Giggleswick’s Reformation and the Puritan Legacy

Kathleen Kinder
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

The Protestant Reformation in Giggleswick arrived much later than in many places in England, mainly because much of the land of the ancient parish belonged to monasteries, which no inhabitant thought to question or ‘protest’ against. Giggleswick too was isolated geographically from the seats of power in the court of the king and the Protestant influences stemming from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. When the Reformation did make its mark, it was dramatic and violent [1]. The eventual establishment of a Puritan Anglicanism was brought about by the Crown’s choice of clergy as vicars for Giggleswick Church. The term ‘Puritan’ at first referred to members of the Church of England who lived within the episcopal system established as the ‘via media’ in the Elizabethan Settlement, but who wanted the Bible to have central authority and every vestige of Roman Catholicism removed from the life, liturgy and practice of the Church. Puritans made no distinction between a worship object and a worship aid. All were idolatrous and had to be destroyed. Symbolic acts like making the sign of the cross in baptism, were signs of superstition as they had no Biblical warrant. Eventually, this meant destroying the Church of England and replacing it with a Presbyterian order. This happened under the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, from 1649 until the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. People remember this time when festivities associated with Christmas and Easter were banned. Previously, from the last quarter of the 16th century to the early decades of the 17th, Elizabeth I and her successor, James I, managed with difficulty, to contain Puritan clergy within the Church of England. Eventually, after the Act of Uniformity in 1662, numbers of Puritans, now known as nonconformists or dissenters, left the restored Church of England, to form independent churches, chapels and ‘meetings’. Those left behind, as in Giggleswick, were to make a distinctive Puritan contribution to the Anglican tradition.

In 1536 Henry VIII began to dissolve the monasteries. His official reason was that they had departed from their original rule and were immoral and corrupt. His private reason, though obvious to most of his officers, was that he wanted the monasteries’ money and wealth to fill his ever diminishing coffers. When the monasteries were dissolved, there was a great disruption in the lives of the common people, whose livelihood as well as the fabric of their faith had been removed from them. There were economic reasons too for the great upsurge of anger and despair. In 1536, a notice was nailed to the door of Giggleswick Church calling the men of Craven to arms against the king [2]. The same door incidentally, guards the main entrance. Around 400 people met at Neals Ing on the slopes of Fountains Fell and then walked to York to join the rebellion called the Pilgrimage of Grace [3]. The outcome was utterly tragic.

The Great Bible was the first Bible in English to be authorised for use in churches [4]. Every church had to have a copy on view and chained securely to prevent theft. Those who could read were encouraged to go into church and read it. We do not know how passages to be read out loud were chosen to be incorporated in the Mass. The services held in most churches until the arrival of the first book of Common Prayer in 1549, which had a lectionary of readings for the year, must have remained unchanged. The Bibles it seems, were well received on the whole, although their presence in a church like Giggleswick where there were 3 chantries, attended by priests who said prayers for the souls of the dead to have their time in purgatory reduced, must have seemed incongruous. One verse, Luke 23,v.43, records Jesus’ words to the penitent thief dying with him on the cross, ‘Today, you will be with me in Paradise.’ No purgatory in store for him then!

Giggleswick Church must have felt the abolition of its chantries keenly. The Grammar School, by now well established, had suddenly lost its funding. Giggleswick’s reputation as a rebellious pro-Roman Catholic parish, involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace, was remembered by the monarchy and its patronage taken over by the Crown. When a vacancy for a vicar occurred in 1546, Henry VIII sent to Giggleswick James Proctor who had been a chaplain to Thomas Cromwell. Proctor was replaced in 1548, by John Nowell, one of the King Edward’s own chaplains. The conversion of Giggleswick into a Puritan stronghold had begun. As in many parish churches, there is an Incumbency board in Giggleswick Church which holds the names of rectors, vicars and latterly, priests in charge who have served in the church since the 12th century. The names on the Board are those from the Episcopal Registers and the Public Record Office. Until the early years of the 21st century, these incumbents lived in vicarages in the village. There is no record before the 18th century regarding which houses in the village were used as vicarages.

John Nowell’s incumbency lasted 8 years, well into the reign of the Roman Catholic Queen Mary. He arrived in the parish just when the chantries were being abolished, leaving the school and the parish bereft. Giggleswick School has reason to be grateful to John Nowell, who was able to use his influence at court to recover some of the chantry money to fund the school. Some of that money came quite rightly, from the Rood chantry, where James Carr, founder of the school and chantry, had been chantry priest. The money was in the care of Richard Carr, nephew of the founder, who was headmaster from 1548-60 [5]. He is listed in A History of the Ancient Parish of Giggleswick as ‘incumbent of the Rood Chantry’. The actual chantry, of course, was no more.

Edward VI’s reign lasted only 6 years (1547-53). His half sister, Mary, a devout Roman Catholic, succeeded him. She set about with fanatic zeal, sending many Protestants to burn at the stake, and re-instating the Roman Catholic faith in England. Her reign too was short and in 1558, she was succeeded by her half sister, Elizabeth, whose Protestant faith was more Catholic than Puritan. Elizabeth’s work in her long reign (1558-1602) in conjunction with that of the theologian, Richard Hooker, was to establish the foundation of the Church of England on a threefold base of Scripture, Reason and Tradition. The phrase ‘via media’ (middle way) and the name ‘Anglican’ came to be used later in the 17th century. Although the Puritans approved of the 39 Articles of Faith (1562), there were constant battles with them and threats from Roman Catholics plotting to replace Elizabeth with Mary Queen of Scots.

Elizabeth was a highly intelligent operator, who dealt skilfully with her enemies, many of whom did not know exactly where she stood in the argument. Because the balance was held with great skill, during her long reign the arts flourished as never before. She spoke several languages, played instruments, enjoyed dance, literature, the theatre and loved to discuss theology. When the Puritans in the north and elsewhere were smashing church organs, Elizabeth engaged two highly creative Roman Catholic composers, William Byrd and Thomas Tallis, to create a distinctive tradition of Anglican choral music for which cathedrals and parish churches had reason to be proud.

This must have been a time of bewildering change for many people, especially those in parishes like Giggleswick, where Anglican Puritanism was fighting for dominance in what had been a feudal Roman Catholic community. In the 2016 and 2020 issues of the NCHT Journal, there are articles on mid to late 16th century local wills [6]. The writers of the articles point out the significance of the personal commendations offered by the will makers to ‘God, Our Lady and the Saints’ at one extreme (1538, Agnes Armitstede), and at the other, to ‘Almighty God…and Jesus Christ, my only Saviour’ (1597, William Foster). The researchers noted the date, in whose reign the commendations were made and then commented on what each reveals about the beliefs of the will- maker at the time. Other commendations were not so specific and no doubt some would be afraid to be open about their beliefs. Another point is that while Giggleswick’s patronal saint, St Alkilde (Alkelda), is mentioned as one of the company of saints in several pre-1547 wills, in accordance with Puritan prohibition, she is generally ignored after that. Her name however, remained in use on her holy well. Today, St Alkelda is included regularly in the church’s title and in the Holy Communion liturgy.

Christopher Shute, one of the most impressive of Giggleswick vicars, was appointed in 1576 and was vicar for 50 years. Victoria Spence’s informative and interesting article about him is in the NCHT archives [7]. The present writer is indebted to her research. Shute was a convinced Puritan, a man of many gifts, who was for a time, headmaster and then a governor of Giggleswick School, where he employed his considerable business acumen to secure its financial future. He was a gifted preacher, teacher and a Biblical scholar, Shute’s status was such that he was authorised by the Puritan archbishop of York, Edmund Grindal to preach throughout the northern province [8]. As a preacher his theme was always the same, promoting the Puritan Protestant cause within the Church of England, while at the same time trying to avoid threatening the Act of Supremacy whereby Elizabeth had declared herself, ‘supreme governor’ and not head of the Church of England. Locally, although many called him ‘pious’, he was highly regarded. In Giggleswick School, it was said of him that he expected older students to converse with him in either Hebrew, Greek or Latin, whichever he chose to use in their company [9].

The more catholic Prayer Book of 1559, had more in common with that of 1549, than with the Protestant edition of 1552. In 1594, Christopher Shute was censured by church authorities for refusing to follow the Prayer Book service and baptise a baby with the sign of the cross [10]. In 1603, the first year of James 1’s reign, a thousand Puritan ministers signed the Millenary Petition calling for a number of church reforms to remove material considered “popish” or not Biblical. Signing with the cross in baptism was one to be removed. The Puritans’ demands were not met. James 1, unlike his son, Charles 1, managed to hold together the growing number of Puritans within the Church of England.

One important factor which encouraged the growth of Puritan influence was the 1560 Geneva Bible, the most impressive translation of the 16th century, produced by English scholars in Geneva, refugees from the Marian persecution, and who used in part, the translations of Tyndale and Coverdale. It was the Bible used by Shakespeare, John Donne, John Knox, John Milton, Oliver Cromwell, John Bunyan and many others. It would no doubt be the Bible used by Christopher Shute in Giggleswick. While the translation was good, the notes accompanying it expressed Puritan views, which troubled both Elizabeth I and her successor, James I. His great achievement was the Authorised Version of the Bible (1611, KJV), translated by a group of scholars from both wings of the Church. This took time to replace the Geneva Bible in the affections of the English people.

Christopher Shute died in 1626 and was followed of three Puritan vicars. The last one, Anthony Lister was vicar from 1638 throughout the last troubled years of Charles 1’s reign to the end of the Commonwealth period in 1660. In 1625, Charles 1 became king. His authoritarian rule and quarrels with the Puritan Parliament provoked the Civil War that led to his execution in 1649. Oliver Cromwell who had led the Parliamentary army to victory, became Lord Protector from 1653-58. He worked together with parliament to create a Presbyterian Commonwealth.

From 1649 the Anglican church was disestablished, universities were purged and a third of clergy ejected from their livings. Church wardens were directed to remove all monuments of idolatry and superstition like stained glass, organs, statues, carvings on fonts, walls and pillars, in fact anything that had escaped the earlier purging a century before. A new Directory of Worship, Catechism and Confession of Faith were introduced [11]. In Giggleswick at some point the late medieval glass was destroyed and the stone effigies of Sir Richard Tempest and his two wives mutilated and buried, later to be discovered in 1890-2. The items had been observed in the church and described by a visiting antiquary, Roger Dodsworth in 1620, but they were gone by the time of the Restoration [12].

Anthony Lister was still vicar in 1660 Charles II came to the throne. Under the 1662 Act of Uniformity, the Church of England had its constitution restored, and the episcopacy was re-instated. In 1662, the Book of Common Prayer came into use again, with a few modifications, and the Authorized Version of the Bible promoted over the Geneva translation. The Puritans were marginalised in every way. The new Royalist parliament advocated ministers taking the oath of canonical obedience and decreed the re-ordination of some who had been ordained by Presbyterian and not episcopal rite. Some bishops were more sympathetic than others, but by the end of 1662, two thousand Puritan ministers were ejected from their livings. Anthony Lister appears to have left Giggleswick at this time for whatever reason. He died as vicar in 1686, but for part of the post -1662 period George Winship was vicar. Was Lister evicted and did he come back, after accepting the terms of the Act of Uniformity [13]?

The period 1662-89 was called by the Puritans “the Great Persecution”. Ejected ministers were forbidden from living within five miles of their former parish church. Any person over 16 years of age was barred from attending a religious meeting where the Book of Common Prayer was not used. In 1689, the Toleration Act was passed, allowing some nonconformist groups to meet officially. Puritans became members of different kinds of nonconformist protestantism. ‘Dissenters’ or ‘Nonconformists’, not ‘Puritans’, were the terms now used for those organising their own corporate worship outside that of the Established Church. Richard Frankland (1630-98), an ejected minister, came back to his home parish, and for a time, ran a college in Rathmell to train nonconformist ministers. Quakers were some of the first nonconformists to appear in Settle and Giggleswick, followed by the Methodists (Wesleyan and Primitive), and then by the mid 19th century, the Independents (Congregational). The Christian Fellowship arrived after 1960.

The Restoration brought with it sheer exhaustion after years of religious conflict. The terms ‘Anglican’ and ‘via media’ began to be used in discussion, followed by ‘latitudinarian’ a churchmanship which concentrated less on theological matters and more on the ten commandments and morality based on reason. It was ‘latitudinarianism’, later called ‘broad church’, which became the dominant churchmanship of most of Giggleswick’s highly educated vicars. Its influence lasted well into the 20th century, when ‘low church’ was the term used. Puritanism went underground, but emerged every now and then to ruffle the surface.

By 1680, the centre of attention in the former empty nave of Giggleswick Church was a beautiful large three-decker pulpit, celebrating the preaching of God’s Word and carved with the symbols of the twelve sons of Jacob (Fig 1). The pulpit was placed by a south side pillar near the main door. Filling nearly all the floor space and crowding round the pulpit were the box pews, often made as comfortable as possible by those who paid the pew rent. When the galleries for musicians and ‘singers’ were installed at the beginning of the 18th century, the overall impression was of wood, from floor to roof. Perhaps the authorities were inspired by the huge amount of timber used in the building and furnishing of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6, v11ff)? On one side of the plain glass, east window in Giggleswick Church, the ten commandments were inscribed on a panel, while on the other side, the Apostles Creed and Lord’s Prayer could be read. At the east end, squeezed in between two box pews was the free standing, oak ‘holy table’. In the early 19th century, Holy Communion, tacked on to the end of the service of Matins (Morning Prayer), was celebrated just four times a year, apart from celebrations at Christmas and Easter.

The Puritan Anglican tradition was being re-interpreted from the late 17th century onwards, taking into its features like a choir and musical instruments, which formerly would have been banned as unscriptural. In 2019, members of St Alkelda’s Church congregation financed the cleaning and installation in a main church window of a beautiful stained glass panel featuring the martyrdom of St Alkelda. The origins of this artefact remain a mystery. The church’s Puritan forebears must be turning in their graves.


  2. Brayshaw, T. and Robinson, R, 1932, A History of the Ancient Parish of Giggleswick, p.54ff
  5. Brayshaw & Robinson p240.
  7. Roy Price Archive:articlespdf/christophershute/
  8. Ibid., p.227
  9. Cox, J.C., 1920. The Parish Church of Giggleswick in Craven, p8.
  11. Edwards, David, 1983, Christian England Volume 2, p297-9
  12. Brayshaw & Robinson, p226
  13. Cox, J.C., 1920. The Parish Church of Giggleswick in Craven, p42

Fig. 1