History of St Marys

The earliest mention of a church here is in 1086 with an entry in the Domesday Book:

In Maltune. Siuuard 7 Torchil. viii.car ad gld…. Ibi æccla 7 fed. 1. mold…

(In Malton Siward and Thorkil hold 8 caruncates taxable… There is a church there and one mill…)

Little if anything remains of this church building though recent works for a new toilet revealed stone foundations pre-dating the footings of the piers and so presumably part of the earlier structure. What remained after the twelfth century burning of Malton was handed over by Eustace Fitz-John in 1150 to the Gilbertine Order. Eustace had been heavily involved in the rebellions of 1138 and this donation was probably an attempt to expiate this.

The Gilbertine Priory

The new Priory was endowed with farmlands and churches in the surrounding area. The priory was never large by Cistercian standards, but as one of the largest Gilbertine houses it constituted one of the major local landowners and several canons represented the area in Parliament.


An artist’s impression of how the Priory may have looked

In layout it seems to have been fairly typical of monasteries in general, but the buildings were more elaborate than most Gilbertine houses, which typically had churches of extremely simple layout with a nave or twin naves and perhaps a side chapel. Old Malton was originally aisled with transepts, a central tower at the crossing and twin West End towers. This may reflect the relative wealth of the house, or the layout of a preceding parish church. An account given by William of Newburgh of the deaths of three monks poisoned by carbonic acid gas in the process of burning lime either for mortar or limewash suggests that major building works were still in progress in 1197.  Mason’s marks on the piers include those of men who worked on Ripon Cathedral, and while slightly smaller than the cathedral, Old Malton Priory must have been a comparable                                                                                                                      building.

The Priory following the Dissolution of the Monasteries

OM Pillar 1jpg

Prior’s Column

Malton Priory was dissolved in December 1539 and the eleven canons then resident in the Priory were pensioned off, about half of them becoming parish clergy in the area. Sometime before the time of the dissolution, the church suffered its first major structural problems. The north-west tower seems to have collapsed in a fire causing major damage to the north side of the aisle. What is clear is that during the mastership of Roger de Shotton (1498-1518) the piers of the north side of the nave were re-modelled in the Perpendicular style, including the spectacular “Prior’s Column”

From re-used stone visible throughout Old and New Malton, it is evident that after the
Dissolution and on into the nineteenth century, the monastic buildings were used as a convenient quarry.

The central tower was taken down in 1636 as it became unsafe, and the church sustained minor damage from cannonballs during the Civil War. The process of quarrying continued and by 1728 most of the monastic buildings were in ruins though the cloister walls were still standing.

By 1733 the south aisle, the chancel and the transepts were all either fallen or demolished as was the north-west tower. The rest of the church was semi-ruinous and the parish was granted permission to demolish the north aisle, to reduce the height of the roof by 8 ft. and to shorten the East end of the aisle by 36 ft. despite furious protests from George Watson who owned the site. Records suggest that a stone rood screen was also demolished at this time.

Further demolition took place during the late eighteenth century, followed by the addition of a west-end gallery. During the nineteenth century a triple lancet window was inserted in the east wall of a style consistent with the Early English West front, the remains of which can be seen on the outside of the east end.

1877 saw the start of major restoration works when the parish was faced with the imminent collapse of the remaining tower. On the advice of Gilbert Scott, a major underpinning operation was undertaken In 1887 the architect Temple Moore supervised restorations in the course of which the floor level was lowered 4 ft to its original level and those pillar basses in the south aisle apparently destroyed by a fire were restored. The east windows were blocked and the baldachino over the altar was put in. New chancel seating was installed incorporating the remaining medieval misericords, together with a new organ, font and altar. All this work is of fine quality, though occasionally as in the case of the font, slightly incongruous.


One of the remaining misericords

There are few other remains of the Gilbertine priory, apart from re-used fragments of worked stone in many local buildings. The undercroft of the monastery kitchen survives as a cellar in the adjoining Abbey House, as does the undercroft of one of three hospices run by the Priory as the cellar of the “Cross Keys” in New Malton. The “Doodles”, a small area of wooded wetland and earthworks near the priory is thought to be the site of the Priory fishponds.