Is history of martyr of the moors wrong?

Nicholas Postgate stained glass window at St Hedda's Church in Egton Bridge
Picture by Kathryn Bulmer

Nicholas Postgate stained glass window at St Hedda's Church in Egton Bridge w141504f Picture by Kathryn Bulmer

There is an unproven tradition that Nicholas Postgate, the Egton martyr, was born at Egton Bridge.

Father Postgate is one of the best-loved martyrs, whose lonely mission in the wilds of the North York Moors has captured the imagination of people of all faiths.

Known as the ‘Good Samaritan of the Moors’ due to his generosity to all, regardless of their status or religion, he walked around his huge ‘parish’ of Blackamoor, always declining the offer of a horse.

He shared his food and clothes and visited people in remote areas to offer both spiritual and practical help, wanting to understand the plights of the poor.

Most remarkably, he began his work when he was more than 60 years old, and continued almost into his eighties.

However, I have found evidence that the Postgate home was at Kirkdale Banks four miles upriver close to where Stonegate Beck joins the River Esk. This particular Kirkdale does not appear on modern maps.

At that time, there were at least three Kirkdales in the North York Moors – one near Kirkbymoorside, another near Ebberston and the third a mile or so west of Egton.

Not surprisingly, all three contained small old churches – known as kirks – and the Egton Kirkdale was part of Egton parish. Modern researchers have not appreciated that the Egton Kirkdale within the Lordship of Egton has changed its name to Church Dale.

This was probably done by early Ordnance Survey map surveyors to avoid confusion with other Kirkdales.

The new name appeared c.1849 on an OS map but over the years, the name “Kirkdale” has faded away except in a few family memories.

Authors researching the life of Father Postgate from the 20th Century onwards would not have found anything linking him with Church Dale - especially with its Glaisdale address.

Two early researchers into the life of Nicholas Postgate were Father William Storey of Egton Bridge and Dom Bede Camm, a Benedictine monk. In his Ven.

Nicholas Postgate published in 1928, Father Storey writes “Nicholas Postgate was born in 1596 at Kirkdale House in the parish of Egton” adding cautiously “the house was probably in the village near the river,” whilst Bede Camm in his Forgotten Shrines (1910) said, “Nicholas Postgate was born at Kirkdale House in the parish of Egton.” But he later added “Kirkdale, or Kirk House, our martyr’s birthplace, stood near Egton Bridge.”

Bearing this in mind, it is difficult to know how and why the tradition arose that Kirkdale House stood on the banks of the Esk at Egton Bridge.

There is no real evidence to support that belief and it may be based on generations of hearsay.

I pen these notes 72 years after being shown the pile of stones which one writer in 1838 described as “the remains of little more than a cattle shed” at the end of the bridge.

Father William Storey had added in 1928 that “The possible site of the martyr’s birthplace is marked today by an orchard fronting a thatched cottage to the left, a little beyond the bridge.”

It is my belief that the little building at the end of Egton Bridge was a former bridge chapel, and those stones were its remains.

Since around the 14th century, it had housed a priest who collected dues for the chapel, his upkeep and maintenance of the bridge.

The chapel was probably destroyed at the Reformation but significantly it had been the home of a priest.

A map of the Lordship of Egton dated 1636, (North Yorkshire County Record Office Reference ZW(M) 1/5), depicts three buildings at Kirkdale Banks.

Homes of the Postgates, Whites and Smithsons perhaps? The map is difficult to read because it is handwritten and north is at the foot – it is upside down.

However, there is more evidence that Kirkdale Banks could be the birthplace of our martyr.

Father Storey adds “Nicholas Postgate’s father was apparently the son of William Postgate of Kirkdale”.

His name was James and it is known that James died at Kirkdale Banks in 1602, his wife inheriting the smallholding.

Nicholas, our future martyr, would then be a small child.

This makes it likely he was born there.

After his martyrdom, the University at Douai in the Spanish Netherlands where he had studied the priesthood recorded his place of birth as Kirkdale House in the parish of Egton.

Today a public footpath descends from Church Dale via West Banks, Glaisdale down to the stepping stones over the Esk near Rake Farm.

As you descend the steeply sloping field to your right is the former Kirkdale Banks.

I think it is too steep to accommodate houses so they may have occupied the level area where West Banks now stands.

Following his arrest and trial, Father Postgate was martyred at the Knavesmire in York on August 7 1679.




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