A Brief History of St Mary the Virgin
Based on historical research by George E Kirk. c 1930
There is evidence of a place of worship on this site since Norman times though no church or chapel is noted in Beeston's entry in the Domesday Survey. The first reference is to the discontinuance of the reclusory of a chapel and its anchorite in 1257 but in 1294 Archbishop John le Romeyn again permitted there to be a 'woman anchorite enclosed.' This was Dionisia of Barnby. By 1322 Joan de Terry, a nun from York, had become an anchoress and as late as 1454 monies were still being given for the support of an anchorite.
Becoming an anchorite was regarded as the most saintly of callings, a progression from earthly to heavenly existence only authorised by the bishop. The anchorite would be walled up for life in a cell adjacent to or attached to a church or chapel with an open grave outside ready for burial. The only contact with the outside world would be a hatch. The presence of an anchorite cell indicates that a chapel must have existed.
Prior to the present church we had a smaller chapel, possibly with the dedication of St. Leonard, but that this was not the original building is evidenced by the discovery of re-cycled Norman fragments of a style contemporary with c1130 found within the fabric of the walls on demolition. These twelve worked stones were inserted as a quasi-Norman arch above the outer choir vestry doorway of the present church and are certainly the oldest part of the building.
St. Leonard's (it is traditional to call it so - in 1541 a bequest gave 2 shillings to 'chappell of sancte Leonardes in Beiston') was smaller than St. Mary's but may have been based on the original chapel, lengthened and with the addition of a south aisle. Five stone mullioned window frames from the west and north walls are now incorporated into the present choir vestry and appear to be pre-18th century. We have a picture of that chapel showing a vestry on its north side. As this was sanctioned by faculty in 1789 we know that this first illustration was later than that date.
In 1867 "St. Leonard's" was described by its vicar, Rev. George Gilbanks, as 'old, damp, dilapidated, inconvenient . . . . . . there is hardly a cottage in the parish in such a miserable condition. . . . . there is not accommodation for one tenth of the resident families . . . . . . There have been, and there are now, pressing applications for seats.' There was seating for 190 persons but the village had some 500 houses. It was proposed to build a larger new church at a cost of £3000.
The present church was built in two stages. In 1877 a new chancel was added but funds were insufficient to continue until 1886 when the old chapel was taken down and the nave and the rest of St. Mary's was built. The window of the older Lady Chapel was inserted into the newer building in an identical situation. This contains fragments of medieval glass. However its MR keystone was set above the vestry doorway already mentioned, but on the outside.
St Mary's now consists a chancel with lady chapel to the south, a nave with north and south aisles, a gallery to the west supporting the organ, a turret with a bell from the older chapel (dated 1754) and a porch protecting the door (south). There is a mid-17thC. font. The wooden office/vestry annex and stone community centre are recent.