In the latest of our occasional series on local churches, MATT CLARK visits a church once attended by Anne Brontë. It also boasts a curious Georgian mausoleum.
IT was 16.40 hours on a bitterly cold afternoon in March 1945 when Flying Officer Lowe’s Halifax bomber took off from Tholthorpe airfield. Forecasters hadn’t predicted such severe conditions, but 20 minutes after departure the plane’s engines iced up so badly that Lowe was forced to return to base.
But he didn’t make it. Instead the Halifax came down six miles short of the runway, narrowly missing Holy Trinity Church at Little Ouseburn.
Four of the crew members lost their lives that afternoon, including Lowe, and one of the church’s most celebrated features almost suffered a similar fate.
The crash report speaks of a “deep crater where the bomb load had exploded”, causing “severe damage” to the church. But it doesn’t mention the other casualty: Holy Trinity’s magnificent Grade II-listed Thompson Mausoleum.
Today, apart from a memorial glass window in the church porch and some damaged beech trees across the road, there is no trace of the incident. That is thanks, in part, to the Friends of Little Ouseburn Mausoleum.
The building had already become neglected after the Thompson family moved away in 1919, but its problems were exacerbated by the exploding bomb.
This left the Friends facing a huge task. The whole building had become dangerous with eroding stonework, rusting iron cramps and a leaking roof. Considerable work, not to mention cost would be required to renovate the mausoleum.
Then there was the problem with access. But the owner was finally traced and agreed to sell the building for £1.
Eventually, with the help of local charities, English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Friends carried out a full restoration between 1993 and 2004.
The mausoleum was built in 1750 on the instructions of Henry Thompson of nearby Kirby Hall. It is a rotunda, constructed in sandstone ashlar and surrounded by a colonnade under a lead dome.
Previous architectural assessments have identified the style as Greek Doric, but later investigations suggest Baseless Roman Doric, an early 18th-century experiment in England that came before the first stirrings of Greek revival.
The lack of fluting to the columns suggests Tuscan rather than Greek and despite appearing to conform to classical proportions, the rotunda has 13 columns, which means spacing is not uniform; very un-Georgian.
That said, the mausoleum is a sophisticated piece of design by Roger Morris, a protégé of national architect Lord Burlington. And with the demolition of Kirkby Hall in the 1920s, it is now the estate’s most important surviving relic.
The church itself is no less interesting. Set on a bend in the road, near a Georgian bridge, over Ouse Gill Beck, it has Anglo-Saxon origins, with St Bega and was once attended by Anne Brontë, who referred to it in her novel Agnes Grey.
Roman stones are clearly visible in the unbuttressed Norman tower and west walls. The tower and chancel date from the 12th century, while the battlements and pinnacles are 15th-century.
On the south side of the chancel is a round-arched priest’s door between pairs of lancet windows and the gable at the east end of the nave boasts a finial consisting of a wheel cross.
The north aisle was rebuilt in 1874-5 and at the same time the east window, described by Pevsner as “of more than ordinary interest”, was altered.
The pews are also of more than ordinary interest. Some carved with a poppy head, one with a parrot.
Another nice touch is the collection of kneelers that adorn the pews. The canvas used is 16 to the inch with a pattern made from Appleton’s crewel wool.
Little Ouseburn uses predominantly blue for borders and backing, with the date and maker’s initials added.
The kneeler group started in 1989 and still meets regularly for a sew and a chat. Consisting of around 40,000 stitches, each kneeler takes about 350 hours.
So if you are looking for a good way to pass the cold winter evenings...
• Holy Trinity Church, Little Ouseburn, is situated between Little and Great Ouseburn, on the corner before the small bridge over Ouse Gill Beck, Ouseburn, North Yorkshire, YO26.
• The church is open to members of the public. The mausoleum is occasionally open on special event days, or else can be viewed by appointment. To arrange an appointment to see the mausoleum, phone Father Christopher Parkin, the vicar of Great and Little Ouseburn, on 01423 330928.