Conisbrough & Denaby Main
Heritage Group
From 'Old Photographs of Conisbrough' by June & Tony Greathead used here with the permission of Mrs June Greathead

St Peter's Parish Church

This Church is the oldest building in South Yorkshire, embodying extensive remains of a Saxon Minster Church.  Conisbrough residents therefore, worshipped on this site three hundred years before the Battle of Hastings and some three hundred and sixty years before the Castle's construction.   The pre Conquest Church appears to have consisted of a chancel and western tower, Nave with porticus (porch) to north and south, with perhaps flanking chambers to the east of the porticus.  Later in the twelfth century the Saxon building was remodelled, the porticus and lateral chambers being replaced by three bay aisles. The fifteenth century saw the chancel extended eastward.  There are some fragments of the fifteenth century glass, including pieces depicting 'Our Lady of Pity' and Prior Atwell of Lewes, to be found in the south wall window.  A number of the ancient features were destroyed in a Victorian restoration, when the north aisle was rebuilt in 1866 and an organ chamber added to the north side of the chancel.  This was refurbished in 1954 in honour of those who died in the 1939-45 war.   The Clock was given by Mrs Lydia Simpson in memory of her husband Thomas Henry.  

21st September 1867  (Newspaper item)
In the Times a few weeks back a writer drew our attention to the utter degradation of Conisbrough Church.  Those who knew Conisbrough Church will remember it as a solemn and interesting building as could be seen anywhere with its ancient benches and its fine Jacobean woodwork , its Lychnoscope with its original door and ironwork.   All this is now no more.   The Lychnoscope and its door are abolished the very curious and puzzling Clerestory is now stopped up.   The Jacobean woodwork is old materials and is now the property of the Contractor and is we believe to be sold.  All the old stone in the interior has been re-tooled.  A very curious and old tomb has been cut up and destroyed, it consisted of a slab standing on four pillars and was apparently of the beginning of the fifteenth century.  It had no inscription but at the corners were faint remains of crosses so that without a doubt it was almost certainly an ancient altar.  Some other old tombstones shared the same fate. The whole thing we believe has been left to the Contractors to do as they wished, the Architect seldom seen.  What was once dignified, solemn and interesting is now vulgar, glaring and insipid.   The fine old woodwork has been replaced by miserably weak and vulgar benches.  All the fragments of old glass are gone and the Frescoes and Tempera Wall Paintings of considerable interest  have all been destroyed without even a description of them  being kept.  The inscriptions themselves have not been copied.  The whole walls have now undergone a process of modern plastering by a regular Roman cement man.  Last year there were discovered at the north east of the Chancel immediately at the back of the Low Side window, the foundations of a small chamber.  On the external face of the Lynchnoscope stone corbels projected for no less than to receive the roof timbers of this chamber.  These have now all been done away with.  Such utterly senseless vandalism is contemptible.   It is a little curious what the Puritans and Reformers left un-destroyed should now be blotted out.
 
THE CHURCH BELLS

In 1914 the old bells in the Parish Church were replaced by a new peal of eight bells.  Plans to purchase new bells were discussed as early as 1912.  In December of that year an estimate of the replacement cost was obtained, this was for £502, exclusive of any masons work required. Various suggestions were put forward to help raise the money required, one plan was to have fifty collecting books printed, each one to consist of one hundred perforated, stamp size coupons printed with a bell and an appropriate inscription.  If all five thousand coupons were sold at sixpence each then £125 would be raised. On the 18th August 1914 the eight bells were cast at the Loughborough foundry of the famous firm of John Taylor. The bells were all given saints names.

● 1 Treble Andrew ● 2 John ● 3 James ● 4 Matthew ● 5 Mark ● 6 Luke ● 7 Paul ● 8 Tenor (12cwt) Peter

Photographs of the full peal of bells and the other of the treble bell, were taken at the Loughborough foundry, printed as the Vicar’s copyright by Mr Rosser of Conisbrough, local photographer.  The postcard sized photographs were sold for tuppence each with all profits going to the Church Restoration Fund.  An announcement was made that there would be a dedication ceremony at the Parish Church on the 4th November and that the new peal of bells would be rung for the first time.  However, due to mobilization of men for the War there was a lack of men who were skilled in the hanging of bells and when the ceremony was held the bells had not been hung in the Church.  The bells were however, on display in the Baptistry where everyone attending the ceremony was invited to view and inspect them. Plans to complete the work went ahead and on the 25th November 1914 Canon Nolloth, Vicar of Beverley, came to preach in the Parish Church and the bells were rung for the first time.


Delay in fitting the New Church Bells

1914 Letters from Messrs J Taylor & Co.  Loughborough

7th October 1914 I am extremely grieved to say that as matters have turned out owing to the War, it will be quite impossible to get the bells fixed by 4th November.   Under normal circumstances  there would have been no doubt about it but now there is no workman accustomed to this class of work at liberty so we cannot get any help.  My two sons have joined the Royal Fusiliers and consequently I have to attend to all the little details of business which they have for some time taken in hand.  I do not think in the whole of our experience we have had to disappoint our customers in such a way and I assure you that it is a great worry to my brother and myself.  

10th October 1914 We certainly hope to have the bells in the Church for the dedication.  

14th October 1914 The bells will be in the Church as you request for 4th November.  We shall go forward with the work then of hoisting the bells in the Tower and fixing them ready for ringing and this will occupy about a fortnight or three weeks.

20th October 1914 All is going forward well and unless anything very unforeseen occurs everything will be completed by 25th November and I shall look forward to hearing the peal myself on that day and to having the pleasure of meeting Canon Nolloth. Rev Strawbridge Having thus respectively done our best to face the inevitable and to readjust our arrangements to altered circumstances there is this one advantage now that everyone in Church on 4th November  will be able to view the eight bells when placed inside the Baptistry, and parishioners or visitors generally can concentrate their attention upon the Church itself now more than ever worthy of the most careful scrutiny  as well as upon the improved appearance and power of the Organ.


  
CONISBROUGH ST PETERS CHURCH HANDBELL RING
1911

BACK ROW STANDING
 
REV STRAWBRIDGE     WILLIAM JONES     OLIVER GREATHEAD     UNKNOWN     SAM HARRISON     MR TOMLINSON
 
FRONT ROW SITTING
 
CHARLIE URCH?     MILTON FOWLER     MR MULLINS     HERBERT FOWLER     FRED LEWIS?
  

1911 Handbell ringers

CONISBROUGH ST PETERS PARISH CHURCH CHOIR 1887

Photograph possibly taken when the new Church Clock was officially inaugurated

BACK ROW  
left to right  
  
DR. COLLEY   A.LAUGHTON   (BOY BEHIND IS W.DOWNING)       J.BEARDSLEY   H.LAUGHTON   J.A.BROWN    H.WHITE (ORGANIST)   H.WORRAL   J.FOREST  J.E.GREATHEAD   E.LAUGHTON  W. H. CHAMBERS

FRONT ROW left to right
COLLEY   R.WRIGHT   C.WILLOUGHBY  T.RAWDING H.H.SHARPE   G.CARSON   REV. G.A.WOODYEAR C.KELLY H.MARSHALL   D.SHELTON   C.COLLEY  F.OXLEY   W.CROWCROFT


9th June 1874 Letter to the paper re the Church Choir

Sir, Undoubtedly you have not forgotten the church choir dispute in our village a short time ago from which a little correspondence arose in your papers of March 25th,  27th and 28th 1874.  In the former letter you were informed that the Vicar stated from the Pulpit that the voluntary members were on strike, that they had lost their senses.  These remarks however have now been withdrawn from the fact that the Vicar has expressed his sorrow for what he had said and done and having asked the ex members to resume their former situations to which some of them, I am happy to say, have acceded this day at the usual rate - viz 'gratis' with the understanding that the Vicar does not again when there is not necessity for it.

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ARCHBISHOP HERRINGS VISITATION 1743
 
Archbishop Herring was the Archbishop of York who visited the Parishes in his Diocese and reported on what he found.
 
In Conisbrough there were 62 families
 
1 Papist
1 Quaker
No Licensed or Meeting House
No School
No Alms House or Hospital.
 
Non come to Church but such as are Baptised nor do they forget Confirmation when of competent age if there be an opportunity.
 
Vicar     Thomas Lawson
Parish Clerk     Henry Townrow
Old Church Wardens      Jos. Nicholson
                                         John Guest
New Church Wardens       John Wilks
                                            John Frost
 
Fornication – C.D. (widow) and A.B.  She confessed and did penance. 

  
Rev Henry Watkins - Vicar of Conisbro

On the 22nd November, 1829 the Rev Henry Watkins vicar of Conisbro, died in his 87th year, he was sincerely lamented by all of his parishioners and friends, according to the newspaper.  The fifty-nine year resident Vicar of Conisbro, also Rector of Barnburgh was 28 years old when he first came to Conisbro.  It is possible that he was the one responsible for building the tower that stood for many years on Dale Road.  Rev Watkins was also the Senior Prebentary of York and Southwell Churches.
His wife was Anna Maria a few years younger than her husband, she was born in 1753.  They had three daughters, Sarah, Emma and Frances and a son Henry who eventually became vicar of Silkstone.   
According to the 1851 census both Sarah and Emma were living at Spring Dale, (The Dale) in Conisbro.  Sarah had never married but Emma had, she married Sir Philip Francis GCB, (Knight Grand Cross) in 1814, however, Sir Philip died 23rd December 1818, aged 78, leaving Emma a widow, they had no children.  Sir Philip had been married before leaving several children.   The 1851 census also tells us that the two sisters had servants, they were:   William Tyas aged 50 - the Butler, Sarah Roberts aged 70 - the Lady’s Maid, Charlotte Seymour aged 34 unmarried - the Cook and Ann Mason aged 24 widow - she was the housemaid.
The excellent lady, Emma Lady Francis died at her pleasant residence in Conisbrough on 1st June 1852 at the age of 74 years. 
Frances was first married to Henry Campion Esq but he died in October 1807.  She was married for a second time in 1838 to General Sir Fitzroy Grafton Maclean Bart of Morraven Rosshire and of Cadogan Place London.  Their address was Nether Hall, Doncaster.
There was also a son – Henry who followed his father into the clergy becoming the Vicar of Silkstone.
As for the tower on Dale Road, it had two floors and there was a chimney, although I only remember it being used to garage Mr Smethursts car.  Tony Greathead, one of our much missed Chairman, thought the tower was used to communicate with Barnburgh Church.  Maybe at a certain time each day the Vicar, Curate or some lesser standing person would go to the tower, climb to the top and look over to Barnburgh Church.  Possibly someone from Barnburgh Church would be on the tower there, it is not known but it is believed that a signal was sent over to Conisbrough so that the Vicar knew if he was needing to go to Barnburgh for a Birth, Marriage or Burial and when.  This could have been done by using flags or even using smoke.  Unless we can find written evidence of this we cannot know for certain.  More research is needed.

​                                                                                                 The Church Restoration                         

The Church Restoration, as it was called, that happened in 1866 was very controversial with many of the St Peters congregation complaining that the Church had been desecrated.  Letters were written to ‘The Times’ and other newspapers.
​The Church Restoration, as it was called, that happened in 1866 was very controversial with many of the St Peters congregation complaining that the Church had been desecrated.  Letters were written to ‘The Times’ and other newspapers. 

​                                                                                                          The Organ Fund


                                                                                               Rev Henry Watkins - Vicar of Conisbro

On the 22nd November 1829 the Rev Henry Watkins vicar of Conisbro, died in his 87th year, he was sincerely lamented by his parishioners and friends.   For 59 years he had been resident Vicar of Conisbro, also Rector of Barnburgh and for some of these years he had been a farmer.  He was just twenty eight years old when he first came to Conisbro.
His wife was Anna Maria a few years younger than her husband, she was born 27th September 1753.  They had three daughters, Maria born 8th March 1773, Sarah born 1777 and Emma born 21st January 1779, there was also a son Henry who became vicar of Silkstone Parish.  
According to the 1851 census both Sarah and Emma were living at Spring Dale, (The Dale) in Conisbro.  Sarah had never married but Emma had, she married Sir Philip Francis GCB, (Knight Grand Cross) in 1814, however, Sir Philip died 23rd December 1818, aged 78, leaving Emma a widow, they had no children.  Sir Philip had been married before leaving several children.   The census also tells us that the two sisters had servants, they were:  William Tyas aged 50 - the Butler, Sarah Roberts aged 70 - the Lady’s Maid, Charlotte Seymour aged 34 unmarried - the Cook and Ann Mason aged 24 widow - she was the housemaid.
The excellent lady, Emma Lady Francis died at her pleasant residence in Conisbrough on 1st June 1852 at the age of 74 years.  
Frances married Henry Campion Esq, date unknown, but he died in October 1807.  She married for the second time in 1838 to General Sir Fitzroy Grafton Maclean Bart of Morraven Rosshire and of Cadogan Place London and lived for some years at Nether Hall in Doncaster.
There was also a son Henry who followed his father into the clergy becoming the Vicar of Silkstone.
It is possible that Rev Watkins was responsible for the building of the tower that stood for many years on Dale Road.  The building had two floors and there was a chimney, but I only remember it being used to garage Mr Smethursts car.  Tony Greathead, our Chairman for several years, thought it to be a communication tower with Barnburgh Church.  Signals could be sent using flags or smoke to tell the vicar that he was needed at Barnburgh.
In 1865 the contents of Springdale were up for sale by auction after the death of ‘Miss Watkins’.
All of this information has been  taken from newspaper entries.