East Moors St Mary Magdalene

One of Temple Moore's most enchanting churches, tucked away in a churchyard full of rhododendrons in the heart of the moors.

In 1882 Moore was still working as assistant to George Gilbert Scott. East Moors was his first major project. Although Scott designed the church, it was Moore who saw the job through and provided the design for the font, the reredos and the wooden partitioning to the south aisle.

 By this date Scott's general and mental health were declining and he had begun to rely on his young protege to complete his commissions for him. Moore threw himself into the task with gusto. As Pevsner says, “The young architect obviously enjoyed this job thoroughly, and his pleasure is infectious.” The painted wagon roof and stepped bell-tower at East Moors would become characteristic of his later work.

The church may seem to be in the middle of nowhere, but in 1882 there were 200 people living on the surrounding moors. East Moors is the name for the lonely stretch of country between Bilsdale and Bransdale, where the limestone woods and pastures of the southern North York Moors meet the more unforgiving landscape of the central moorland plateau. There are no villages, only scattered farms and the occasional mineworking.

St Mary Magdalene's was built as part of Vicar Gray's campaign to draw the occupants of these far-flung realms of his parish into his congregation. Its small scale and the simple materials from which it is built are perhaps a reflection of the £700 budget set aside for it, but they also show that Moore's sensitivity to the social and geographical context of his buildings was already well developed.

Before the advent of the motor car, clergy would ride out to East Moors on a Saturday evening and sleep in a hammock in the south aisle of the church so as to be on time for the Sunday morning service. The rest of the time, the south aisle was used for the Sunday school. It was equipped with a little “squint” opening to allow people in the chancel to keep an eye on those in the aisle.

John Betjeman, a passionate advocate for Victorian architecture, devoted a poem to the church at East Moors:

... a stane kirk wi' a wee spire
And a verra wee south aisle
The rhododendrons bloom wi'oot
On ilka Simmer's day
And it's there the Airl o' Feversham
Wad hae his tenants pray
For there's something in the painted roof
And the mouldings round the door,
The braw bench and the plain font
That tells o' Temple Moore.

from “Perp. Revival i' the North” in Collected Poems (London, 1976)