History of St Michael’s Church

The Church Building

The earliest record we have of St Michael’s Church is around 1150 AD when the Gilbertine Priory of Old Malton was given two new Norman Churches of St Michael & St Leonard in ‘New’ Malton as Chapels of Ease.

Why there were two Norman churches in Malton is something of a mystery. It has been suggested that Malton developed around two centres. A ‘Castle Centre’ where houses and people were dependant upon the castle; and a ‘Market Centre’ where people depended on the trade of the market. Therefore St Michael’s would be the town church in the Market Place and St Leonard’s the Church based on the castle. (St Leonard is often thought of as the patron saint of prisoners and captured soldiers).

The fact that Malton has two such central churches is unusual as most Yorkshire market towns have a single great church. This is almost certainly due to the existence of the Priory Church at Old Malton, whose monks would have preferred to keep two small subservient Churches rather than one large rival church.

Throughout the history of St Michael’s there have been several stages of reconstruction and restoration, however parts of the original Norman building do remain, notable the pillars and the capitals of the North Aisle and the capitals of the pillars in the South Aisle. The Font is of unusual design and is probably as old as the church. Small traces of colour show that in medieval times it had been painted.

Apart from this everything that looks Norman – the round headed windows in the aisles and the clerestory and the big Chancel Arch belong to the 19th century. The Tower is the next oldest part of the church and was added in the 15th century. An old painting of the Market Place in the 1830s shows the Tower with a small low door, a square window with a clock above, and the top of the Tower surrounded by an iron railing instead of the present battlements. The present door and the window above are 19th century. (The picture also shows the town ‘shambles’ or the butchers shops right up against the north aisle windows).

Another painting from the 1830s shows the inside of the church with a large east window of perpendicular style and period. The church in that painting has a fine gaily coloured ceiling and a communion table with a crimson covering. The Chancel Arch is a smaller than the present one, and above it is fixed the Royal Arms on a great board. On the south aisle is a fine Georgian looking Pulpit, and low unfussy box pews in the aisle. On the north side was the Gallery, which must have gone round three sides of the church, and to this day marks can still be seen where the beams went. The Gallery at the west end contained the Organ and seats for the Choir.

The first restoration took place in 1858. The present day west doorway was built, the masonry restored, and the Norman type windows inserted in the aisles and clerestory and the east windows in the Chancel. We have a photograph showing the inside of the Church after this was done, and the Pews are the ones used today. The brass Lectern is in the centre under the Chancel Arch, and there is a smaller Pulpit on the south side. The Font was at the west end of the Church in the centre aisle.

In 1883 a more thorough restoration took place. On the north side the Chancel was opened out to make the Organ chamber and Vestry, and on the south side it was opened out to make what is now the Lady Chapel. The Galleries were all taken out and the present roof put in. Around 1910 a new Pulpit was installed. New Choir Stalls and the Lady Chapel furnishings were built in the 1950s. These were made by the famous ‘mouseman’ of Kilburn, Robert Thompson, and three of his well known trademarks can be seen around the chancel. Two are easy to find, but the third is more difficult.

In 1966 the south walls and windows were rebuilt. Change and restoration is on-going and the fine door and porch were added in 1987, manufactured and installed by local craftsmen, a fine example of how well past and present can blend together.

In 1990 a new Altar was introduced designed by Ron Sims, a well known Church Architect of York. That, together with the altar rails and wrought iron candlesticks were again made by local craftsmen. On Easter Day 2000 an Altar Book Stand of the same design was dedicated. 2002 saw the completion of the building of a new Vestry at the south east corner of the church, and the refurbishment of the Lady Chapel for multi-purpose use. Also during 2002 extensive repairs to the Chancel stonework at the east end of the Church were carried out.

In 2003 the step was removed at the front entrance to make disabled access easier, and a Servery installed at the back of Church. The old church has seen many changes, and in 2007 the crumbling stone of the tower was replaced by harder masonry and a major rebuild undertaken of the upper parts of the tower. 2008 saw the reordering of the north aisle by the removal of the pews and paving of the floor, and heating and sound systems were renewed. Similar pew removal and repaving took place at the front and back of the nave. In 2009 the chancel was redecorated.

In 2010 the south aisle pews were removed, the font was repositioned and a disabled access WC and baby change facility provided. External lighting of the tower was provided thanks to Ryedale District Council and Yorkshire Forward. A major rebuild of the organ has also taken pace in the first few months of 2010. Earlier in 2016 the North aisle roof was refurbished. Further work is planned over the next few years, as funds become available, to complete the restoration of the tower.