St Martin’s Church has a long history, going back almost 1000 years. Here are some articles that detail some of that history.
The first Article was by Assistant Minister, Richard Firth for a History Weekend in September 2013.
The Church of St Martin, Seamer
When we delve into the history of an ancient building, often regarded as a symbol of permanence, we realise how many changes have occurred both within it and its surrounding community. Various items in the church speak of a different era. We need always to be mindful that the church building is not here to speak of human achievements and skill but for the glory of God. A Christian presence has been maintained in this village over 900 years both through the early Anglo Saxon settlement and then the Norman influence resulting in the building we have today. The history of Seamer church continues today through the life and worship of its members and the church remains a symbol of this. But remember, the church building is an outward sign of both the spiritual as well as the social life of the village, and you will be welcomed to visit us either to share our worship or to explore the beauty of this wonderful building. (the words of John Melling; vicar 1984-1996)
The church we see today bears little resemblance to the one built by the first Lord of the Manor of Seamer, one William de Percy. He was granted the manor by William the Conqueror not long after the conquest. It is known the Seamer estate was in his hands in 1086 at the time of the Domesday Book, (which was King William’s record of his conquered lands of Britain, who owned land and its value, which allowed him to levy taxes on landowners).
The Percys were a powerful family owning land in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire but Seamer became one of their most important manors. The Parish of Seamer, (now covers Seamer, Irton and Crossgates), was in Norman times much larger extending from Hackness in the north to include East Ayton then out to Cayton and Osgodby and to the coast. William de Percy was the first Patron of the parish, (the person who appointed the priest, enjoyed the income from parish taxes and provided financial support). The first priest was Richard, household chaplain to William de Percy.
The patronage passed in 1323 to Whitby Abbey, then in 1539 to the Crown. In 1560 Queen Elizabeth I gave the patronage to the then Lord of the Manor of Seamer, which then continued in succession until 1866. The Archbishop of York is the current patron of the parish, but he does not receive any financial benefit!
Over the centuries the large Seamer parish has been divided into several independent parishes each with their own church. This was a response to the growing population in the region.
NOTE: This history of the church draws on material researched by Dr David Crouch in 1997 and is used here with permission. See plan on page 3 to help with identification)
It is recorded in Domesday Book of 1086 that there was a wooden church and priest at Seamer in the early days of King William’s Norman rule. This is an indication of the importance of the settlement which extended back into Anglo Saxon times confirmed by the finds at Seamer Star Carr.
It is agreed that the church was rebuilt in stone by Lord William de Percy about 1100. Like other ancient churches, it was a sort of minor castle, which could be used as a place of refuge in times of disturbance.
Externally it differed in many respects from the building we see today. The main difference being the tower which it is thought was built at the east end of the nave (the main body of the church) but it is thought that this was demolished and in the late 11th century when a new tower was constructed at the west end of the nave.
This is what we see today although the tower was rebuilt in 1846 after a lightning strike in 1710.
Its use a place of refuge can be seen if you visit the church by the thickness of the older portions of the walls; the small, high-up, windows; and the strong oak door, with its metal studs and siege defence fittings for barricading (still there today) as protection against a battering ram!
Major alterations and additions have been made over the centuries:
- In the early 13th century the round apse at the east end of the church was replaced with the square chancel with the altar on the east wall we see today.
- In the 14th century a new major window was added in the south wall.
- In the 15th century around 1480 the north aisle was added to increase the capacity for services and to provide additional small chapels for private prayer. In addition a great wooden balcony was built above the chancel arch the door to which is still visible above the war memorials. Musicians would have played here.
- The 17th century saw in 1686 the chancel screen being installed by the Napier family who owned the Seamer Estate. The screen has their coat of arms inscribed. It may have been removed from the manor house itself.
- The 18th century had in 1793 a gallery constructed which extended around the upper walls of the nave. It was installed for the village school/Sunday school to use. The walls were decorated with white plaster.
- In the 19th century in 1887 the original box pews were removed, and choir stalls and new oak gilt reredos (the screen behind the altar) added. In addition the nave gallery, balcony and the white plaster on the nave walls were removed, and a new oak beamed nave roof, which was lead covered, was installed. Also new pew seats were installed in the chancel.
- The 20th century saw no major building works apart from repairs to the fabric, a challenge that has become a real challenge to meet.
- The 21st century has seen internal improvements with kitchen and toilets installed. Major external fabric and roof repairs, have already been undertaken and these will continue as we also look at the drainage system.
The present day and the future
Our main challenges are the stonework and the surface water drains, both are in continued urgent need of repair. The stone has been in place in many cases over 900 years. It is an expensive and delicate operation to repair and where necessary replace. If we are to keep the building in use then this work will have to continue. Fundraising will be an almost impossible challenge if left solely to the church community. To date over £250,000 has been spent in building fabric repairs since 2009 and we are grateful for generous grant support from such as English Heritage, Yorkshire Historic Churches Trust, and Scarborough Borough Council Voice Your Choice Scheme as well as generous local support. The aim of the PCC is to seek external grant funding, but also to seek support from the local community. As you will have read this building has been an important part of life in the village for over 900 years and our challenge as stewards of the building for the next and subsequent generations is to keep it in good condition.
The large churchyard is a quiet and restful garden where past generations have their final resting place. The churchyard is maintained solely at the cost to the local church community apart from a small local council grant. We receive no outside help towards a cost of almost £2,000pa. In response to a nationwide Church of England initiative the PCC has agreed to allow the somewhat older part of the churchyard to become ‘naturalised’ to allow an area for wildlife in its many forms to flourish. This is a long term plan, which will, over the next year or so, have some controlled intervention, after a period of allowing unrestricted growth. The PCC is currently taking expert advice as to how this can be achieved alongside the need for access and enjoyment of the area.
Our funding comes almost entirely from our own local congregation, we do not have (as some may think) large cash reserves. So any help you can give towards the upkeep and renovation this wonderful building will be gratefully received.
The church community
You will find our news sheet on the display with details of all our activities. You will always be welcome to join us in any of these. In addition the church is open every Saturday between the hours of 10.00am to 12.00pm for coffee, chat, and to explore the building. Or you may seek just a place to be quiet and for personal prayer.
This next article was from the theological studies of our late Churchwarden, Geoff Hall.
There is evidence that during the middle stone age (8,000 BC) Mesolithic Man set up a village on the shores of a lake near Seamer, Hence the name, “Seamere” This along with Flexton Carr are the only excavated sites in Britain of Mesolithic Man.
They would have laid down a rough platform of Birch trees and brushwood on the swampy ground, this would form the base for the huts.
During the excavation of the lakeside settlements by J.W.Moore in the Seamer/Flixton area in 1947, many animal remains such as Red Deer, Elk, Roe Deer, Wild Ox, Wild Pig, Beaver, Badger, Marten, Fox and birds, all these would have provided food and skins with Antlers of the deer and Elk for the manufacture of implements.
As we move onto the Roman occupation of Britain there is very little evidence of any Roman settlements here in Seamer, however part of a Roman road was discovered in Seamer Lane about 1 mile from Scarborough on the way to Spittal. It may then be presumed that the road from the port of Scarborough to Spittal, met the Filey Road, and ran with it in a direct line to Malton and beyond to York although there are no remains to confirm this.
Historians say that wagon teams would have been attacked by archers, in or near the village, with the men been dragged along Main Street to their death a mile south of the village and soldiers would have swaggered through the streets with drawn swords.
The village was formerly a place of much more importance than at present, and had a weekly market, which was held under a charter granted to Henry, Earl of Northumberland in 1383, and a yearly fair of six days, commencing on the feast of St Martin, being also granted under the same charter. The market interfered with the prosperity of its older and more powerful neighbour, Scarborough, and frequent litigation resulted. The market finally closed in 1612, but the fair continues to this day, though now devoted as much to pleasure and merrymaking as to business. During the fair the inhabitants were allowed to sell beer, etc, without an excise license: a brush was exhibited over the door as a sign, but recent legislation has deprived them of the privilege .The Village must have been a fairly busy place about the turn of the last century as there were nine inns with in the Main Street.
- Directory of Trades for the village in 1890 , show that there was. Market Gardener
- Boot maker
- Tailor& Woollen Draper (made to order) Grocer
- 22 Farms in the area
- The population at that time was around 820 people.
What of the Church in Seamer which was dedicated to St Martin Bishop of Tours, there is documentary evidence that there was a priest and a Church here in Saxon times; it is possible that the church was of a reed construction.
The original stone church was built shortly after the Norman Conquest by William Percy and consisted of the Chancel including the Norman arch which separates the Nave from the Choir.
Considerable alterations were carried out to the Norman Church in the Fourteenth Century, along with further Restorations in 1686, 1846, and 1888, which did not interfere with the fabric except for the rebuilding of the tower in 1846, following the original one being struck by lightning in 1710 and then it was demolished as it was a danger to the public.
The restoration in 1888 saw the removal of the plaster work on the church wall and exposed stairs that lead to the original rood loft at the front section of the church, at the same time the pulpit was moved from the side wall to the front wall where it stands today.
The further restoration of the church was undertaken in 1952 at which time the church bells were recast and rehung on a frame of steel which was built into the tower for a ring of six bells. The old Sanctus bell which hung in the cote outside the church, which had a date 1348 was discovered down at Seamer railway station as a call bell at the station. The tail goes that the then Church warden who was the station master on the newly opened line from Scarborough to York, Removed it owing to its unmusical sound and it was substituted by a sound bell In 1848.
In 1973 more restoration work had to be carried out to the top section of the north wall. This was due to alteration back in the fourteenth century when they weakened the wall by cutting the stringers. The top section of the north wall collapsed and new stone was brought in to carry out the repairs. Some of this stone came from Rosedale Abbey.
Looking back through the historical records the Church was the centre of a Religious Riot which took place in 1548, one of the ring leaders was Thomas Dale the Parish Clerk, over monetary gifts that had been paid to local Monasteries. To understand the reasoning for this giving was because people’s understanding of what happened after death differs from ours. From around 1319 onwards most people believed that they might well be in for being pronged and poked by an assortment of devils whilst roasted in the fires of hell. To try and alleviate the suffering they were expecting, they gave the gifts some times large amounts to the monasteries, and then when the monasteries seemed not to be using their wealth as they should, to chantries.
Chantries were buildings and lor institutions in which a priest was paid to chant masses and pray for the souls of the dead.
Henry VIII got rid of the monasteries from 1536 onwards and finally the Chantries in 1546. If one took the view that this imperilled ones immortal soul then this was a very serious event. This and other disquiets led to the rebellion known as the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 and what became known as the Seamer rebellion of 1548.
The climax of the rebellion came later in that year with the murder of Matthew White a chantry commissioner. He had acted as a surveyor and custodian of chantry property in York and the North Riding, and had been granted some of this land and had gone on to speculate in chantry lands.
While looking through the list of incumbents which dates back to 1236, as documented in the short history of the church.
We note that Francis Rimer held the position from 1627 which predated William Laud Archbishop of Canterbury (1633) who was high church, and was apposed to Puritanism it was following his appointment that the altar rails, statues etc were reintroduced, with many accusing him of papist tendency. So Francis Rimer was the incumbent through very turbulent times, 1642 saw the outbreak of the Civil war, which went right through to 1651. England than went through an interregnum followed by the restoration of the monarchy under Charles Second in 1660.
So our man must have bent with the changing times in the church to hold on to his position, finally being replaced in 1662 after 35 years.
Looking through the church registers one uncovers loads of information which builds up a picture of what of the village was like and the role that the church played in its everyday life.
A collection was made for French Refugees in 1793, the church collected Thirteen shillings, while Ayton church collected two shillings and six pence.
In 1801 the register recorded the amount of crops grown on farms around the village, wonder why that was entered?
The church has copies of the marriage registers dating back to 1560, interestingly after 1813 the operation of the bride’s father was also noted:
Wheelwright, Bricklayer, Farmer, Labourer, inn keeper.
What of church attendances, the service registers located only go back to 1983 when the annual attendance was 3086, it was noted that the annual attendance has been in decline to 1566 in 1996, and last year it was just holding its numbers.
What of the village today, there are two public houses, one mini market with its post office and a general convenience store mainly for papers but serves the community by having the local doctors prescriptions delivered to the store and an off site dry cleaning service. The village did have until recently a garage although it had not sold petrol for some ten years or more.
There is a Memorial Hall located in the village which stands on the site where a thatched cottage once stood, the owner used to make toffee in cheese-cake tins and sold it to the children for a halfpenny. The Hall was built with materials donated by business in the village and the surrounding area, the work was carried out using voluntary labour. When it was completed, it was handed over to the men who came back from the Great War, who used it as a billiards or snooker room, much later a committee was set up to run the Hall.
1961 saw the Memorial handed over to the Women’s Institute who still have the everyday running of the Hall for various activities in the village.
Next door to the Memorial hall is a Gents hairdressers which was the local ‘lockup’.
We have in the village a Parish Council which is very active on all local issues with its councillors spread around the two Wards which make up the whole of Seamer Village.
St Martins church is one of two places of worship in the village, the other is a Methodist Chapel in Eastgate built in 1951, and is part of the Scarborough Methodist circuit.
The vicar of St Martin’s lives close to the church in stockshill, from the lounge window they have a wonderful view of the church over the garden wall.
Laura McWilliams, the current vicar, arrived to take up her post on the 15th May 2007, and wasted no time in setting up a new management team to help run the church. It was about this time that St Martin’s became a joint benefice with St Johns at East Ayton and Laura is running both churches.
The two churches had their own parochial parish councils in place as they were run as independent parishes in their own right for quite some considerable time, so that structure has been left in place.
This final article was some older text that was previously used on an older version of the web site.
St Martin’s was built in 1150. It is in the village of Seamer, near Scarborough.
Our address is:
St Martin’s Church. Main Street, Seamer, North Yorkshire, England,
OS Grid Reference TA014834
Longitude and latitude N54:14:12 W0:26:42
It is recorded in Domesday Book that there was a church and priest at
Seamer at the time of the Norman Conquest. It is supposed to have been
rebuilt by Lord William de Percy about 1100, soon after he received a
grant of this manor and others in Yorkshire from William the Conqueror.
Like other ancient churches, it was a sort of minor castle, which could
be used as a place of refuge in times of disturbance, or for those
needing the safety of the sanctuary, as is shown by the thickness of the
older portions of the walls; the small, high-up, clerestory windows; and
the strong oak door, with its fittings for barricading, The chancel of
the church was originally much smaller, and has been extended from the
buttress west of the priests’ door on the south side, with the
corresponding buttress on the north, probably about 1380. In 1424, John,
Bishop of Dromore, was commissioned to dedicate the chapel, with the
altars therein erected, within the manor of Seamer belonging to the
Right Eon. Lord Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland.
The church underwent a general restoration in 1686, a further one in
1847, and a more complete one in August, 1888. The fine Norman chancel
arch, with checkered and nail-head ornamentation, and its pillars of
three orders, is an object of admiration to all ecclesiologists. Other
portions of the ancient work still remaining are the small blocked-up
window, with zigzag moulding, &c., on the north wall of the chancel; the
south doorway; the figures and brackets at the east end of the chancel;
and the small, high-up window of the nave on the north side.
The architecture of the church, while containing some Norman portions,
is chiefly Perpendicular. There is a communication between the nave and
the north aisle, through the thickness of the wall. This opening is
occupied by the organ. The vestry has a pointed door opening into the
chancel. There was formerly an ambry near the fire-place. A fine carved
oak screen (Jacobean) divides the chancel from the nave, bearing two
shields, on one of which is a crest with a falcon on a cap of
maintenance, and in the centre of the top of the screen is a triangular
shelf-like projection. In removing the plaster during the recent
restoration a piscina was discovered near the pulpit; also a doorway and
staircase on the north side of chancel arch, probably the way to the tower.
The church consists of chancel, nave, with clerestory on the north side
lighted by round-headed windows, aisles, south porch and square
embattled tower on the west, containing clock and three bells, and on
the east gable of the nave is the sancte-cot with its bell. It is not
uncommon to find the “cot” on old churches, but the be sancte, or
sanctus bell, is rarely seen. The altar was raised three steps in 1888,
and choir stalls and new oak gilt reredos added. The gallery and nave
plaster were removed, and a new flat oak, roof leaded, and new seats put
St Martin who started out as a Roman soldier. He was baptized when he
was grown up and became a monk. He was a kind man who lead a quiet and
simple life. The most famous legend of his life is that he once cut his
cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm, to save the
beggar from dying of the cold.
St. Martin’s Day (or Martinmas) is November 11. This was considered the
first day of Winter for practical purposes, so, alluding to the snows of
that season, the Germans say that “St Martin comes riding on a white
horse.” Of course, it might not feel like Winter if one is experiencing
a “St. Martin’s Summer” — the equivalent of an “Indian Summer.” It is
said, too, that one can predict what sort of Winter one will have by the
conditions of St. Martin’s Day: “If the geese at Martinís Day stand on
ice, they will walk in mud at Christmas.”
In many countries, Martinmas celebrations begin at the eleventh minute
of the eleventh hour of this eleventh day of the eleventh month.
Bonfires are built, and children carry lanterns in the streets after
dark, singing songs for which they are rewarded with candy.
And on a macabre final note, old superstitious folklore (not Catholic
teaching, of course) says that if you stand in the back of the church
and look out over the congregants on St. Martin’s Day, you can see auras
of light around the heads of those who will not be among the living at
the next Martinmas.
The village of Seamer is about four miles south of Scarborough.
Historically is was of more importance than today. It had a yearly
market and an annual fair, both authorised by a charter from Henry, earl
of Northumberland, granted in 1383. The fair lasted fo 6 days, and
commenced on the feast of St. Martin. The market interfered with the
prosperity of its older and more powerful neighbour at Scarborough,
which resulted in frequent complaints. The market was finally suppressed
As late as 1706 Seamer must have been a fairly busy place, it had nine
inns at that time, compared to two pubs now.
The most significant historic event connected with Seamer is the
insurrection which was attempted here in 1549 in resulting from the
dissolution of monasteries. The conspirators assembled to the about
3,000 people and proceeded to the house of one Mr. White, a gentleman
who had rendered himself obnoxious to them. They broke into the house,
captured the owner, Mr. Clapton, his brother-in-law, Mr. Richard Savage,
sheriff of York, and a manservant, and carried them off to the Wolds,
where they were stripped and murdered. The insurrection, however, was
nipped in the bud. A detachment of solders from the garrison at York was
sent to capture them; a free pardon was proclaimed by order of the King,
but the three leaders and six others refusing the royal clemency were
executed at York.