Travel: Postcard from Skirlaugh

The early 15th century St. Augustine’s Church in Skirlaugh, England.
The early 15th century St. Augustine’s Church in Skirlaugh, England. | Dennis Lennox

This small village in England’s East Yorkshire is hardly on the map.

I stumbled across Skirlaugh (population 1,670 souls) a few years ago when I stayed about 6 miles away at the Tickton Grange Hotel during a visit to Beverley.

At the center of village life is a somewhat stereotypical pub, the half-timbered Duke of York.

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Situated on the aptly named Main Road, the pub is directly across from a late Victorian-era Methodist chapel — not dissimilar from the kind that Methodists erected just about everywhere — that in recent years was converted to a house.

As attractive as the brick Gothic revival former chapel is, the even older St. Augustine’s Church caught my eye.  

I was surprised to discover the Roman Catholic-turned-Anglican parish church is dedicated not to St. Augustine, who was dispatched by Pope Gregory the Great in the late sixth century to bring the good news to the then-pagan Anglo-Saxons, but rather to the great doctor of the church St. Augustine of Hippo.

Carrying the highest designation for historic listed buildings in England, it’s widely considered one of the finest examples of perpendicular Gothic architecture.

Perpendicular was the last iteration of Gothic, as the style of medieval architecture defined by pointed arches was supplanted in the mid-1500s by Elizabethan or Tudor, which would then fall out of fashion as Renaissance came to dominate the building styles of the 1600s.

The interior of St. Augustine’s Church in Skirlaugh, England.
The interior of St. Augustine’s Church in Skirlaugh, England. | Dennis Lennox

Built between 1401 and 1405, its construction is attributed to the patronage of Walter Skirlaw, who just happened to be the powerful prince-bishop of Durham. In addition to his episcopal duties, Skirlaw was a diplomat for the crown, negotiating on England’s behalf during the Hundred Years’ War and later arranging Richard II’s marriage with Anne of Bohemia.

As his name suggests, he was from the Skirlaugh area. Essentially, Bishop Walter was a medieval version of a favorite son — in his case, an extremely powerful prelate in the pre-Reformation church — giving back to the community that raised him.

The exterior of the church with its elegant pinnacle-topped tower, wide arches — a telltale sign of perpendicular, and castle-looking crenellations or battlements, looks the same as it did more than 600 years ago. The edifice has also benefitted from $250,000 in recent preservation projects that addressed issues with roofing and stonework.

Sadly, however, the future of St. Augustine’s might be that of the former Methodist chapel. That’s because the Church of England has too many parish churches, too few full-time clergy, and a rapidly declining number of congregants.

If you go

St. Augustine’s Church, which has an ecumenical partnership with the Methodists, has regular services on Sunday. The church is also open for visitors Monday to Saturday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. and then 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. There is no admission charge.

Book a room at the four-star Tickton Grange Hotel on the outskirts of nearby Beverley, which is home to a minster church that has doubled for Westminster Abbey in films.

The closest airport, Humberside Airport, is 30 miles away. Multiple daily flights on KLM make it reachable from most major U.S. airports with just a single connection in Amsterdam.

Additional trip planning resources are available through Visit East Yorkshire.

Dennis Lennox writes a travel column for The Christian Post.

Dennis Lennox writes about travel, politics and religious affairs. He has been published in the Financial Times, Independent, The Detroit News, Toronto Sun and other publications. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.

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