Headland Benefice

History of St Michael’s Church

Original Text Copyright (c) 1987 by Trevor Sykes and Mrs Jenny Mount

Original artwork by Andrew Simpson, Christine Halliday and Paul Hancock

Edited by David Hartley (c) 2024

Over 800 Years of Community 

Dedicated to the Archangel Michael, the church at Bempton is the focal point of the community, situated as it is in the centre of the village. It was the Bridlington Priory Clergy who helped the inhabitants build a chapel for their own use. It was raised on the site of an earlier church founded by a Saxon Lord of the Manor. The aisle-less church was enlarged, dedicated and licensed for the worship with the spiritual responsibility belonging to the Prior and convents of Bridlington. All this took place in the twelfth century, though the precise date is uncertain, it was probably around the year 1200.

Sketch of St Michaels

The Parish of Bempton

In the early 1440's a separate Parish of Bempton came into existence. Parish Priests were now the spiritual leaders of local communities. On July 22nd, 1441, a commission was issued to Nicholas, Bishop of Dromore, to consecrate the Chapel and the chapel garth. The parishioners undertook to keep the chapel, now their Parish Church, in repair. 

Bridlington Priory contributed the sum of 13s. 4d. (67p) for the payment of a chaplain. He received other payments for his duties such as one old penny for the purification of women and the burial of the dead. A penny known as the 'heredmesse penny' was received after the saying of individual masses for the deceased. The Prior and convents were to provide bread and wine and two pounds of wax to be made into four tapers, two at Michaelmas and two at Easter. There is some evidence that Bempton was separated from Bridlington Priory in 1474 but it is likely that even with parochial status the Prior and convents continued to find Chaplains for Bempton until the Reformation.

Henry VIII and the Dissolution of the Monasteries

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries there were references to the guilds of St. Mary, St. Helen, Corpus Christi and St. Michael, which could have been based on various altars or chantries. The Dissolution of the Monasteries put an end to them. It is known that a Chapel of Ease dedicated to St. Lawrence at Buckton was destroyed in 1547. A certain amount of church property was probably taken from St. Michael's at this time. 

In 1556 it came close to being destroyed having been wrongly listed as a Chantry by the authorities in charge of the Dissolution. Several citizens of Bempton paid the sum of £l.13s.4d to the East Riding surveyor of crown property of the guilds. In 1569 the guild house was let to one Richard Sharpe. The following year, lands near the village 'given to the guild' (possibly so that prayers would be said for a departed relative) were granted to Hugh Counsell and Robert Pistor. Nevertheless, the church survived and seems to have settled once again into its quiet routine. The burial and marriage registers were begun in 1577 and the baptismal register in 1605. These are all complete up the present date.

The Curates of Bempton

From the late seventeenth century until 1845/6, the Curates of Bempton did not reside within their Parish. Some lived at Bridlington and held other livings including Flamborough, Grindale, Speeton and Bridlington. Such an absentee vicar was Joseph Proudham (also spelt Prudem and Prudham) incumbent at Bempton during the visitation of the Archbishop of York in 1743. He also had charge of the Parishes of Flamborough and Grindale at the time. His assistant Curate, Cornelius Rickaby, completed the questionnaire which accompanied the visitation. 

The Curate lived at Hornsea owing to ill health, the absence of a vicar, and the smallness of the income. He explained that these factors made it impossible for him to fulfil his duties properly. An unkind description of the 'crazed old man' exists from this time, but the situation was typical of the whole country, with many clergymen living in near poverty. Cornelius Rickaby replaced him soon afterwards. In 1754 the curate reported that his assistant left him suddenly and no replacement could be found.

Even as late as 1851 an Assistant Curate conducted the services at St. Michael's while the actual incumbent lived at Romford in Essex. Another notable local clergyman was Edward John Burrow(s) the curate from 1810/16 who wrote on topics as diverse as theology and seashells.

The Thread of Poverty

The report of 1743 stated that of 50 Bempton families there were no dissenters and no unconfirmed people and that no one had been refused the sacraments on moral grounds. The work of the church was carried out as best as possible under the circumstances, but the thread of poverty continues to run through the story of St. Michael's. 

The chancel was rebuilt in 1829 at the personal expense of the rector, Henry Broadley. In 1845/6 a large white brick parsonage was built near the church. The bad condition of the church itself gave the vicar cause for concern in 1865 and from 1868/70 a much needed restoration was carried out. The South Aisle was rebuilt, new pews were installed and a brick Clerestory was added. The incumbency of John Wilkinson led to further restoration work during the period 1906/14. He was also the Vicar for Speeton and restored and improved both churches. 

At St. Michael's, the North Aisle was re- roofed and the South side of the Clerestory (D) was rebuilt in stone with round windows.

A 3D cutaway view of St Michaels

Rev’d Rudkin’s Restoration 

The Reverend E.H. Rudkin, who wrote the history of his parish, appealed for restoration funds in 1946. The roof was in danger of collapsing, the arches were decayed and a heating system was badly needed as well as furnishings for the altar and chancel. Repairs were carried out in 1949 with the aid of a grant from the Incorporated Church Building Society and a restoration fund account, in the name of the Bempton Church Fabric Fund, was opened at a bank in Bridlington. The South Aisle was formed into a side chancel, this being the Lady Chapel (M), dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

The Church is built of stone and red brick and consists of a Chancel (H), a Nave (C), North Aisle (E), and South Aisle (L), the West Tower (J), and the South Porch. The many and varied repairs from different periods of its history give it a unique atmosphere. The tower is an outstanding feature of the local landscape. It has an unusually shaped octagonal lantern turret, surmounted by a crenellated parapet. The base of the tower and two nave arcades are all that remain of the building of 1200. The arcades of four bays have been partially rebuilt with chalk. They have semi-circular arches on cylindrical and octagonal piers giving a somewhat disjointed appearance and leaving the visitor to speculate upon when and by whom they were moved or redesigned. The low piers and arches of varying width might collapse entirely, if not for the support of the tower.

The Bell Tower

The Bell Tower contains two Bells (A), inscribed as follows 'Campana Johannis de Thynge Prior IHS' and 'Campana Sanct Michaelis IHS'. They date from about 1361, both are still in use. John de Thwing was Prior at Bridlington in the year 1361. He had a short reign and little is known about him. The Screen (G), sometimes described as Elizabethan, probably dates from the repair work in 1829, the panelling contains a Royal Coat of Arms, while the Tracery (I) of the East Window is of true Tudor origin, the stained glass being given by the Reverend C. Little in 1907 from the East Window of Hornsea Parish Church. The Font (K) with its cup- shaped bowl and carved vine leaves at its foot, is from the thirteenth century.

A Reredos was erected in the church in memory of Nicholas McGarth, Vicar from 1874 to 1905. The Tower Clock (B) was bequeathed to the church in 1924 by Elizabeth Ann Walmsley, a local resident. She also bequeathed £270 to be used for charitable purposes, £200 to the governors of the High School for Girls, Bridlington to found a Scholarship for girls whose parents couldn't afford the fees, £500 to a sick fund to look after the sick poor of Bempton and Buckton and £20 to keep the family grave and monument in order. In the village there is a Walmsley Close and Walmsley House named after the family. A more recent dedication can be found in the form of the Pipe Organ (F), donated in memory of Linda Mary Scott. The plate consists of two silver cups, dated 1619 and 1730, a pewter flagon and a seventeenth century brass alms dish.

The United Benefice

The Church has always maintained a prominent position in the village life, though the years 1865 to 1900 witnessed Vicars reporting difficulty with dissenting parishioners. The congregation in 1865 was about four fifths Methodist and pastoral authority was weakened, until the present state of tolerant co-existence was achieved. It was in the middle of the nineteenth century that Bempton came to be regarded as a Parish in its own right, having previously been a Curacy. In the present century Buckton Parish was amalgamated with Bempton and Bempton is now linked with Flamborough as the Headland United Benefice.

Published as a booklet by St. Michael's Parochial Church Council.

Produced by The Heritage Coast Project

The Flamborough Headland Heritage Coast Project was set up by four local authorities and the Countryside Commission. As well as co- operating with the Bempton Parochial Church Council to produce this leaflet, the Project is also producing other information on the natural and local history of the Headland

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