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The Church of St Andrews This church has a spooky feature well worth a Halloween visit! ©YDNPA

A Tale to Sink Your Teeth Into!

Friday 30 October, 2020, by Lily Mulvey

Happy Halloween to you all!

For a special Halloween-themed treat, the latest blog from the historic environment team is about St Andrews Church, Dent – and the creature that may have stalked the valley in years gone by…

The large east window and north/south aisles
The large east window and north/south aisles ©YDNPA

St Andrews is most likely a 12th century church and still retains some sections of Norman fabric. The church was enlarged and remodelled in the early 16th century, with the tower being added in the later half of the 18th century. It is now of mostly perpendicular style.

‘Perpendicular style’ is the name used to refer to the final period of English Gothic architecture. This occurred from approximately the late 14th to the middle of the 16th century, but the style was periodically revisited by architects throughout history. It is so named because of the vertical lines of its tracery and panelling.

Evidence of the remodelling can be seen when looking at the nave and chancel arcades. The nave (probably early 13th century) is defined by two cylindrical columns set between octagonal “terminal piers”, while the chancel arcades (probably 16th century) are made up of arches with octagonal columns. This indicates that the nave was originally intended to fit in with arcading of a different design.

The church interior, including the pews in the nave and the east window of the chancel. The columns of the arcades line either side
The nave and chancel have noticeably different column designs (octagonal and cylindrical) and were therefore probably designed at different times ©YDNPA

There are several other notable features in the interior. For instance, the choir and chancel are paved (on two levels) with polished Dent marble in a black and white chequer pattern.

Another interesting feature is a marble wall tablet commemorating Adam Sedgwick (one of the fathers of modern geology and professor/critic of Charles Darwin).

The octagonal oak pedestal pulpit should also be mentioned. This pulpit has lozenges in the side panels, a bracketed desk with carved frieze (reading “M T 1614”), and a sounding-board.

The octagonal oak pedestal pulpit with lozenges in the side panels and a frieze reading M T 1614
The octagonal oak pedestal pulpit ©YDNPA

Similarly impressive is the seating. In the south aisle are five original 17th century box pews with carved decoration (including in certain cases initials and dates). There are also early 18th century benches with fielded panel backs and initials worked in metal studs. On the opposite site the early 18th century benches are arranged in two tiers, with a late 17th century box pew at each end.

The early 18th century benches are arranged in two tiers, with a late 17th century box pew at each end
Benches arranged in two tiers, with box pews at each end ©YDNPA

Seating such as this has an intriguing past, showing us a useful example of how the attitudes of the late 17th and 18th century would come to define the church. Originally, people would have had to stand on earth floors to hear services in churches, but, as sermons became more important in the 14th century, benches were introduced for people to sit on. Then in the late 17th and 18th century box pews were introduced. These separated people by family, and you could pay more money for a pew closer to the front. They reflected values of family and worldly status

17th century box pews with carved decoration in front of early 18th century benches with fielded panel backs and initials worked in metal studs
The original box pews in front of 18th century benches ©YDNPA

For churches built in this period, the box pews were installed simultaneously, but they were also installed retroactively into pre-existing churches (such as the Church of St Andrew). Some of the more expensive family pews even had their own fireplaces! There would later be a backlash against this worldly separation in favour of equality before God.

The Vampire of Dent

The second part of this post focuses on George Hodgson, more affectionately known as the ‘Vampire of Dent’. This is a story likely to give you chills any witch way you look at it

George died in 1715 at the grand age of 94. He was quietly buried in the local churchyard. However, soon after his death, rumours began to circulate that George was not resting peacefully… rumours about George being up and about and drinking the blood of local sheep. One farmer even claimed that when he had shot a black hare running across his land and, following the trail of blood, he had been led to George’s house, whereupon he had seen the man in question inside treating a bullet wound.

The corner of the church with a few gravestones visible
The church and graveyard where the ‘vampire’ was once buried ©YDNPA

Despite this outlandish tale being taken straight from witchy legend, the people of Dent needed to get to the bare bones of the matter. They held a meeting in which it was decided to exhume George’s body. Disturbingly, according to the legend, when they opened the coffin they found George’s corpse still looking exactly as he had when he was buried. Some versions of the story even say that George’s hair and nails had grown since the time of his death. There was not even a trace of decomposition to be found.

The grave reads: ‘Here lyes the body of George Hodgson who departed this life IVNE Y 41715 aged 94’ The sawn-off brass stake is visible under the inscription
The grave of the ‘Vampire’! The sawn-off ‘stake’ can be seen in the middle of the slab. Photo under Creative Commons Licence

A new grave was quickly dug directly outside the church. George was place inside it, and this time a large brass stake was driven through both coffin and corpse to ensure that the occupant would not go wandering again. It is said that the top of the stake can still be seen protruding from the grave. Of course, the rational explanation of this is that his grave stone was made from a reused gate post – but it’s up to you what you choose to believe!

Fangs for reading!

Picture of Lily Mulvey

Lily Mulvey

Lily is the Authority's Historic Environment Apprentice

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