Built in 1868, St. Matthew’s Church remained as a daughter church and little more than a Chapel of Ease to the parish of Wensley until Valentine’s Day 1956 when Leyburn became an ecclesiastical parish in its own right. Reverend Michael Hepper has been our Priest in Charge since August 2011.
It is the only church designed by Christopher George Wray who had also designed The Docks Offices, now the Maritime Museum, and The Palace Hotel in Cairo. Built by a local builder, Mr Jones, the church was consecrated on 16th September 1868.
The church is a plain but handsome stone-built structure which has been described as being of the “decorated Gothic Style”. It has square west tower originally constructed to carry a peal of six bells but had the addition of a clock and single bell in 1883 and the porch entrance was originally open with the main doors having initially hung in the inner doorway, a change made in 1989. For many years the church organ was blown manually but this was converted to electricity in the mid-1930s. A more appropriate baptistry was made in 1963 when the font was moved from its position close to the door to its current position.
On the west wall of the church there are memorial plaques to parishioners who gave their lives in the two world wars. One plaque in particular, to the north of the organ, commemorates the bravery of Richmond born airman Flight Lieutenant Alan Broadley, navigator to Group Captain Pick Pickard who led Operation Jericho during the Second World War, a low level, precision bombing raid on Amiens Prison to free 500 French Resistance prisoners. Many prisoners did escape that day but unfortunately Broadley and Pickard were shot down and killed.
In February 1969, the separate parishes of Leyburn and Bellerby became a “United Benefice” and continue to operate in this way today.
The church is light and airy and many visitors comment on its peaceful atmosphere and its simple beauty. A small private chapel offers the opportunity for contemplation and prayer and you may light a candle or leave a request for a prayer on the prayer board.
Information about the church and town is displayed on the porch noticeboard and the building is open during daylight hours throughout the year.