Ruins and below ground remains of St Mary's medieval church


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


Ordnance survey map of Ruins and below ground remains of St Mary's medieval church
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

North Yorkshire
Scarborough (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TA 04678 89064

Reasons for Designation

A parish church is a building, usually of roughly rectangular outline and containing a range of furnishings and fittings appropriate to its use for Christian worship by a secular community, whose members gather in it on Sundays and on the occasion of religious festivals. Children are initiated into the Christian religion at the church's font and the dead are buried in its churchyard. Parish churches were designed for congregational worship and are generally divided into two main parts: the nave, which provides accommodation for the laity, and the chancel, which is the main domain of the priest and contains the principal altar. Either or both parts are sometimes provided with aisles, giving additional accommodation or spaces for additional altars. Most parish churches also possess towers, generally at the west end, but central towers at the crossing of nave and chancel are not uncommon and some churches have a free-standing or irregularly sited tower. Many parish churches also possess transepts at the crossing of chancel and nave, and south or north porches are also common. The main periods of parish church foundation were in the 10th to 11th and 19th centuries. Most medieval churches were rebuilt and modified on a number of occasions and hence the visible fabric of the church will be of several different dates, with in some cases little fabric of the first church being still easily visible. Parish churches are found throughout England. Their distribution reflects the density of population at the time they were founded. In regions of dispersed settlement parishes were often large and churches less numerous. The densest clusters of parish churches were found in thriving medieval towns. A survey of 1625 reported the existence of nearly 9000 parish churches in England. New churches built in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries increased numbers to around 18,000 of which 17,000 remain in ecclesiastical use. Parish churches have always been major features of the landscape and a major focus of life for their parishioners. They provide important insights into medieval and later population levels or economic cycles, religious activity, artistic endeavour and technical achievement. A significant number of surviving examples are identified to be nationally important.

Significant remains of the medieval church are known to survive below ground. Taken together with the standing fabric St Mary's, this offers important scope for understanding the development of a major medieval church and its context within an important medieval town.


The monument includes standing and buried remains of the medieval St Mary's Church in Scarborough, which are located at the eastern end and beneath the footprint of the present standing church. St Mary's Church is located on a saddle of land between the north and south bays to the west of the promontory occupied by Scarborough Castle. For much of its life it stood in isolation as the town developed around the sheltered harbour of the bay to the south. The area around the church remained undeveloped up to 1725. A print from the early 18th century shows the church dominating the ridge above the town. The earliest known reference to St Mary's is in 1150 when a single aisled church with nave and chancel stood on the site. The revenues of the church were granted by King Richard I to the Cistercian Abbey of Citeaux in 1189 and for the next two centuries the incumbent of St Mary's was appointed by the Abbot. The association with Citeaux ended in 1405 when King Henry IV granted custody of the church to Bridlington Priory. In the late 12th century the single aisled church was substantially enlarged. A north and south aisle were added to the nave and work started on building two towers on the western front and a third tower at the eastern end. This work was not completed until 1225. This delay was probably because of a dispute between King John and the Pope over who should be Archbishop of Canterbury, a conflict which led to the whole of England being placed under an interdict, which amongst other effects, led to a suspension of work on church buildings. In the 14th century a further phase of building work took place with the building of two transepts in 1340 and the addition of a great north aisle known as the St Nicholas aisle in 1350. In 1380 a series of four chantry chapels were built on the southern side of the south aisle. In the 15th century the chancel was replaced by a long aisled quire in the perpendicular style which extended a further 26m to the east. The result of this development over the centuries was that St Mary's became a large imposing structure with a substantial nave and quire dominated by the western and central towers. During the English Civil War, because of its close proximity, the church was involved in the siege of Scarborough Castle which is located 300m to the north east. In 1645 the castle was held by the Royalist side and St Mary's was occupied by Parliamentarian forces. The east window of the quire was knocked out and cannon were brought in to bombard the castle. The resultant exchange of fire lasted for three days during which time the church was substantially damaged. The quire, north transept, St Nicholas aisle and upper stages of the western towers were destroyed. The central tower was much weakened and collapsed in 1659. Following a national appeal in 1660 funds were raised for rebuilding the church and in 1669 the nave, St Nicholas aisle and the central tower were repaired and rebuilt. The other ruined parts of the church have never been replaced. The standing ruins of the medieval church are the remains of the east end of the quire. The ruins comprise three, tall, narrow columns of now free standing masonry which were formerly the end of the two arcades of the quire and the south east angle of the south aisle. The window jambs of the great east window of the quire and the east window of the south aisle are clearly identifiable. A short section of the south wall of the south aisle also survives where it joins the south transept. No other remains of the quire, aisles or north transept survive above ground although remains of the walls pillars and floor levels will survive below ground. The footprint of the quire and north transept is marked out on the ground with stones. Excavations in the floor of the nave in 1970 revealed mortared walls up to 1m thick which have been interpreted as being part of the early 12th century church. The remains of six skeletons were also found during the excavation. In addition to the remains of the early church there will also be surviving remains of the walls of the original north and south aisles and associated floor levels which were standing before the enlargement in the 14th century. Investigations at medieval churches elsewhere in England have demonstrated that sequences of floor levels and rebuilds not identifiable in the standing fabric frequently survive. A number of features are excluded from the monument. These include: the above ground roofed part of the church which is still in ecclesiastical use and is a Listed Building Grade I, the chest tombs, paved surfaces, kerbs and benches; however, the ground beneath all these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Horspool, M, The Stones of St Mary's, (1991)
Pearson, T, An Archaeological Survey of Scarborough, (1987)
Pope, S, A Brief History of St Mary's Parish Church, (2000)


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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