Parish History

Yarm (Yareham, Yarome or Jarum in the Domesday Book) was a demesne[1] of the Crown from ancient times.  It is likely that it had a Saxon church, but its site is unknown.  Yarm was one of fifty estates given by William the Conqueror to Robert de Brus of Skelton who had accompanied William to England in 1066.  He founded the priory at Guisborough for the Augustinian Canons in 1094 and the prior was William de Brus, his brother.  The church of Yarm was given into the trust of Guisborough Priory and was dedicated to St Mary Magdalene, which is still the title of the Anglican church in Yarm today.

Robert’s son, Adam de Brus, founded a hospital [St Nicholas’] at Yarm in 1141 on a site in the fork [at the Green Lane roundabout] between the road to Thirsk and the road to Richmond.  In 1179 Pope Alexander III issued a Papal Bull permitting this to be a leper hospital with its own chapel, priest, and burial ground.   In 1222 Adam’s grandson, Peter de Brus, built a friary[2] at Yarm (now the site of Yarm School) and invited the Dominicans to live in it – with the encouragement, counsel and approval of Pope Calixtus II. The fishponds, through which the Skytering Beck flows, belonged to the friary, and its chapel and burial ground was probably between the present church and the Friarage.  The discovery of skeletons in the wood there points to the likelihood that many Catholics were buried here until the 16th century.  These included Dame Agnes de Boynton and members of the Meinwill [Meynell] family.

Peter de Brus died in 1271 without an heir and his estate passed to his sister, Lucia, who married into the family of Marmaduke de Thweng.  After this it passed, again by marriage, into the family of the Hiltons (of Hilton in Cleveland), and later to the Meynells (of Whorton Castle) which is how the Meynells came to be connected with Yarm.

During its chequered history, the hospital passed into the hands of the Black Canons of Healaugh Park near York who endowed it with lands at Hutton Rudby, Upleatham and Middleton.  This produced enough revenue to support three priest chaplains and thirteen poor people in alms houses.

In 1539, the friary at Yarm was suppressed under the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII and the Prior, Miles Wilcock, was driven out with his five friars and six novices.  The Friarage and its fifteen acres of land, was sold by the Crown to yeomen Simon Welbury and Christopher Morland in 1553. They bought the house for £79 10s either as an investment or as agents for John Sayer, who took possession very soon afterwards.  He would naturally have been attracted by the property, partly because his father and grandfather had been buried in the friar’s church.  It’s not known what happened to it during the general closing of Catholic churches during the reign of Elizabeth I – presumably it remained closed and empty until 1642 when the records of the Anglican parish begin.  It is known that the building was badly damaged by fire, and was rebuilt in 1730. 

The hospital was similarly suppressed – the date is unknown – and the property was given to the Conyers family of Egglescliffe.  Thomas Conyers successfully applied to Elizabeth I in 1588 to build a grammar school – originally sited on the remains of the hospital.

Nothing is known of the Catholics of Yarm during the 220years following the suppression of the Priory.  There are indications that they somehow managed to practise their religion, and that they were shown respect and support is clear from the fact that non-Catholics of the district actually bought land once in Catholic ownership, as a means of ensuring that Catholics might continue to have some use of it.  The Friarage property is said to have been thus held by generations of the Mayes family and to have returned to Catholic ownership, eventually being restored to the Meynell family.

In the interval of over two centuries it is possible that the few Catholics of the Yarm district may have benefitted by the ministry of the priests of Egton.  Certainly the priest stationed there from early in the 18th century nominally had responsibility for all Catholics between Scarborough, Stockton and Wycliffe.  In 1735 the Anglican curate at Yarm reported “There is a reputed Popish priest who constantly resides at Mr Maye’s house, his name is Syddal.  Mr Mayes house is the place of resort where great numbers of Papists assemble every Sunday, and there Mass is understood to be performed”.   

John Mayes married Mary Meynell but their daughter died childless and the property transferred to the Meynell family in 1770.  Within five years Edward Meynell rebuilt the house, incorporating the foundations of the original friarage.  The Meynells fitted out a room in the roof-space of the house or, more probably, over one of the out-buildings, as a chapel. Though still under a degree of repression, it is known that Jesuits regularly came to the house to be chaplains. When it was being renovated in 1959, three altar panels were discovered, alongside some religious books dating from between 1618 and 1783. 

The parish in Yarm was officially established in 1840, when the first parish registers were opened, and the first parish priest was the Reverend James Bradley, who appears to have been a chaplain to the Meynell family.  The first entry in the baptismal register is for Teresa Catherine Ward whose godmother was Miss Anne Maria Scrope then living in Bentley House.

A more certain and continuous history begins in 1860 with the building of the present church (which opened on May 3rd) and was a gift from Thomas Meynell to his wife and dedicated to Our Lady of York, Mother of Mercy, as well as to St Romuald of Ravenna. They had spent their honeymoon in Florence, and lived there for a while, and had come into contact with the Camaldolese monks, whom St Romuald of Ravenna (950-1027) founded.  Their devotion to this saint was the reason why his name appears in the dedication of the church.

The architects were Matthew Hadfield and George Goldie, whose work signified the great battle for the restoration of a Catholic presence in England in the second half of the 19th century.  It was an age when Pugin’s designs gave way to the architecture of the High Victorians.  The church owes more to Gothic Italian than to Pugin, but does not come under the influence of Gothic French in which Goldie’s most prestigious works were executed in the 1870s.  It is probably one of the last designed by Goldie and Hadfield before Goldie set up an independent architectural practice in 1860.  The main “east” (actually south-facing) window is thought to have been designed by John Hardman Powell and this is backed up by the document ‘Churches in the RC Diocese of Middlesbrough: An Architectural & Historical Review’.  A report by ‘Historic England’ describes the window as “a high quality piece by one of the world’s leading manufacturers of stained glass, whose church windows at this time are considered to be especially fine.”

In addition to the church building, Thomas and Jane Meynell provided a school house in Bentley Wynd in 1863, and they bought No.2 High Street – one of the oldest houses in Yarm – as the chaplain’s residence.  Both of these buildings were relinquished and sold to provide the mid-20th century presbytery – St Mary’s House – which now stands in the church grounds.  The private chaplaincy to the Meynells[3] ended in 1937 when the church, house and school were transferred to the Diocese of Middlesbrough.

Clergy who have served the parish over the years:

        John Bradley (1840-1853) Parish Priest
            Francis Callebert (1851-1852) Curate
        Matthew Kavanagh (1853-1855) PP
        Patrick Lynch (1855-1859) PP
        William Pope (1859-1865) PP
        George Keasley (1865-1884) PP
        James Humprys (1884) PP
        John Doud (1884-1886) PP
        Joseph Dodds (1886-1887) PP
        Thomas Holland (1887-1910) PP
        John Conlon (1910-1926) PP
        Bernard Wilson (1926-1932) PP
        Patrick Nerney (1932-1933) PP
        Gabriel Redmond (1933-1936) PP
        Lawrence Doherty (1936-1945) PP
        Michael Lynam (1945-1949) PP
        David Quinlan (1949-1954) PP
        Michael Lynam (1954-1977) PP
        Eamon Carson (1977-1982) PP
        Michael Bayldon (1982-1995) PP
        Ian Stewart (1995-2003) PP
		[served from Ingleby Barwick 2003-2014]
			Alan Sheridan (2003-2009) Priest-in-Charge
			John Steel (2003-2010) Deacon
	Patrick Hartnett (2009-2014) PP
			David Cross (2013-2014) Deacon
	Neil McNicholas (2015-     PP

[1] A piece of land attached to a manor (from Anglo-Norman French “belonging to a lord”) – Oxford Dictionary.

[2] The various sources use the terms friary and priory interchangeably.

[3] It is recorded that late in the (?19th) century the family increased the chaplain’s salary to £100 per annum.