The History of Birkin & St Mary’s Church

We are lucky to have our very own local historian, Stephen Poskitt, who has spent many years researching the archives and helping people to compile their family tree and is always happy to help solve a mystery!

Although Birkin appears in the Doomsday Book of 1086, there is no mention of a church. The building we know and love today was probably built in the mid 1100’s by Peter, son of Assolf. His family would take the name of de Birkin. The first reference to a priest at Birkin was Osbert who had sold land c1160. After this we know that parson John was in situ and that he witnessed Thomas de Birkin’s grant of land in Cullingworth to Rievaulx Abbey. The de Birkin family made many grants to religious houses, such as Kirkstall, Hampole, Nostell Priory and Haverholm Priory near Sleaford.

Around 1231, Isabella de Birkin married Robert de Everingham. Their eldest son Adam became an ancestor of the Everinghams of Laxton. The second son, John was an ancestor of the Everinghams of Birkin. In 1249 Isabella de Everingham gave the manor of Birkin to her second son John, along with some land in Riskington. About this time, John married Joan, daughter of Stephen de Meinill. De Meinill gave land in Knottingley to them as a wedding present (worth £20 a year). Permission from King Edward I was given to John in 1272 to hunt his own land at Birkin. John died between 1273 and 1280, his widow surviving him.

Robert de Everingham, youngest son of Robert and Isabella became Rector of Birkin c 1255. His family took advantage of the illness of the Archbishop of York and pushed Robert’s nomination through quickly. Robert died in 1288 having been Rector all his life.

In 1286, the Rector of Birkin was commissioned to seek Godfrey Darel, a monk of Rievaulx who was said to be practising witchcraft! In 1289 Hugh Sampson was instituted at Rector, coinciding with patron Adam de Everingham being absolved from excommunication due to laying violent hands on John de Eyton, a priest.

The Archbishop’s registers in the fourteenth century list the inductions of priests to the Rectory of Birkin, but also to the Chantry Chapel to allow masses to be said for the souls of the de Everingham family.

Adam de Everingham was first summoned for military service in 1311. Because he was a supporter of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster of Pontefract Castle, Adam and many other local knights met the King’s army at Boroughbridge in 1322. Adam found himself on the losing side and was captured with two robes, a bed and two horses. Lancaster was executed, but lesser knights were allowed to save their lives and lands in exchange for a heavy fine. Adam was charged 400 marks paid in installments. He was aquitted in 1327 by the new Kind, Edward III after paying half of it!

In 1329, a Chantry chapel was built (the newer side of the church). Adam Brown was the first chaplain who was to pray for the souls of the de Everingham family and their ancestors.

During 1353, Lucy de Everingham suffered the indignity of John and Beatrice de Everingham breaking into her closes in Birkin, destroying crops and assaulting her servants.

1069 Selby Abbey Built

A Community Built for Monks

Carvings at Birkin

After the Abbey was established, it is speculated the intricate carvings were created by the Monks living at Selby Abbey.

St Mary’s Birkin 1149
Inside St Mary’s

Robert Thornton is Born 1623

John de Everingham of the early fifteenth century married twice, firstly to Elizabeth, daughter of Richard Gascoigne of Hunslet and after her death, to Alice, widow of Sir John Middleton of Stokeld. Their great grandson, also called John, served in the Wars of the Roses.

Among the commanders at the Battle of Flodden in 1513 was John Everingham of Birkin. When he died, he left his estate to his wife Margaret and his son, Henry. Henry was at the court of Henry VIII and in 1536 was on the jury panel when many of the nobility, such as Lord Darcy of Temple Hirst joined the pilgrimage of Grace, which protested against the closure of the monasteries.

Sir Henry married twice, firstly to Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Linley; then after their divorce, he married Anne, daughter of Sir William Fairfax of Steeton. They had four children, but only Eleanor, the youngest survived to adulthood. Her first husband died and then around 1570, Eleanor married Gervase Cressy.

William Prince of Birkin Parish was in court as had ‘begotton a base child upon the body of Isabel Hirst of Methley. His punishment was to stand in St Mary’s and openly acknowledge his sins.

Two of the three bells in the church tower commemorate the family of Everingham Cressy, then Lord of the manor of Birkin in 1613. His wife was Mary Fairfax and their children were Gervase, Everingham, Juliet, Mabel, Mary, Ann and Elizabeth. They would later have another son, Henry who later became a haberdasher in London in the 1650’s.

In 1639 Everingham Cressy was on the list of recusants (a Catholic who refused to attend services of the Church of England – an offence at the time). Robert Thornton became Rector in 1612 and died in 1645 despite various stories that he was ejected from Birkin and dragged behind a horse to Cawood Castle during the Civil War. Apparently, he became Rector again in 1660, dying in 1665 – however the burial register does not contain any reference to Robert Thornton….

Between 1611 and 1642, various residents of Birkin were not paying their taxes and assessments. The constable of Birkin, Richard Poskitt was ordered to collect the money.

Everingham Cressy died in 1644, succeeded by his son, Everingham II who went on to marry Sarah Metcalf of York. They had a large family and Everingham’s will left money to each of his children to be paid out of a farm in Birkin, occupied by John Poskitt. Gervase was held prisoner in York castle in 1683, probably for debt.

Everingham III was succeeded by his second wife Elizabeth. Upon her death it seems the Birkin estate was sold to Thomas Wright, an attorney of Sheffield who held the manor until his death in 1741. He decided that Birkin tenants were not paying enough for their farms and increased the rates; putting many out of business. Wright made sure that his nephew, Reverend Thomas Wright, a royal chaplain would be the next incumbent in the rectory, following William Aslabie.

The curate of the church, George Alderson, succeeded Reverend Wright in 1788 and conducted 66 Good Friday service during his ministry.

The manor house, which would have been somewhere near the farm behind the church, was still standing in 1832, but had disappeared by 1845. A sketch of the mansion was found in the 1930’s but has since been lost. The estate declined in size over the years and the last lady of the manor died childless in 1922. The estate was sold with the remaining tenants buying their farms.

Today, the Rectory is called Birkin Grange and has been painstakingly restored by its owners. There is no trace left of the manor house, the only surviving monument being the entrance pillars that were moved into the field adjacent to the church and as such are listed.

Researched by Mr Stephen Poskitt