On a beautiful Easter Saturday my family and I decided to spend the day in York. Before leaving home I remembered getting an E-mail some time ago from Sherry Harper Hamblen who lives in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. She wondered if I ever went to Bilbrough, and if so would I take a few photographs and put them on the 'Yorksview' pages. To be perfectly honest with you I'd never even heard of the place! A quick look at my map showed it to be about 6 miles from York, and so I could do a small detour and help Sherry and her family in this small way. Sherry's ancestors were farmers and teachers here in the mid C19th.
Bilbrough is close to the A64 road between Tadcaster and York. It is a very smart and tranquil village indeed, the houses are mainly built from old red brick, which is typical for this part of Yorkshire. Delightful spring flowers adorned the gardens. I took several photographs of the village and its church, St.James, but I still needed a little bumph to compliment the images.
Maybe I was in luck, a man was doing a little gardening in the churchyard. I had a chat with him, but he didn't have much to say, he advised that I visit Peter, a solicitor and a bit of a local historian. I did pay Peter a visit and he turned out to be a smashing chap. He lived in a delightful cottage and he too was doing some gardening. Peter said there was 'nothing much to write home about' regarding the village itself, but, the church had a claim to fame in that it is the resting place of Lord Fairfax. I kindly declined a cup of tea from Peter, besides, my family were probably eating the picnic we had packed!
The tomb of Lord Fairfax is situated in its own little chapel, two plaques on the wall read:
The nearest tomb is that of John Norton who founded this chapel in 1492. He was lord of the manor of Bilbrough at that time.
And on the second plaque:
Thomas, 3rd Lord Fairfax, affectionately known as 'Black Tom,' and his wife Anne. It was erected by their daughter Mary. In the early years of the Civil War, all three shared the same dangers. At the escape from Bradford, Anne Fairfax was captured, but was later returned to her husband by the royalists. Thomas Fairfax, his baby daughter with him, fought his way to refuge at Hull.
After a brilliant and successful career as a Cavalry Commander in the North, Fairfax was in 1645 appointed General of Parliament's New Model Army. He led that army to a series of victories which ended the struggle, the most notable being over Charles I at Naseby.
Fairfax opposed the trial of the King and in 1650 the politics became too much for him. He retired to his Yorkshire Estates and made the poet Andrew Marvell his daughter's tutor. Ten years later he re-emerged briefly into public life to play a large part in the restoration of Charles II. Amidst the destruction of the Civil War Fairfax remained a moderate. He prevented the desecration of many of England's treasures particularly the stained glass in York Minster and other churches in York.
At Fairfax's death his son-in-law the Duke of Buckingham wrote of him;
'He never knew what envy was nor hate, His soul was fill'd with worth and honesty. And with another thing besides, quite out of date, call'd modesty.'
This latter quality caused him to say in his will 'And my body....that it may be buried near unto the body of my most honoured and dear wife in the Parish Church of Bilbrough in such a manner as may be convenient and decent rather than pompous.
THE MEMORY OF THE JUST IS BLESSED INDEED
And so Bilbrough is far more than just any old sleepy village, this one major piece of history sees to that.
We never did get to York, but instead we had a great day out in what was for us a previously unknown corner of England. We returned home via Wetherby, Collingham and Rawdon (where we had some lovely fish & chips). I still find it truly amazing that an E-mail sent to me from thousands of miles away resulted in our outing, and that you can share our findings. And finally to Sherry and her family, I say 'you are privileged to have Bilbrough as your ancestral home.'
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