St Thomas the Apostle – Heptonstall

Current news and events at St Thomas’.

The original church at Heptonstall was dedicated to St Thomas a Becket and was built between 1256 and 1260. Later adaptations gave it two naves, two aisles and two chantry chapels as well as a tower. Following a storm in 1847 the west face of the tower fell away. Some measure of repair took place and the church was used up to 1854 when the present church was completed at a cost of £7,000. The new church was consecrated on 26th October 1854 by Bishop Longley of Ripon and dedicated to St Thomas the Apostle, whilst the older church remains as a shell.

The church is 130 feet long and 65 feet wide and much of the stone was quarried on the site itself.  The clock was brought from the old church and was made in 1809 in Sowerby Bridge by Titus Bankcroft.  The stained glass windows include some very fine work from the late 19th and early 20th century.  There is a Lady Chapel entered by steps in the north east corner of the church.  This was formerly the Vicar’s vestry before the church was re-ordered.

There have been bells at Heptonstall church since 1440.  In 1854 the six bells from the old church were transferred to the new tower.  They were recast in 1911 and two more were added to make a peal.  They are rung on most Sundays and are often rung by visiting bands of bellringers.

Work on re-ordering the church was started in the early 1960’s and completed in 1964. The woodwork of the church was in a poor state and badly affected by dry rot. A legacy of Abraham Gibson who died in 1956 paid for the alterations as a memorial to his parents. The new design is a twentieth century adaptation of a traditional medieval style. The present organ, part of the Gibson bequest, was built in 1964 by Hill, Norman and Beard.

There are three adjacent churchyards at Heptonstall.  The oldest is now closed and is around the old church with the second part around the new church.  The third and newer churchyard is across Back Lane and is where the American poet Sylvia Plath, the first wife of former Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, is buried.

The church has good acoustics, and is used for the annual Pennine Spring Music Festival, held every Spring Bank Holiday week.  This includes workshops, masterclasses and performances.

It is also used twice a year for a Traidcraft weekend of fair trade clothes, food and gifts, with refreshments.

The old church ruin is now carefully maintained and occasionally open air services are conducted there.  It featured as a location in the 1993 BBC Television drama series, Mr. Wroe’s Virgins, which was directed by Danny Boyle.


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