All Saints Church at Harewood, West Yorkshire was a small family church in the grounds of Harewood House in West Yorkshire and is now only occasionally used and is looked after by The Churches Conservation Trust. In many ways it is typical of many English churches in having an Anglo-Saxon antecedent, a priest was resident on this site as early as the 10th Century and a fragment of Viking carving and the Norman font still survive but the first record of foundation was by William Cuci in 1116. The gift of the living was given by his wife to the Canons of Saint Sepulchre of York Minster. It is said that the church was destroyed by the Scots in 1307 (the year of Edward I’s death in Cumberland) but more likely the destruction was in In the years from 1314, when Robert the Bruce took a Scots army through northern England against Edward II, plundering and demanding cash for local truces. The church was rebuilt in 1330 and was rebuilt again upon the same ground plan in 1410 by Elizabeth and Sibyl de Aldeburgh of Harewood castle. It underwent several alterations in the 1780’s including the steeple, the addition of ’Gothick’ battlements and a clock tower. Further alterations were made from 1862 by Sir George Gilbert Scott. However it’s most remarkable feature is possibly England’s best collection of late medieval alabaster table tombs most of which date from between 1419-1510. This was the high point of the art of English alabaster carving and there are six fine examples here together at All Souls in Harewood which are the tombs of:
Sir William Gascoigne (d.1419) and his wife Elizabeth Mowbray of Kirklington
Sir William Ryther (d.1426) and his wife Sybil Aldburgh (d.1440) of Harewood Castle
Sir Richard Redman (d.1426) and his wife Elizabeth Aldburgh (d.1434) of Harewood Castle
Sir William Gascoigne (d.1465) and his wife Margaret Clarell of Aldwark
Sir William Gascoigne (d.1487) and his wife Margaret Percy, daughter of 3rd Earl of Northumberland
Edward Redman (d.1510) and his wife Elizabeth Huddlestone (d.1529) of Millom, Cumberland
What is remarkable about this astonishing collection of fifteenth century tombs is the vivacity of the carving, the detail of dress and artefacts and of course their survival. All carved in Chellaston alabaster, despite the predations of generations of subsequent casual defacement including some noteworthy graffito, these effigies and their accompanying architectural ornaments present a remarkably lifelike and engaging party of distinct personalities allowing one to speculate on the mores and preoccupations of the occupants, or at least the way the artists would have them. To find them in what has become a lesser known country church is a delight. Before the wider use of painted portraiture, an effigy on a tomb would have been one of the few occasions on which minor or middle ranking aristocracy would have had any semblance of their personal appearance preserved. This kind of art in architecture appears to be lost in the contemporary, modern world just as the way memorialisation, even of the famous, rarely matches these kind of sculptural and artistic heights. The fact that over 500 years ago such art was practiced on a wide basis and that unlike many other churches it has survived here at Harewood and forms part of the architecture of this delightful church should be a salutary reminder of the real value of art in architecture, its potential for longevity and the delight and reflective thought it can bring to subsequent generations over hundreds of years.