Tower: this is of four stages, the C15 lower three stages being marked by heavily eroded stonework, the later work (repairs, diagonal buttresses and the top stage) being crisp. The bottom stage has a west door, with ornate strap hinges, approached by a flight of steps and protected by a shallow, open porch with a stone roof and cross finial. The second stage has a west window in the form of three tall lancets with two-centre heads beneath a single, arched hoodmould. Set above this is a heavily eroded carved panel of early C13 or earlier, depicting a bishop standing on the heads of two snakes. The third stage is lit by small lancets set centrally to each face except the east. The C19 fourth stage has louvered 2-light belfry windows with cusped tracery to each face. Clock faces are set above with the exception of the east face. The top of the tower is embattled and crowned with a needle spire with an iron cross finial.

INTERIOR: retains two 3-bay arcades with cylindrical columns and round arches. That on the north side of the nave being slightly earlier with square abaci and bases to the columns and a simple, single chamfer to the arches. The arcade between the chancel and north chapel has double chamfered arches and columns with circular abaci, moulded caps and bases. The rebuilt chancel arch is of two orders with 2-centred arch with a leaf-stopped hoodmould, the arch rising from clustered shafts with moulded caps and bases. The medieval tower arch is of three hollow chamfered orders, the inner springing from carved corbels in the form of green man masks. The chancel has a timber wagon roof with carved bosses. The nave roof has arch-braced trusses lacking tie beams, with scallop-edged, plank windbraces to the double purlins.

Medieval sculpture: in addition to the tower arch corbels there are a further 23 pieces of figurative medieval sculpture within the church. These are reset as a corbel table above the nave arcade. Most appear to have originally been corbels, but there are also a number of voussoirs as well as one carved panel. A number are dated stylistically to the second half of the C12 (including the panel and the first and last corbel heads), some possibly being C13.

Stained Glass: there are four stained glass windows: the main east window, being a First World War memorial; two on the south side of the chancel dated 1907 (The Charity of St Leonard and Christ the Comforter); and, reset in a timber screen infilling the tower arch, a window depicting Our Lady within a mandorla which was brought from the Roman Catholic chapel of St Marys, Well Lane, Malton.

Memorials: there are at least 14 wall mounted memorials in the church mainly dating to before the mid-C19. The earliest is a timber hatchment with the Royal Coat of Arms of George I: dated 1716, this probably marks the defeat of the First Jacobite Rebellion. The rest are stone or marble except for an iron and bronze memorial, featuring dolphins and Tuscan columns, to Arthur Gibson, a Malton brass and iron founder who died in 1837.

Fittings: Plain tub font, probably C12, sited at the west end of the north aisle. Reset in the south wall of the chancel is a C15 piscina. The tower retains a peel of eight bells dated 1768 and cast by Lester and Pack of London which were rehung with new fittings in 1950.

SUBSIDUARY ITEMS: the churchyard to the south of the church is retained by a 2-3m high wall of coursed squared stone, mainly of weathered Hildenley limestone with later repairs and alterations with smaller blocks of oolite. This extends from the tower south eastwards, stepping down the slope of the hill. The use of Hildenley limestone suggests that the wall is likely to be pre-C18 in date, potentially late medieval.

The 1970s presbytery in the churchyard to the north east of the church is not included in the listing.

This List entry has been amended to add sources for War Memorials Online and the War Memorials Register. These sources were not used in the compilation of this List entry but are added here as a guide for further reading, 21 August 2017.


Websites: War Memorials Online, accessed 21 August 2017 from

War Memorials Register, accessed 21 August 2017 from

Other: “Churches in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Middlesbrough: An Architectural and Historical Review” Architectural History and Practice Ltd. March 2008

Heritage Details

Architect: Anon

Original Date: 1300

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II*