This little country church on the edge of Wighill Village holds a commanding position six miles east of the market town of Wetherby; its C15 tower provides a grand first impression as you approach this outstanding church. The need for such a tower becomes apparent when you consider the Stapleton family took an active role in the Wars of the Roses and the English Civil War. The Stapleton’s resided at Wighill from 1375 until the early C19.
In early Saxon days Wighill or ‘Wiheal’ as it was known, was the scene of much engagement and possibly the site of the historic Anglo-Saxon massacre in 1016. Today the village is a peaceful place surrounded by beautiful countryside. The short walk along the church path gives splendid views across Wharfedale and time to reflect on the importance of our church buildings. We can muse on what they hold in heritage terms, how they have shaped the past and what will be their place in the future, their continuity is in our hands that is for sure.
A fine example of Norman architecture comes into view as you approach the south doorway of the church; its splendid decorative zigzag carvings and beak heads are a feast for the eyes. These wonderful Romanesque sculptures have been well documented and for further reading please refers to The Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain and Ireland http://www.crsbi.ac.uk/site/1454/
In 1382 Sir Brian Stapleton became a Knight of the Garter following an impressive career supporting his king, he was still involved in tournaments as late as 1390. He and some of his descendants fought in famous battles whilst others narrowly escaped the gallows spending time in the Tower of London. When you step inside this historic church you will see how nine centuries of development has changed its structure and ways of worship. This C12 building was originally a simple construction with nave and church spire. A family called the Hagets, who were responsible for the building of Healaugh, and Bilton churches, built Wighill church around 1170.
The north side aisle would have been added around 1200 and the chancel extended a little at this time. The church was restored and further extended about 1457/9 by Sir William Stapleton. He added the long chancel to include the North chancel aisle, which served as the family chapel for the Stapleton until 1834. The Stapleton monument was removed from the chapel at this time to the North/west corner of the church were it still resides. The monument is of Robert Stapleton who was an MP and died in 1634 aged 33. His children are kneeling at his feet with the arms of Stapleton and Fairfax in the centre. The choir area was paved in 1498 and part of the roof dates from the C15. The church has C17 fitments with C14 Sedilia, Aumbry and Piscina alongside medieval glass in the far most east window of the south aisle. The architect John Bilson restored the church again in 1912/13 taking out the box pews and using the wood to provide the Dado rail in the south aisle, the poppy head Pews date from the C15 and must be some of the earliest pews still in use today. The Tudors were the first to install pews on a big scale, a necessity with the introduction of long church sermons. Prior to this the outer thick stonewalls of churches were hacked back to provide seating for the infirm, the old saying. ‘The weakest goes to the wall’ refers to churches and dates back to this period.
Near the Monument is the Ancient Font above it hangs the Funeral Hatchments of the Stapleton family. The Royal Coat of Arms of George III hangs in the tower arch on the west wall and the Pulpit is C17, skillfully restored in 1912 on the instruction of John Bilson. In the south wall is a fragment of Saxon Cross C10, which remains in-set in the stonework. The East window is a memorial to Richard York who died in 1843. The three windows on the south wall are in memory of firstly, Thomas Jessop vicar of Wighill 1839-1863, his son in law Richard Hiley vicar of Wighill 1863-1911, Lord Hawkes of Towton the Rev Edward Henry Julius 1917. The Lintel of the east window in the south wall is made from a C13 coffin lid. The C15 Bell Tower is of the late campanile type containing three bells, cast in 1636, 1658, and 1699.