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Old St. Stephen's Church, Robin Hood's Bay

OS grid reference:- NZ 943 057

Likened to an old mariner gazing out to sea, St Stephen's Church stands on a hillside between Whitby and Ravenscar, overlooking the characterful North York Moors village of Robin Hood's Bay.

A designated Grade I listed building, the church is now redundant and under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. The church is often referred to as Old St Stephens to differentiate it from the later Victorian church of the same name.

The church was built in 1822 to replace an older church which once stood on the site, a church has occupied this coastal position since the medieval period. The church closed in 1870 when it was superseded by a new church, also dedicated to Saint Stephen, which is situated near to the railway station. A superb survival of an untouched Georgian church, the building was vested in the care of the Trust on 1 December 1986.

The building is constructed in sandstone with a slate roof. It is of a simple design comprising a single-cell "preaching box", with a six-bay nave, a small sanctuary, a south porch and a north vestry. At the west end of the church is a bell-cupola.

The architectural style of the church is Gothic Revival. Above the porch is a sundial which bears the dates 1736, 1864 and 1919. Inside of the porch are wooden benches. In the walls of the nave are windows with pointed arches, there is a square-headed door in the south wall of the sanctuary. The east window is similar to those in the nave, and it is flanked by diagonal buttresses. In the wall of the vestry is a 15-pane window. The Royal Coat of Arms is displayed above the chancel arch.

The interior of the church still contains its original Georgian fittings. These include a panelled gallery on the north and west sides that is carried by Doric columns, a triple decker pulpit on the south wall with a sounding board, and box pews. One of these pews carries the name and the coat of arms of the Farsyde family of Fylingdales, who were local gentry of Thorpe Hall. There are also memorial tablets to members of the Farsyde family, while on the west wall are three painted wood benefice boards recording the generosity of members of the congregation between 1708-1847.

The font dates from the early eighteenth century, on either side of the east window are boards listing the Ten Commandments. The sea is a recurring theme throughout and there are memorials to the shipwrecked in both the church and the churchyard. Successful lifeboat rescue missions are listed.

There is also a display of rare maiden’s garlands’, 'crowns’ used in the funeral processions of young women. The garlands were made by friends of a young woman who died before she was married and were carried in front of the coffin at her funeral. A wooden frame of hazel rods were covered with calico and decorated with ribbons and best dress material as well as rosettes and flowers. The originals have been dating from around the 1850s are rare survivors and have been carefully restored and now hang at the back of the church, behind glass.

The church is listed as 'Keyholder nearby', which means that the key is kept by a 'keyholders', who usually lives just a short walk from the church and can give visitors the keyVisitors will find instructions explaining how to get the key on arrival at the church.


St. Stephen's is situated 5 miles to the south east of Whitby on the B1447. The church is just before the turning to Robin Hoods Bay.

Abbeys and Churches of Yorkshire