Church Explorers

Discover the history hidden in plain sight

Discover magnificent churches across Yorkshire

Church Explorers is a summer-long festival celebrating the architectural and archaeological importance of Yorkshire’s magnificent church buildings.

For the 2018 festival we are exploring the theme of Memorials, focusing on churches as places of memory and exploring how they serve as records and reminders of historic events for their local communities. In our participating churches you will find grand monuments to princes and parliamentarians, as well as more simple tributes erected by families in memory of their loved ones.

In this Centenary year of the end of the First World War in 1918, we are also exploring war memorials in the churches. Church Explorers will showcase the stories that lie behind the names carved in stone and reflect on how people commemorated those lost.

Church Explorers 2018 will bring these memorials to life as our participating churches share the stories they have discovered in a season of events, open days and exhibitions. Discover all on offer below and be sure to share your experiences on Social Media using #ChurchExplorers.

This project provides York Archaeological Trust with an opportunity to achieve our mission to build better lives through heritage.

Upcoming Events


St Helen’s Bilton-in-Ainsty

Starts: 30.6.2018 / 8:00am
Ends: 7.9.2018 / 8:00pm
Where: St Helen's Church, Bilton-in-Ainsty, YO26 7NL

St Helen’s war memorial is situated in the church graveyard, and can be visited at any time.

Our Memorial

The names on the war memorial belong to six young men who left Bilton-in-Ainsty and Bickerton to fight for King and country. They probably gave little thought to the dangers they were about to face and were probably totally unprepared for the horrors they were about to encounter. The war memorial is a gabled Portland stone crucifix. The shaft of the cross is moulded at the bottom and stands on a plinth on a three-stepped base, which is inscribed with dedications and the names of the fallen. It stands beside St Helen’s church on Church Street and commemorates the men from the villages of Bilton and Bickerton who fell in World War I.

‘Their names liveth for evermore.’

This memorial stone was set up by the people of Bilton and Bickerton unveiled by Colonel Jerome CB CMG of Bilton Hall and dedicated by the Reverend Canon Austen MA, Chancellor of York Minster, on 5 June 1920 .In July 2002 English Heritage made a grant of £1350 towards work to clean the memorial of lichen and then to lightly cut out the letters in the areas where this was necessary. The two texts on the plinth of the memorial read Remember with thanksgiving with honour those from this parish who gave their lives For King and Country in the Great War 1914 – 1919


St Helen and the Holy Cross, Sheriff Hutton

Starts: 30.6.2018 / 10:00am
Ends: 7.9.2018 / 5:00pm
Where: St Helen and the Holy Cross, Sheriff Hutton, York YO60 6SX

The church is open daily for visitors to see the memorials, access to the memorial is via the North Aisle. Proximity controlled flood lighting is installed for visitors to examine the tomb and read the background information.

Our Memorial

One of the more interesting memorials in St Helen and the Holy Cross is the alabaster tomb effigy thought to be of Edward, earl of Salisbury, later Prince of Wales, only son of King Richard III and Queen Anne. The memorial lies in the North Aisle (St Nicholas Chapel) below the stained glass window which depicts the “Sun in Splendour”, badge of Edward IV.  Although restored and rebuilt in this position in the 20th Century with support from the Richard III Society, it is more likely to have been located originally in the Chapel of St Mary and St Peter in the South aisle built by the Nevilles around 1350.  Richard III visited this chapel in 1485 and authorised the payment of £5 to William Sympson, “chauntry prest to our Lady Chapel”.

Edward died, aged 11, at Middleham Castle in 1485 of tuberculosis when his mother and father were at Nottingham Castle as King Richard prepared to move south to counter the threat of invasion by Henry Tudor.  “You might have seen”, records the Croyland Chronicle” his father and mother in a state almost bordering on madness, by reason of their sudden grief”. Richard and Anne are believed to have travelled back to York arriving 14 days later.

Edward had been invested Prince of Wales at York Minster in September of the previous year at the Feast of Corpus Christi when King Richard spent some time in York and sent back to London for supplies of cloth of gold for costumes and hangings and 13,000 costume badges of the white boar, Richard’s personal badge.  A plaque on the present Minster Library, originally the Archbishop’s Palace, notes the event.

The tomb, and the identity of the person it commemorates, has been the subject of discussion over many years and it remains of great interest to visitors with Plantagenet connections.  The tomb is located in the chapel erected in 1481 by Thomas Wytham of Cornborough, who was a chancellor to both Henry VI and Edward IV.  The chapel was rebuilt over the remains of the Thweng family chantry chapel and contains Sir Edmund Thweng’s tomb chest.

Information on the memorial and its surroundings are provided on panels behind the organ.


All Saints Bolton Percy

Starts: 13.8.2018 / 9:00am
Ends: 31.8.2018 / 5:00pm
Where: All Saints Church, Main St, Bolton Percy, York YO23 7AQ

All Saints Open Day

There are many memorials to see in this beautiful church, known as the ‘Cathedral of the Ainsty’.  The church is open daily during daylight hours.

Our Memorials

All Saints Bolton Percy houses a superb marble memorial to Selina Milner (d.1805), by John Bacon Junior (1777-1859). It is a favourite amongst parishioners because the inscription by her husband Sir William M. Milner mentions her many virtues but not her name!  Depicted in neo-classical style with her two daughters, Selina and Catherine, it is a remarkable tribute to a loving mother and wife.

You can also see a monument to Ferdinando 2nd Lord Fairfax Baron Cameron (d.1648), General of the Northern Forces for Parliament (1624-45).  A section of the Latin epitath translates as:

‘…Loving the state to be undisturbed, but unbeaten in warfare,
holding a sword in his right hand and the balance in his left, he won trophies of praise for both.
He cherished religion, he supported the arts, he smoothed off the rough edges of human nature…’

He died following an accident and was buried here.


Leeds Minster – ‘We Will Remember Them’

Starts: 15.8.2018 / 11:00am
Ends: 15.8.2018 / 3:00pm
Where: Leeds Minster, 2-6 Kirkgate, Leeds LS2 7DJ

A day of family activities, including tours of First World War memorials by Margaret Pullan.

Admission Free.

Our Memorial

Leeds Minster has a range of regimental and personal memorials commemorating lives lost during the First World War. The church memorial is especially poignant as it records the names of 76 men who were closely associated with the life of the church. These include those who were baptised in the church, married there or joined in the regular worship life of the congregation. At least five names are those of former boy choristers in the choir. Nine joined-up together in the Leeds Pals Regiment and were killed on the same day, 1st July 1916, on the morning of the first day of the Battle of the Somme. These men included Lt Morris Bickersteth, son of the Vicar of Leeds.

On 1st July, we will launch a series of displays and installations around the church, as part of a nationwide programme entitled ‘There But Not There’. This will include haunting silhouettes representing the 76 men associated with Leeds Minster who are recorded on our war memorial.

We hope that this will provide a timely opportunity to remember those from this church who gave their lives in the First World War, and to learn more about the stories behind the names engraved on our memorial.


St Mary Bishophill Junior – St Mary Bishophill Junior Open Day

Starts: 25.8.2018 / 11:30am
Ends: 25.8.2018 / 5:00pm
Where: St Mary Bishophill Junior, 16 Bishophill Jr, York YO1 6EN

St Mary Bishophill Junior will be open on 25th August, with a chance to tour the interior of this historic York church and see the memorials. At 4.00pm The Rudgate Singers will be singing Gregorian Chant and Vespers by candlelight.

Our Memorials

Three 15th-century memorials were uncovered in St Mary Bishophill Junior in 2015. These memorials are of great interest, covering the period following the end of the Wars of the Roses and the ascendancy of Henry VII.

The slabs commemorate members of the Middleton family, whose links with the church go back at least as far as the early 14th century, when a Thomas Middleton was vicar. They were noticed by the Yorkshire historian Francis Drake almost 300 years ago, but their whereabouts and condition since have been unclear until recent work on the floor of the Mary chapel. One records a John Middleton. The other, which is now in two pieces, is of a similar date, and originally commemorated a Squire Brian Middleton and his wife, Christiane. Brian Middleton died in 1492, at a time when Henry VII was struggling to stamp his authority on Yorkshire.


DIG (St Saviour’s Church) – Capturing the Corbels of
St Saviour’s Church

Starts: 30.8.2018 / 6:00pm
Ends: 30.8.2018 / 8:00pm
Where: DIG St Saviour’s Church St Saviourgate York YO1 8NN

Join Chris Tuckley, Head of Interpretation and Engagement for the JORVIK Group, for an illustrated talk on the work done to investigate, record and 3D print ten corbels from the 12th century, found high up inside the tower at DIG.

Our Memorials

DIG: An Archaeological Adventure is the JORVIK group’s hands-on archaeological attraction housed in the former church of St Saviour. This 15th-century church was  declared redundant in 1954. In 1975 the church was acquired by the York Archaeological Trust, who restored St Saviour’s and converted it to house the Archaeological Resource Centre (ARC). The war memorial in the church was preserved and relocated during the church’s restoration.

The Portland Stone monument, erected in 1920, lists the names of 40 men of the parish of St Saviour’s who died in the First World War. At the time, St Saviour’s served the Hungate area, one of the poorest and most densely populated areas of York. Along with this monument, a second memorial was funded in the form of a clock and bells which have also been conserved and maintained.

£7.50 (includes complimentary drink on arrival)

Book now


Hull Minster – ‘A Wall of Memory’

Starts: 7.9.2018 / 10:00am
Ends: 9.9.2018 / 4:00pm
Where: Hull Minster, Market Pl, Hull HU1 1RR

Hull Minster will open its doors as part of Heritage Open Weekends.

The Minster will showcase their First World War memorials, and invite people to come and share memories and family history focusing on the names represented by our memorials to create a ‘wall of memory’.

Our Memorials

Sitting next to each other in Hull Minster are two memorials representing the huge outpouring of grief and sense of loss that communities felt after World War One.

The first memorial is a simple wooden battlefield cross that was brought back from western France by the British Legion.  The simple cross is inscribed to an ‘Unknown British Soldier’ and would have stood originally on a battlefield on the western front. We know it was brought back to Hull, by the local British Legion, along with several others. We do not know the exact location it came from; for anyone visiting it in the church it could represent the unknown grave of a lost loved one that they could not visit.

The Golden Book memorial is a much grander memorial, inside a glass and wood case with surrounding wooden panels showing badges from local regiments. Names were entered into the book at a cost of a guinea. Consequently we know that the ledger does not hold a complete record of all the local names.  There is a tradition in the church that every Remembrance Sunday members of the congregation take turns in reading out all the names contained in the Golden Book, a process that takes some two and a half hours.


Yorkshire Churches Help Young and Old to Remember

Churches across the region are helping families recall the past lives of Yorkshire folk as they bring memorials to life in a series of free...
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Would you like to get involved in Church Explorers?

01904 615504