Ruins and below ground remains of St Mary's medieval church
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
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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
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
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
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