Martindale Church

I’m not religious but appreciate that society has put a great deal of time and effort into the building of churches, let alone the cost. There has been a church on this site for 700 years. The yew tree behind, long associated with churches, is reckoned even older at 1,300 years. The font in the church is believed to be a Roman alter that was originally alongside the Roman road over the mountain, High Street.

But it is the story of a curate of Martindale church which is interesting. Richard Birkett was appointed to the position in 1633 and continued until his death in 1699, aged 95. When he was came to the dale he was said to process only his clothes he stood up in and a spare shirt. A small house was provided together with about four acres of land but his stipend was very small, just a few pounds per year. Yet when he died he left a fortune, leaving his wife £1200 and bequeathing the parish £100. He was clearly a very astute gentleman.

As the only person in the parish who could write Mr. Birkett managed all the legal affairs of his parishioners; for a fee of course. Charges were made for promissory notes and receipts. He was the local money lender, charging interest at two shillings in the pound, deducted up front and repayable in not more that one year. He was also employed as the parish clerk and the schoolmaster and undertook casual work such as sheep shearing and hay making. And as the schoolmaster, in addition to his fees, he was entitled to two to three weeks victuals from each of his pupils; a right known a whittlegate which he took every advantage of.


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