History and Building
'All Are Welcome' book
In 2016 former churchwarden Harry Telfer published a book about the history of Heslington Church, full of fascinating facts and colourful illustrations. The book is available from the church office for £8.99. It can also be bought directly from the author.
All proceeds go to church funds.
A church has been on the site of the present building for many centuries. The old 11th century church of St. Peter and St. Paul consisted of chancel, nave with north aisle and west tower. The two bells in the tower were cast by John Porter of York in 1388 and dedicated to St. Paul and the Blessed Virgin Mary. The church registers, which begin in 1653, are almost complete to the present day. In the 18th century, there was one service monthly and Holy Communion was administered three times a year with about 15 communicants in 1743. The services were conducted with a view to brevity and, so we are told, local youths played football in the churchyard on Sundays. The pulpit was a huge three-decker, reaching almost to the roof and more suited to the Minster than a small country church. The box pews had such high backs that they virtually concealed their occupants and they were not infrequently used as sleeping compartments.
Some of the church wardens were not the pillars of society we expect them to be these days, as the following extract from a book of 1647 shows: "At York Castle, John Garthwayte, clerk, deposeth that one Herbert Cook, being churchwarden of Heslington, detayneth the register book belonging to the sayd towne, insomuch as this that the minister cannot therein record the names of such persons as are baptized and buried within that parish. And the sayd Herbert Cook sayd that he would burn the sayd register before he would deliver it unto him. The said Herbert Cook is an ordinary frequenter of alehouses upon the Sabbath and Fasting Dayes, and he hath been seen drunk several times on those dayes. He is by common fame a babbler and quarreller. He is such a contentious spirit that his neighbours stand in awe of him in respect of suites at law, and he hath now a dozen suites on foot. The parson actually saw him one daye bunching an old man, and he hath often seen him distempered with drink."
The 18th century parish accounts show that the two largest items in the church wardens' books were always "pade for the churchwardings dinner at visitation", and "spent in ale at the lection of churchwardins".
By the mid 19th century, the fabric was in a poor state and the church was considered to be too small. A new church of St. Paul was erected on the same site in 1857-8 at a cost of £3,500. It consisted of chancel, nave, vestry, west tower with spire and south porch. It is of stone, designed by J. B. and W. Atkinson of York and paid for by Alicia Lloyd of Stockton Hall, mother of G. J. Yarburgh of Heslington Hall. Only the bells, the font and two wall plaques remain of the old church. The churchyard, last extended in 1921, contains memorials from the early 18th century. In the north east corner are the graves of the Deramore family, Lords of the Manor in Heslington.
Because of new housing estates in the parish and the arrival of the university, the church was again considered to be too small, so extensive alterations were made to the building in 1973, this time at a cost of £96,000. The alterations included the conversion of the chancel to a chapel, the removal of the high altar to an enlarged nave and the addition of meeting rooms, kitchen, toilets and vestries on the north side. It is now the spiritual home of both Anglicans and Methodists and their relationship was formalised in 1983 when Heslington Church was declared a 'Local Ecumenical Project'. The Anglican and Methodist university chaplains are based there also. The two bells from the old church were refurbished at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry and rehung in 1989. Heslington Church is a Grade 2* listed building.
Methodism is said to have been introduced into Heslington in 1812. Houses were licensed for worship until a chapel was opened by the Wesleyan Association in the 1830s. It was still used in 1851, but no more is known of it. In the 1840s two more chapels were built, by the Wesleyan Methodists in 1844 on the west side of Main Street and by the Independent Methodists in 1847 on the east side. The Wesleyans had fourteen members in 1884. The Independent Methodist chapel was acquired by the Primitive Methodists and registered by them in 1887. The former Wesleyan chapel was closed in 1949 and is now the village meeting room. The second Methodist chapel was used until 1971, when the Methodists and Anglicans arranged for the joint use of St. Paul's parish church.
The year 2008 was the 150th anniversary - the sesquicentenary - of the opening of St. Paul's church. This was celebrated by the community on Saturday 24th May with a display in the church of arts, crafts, flower arrangements and live music. In addition, a large number of people enjoyed the afternoon on the green outside with entertaining stalls, a bouncy castle, jugglers, an exhibition of finds from the archæological dig on Kimberlow Hill, a fire engine, cream teas and lots of scarecrows. The Lord Mayor and his Sheriff attended and they unveiled two wall hangings specially made for the occasion. One was produced by the church, and highlights the history of St. Paul's. The other was produced by pupils at Archbishop Holgate's School, and depicts the geography of the parish. Both wall hangings, which are on permanent display in the church, are surrounded by panels produced by many different people.
The church was particularly pleased to receive the following testimonial from Professor Brian Cantor, Vice Chancellor of the University of York: Heslington Church has had a long and cordial association with the University of York. Not only is it a place of worship, but an inspiring venue for social and cultural events with a welcome for the entire university community. With worship involving all denominations, it is a broad church in every sense. The University of York wishes Heslington Church many congratulations on its 150th anniversary and all good wishes for the future. In addition to the initial event, the celebrations continued as the church was host to a good number of visiting preachers who had close associations with us previously. Also, a CD on the "Sounds of Heslington" was produced by the university. On it are recorded interviews of many people associated with the church, sounds from the uniformed organisations as well as hymns sung by the congregation and a short contribution from the organist.
Further changes to the circumstances of the church are inevitable as the university expands and occupies a huge site on the other side of the church to the present campus. This will place the church at the geographical centre of the expanded university, so it will become an even more important centre for the university chaplains than it is now. We are aware of the extra challenges this will present.