St Augustine’s Church Skirlaugh

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A brief history of St Augustine’s Church

St Augustine’s Church was built between 1401 and 1405 by Bishop Walter de Skirlaw, who was then Bishop of Durham, although there had been a church on the site previously. Walter was the son of a basket maker and was born and brought up in the parish until he went to Oxford University. He was ordained priest and went on to become Archdeacon of the East Riding in 1370. After a brief spell as Bishop of Lichfield from 1385-6 he became Bishop of Bath and Wells from 1386-9 before being appointed Bishop of Durham from 1389 to 1403.

It was as Bishop of Durham that he remembered the village in which he grew up and he provided for its people the fine church we still see today, although he died just two years before its completion. The church is a Grade I listed building and is one of the finest examples of Perpendicular architecture in the country, its exterior not having been altered from its original design.

Many other buildings owe their existence to Walter de Skirlaw, among them the cloisters of Durham Cathedral and the central tower of York Minster. He is buried in Durham Cathedral and a statue has been erected to him in the Lady Chapel at York Minster.

The church is dedicated to St Augustine of Hippo and consists of a nave and chancel, north chapel, south porch and tower. In the latter part of the Twentieth Century much restoration work was carried out, including the replacement of the old timber and lead roof by a ceiling made of quartered oak panels covered with a thick insulating layer and stainless steel; replacement of all windows other than one over the north door which commemorates a nineteenth century matron of the Skirlaugh Workhouse; installation of new lighting and heating; and the removal of Victorian platforms on which the pews were sited and the accompanying dado panelling was dispensed with. A fragment of medieval glass is incorporated in the new East Window, together with the initials WS commemorating the church’s benefactor, Walter de Skirlaw. Much of this work was under the guidance of architect Ronald Sims of York and the overall work of cleaning, pointing and stonework replacement was carried out by a parishioner, Edward Brown, whose voluntary full-time work over the ten years from 1981 to 1991 is marked by a memorial plaque in the porch.

In 1982 Skirlaugh Methodist Church joined with St Augustine’s to create a Local Ecumenical Partnership.  There is a Joint Church Council of Anglicans and Methodists and services are taken by the Vicar and the Methodist Minister, assisted by Anglican Readers and Methodist Local Preachers.

The church’s 600th Anniversary was marked in June 2005 by a weekend of celebrations in which the church provided a magnificent backdrop to a beautiful flower festival and a musical concert. An adjacent marquee provided facilities for a wine and cheese preview evening as well as for morning coffees and afternoon teas throughout the weekend. After a memorable service on the Sunday many parishioners enjoyed lunch in the marquee, including a celebration cake, whilst many families enjoyed outdoor fun and games in brilliant sunshine.

A free leaflet, which is available in church, gives more detailed information about the history of the church together with detailed descriptions of both the exterior and the interior. It was written in 1991 by a former parishioner, Janet Padwick, and has had recent revisions.