There has been a church at Hickleton since Norman times as indicated by the chancel arch and font, but the building you see today is essentially Perpendicular in style consisting of a typical South Yorkshire Magnesian limestone west tower. The church is a large building when compared with the size of the parish, possibly reflecting the creation of wealth, from wool, under the influence of the Priory of Monk Bretton over three centuries, from the thirteenth to the sixteenth, until the Priory was dissolved and the Crown disposed of its land and wealth.
The Church sits in the Grounds of Hickleton Hall, the site of the ancestral home of the Lords of the Manor of Hickleton since Saxon times. Through its history, the Church and churchmanship has undergone many changes. The building started life as a single cell sanctuary (what is now the Chancel and Sanctuary). It was extended with a chapel on the north side, a Nave and an aisle in the 1400’s, with the tower added later that century. Through the ravishes of the reformation, civil war and Black death, worship took place within the wall although there is archaeological evidence that its shape and size changed repeatedly. In the 1980, evidence of a North porch was discovered and thanks to our local historian (Roger Dabell) records of the North Chapel being demolished, a new south chapel added and the windows enlarged have been discovered. The church plan today is largely due to the Victorian refurbishment started by the first Viscount Halifax and completed by his son.
The building stands today, due to a significant programme of works completed in the 1980’ to underpin the building. Possibly the reason for the site of the church is due to a geological fault and lay-line that runs diagonally under the church, pointing to an earlier mystical significance. This in conjunction with mining subsidence in the area, meant that the building was pulling itself apart. The Halifax Chapel, Lady Chapel and Baptistery where dismantled and the remains of those interred under the church in volts or otherwise, where removed and reburied in the gave yard. Many artefacts were discovered and are on display in Doncaster Museum. The grave marker for Robert Haringel (14th century Lord of the manor) was discovered under the church and is now sits 3 meters above its original position in the west end of the Halifax chapel.
The outside of the church is pinnacled and embattled and consists of a double aisled Nave and Chancel. The Nave arcades differ, on the north side two bays and on the south one wide arch on brackets, but this aisle stops short to accommodate a south porch. The side chapels differ again, with the Halifax Chapel on the south side older and the Lady Chapel on the north is Victorian, along with the Vestry.
Inside, the church is lavishly furnished at the expense of the Halifax family who were also responsible for the Victorian restoration and the removal of the gallery, box pews and the alteration from a two tier – to a single tier pulpit. This used to carry the arms of the Jackson’s of Hickleton but still has some flamboyant tracery in the top half of the panels.
S. Wilfrid’s is one of only a handful of church’s in England to have been fully refurbished by Bodley and still be intact as he designed. There is a great love of his design and craftsmanship within the parish and as funds allow, restoration and conservation is an ongoing joyous obligation.
The windows are mostly straight-headed, of different varieties some with cusps and some without, reflecting the architectural piecemeal building of the whole church. Much of the glass is Victorian, the stained glass in the windows of the south and north chapels and east and west windows was placed there in 1886 and 1887 and was the gift of the second Viscount Halifax. The various shields of arms represent the various families connected with the Woods of Hickleton and other families connected in some way or other with the parish of Hickleton. Records need to be checked to ascertain whether any original glass had been reused during the Victorian refurbishment. The main candidate for this would be the south window of the nave where the arms of the lords of the manor are displayed. The two medallions in the north nave aisle, west window are thought to be of a seventeenth century date with the arms of the Jackson’s of Hickleton and associated families. Large quantities of Thirteenth century painted window glass was found during the 1983 excavations, thought to have come from a Norman chancel window in the east elevation.
Despite the church’s chequered past of growth, decay and growth, a three-hundred year association with the Priory of Monk Bretton, its many owners of the advowson and more recently its rescue from decay in the form of underpinning, Hickleton church should be remembered for the three skulls placed so provocatively in the lych gated entrance from the village, its long association with the champion of Anglo-Catholic reunion, the second Viscount Halifax but most importantly for a place of prayer which still today houses the Most Blessed Sacrament of our Lord Jesus Christ and echoes with the adoration of His sacrifice.
An outline of the building history of the church is told in a book by John A Dabell entitled ‘St. Wilfrid’s Church Hickleton: The Building Development of a Parish Church.’ Number one in the Hickleton Parish Series, published by the Hickleton Heritage Trust.
Edited by Mr Andrew Hainey