In the Footsteps of My Ancestors


The twelfth-century parish church of St. Mary, in Riccall, Yorkshire


Today was given almost entirely over to driving and to family history.  We drove up from Leicester to Riccall, just south of the city of York, where my great-great grandfather, Thomas Harper, was born and christened in 1829.  We looked for Harper names in the churchyard, and found three or four, but none of them in my direct line.


It’s very beautiful country, though quite flat (especially when one has just come from the Alps).



We returned to Riccall at 6 PM for the evening prayer service, which was held in the choir of St. Mary’s Church.  Since we had missed LDS services today, it was good to spend some sabbath time reading scriptures, reciting the Lord’s prayer, and so forth, in the medieval sanctuary where my ancestor was christened nearly two centuries ago.


Afterwards, we spent quite a bit of time visiting with the parish priest (he serves four churches, altogether) and his wife.  It seems that heavily battered Viking armor was recovered from a battle site just at the south end of the town.  Fascinating stuff.  He presented us with a reproduction of a very nice drawing of the church, which I’m going to try to get home in decent shape.  We also came away with pamphlets or brochures on the history of the building and on the very interesting arch above its entryway, which is ornamented with zodiacal signs, an image of a salamander amid flames, and the like.  I look forward to studying them.




Barlby, the town a few miles away where Thomas Harper’s father, John Harper, very probably was born, wasn’t much to look at–not, at least, from the quick drive-through that we bestowed upon it.  But nearby Selby offered something truly magnificent, and something of which my ancestors must surely have been aware:


Selby Abbey

Selby Abbey was the first monastery founded in the north of England after the Norman conquest in 1066, and one of the few monastic foundations to survive as a parish church after Henry VIII’s 1536-1541″Dissolution of the Monasteries.”

Finally, we drove to the little and oddly-named town of Bubwith, where Thomas Harper’s mother, Eliza (or Elizabeth) Rose Howdle, seems to have been born.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to search through the cemetery adjacent to the little All Saints’ Church there, which (as a complete neophyte in such matters) I would guess to date to the same rough period as St. Mary’s, Riccall.  Plainly, there’s a lot of reason to come back here.


All Saints' Church in Bubwith, Yorkshire

We had an excellent dinner at the pub next door to our bread and breakfast, The Fox and Roman, and then drove into York.  It being late on a Sunday night, the city was relatively empty.  It was also very beautiful.  I’ve never been to York or even Yorkshire before, but I very much want to return and spend more time here.  I was expecting York to be rather like London, albeit smaller.  But it’s not.  It’s very walkable, and very pleasant.  At least, what I’ve seen of it, which includes some of the suburbs and most of the city within the walls.  My Viking ancestors apparently laid a good foundation here.


Another reason to be interested in York is its close association with medieval English mystery plays, a long-standing fascination of mine.


York, England, United Kingdom.


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  • Jim F

    An enviable experience!

  • Somebodyz

    We have some beautiful places and buildings in England and the UK. Glad you were able to visit some of them. Pity you didn’t have longer, there is so much to see. It would be ashame to only see London, fine as it is, there are far prettier places.

  • danpeterson

    I’ve been to England a number of times, almost always to London. But I’ve been other places, as well, including the Lake District and even, I now realize, to places on the margins of Yorkshire. This, however, was my first time to York, and consciously to Yorkshire. I thoroughly enjoyed the place.