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The Mystery of the Gascoigne Tomb - A Curious Tale.

Barwicker No 109 March 2013

There is a mystery surrounding the Gascoigne Tomb in All Saints' Church in Barwick-in-Elmet. At the moment little is known of who is buried there and why the tomb was sealed in the mid nineteenth century. Recent historical research into the church is unearthing valuable information about the wonderful archaeological and historical treasures in this ancient building. Many church worshippers are unaware that members of the Gascoigne family are buried in their vault underneath the beautiful polished oak floor below the church organ.

David Pratt of DJP Joinery of Barwick started laying this floor on 21st July 2004; the Reverend Brunei James was the Rector. I asked David about this job and he told me his fascinating story. At the time the position of the organ was being moved from the rear to the front of the church next to the pulpit. The floor was unsafe there and David was given the brief to replace it where required and build large L shaped cupboards to fit in that comer of the church beneath the Gascoigne window. David was not told that a vault lay underneath the floor. There is the possibility indeed that nobody realised that the tomb existed. To David this was just an ordinary job, but he had constant interruptions to his work due to technical issues and because of church functions, funerals, and meetings, so the work was slower than he expected. He was there on and off, for nearly three weeks.

The job became more extensive than he thought because the oak floor was rotten and had to be taken up and replaced. This area of the church is notoriously wet and was a major cause of the dismantling and removal of the Gascoigne memorial in 1858. The yellow strip of glass on the inscription running along the east window in the north aisle refers to the eighteenth century monument being too dilapidated to be repaired. (See The Barwicker No. 105, p 13). The joists were in a poor state, they had to be taken out and replaced and working on the uneven curved earth floor was very difficult. On one occasion David found a protruding brick in the centre of the area he was working on. He pulled it out and was amazed to see a void underneath; he peered down, but could not see anything in the blackness below. A musty smell came from the space and it was obvious that there was a brick vaulted tomb below. David dropped a pebble down the hole and thought it fell about six feet.

Startled, he replaced the brick and carried on with his work. The vault is probably like the one in Ledsham church with steps down and coffins placed on shelves lining the tomb. The steps may have been where the pulpit is now or where the piano is currently situated. At the moment we do not know. Yet another mystery! Thus David is the only person alive who has looked into the Gascoigne vault. I think that he is content to leave the Gascoignes in peace.


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