Church History


A Christian presence in the Whiston area was first recorded in the 12th Century. Since then, the church has developed and expanded alongside the parish it serves: as a result, the present building is a mixture of 12th, 13th and 19th century infrastructure.

For the purposes of this analysis, we have segregated the Church's past into four distinct periods of history. Please take the time to read through the following pages in order to learn more about the history of Whiston Parish Church. We also discuss other church structures and real estate such as the Rectories, Lychgate and Morthen Chapel.

Furthermore, most of the reference material for these articles has been taken from just one source: John Griffin's excellent book on the history of Whiston Parish Church, which was published in 1967 after extensive research by Mr Griffin over the course of a decade. Even though it was written in the mid-twentieth century, much of the historical information it contains is as correct, accurate and relevant as it was when it was first written. The church diagram that features throughout these pages is also an updated and colourised version of the one that features in the book.

Griffin. J (1967) The Parish Church of St Mary Magdalene Whiston.Rotherham, L.A.Ratcliffe

Early - Middle History

Part One: 1200 - 1300

This section summarises the histry of Whiston Parish Church from circa 1200 - when the church was first built - up to 1900 - shortly after it underwent a large-scale expansion.

The history of Whiston Parish Church begins circa 1188. Documented evidence from this year shows that a chapel on the current site had not only being built, but belonged to the Church at Ecclesfield, Sheffield; which in turn was shown to be a possession of the Benedictine Abbey of St Wandrille, at Fontenelle in Normandy, France.

In the early days of the church, Whiston was a larger parish that it is today, but it served a much smaller population (because Whiston was an entirely rural village rather than an enclosed suburb of Rotherham). This meant that the original building that was constructed during the Norman era was of a more modest size when compared to the larger structure we worship in now. As a consequence, as you make your way through the entrance porch (a Victorian-era addition as we shall see later) and enter into the main building by its south-west corner, you are actually standing in the oldest part of the Church - please see the diagram, below. High up on the western wall, between the tower and the southern aisle, there is a window which dates from this period. Moreover, if you look closely, you will notice that the walls in this part of the church are not plastered and whitewashed like they are in the other - more modern - areas. This wall and this corner date from around 1180 and are not only the oldest parts of the church, but are thought to be amongst the oldest structures in Whiston. At this point, the entire original building occupied an area that is roughly the same size as the current southern aisle and southern nave in today's church.

Next, Whiston is believed to have acquired Parish status in 1236 and the Revd Robert de Doncaster (spelt 'Danecastre') was installed as the first Rector. Finally, in circa 1250, the Church's distinctive tower was constructed and the present, south doorway was installed - replacing an earlier (Norman) west doorway as the main entrance to the building.

With the basic Church structure established, it appears that there was little development or alterations to the building for at least the next 200 years. We therefore end our look at the early church's history and, in part two, move on to examine the period from 1400 - 1600 AD.

Church Diagram

Part Two: 1400 - 1600

By the turn of the 15th century, the church had been serving the village well for 200 years. At some point during this century (the actual date is unverified), the church was extended eastwards to create a comparatively long chancel. Secondly, a north aisle featuring a low, sloping, roof was probably built at approximately the same time. The extent of this work can be seen on the diagram below and suggests that the exterior wall of the building at that time would have run approximately where the north aisle of the church is today.

The next major change came in 1430 when the-then Rector, Rev. Robert Ragenhill died, leaving about 10 old English marks in his will for repairs to the church. As a result, two large south windows were installed. Furthermore, two of the present church bells were hung in the tower, although it is possible that this event happened later in the 15th Century and was not, therefore, a result of the bequest from Rev. Ragenhill. Finally, a third bell was hung in the church in 1636.

This period of history appears to have been one of relative peace and stability for both the church and the village, which might explain why there were comparatively few alterations over the course of two centuries. Next, we move on to examine the period between 1700 and 1900; when the arrival of one of Whiston's longest serving Rectors marks the start of a series of modifications to the building.

Part Three: 1700 - 1900

The Reverend Obadiah Browne was installed as Rector in 1689 and set about a refurbishment and general ‘tidying-up’ of the church over the next few decades of his ministry as part of what became a larger period of generally ill-conceived updates to the building throughout the 18th and into the 19th Century.

Many projects took place to remove old pews and install new ones (1697); erect a gallery at the west end of the nave (1762); build a new pulpit (1764) and install a new organ plus box pews (1808). Most of these installations would late be removed again. In any case, all of this was work carried out on the building in its original guise.

By the 1880’s, little maintenance work had been done for 50 years and the building was once again in need of restoration. Instead, it was decided to enlarge the church in order to futureproof it. At this time the Parish of Whiston was still a large one; and the population it served would surely grow with time. Such work would also serve as a memorial to the late Revd Howard, who served as Rector in Whiston for 40 years from 1841 until 1881.

The church was closed for over one year whilst the work was carried out. It was reopened and rededicated on Thursday, 11th October 1883 by the Archbishop of York. The result is the building that we have today, the layout of which can be seen in the diagram above.