In any English village, you can usually guarantee the presence of two establishments at minimum: a pub and a church. Castleton is no exception, and indeed boasts two pubs, the Downe Arms in the village centre and the Eskdale Inn out by the railway station. Church-wise, though, it’s surprisingly impoverished. There’s the Wesleyan Chapel, which keeps the neighbourhood supplied with coffee mornings and musical interludes, but there’s only one traditional-style parish church.
That one church, though, is worth a visit. So a few days ago, during a brief break in the foggy weather of the last two weeks, that’s precisely what I did. Welcome to the parish church of St Michael and St George, Castleton:
To find St Michael and St George’s, you go downhill from Castleton’s centre, following the road signs for Danby; the church is on your left as you head out of the village, set back amid trees, daffodils and a thick carpet of green grass. It was built in the 1920s to honour the fallen of WWI, consecrated on 28 July 1926, and replaced an older “tin tabernacle” – a prefabricated, corrugated-iron church that dated back to 1863. Architecturally it’s plain by comparison with the glory of many older English parish churches, with almost nothing in the way of stained glass or ornamental stonework. The porch is a small, unassuming entrance, given an extra rustic touch by the broken wooden rake that hangs in one corner:
It does also contain this tiny stained-glass window, the only one in the church, which is partially assembled from fragments of what looks like a much older window:
I don’t know but I’m guessing these pieces might be all that remains of a previous church, either on the same site or close by. If I ever find out more I’ll let you know!
There are two other significant piece of ornamentation inside, though. First is the beautiful reredos or painted panel behind the altar, featuring the church’s two patron saints with their respective dragons:
Second, there are the oak pews, panelling and fittings, made by a renowned craftsman who was himself a native of the Moors: Robert “Mouseman” Thompson, of Kilburn. Thompson’s nickname came from his trademark: a little wooden mouse that he would carve somewhere on the pieces he made. His work was in high demand and can be found all over the North – his workshop is still in business to this day – and I have fond memories of hunting under tables and along wainscoting for Thompson mice in the library of my own alma mater, Bradford Girls’ Grammar School. St Michael and St George purports to have a total of ten mice:
I didn’t come close to finding them all, but here are a couple that I did:
I also took this shot of the lectern base, which shows the beautiful rough-chiselling technique that’s also characteristic of Thompson’s work:
The organ and pulpit show the same simple yet graceful style:
I also noticed, hanging in a corner of the narthex (the area at the western end of the nave), this: a Cradle Roll, showing the births and baptisms for the parish. This one covers a range of dates in the first half of the 1940s:
And on the way out, if you’re looking carefully, there’s one final mouse: