The Early Years

The history of Christianity in Otley is associated with the Archbishop of York’s Palace which once occupied the site where Our Lady and All Saints Church and St Joseph’s School stand. Known as early as the twelfth century as river crossing on the road north of York and Ripon an Archbishop’s Manor House, near the Bridge Street site of the present Church, served both pilgrims and travelling clergy. The house was already extensive and well established when Archbishop Walter de Gray visited in 1226. Gray was an important visitor, Lord Chancellor of England and a counsellor to King John from 1205 to 1214. He was Archbishop of York from 1215 to 1255 and was responsible for building the massive south transept of York Minster. He made considerable improvements to the Otley estate and granted the town a market and a fair. In the early 1300s Scottish raiders ravaged both house and town but in 1321 Archbishop Green field ordered repairs to the manor house kitchen under the supervision of the Vicar of Otley. Again in 1334 he ordered the Steward of the manor house to spend some £20 on repairs. The manor house was excavated in the 1960s when the new St Joseph’s School was built over it.

Those who clung relentlessly to their Catholic faith during the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth 1 faced financial ruin, imprisonment, torture even death. Yet many did so. During Elizabeth’s first visit to the north in 1559, the year of the Act of Uniformity which established her as “Supreme Governor of the Realm”, the priest in Otley one Richard Woode, refused to subscribe to the articles. He was taken to York to face commissioners but his fate is unknown. The Act allowed church wardens to levy fines of 12 pence for every Sunday service missed by Catholic “Recusants” (from the Latin recusare, to refuse). But it also threatened far worse to those who actively practiced their Catholic faith or who harboured priests. They could be accused of heresy or treason. Today the Parish Centre at Clitherow House next to the church is named after one of the most celebrated Yorkshire martyrs, Margaret Clitherow. She was accused of harbouring priests. New missionary priests had started arriving from 1574 onwards from the English seminary at Douai in France. Two of these Douai priests who paid with their lives came from the Parish. Blessed Francis Dickinson martyred at Rochester in April 1590 was born in Otley in 1564 and had been christened at Otley Parish Church. Matthew Flathers who was born in at Weston in 1560 was martyred at York in March 1608. Both were hung drawn and quartered.