The name “Kirkby” derives from the old English word “Kirk”
meaning church and the Old Norse “by” denoting village;
thus the word “Kirkby” means village with a church; therefore,
South Kirkby owes its name to the church.
A wooden church occupied the present site in Saxon times but this was
replaced by a stone building after the original wooden structure was
destroyed in a fire.
The present church has a 94 feet (30 metre) tower surrounded by battlements
and 8 pinnacles, the lower part of which is built from sandstone and
the upper part from limestone because of its durability, making it less
susceptible to weathering; the church dates mainly from around the 1470s
to 1480s when the church was enlarged and restored; in addition to the
West Tower the outer walls and both aisles were rebuilt and the South
Chapel was added; this was a major reconstruction job which involved
several highly skilled masons and their attendant labourers; legend
has it that the present named 'White Apron Street' took its name from
the route followed to work by the medieval workers.
This interesting church has a west tower, a south porch and a two bay
aisled nave; it also has a two bay aisled chancel with a sacristy at
the east end of the south chapel and still surviving at the four corners
of the nave is found the Anglo saxon or very early Norman walling; the
structure of the building has some interesting features: the South Porch
has intriguing, if badly eroded, stone shields placed above the entrance
which represent the coat of arms of the Wentworth, Wortley and Flinthill
families; Wilkinson in his book 'A History of South Kirkby' believes
that these families may have given money to help pay for the restoration
and been rewarded for their generosity by having their coat of arms
ostentatiously displayed over the South Porch.
Also, above the east and west sides of the Porch are 2 small windows
that suggest a hidden priest's room; however, father Sibellas in his
Guide to the Parish Church of South Kirkby, states that no such room
exists; Sibellas also suggests that the gargoyles and water spouts on
the south side of the building dated from around 1260 and were taken
from the earlier stone building and reused by the 15th century builders.
The interior of the Church also has several salient features that illustrate
the history of the building; if you stand with your back to the vestry,
which is under the tower, you will be facing the Chapel of our Lady
on the left and the Chapel of St George on the right; you will also
notice the huge Norman like sandstone arches that separate the North
and South aisles from the nave; gazing up at the ceiling of the church
you will notice the wood beams decorated by various figures playing
strange musical instruments.
Walking down the north aisle to the Chapel of Our Lady you will notice
various memorial tablets on the wall; one of them reads:” Near this
place lieth interred the body of Sir John Wentworth of North Elmes …”
There are also several monuments in the Chancel to the Allott family,
a family name closely associated with the Church; indeed it must be
said that the history of the Church is more than just the history of
the building; many thousands of people have worshipped at this great
monument to Christian devotion over many centuries.
However, one particularly interesting account concerns one of the vicars
of the Church, a certain George Beaumont who was executed for treason
by the Roundheads after assisting local Royalists to recapture Pontefract
Castle from the Parliamentarian forces; he was hung before the walls
of the aforementioned castle in 1649 leaving a widow and 4 small children.
According to the Domesday book of 1086, the Church is noted as the Cherchebi
and was valued at 100 shillings at the time that it was built, which
was in King Edward the Confessor's time, making the church Anglo Saxon
in origin; however, it is quite possible that the Normans totally rebuilt
the church, meaning that no part of the chuch building would be in fact
Another interesting feature of the church, is a Caen stone carving of
George and the Dragon, found residing within a niche, over the porch;
the carving was presented by a villager in 1914.