Back to Nicholas Rhea home page Back to Postgate home page

The Family Home of Father Nicholas Postgate

This article and its appendices provide evidence that suggests an alternative to the traditional birth-place at Egton Bridge of the Martyr, Blessed Nicholas Postgate DD. I do not seek to devalue the vital role of Egton Bridge in the survival of the Catholic faith in Yorkshire, because it has always played a key role, but here we may learn more about the world of Blessed Nicholas Postgate.

There is some repetition of these notes in my accompanying article about Bridge Chapels featured on this site but as the two topics are linked, but separate, I felt such links could prove valuable.

Nicholas Rhea

*  *  *

There is a substantial but unproven tradition that Blessed Nicholas Postgate was born at Kirkdale House, Egton Bridge near Whitby. I never questioned that until researching my book Blessed Nicholas Postgate, the Martyr of the Moors (Gracewing, 2012). As a consequence of that research, I found evidence to suggest he was born and lived at Kirkdale Banks some four miles upriver from Egton Bridge.

Watercolour view of Egton Bridge

Water-colour painting of Egton Bridge, by Father Thomas Talbot

When I attended St Hedda's primary school in Egton Bridge (1941-47), successive generations of children were shown a pile of stones to the west end of the road bridge at Egton Bridge. We were told the stones were the remains of Kirkdale House, Father Postgate's place of birth, and we believed it. There was no reason to think otherwise. Indeed, a water colour painting of Egton Bridge dated c.1800 portrays an unidentified small building at that very location, some believing this to be Kirkdale House (see Bridge Chapels elsewhere on this site). The new Catholic Chapel in Egton Bridge, not then dedicated to St Hedda, was built in 1797/8 (one of the first in England following the Catholic Relief Act, 1778) and it is now St Hedda's Primary School where I learned to read and write. The large St Hedda's Church nearby dates from 1866-67 and does not feature on that painting, thus dating the water colour to between c.1800 and 1866. The bridge in the painting was built in 1758 but was washed away by the flood of 1930.

At the beginning of my research, I never considered that Father Postgate may have been born or lived elsewhere, not even when Father David Quinlan, the parish priest of Egton Bridge in his series about Nicholas Postgate (Whitby Gazette - February, 1967) referred to Kirkdale Banks. This was the farm or smallholding worked by Nicholas' widowed mother, Margaret in 1620 (Appendix 'A' No.4).

As my interest in Father Postgate developed, I continued to assume (wrongly) that Kirkdale Banks were either the river banks near the bridge at Egton Bridge, or the nearby slopes (banks) overlooking the former Orchard Tea Gardens (OS map reference NZ 805055). This is now the site of modernised buildings, including Kirkdale Cottage along with a stone marking "the birthplace and family home" of Nicholas Postgate. I am sure many writers, researchers and others have thought likewise and I am confident some will have tried without success to identify the location of Kirkdale Banks because the name does feature in several documents.

However, this particular Kirkdale does not appear on modern maps. There were at least three Kirkdales in the North York Moors - one near Kirkbymoorside, another near Ebberston between Scarborough and Pickering, and the third a mile or so west of Egton. Not surprisingly, all three contained small old churches - ie kirks. Had one particular Kirkdale existed today, it would be very central for the Postgate Parishes of Lealholm, Egton Bridge and Ugthorpe - whilst being near Glaisdale.

Few researchers realise that this Kirkdale, once within the Lordship of Egton, had its name changed to Church Dale, probably by Ordnance Survey map compilers. The new name appeared c.1849 on an OS map of that area. Over the years, the name "Kirkdale" has faded away, except perhaps in a few family memories. In the minds of authors and researchers in the early 20th century, there seemed nothing to connect Nicholas Postgate with Church Dale.

However, documentary evidence suggests that one branch of the Postgate family had their family home in Kirkdale some 250 years before that name-change.

Bearing this in mind, it is difficult to know how, when and why the tradition arose that Kirkdale House stood on the banks of the Esk near the bridge at Egton Bridge (but see my article on Bridge Chapels). It is strange that that tradition found its way into print to claim it as the birthplace of Father Postgate. There is no real evidence to support the theory and the story seems to be based on generations of hearsay with a lack of real evidence.

I pen these notes in November 2013 more than 70 years after being shown that pile of stones when I was a schoolboy at St Hedda's. Every stone has gone - I remember they looked like the meagre remains of a tumble-down dry stone wall.

Nonetheless, suggestions that the martyr's home existed in this vicinity may have originated through an unknown writer who mentioned "the remains of little more than a cattle shed" said to have been hereabouts in 1838. Other writers have repeated that. Father David Quinlan of Egton Bridge, wrote: "Immediately beyond the bridge behind a barred gate across a track which was once a road, lie the foundations of the small stone cottage once known as Kirkdale House, the birth-place of Nicholas Postgate in 1599." (Whitby Gazette, 1967).

He does not say how he knew about that building although another parish priest of Egton Bridge, Father William Storey, had earlier written in his Ven. Nicholas Postgate. (CTS 1928): "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."

Two probable buildings are shown in the water colour painting but we must remember this was executed more than two centuries after the martyr's birth and I believe the building near the bridge represents the local bridge chapel (see 'Bridge Chapels' on this site). Indeed, within that orchard area which as a child I knew as the Orchard Tea Gardens, my OS map (1985) shows three buildings.

That location appears to have had various buildings upon it for many years and, in fact, the 1636 map (see later) identifies that same field as Broad Field with three or perhaps four dwellings near the lane that then passed by. It also shows what appears to be a ford or perhaps a bridge, but with no buildings on the river bank.

As a child my wife lived in Egton Bridge during the 1940s and frequently visited this location. She recalls a tin-roofed farm house near the base of the slopes behind Orchard Tea Gardens. That house is still there, albeit much altered and is now called Orchard Cottage. Other buildings associated with that farm included an old wooden building with one half open to the elements where there was no wall. There was also a cow shed and a pig sty - they have since been incorporated within the modern Kirkdale Cottage. The woman who ran the smallholding after World War II, Evelyn Agar, kept cows and pigs. She made afternoon teas served from the open-sided wooden building but prepared within the enclosed section. There is now no sign of that wooden building. My wife recalls no other building or remains in that orchard.

In 1838, however, there were reports of the remains of "little more than a cow shed" (see earlier) but I don't think anyone seriously believed they were Father Postgate's home or birth place. Tradition suggests a house closer to the river - which is not a wise place to live due to regular heavy flooding!

It could be argued that if those fabled remains had been a dwelling house at the time of Father Postgate's birth (c.1599/1600) it is unlikely it would have had a name, particularly one so grand as Kirkdale House. In rural England, the naming of houses probably began in the 12th century but such houses belonged to the aristocracy and wealthy who often named their homes after themselves or their home village, with suffixes like hall, castle, manor, lodge, villa, farm, etc.

In rural communities, the houses of poorer people were usually identified by their occupants' names or occupations and locality, eg: Farrier's Cottage, Baker's Cot, Riverside Cottage, Carter's Croft, Forge End and so forth. For example, when Father Postgate returned to the moors around 1662-5, the tiny shack he used as his home near Ugthorpe became known as "Mr Postgate's". Only when it was rebuilt and extended in the 18th century did it become known as The Hermitage - Father Postgate had been long gone by that time and he was anything but a hermit!

However, there was a body of people between the aristocracy and the poor. These were yeoman farmers who owned land but who worked alongside their staff. Many farmed large expanses with their workers living in nearby cottages or in the big farm house with a separate staircase and rooms - those yeomen could afford servants, male and female. Many farms expanded to acquire the status of hamlet (ie a small village without a church or a set of stocks!) and some were to be found in Postgate Country, eg Limber Hill, Westonby, West Banks, Shortwaite.

In his booklet, however, Father Storey does add that "Nicholas Postgate's father was apparently the son of William Postgate of Kirkdale". He does not identify the location of Kirkdale but neither does he state it was at, or near, Egton Bridge.

Interestingly, excavations in 2011 by archaeologists from York University found no geophysical evidence of an old building on the traditional site. Lack of real evidence of a dwelling known as Kirkdale House at the riverside in Egton Bridge was compounded in 2013 when a project team carried out an investigation, aware that the earlier archaeological survey, preceded by an aerial survey, had revealed nothing of significance. The team consulted organisations such as the North Yorkshire County Record Office, the National Monument Record, the North York Moors National Park, Ryedale Folk Museum and Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society, all without gaining any relevant information. The team took account of collected memories and traditions associated with the presence of Kirkdale House, including a water colour painting dated c.1800, (200 years after the martyr's birth and reproduced on this site), none of which enabled a logical and firm conclusion to be reached. However, the team concluded that the place they had examined was the most likely site of Kirkdale House. The evidence I present here suggests they are mistaken.

They had consulted a map of 1636 which they criticised as "frustratingly illegible". If this was the same map I consulted during research for my book Blessed Nicholas Postgate - Martyr of the Moors, namely A map of the Lordship of Egton, 1636, North Yorkshire County Record Office (Reference ZW(M) 1/5), it does depict three or four buildings near the foot of Broad Field close to the present site of Kirkdale Cottage in Egton Bridge. However the map shows no building on the riverbank and none close to the ford/bridge.

It is uncertain whether a bridge existed at this location in Father Postgate's time, although there are reports of several bridges being swept away by floods. There was certainly a ford that is no longer used. However, within recent memory the ford was in use, usually by farm vehicles (I saw it in use some 70 years ago - farm vehicles needed dampness to prevent shrinkage of their wooden wheels). The crossing place was near the present public toilets in Egton Bridge, a short distance up-river from the present bridge. In other words, the 1636 map does not show a building on the banks of the River Esk that might have been Kirkdale House or the Bridge Chapel. The Postgates then lived two miles away across country at Kirkdale Banks and the chapel might have been in ruins. However, it does show other buildings for it was meticulously compiled by The Lordship of Egton to indicate properties and to record the square measurements of fields.

(NOTE: When I first examined this map at the North Yorkshire Record Office at Northallerton, I found it most difficult to understand but, having grown up in Glaisdale and played cricket on its cricket field, I recognised the site of what is now Glaisdale cricket field in a loop created by the River Esk. I then realised the map is drawn upside down - unlike modern maps, north is at the bottom. By turning this map so that north is at the top and then comparing it with a modern OS map, it does make sense. It is surprisingly accurate, despite the annotations being upside down).

As a matter of further interest, close to what is now Glaisdale cricket field, the old map identifies an area called Oak Bridge Holme. I refer to this as it may have caused confusion in the past because across country it is within half a mile of Kirkdale Banks and close to the banks of the River Esk. In 1892, this location was sufficiently important, along with Westonby Lodge, Egton, to be included in a map of North East Yorkshire in John Leyland's book The Yorkshire Coast and the Cleveland Hills and Dales. Oak Bridge Holme also appears on a map in the renowned book Forty Years in a Moorland Parish by Canon J.C. Atkinson (1891). Oak Bridge Holme, also known as Okebar Holme, was formerly a thriving community and the 1636 map depicts several dwellings there; this site is now below The Grange at Glaisdale. Perhaps, with Egton meaning "town of oaks", this might have once been called Egton Bridge Holme? It appears on the map of The Lordship of Egton so could it have caused some confusion with the other Bridge Holme not far downriver at Egton Bridge, and which was close to the fabled Kirkdale House?

*  *  *

If there is no documentary proof that Kirkdale House existed at Egton Bridge, could Nicholas Postgate have spent his childhood elsewhere? The answer is an emphatic "Yes" and there is evidence to support such a theory.

In his chapter about Father Postgate in Forgotten Shrines (1910), Dom Bede Camm, one of the first to chronicle the martyr's life, stated "Nicholas Postgate was born at Kirkdale House in the parish of Egton near Whitby." He adds, "Kirkdale, or Kirk House, our martyr's birthplace, stood near Egton Bridge." I have referred to Kirk House in my notes about Bridge Chapels on this site. Bede Camm may have been shown the remains described in 1838 by an unknown author as literally a cattle-shed and been told they were those of Kirkdale House or perhaps he viewed the remains of the bridge chapel, once the home of priests and possible the Kirk House to which he refers. He commented, "It must have been but a poor cottage in spite of its high-sounding name." It would be interesting to discover how long those remains survived after 1838.

Thus we have two locations and two names: Kirkdale or Kirk House in Egton or Egton Bridge. This suggests that Bede Camm was unfamiliar with the geography of the locality. It seems he did visit the district during his research but did he fully understand the dialect and accent of local witnesses? More importantly, was he given true facts for his working notes and did he check the statements of witnesses for their accuracy? It is acknowledged that his research would be difficult due to the detail involved, and human error is always a factor. Mistakes can be made, as any author knows only too well! We remember too that it was local accents and dialects that presented problems to the OS mapmakers, hence changes from local place-names to standard English c.1849.

We should understand that a resident of Egton Bridge or someone living in the vicinity may have innocently repeated hearsay and tradition in the belief they were true facts, showing the familiar pile of stones and tumbledown cattle-shed as "proof". In this way, tradition and local lore can become accepted as factual when recorded in books and articles.

However, neither Camm nor several other authors who followed him established the existence or whereabouts of Kirkdale and Kirkdale Banks, Egton. Perhaps like many others they may have thought Kirkdale Banks was near the river at Egton Bridge when in fact it was some miles away.

Post-1849 maps do not record Egton's Kirkdale - they depict it as Church Dale and Bede Camm would have no reason to associate Nicholas Postgate with Church Dale. Church Dale is a small valley to the west of Egton. It surrounds Church Dale Beck (formerly Kirkdale Beck) as it flows down the dale to enter the River Esk opposite what is now Glaisdale cricket field.

The Mortuary Chapel at Egton Bridge

Egton Mortuary Chapel, formerly St Hilda's Church

The 1636 map, reproduced in my book Blessed Nicholas Postgate - Martyr of the Moors contains information about Kirkdale. It identifies Kirk Fields, Kirke Fields, Kirk Cliff, Kirkdale Intake, Low Kirk Intake and, more importantly, Kirkdale Banks. Rather curiously, St Hilda's tiny chapel, now Egton Mortuary Chapel, which overlooks the former Kirkdale, is shown as "Church­ not "Kirk". Thus we know that Kirkdale was an important area near Egton and location of Egton's former church of St Hilda. This compact locality produced huge numbers of recusants to become known as "A bishopric of papists with Grosmont Abbey as its head house".(Appendix 'E', IV). It became a thorn in the side of the Protestant authorities and many references in the Civil Recusants Returns for Egton (1604-1614) refer to locations in the former Kirkdale. In fact Kirkdale was a valley rich with recusants.

The 19th century name-changes on maps were the result of Ordnance Survey map-makers removing local names so that locations would be understood nationally. They tried to avoid confusion with nearby places of the same name such as the other Kirkdales near Kirkbymoorside and Ebberston. Thus Egton's "Kirkdale" became the modern "Church Dale" about 164 years ago which is probably why so many writers were unaware of its existence. Indeed, the addresses of some of Church Dale's current properties are now within the postal district of Glaisdale. Coincidentally, however, the former Kirkdale and its Church of St. Hilda are now central to the Postgate Parishes of Egton Bridge, Ugthorpe and Lealholm.

Of major importance is that the district was known as Kirkdale in Father Postgate's time. It was part of the chapelry of Egton in Lythe parish. Indeed, it continued to be locally known as Kirkdale during my lifetime - a former resident of Westonby Lodge, "Jossy" Foster, with whose daughters I attended St Hedda's School at Egton Bridge, always referred to the area as Kirkdale.

Addendum: I have not lost sight of the fact that a water-colour painting of Egton Bridge (reproduced above), said to be dated from around 1800 and highlighting this famous village's chapels over the centuries, also depicts a handsome stone bridge with a small building at its south-west corner. There is another substantial building nearby on the side of the road. The former may be seen to correspond with reports of remains of a building in this locality or the report of 1838 which describes a building at or near this locality as little more than a cattle shed. (Ven. Nicholas Postgate, CTS 1928).

There are suggestions that one of these buildings may have been Kirkdale House, the birthplace of Blessed Nicholas Postgate. Likewise, reports of a dwindling pile of stones that remained for years at this location close to the end of the bridge even as late as the 1950s, suggest these may have been the remnants of Kirkdale House. They were on the left as one crosses the bridge towards Goathland and Rosedale; if this was the site of the bridge chapel, then it would be well protected from the force of flood water rushing downriver. The bridge itself would provide that protection.

However, we must not overlook the fact that the bridge at this location, which was apparently destroyed by floods in the 14th century, had its own chapel (see my separate account on this site). It is unlikely it was built upon the bridge or comprised part of the structure as this practice was restricted to bridges of great importance (Whitby Bridge and Ouse Bridge, York are two local examples). Less important bridges had chapels close to them, these being for the welfare of pilgrims and other travellers. There, travellers and pilgrims could rest awhile, receive rest and refreshment and attend Mass, albeit at a cost. The money thus raised was supposed to be used to maintain the bridge and the chapel.

Many such chapels had a resident priest whose living expenses came from donations given by travellers and pilgrims. The bridge with a chapel at Egton Bridge was probably destroyed by floods in the 14th century but these flood waters, strong enough to destroy the fabric of a bridge, may not have reached the chapel on higher ground. It may have survived even if damaged to continue its role with a resident priest but later destroyed in the aftermath of the Reformation, and reduced to a pile of stones. It may have been on the site of the noted pile of stones that survived into my schooldays at Egton Bridge - piles of stone did survive for centuries as some old maps will reveal and as visits to pre-Reformation churches will also show.

As that chapel would have supported a priest for many years, is it possible that local folklore and tradition has confused that chapel and its resident priest at Egton Bridge with the family home and birth-place of Nicholas Postgate in Kirkdale? Stories of the chapel near the bridge with its resident priest would have been told, perhaps becoming distorted over the years.

The possibility of creating a local but inaccurate legend and tradition cannot be ignored.

*  *  *


Available evidence indicates there can be no doubt that the Blessed Nicholas Postgate's family home was in Kirkdale. More specifically, it was the area known as Kirkdale Banks. This is the name of a location - a large hilly field - not a house.

It is not at Egton Bridge but lies about four miles up-river where Stonegate Beck joins the River Esk almost opposite Rake Farm, Glaisdale. This can be seen on the copy the 1636 map in my book Blessed Nicholas Postgate - Martyr of the Moors and matched with the OS map of the locality.

The following publications refer to "Kirkdale Banks" or sometimes "Kirkdale" as the location of the Postgate family home:

  1. Players of interludes in North Yorkshire in the early 17th century by G.W. Boddy (North Yorkshire County Record Office Publications No.7. Journal No.3, 1976.)
    The extract on p.123 reads "Nicholas Postgate... was born in 1599, son of James and Margaret Postgate of Kirkdale Banks, Egton Bridge." This is fairly conclusive evidence that Nicholas was born at Kirkdale Banks despite Mr Boddy making the common error of believing Kirkdale Banks was at Egton Bridge.
    Further references follow in Appendix C featuring the Civil Recusant Returns for Egton.
  2. Was Christopher Simpson a Jesuit? by Margaret Urquhart (Journal of the Viola da Gamba Society. No 21, 1992). She states: "James Postgate, the father of Nicholas Postgate, lived at Kirkdale Banks, Egton."
    It is not stated here that James lived there before marrying Margaret although it seems that the house/smallholding at Kirkdale Banks previously belonged to the Postgate family.
    See para. 4 hereunder and para.E in Appendix D
  3. In Ven. Nicholas Postgate (CTS 1928), Father William Storey writes: "Nicholas Postgate's father was apparently the son of William Postgate of Kirkdale." He adds that "Father Postgate was born in 1596 at Kirkdale House in the parish of Egton." but goes on to say the house was probably near the bridge.
    Clearly he neither located Kirkdale nor realised its true location but Kirkdale was the family home before Nicholas was born - his grandfather, William, and father, James, lived there (Appendix E, notes I & II). Father Storey confirms those points. Camm also refers to "William Postgate of Kirkdale" who taught children. William was a retired farmer so it is likely he farmed the family smallholding at Kirkdale Banks, handing it over to James whilst continuing to live there in retirement and teach children. James Postgate, father of Nicholas, lived at Kirkdale Banks but died in 1602/3 when his wife, Margaret, inherited the smallholding at Kirkdale Banks which she "worked" (see below, note 4).
    Nicholas was then about three years old with two older brothers, Matthew and William. There may have been a fourth child, age and gender not recorded.
  4. The Father Postgate Story by Father David Quinlan (Whitby Gazette, 1967).
    He wrote "His (Nicholas Postgate's) mother is definitely identified as Margaret by the conveyance of a farm or small-holding which she worked at Kirkdale Banckes (sic) in 1620." Father Quinlan gives no indication of the location of Kirkdale Banks nor does he suggest it was at Egton Bridge. Kirkdale Banks is shown on the 1636 map of the Lordship of Egton but not on the 1849 Ordnance Survey map of that locality and not on modern OS maps. No area of Egton Bridge was known by that name.

*  *  *


It is perhaps prudent here to refer to the confusion over names of the various Postgate characters. There were other Postgate families in the district, based at Sleights, Ugglebarnby, Dean Hall, Eskdaleside and Goathland. It is possible they were related. (Appendix E, VII).

The surname was variously written as Poskitt, Poskett, Posket, Posgate and Postgayt, the latter being the martyr's own spelling in a book signed by him. It is now in St Hedda's Church, Egton Bridge.

The same forenames appear in different areas - for example, an older Nicholas Postgate lived at Sleights. In addition to Nicholas' father called James, another James Postgate lived at Dean Hall and yet another James was employed by the Constables of Burton Constable. In the Eskdale Chapelry there was a William Postgate the Younger who was not grandfather of the martyr. With such a large concentration of Postgates in Eskdale, we can imagine the martyr's family being identified from the others as "the family at the Kirkdale House".

This was a location, not a house name. A source from America indicates there was a William Postgate who owned land at Low Dale, Sleights in the Eskdale Chapelry. This might have been William Postgate the Younger (above).

Of further interest is the fact that in 1704 a landowner called Michael Postgate donated land for the building of a school for the poor at Great Ayton on the northern edge of the North York Moors. Later, the navigator Captain James Cook was educated here and the building is now the Captain Cook Museum. There is a suggestion that Michael Postgate may have been a nephew of Nicholas, the martyr, but I have been unable to substantiate this.

It was Father David Quinlan who settled the issue over the name of James' wife (Nicholas' mother): in some accounts she is called Jane. Inevitably these names have led to problems with the name of James' wife but it is certainly not Jane. Jane and that particular James might have been relatives with the same surname. Alternatively, Jane Postgate may have lived near, or possibly at, the Postgate family home if she was William's daughter, ie James' sister and aunt of Nicholas.

She is identified as a widow but this term was sometimes used to indicate a woman who had never married. And she did bear the surname of Postgate.

When James died at Kirkdale Banks in 1602/3 to leave Margaret a widow aged 23 with three sons, Nicholas was only around three years old. (The dates of those years are written as (eg) 1602/3 because New Year's Day was Lady Day, March 25, not January 1st as it is today). This may explain why Nicholas' year of birth is sometimes given as 1599 and sometimes as 1600. A single year - January to December - is written as 1599/1600.

I tried to contact Margaret Urquhart to clarify her dates of the Postgates' occupancy of the smallholding at Kirkdale Banks but sadly she died in 200l after being a lecturer, probably at Durham University. My enquiries at various Durham colleges and the university library have drawn a blank simply because such records do not exist. Urquhart did not leave any research papers with the university.

I wanted her to confirm that Nicholas could have been born at the family home at Kirkdale Banks. It certainly appears to be the case. Margaret Urquhart argued that Christopher Simpson (born 1604) was a contemporary and also a relation of Nicholas Postgate (Appendix A para.2). He lived at Westonby about a mile from Kirkdale Banks near the head of Kirkdale. From educated yeoman stock (as were the Postgates) he achieved international renown as a composer and player of the viola. A youth called Nicholas Postgate joined the Simpson Players, known also as the Egton Players, a group of touring performers organised by the Simpsons of Westonby in Kirkdale. As Westonby was only a mile or so from the Postgate home at Kirkdale Banks and as Nicholas and Christopher were relations and contemporaries, there is little doubt they would know one another or even be friends.

This closeness and the fact the Players were based in Egton parish suggests that the Nicholas who joined the Simpsons was indeed the future martyr and not the older Nicholas Postgate from Sleights.

*  *  *


Civil Recusant Returns for Egton

The Egton Civil Recusant Returns 1604-1691 contain the names of locations in or near Kirkdale with current names in brackets: eg Growmanhurst (Grosmont); Egton; Mirkebeck (Mirkside); Egton Wood (Arncliffe Wood); Kirkdale (Church Dale); Lindberberhill (Limber Hill); Egton Bridge; Leaserigg; Westonby; Whitegill; Shortwayte (Shortwaite); Okebar Holme (Oak Bridge Holme); West Banks, Egton Banks; Horsemirehead (between Egton and Aislaby) and Kirkdale Banks. Many of these locations were in Kirkdale, a small valley with a remarkably high number of recusants - 130 in the Return of 1614. Many of these hamlets had their own named pews in St Hilda's Catholic Church at the head of Kirkdale, now known as Egton Mortuary Chapel.

Kirkdale (not Kirkdale Banks) appears in the 1604 Recusants Return but the entry refers to Jane Postgate, described as a widow and mother of Father Postgate.

This is erroneous on two accounts. First, Jane was not the mother of Nicholas Postgate, but secondly it could not have been known at that time that the child Nicholas would become Father Postgate. Clearly, someone added those words at a later date. However, her surname was Postgate. The fact her name appears on the Egton Return suggests she lived within the Egton Chapelry. Maybe there were two Janes?

Kirkdale Banke (sic) also appears on two occasions in the 1604 Returns. The first records the recusants Ninian Smithson and his wife Ann. The second records as a recusant Margerie, wife of Robert White of Kirkdale Banke. However, a third family is featured as living here, albeit named as Kirkdale Bankes. These were James and Margaret Postgate and their sons - see Appendix A.

Thus we have documentary proof that three families lived at Kirkdale Banks: James and Margaret Postgate with their children; Ninian Smithson and his family; and Margaret and Robert White. There would be three separate houses on this site. This fact is supported by the 1636 map that shows three buildings on Kirkdale Banks.

In addition, the 1611 Egton Recusant Return shows Margaret Postgate and her servant, Anne Postgate, over 18.

The relationship with Anne Postgate is not known but Margaret's address is given as West Banks, Egton. This could be another Margaret but in fact, this is at the same location as Kirkdale Banks as a visit to the site will prove. A house, probably dating to the 18th century and called West Banks, stands today on Kirkdale Banks but at that time it was probably the name of a location close to or even upon Kirkdale Banks. It is rather like describing Glaisdale Dale and Glaisdale Side - those two names refer to the same place.

*  *  *

NB: The Recusant Returns (1604-1691) do not show any Egton Bridge recusants by the name of Postgate. This suggests no Postgates lived at Egton Bridge. However, the 1614 Return, which contains more than 130 recusant names for Egton, has this entry: Margaret Postgate aged 40 and 12 years a recusant. She is depicted as "Mother of Nicholas" (which may have been added later) but the entry does not provide any address and her age may have been wrongly estimated. She was probably 34 but did not live in Egton Bridge. The Postgates are not listed as Recusants in any of the Returns from 1616 onwards.

Margaret Postgate died in 1624, aged c.44 whilst Nicholas was at Douai which was then within the Spanish Netherlands, and her eldest son, Matthew inherited the family property at Kirkdale Banks. In this way, the Postgate occupancy of Kirkdale Banks continued. Close examination of the 1636 map at the Kirkdale Banks location shows a footpath leading from stepping stones over the River Esk near its junction with Stonegate Beck. That footpath remains in use today, taking the visitor up a very dirty and very steep path to the farmhouse called West Banks, Glaisdale, YO21 2QP. Access to West Banks is also by road from the foot of Limber Hill, Glaisdale and from the opposite direction by roads leading from the A171 (Whitby to Guisborough) road.

Even the hedgerow patterns of the adjoining fields can still be recognised on the 1636 map. The gradient of the field is too steep to accommodate domestic dwellings, consequently the three families who lived at Kirkdale Banks - Postgates, Smithsons and Whites - would probably have had their homes close together at the top, on the level site where West Banks now stands. Stones from their homes were probably used in the construction of that farm, perhaps in the 18th or even 19th century. Recycling old buildings in this way was common practice: it also happened to Father Postgate's tiny lodge on the moors - its stones were built into the present Hermitage.

Examination of the 1636 map will also reveal three black dots beside the path leading up Kirkdale Banks from the stepping stones across the River Esk. These signify three dwellings: the homes of the Smithsons, Whites and Postgates. One of those small black dots is probably the only evidence of Father Postgate's childhood home.

Thus the Recusant Returns, other accounts and that old map are all in agreement: Kirkdale Banks was the location of the Postgate family home.

*  *  *



Kirkdale was the name of a small valley to the west of Egton. Bordered on the west by Stonegate Beck and the River Esk, it contained Kirkdale Beck below a small kirk or church. Around 1849 the name was changed to Church Dale almost certainly by Ordnance Survey officials. It contains farms and hamlets, and many named fields, some of which are mentioned in the Egton Civil Recusant Returns. The former Catholic Church of St Hilda (c.13th century), much damaged then renovated, now serves as Egton Mortuary Chapel. This church may have been the focus of intense religious fervour during the Penal Times.

  1. It is doubtful whether Kirkdale House existed at Egton Bridge.
  2. It is even more doubtful that Nicholas Postgate was born at Egton Bridge. There is no evidence of him growing up there.
  3. The available evidence indicates the Postgate family home was an un-named dwelling at Kirkdale Banks, Egton. It is known that the father of Nicholas, James Postgate, lived at Kirkdale Banks until his death in 1602/3.
  4. We do not know how long he lived there before his death, eg: the time when Nicholas and his older brothers were born (but see Note E following). However, it does appear that William Postgate, a retired farmer and James' father, also lived at the house on Kirkdale Banks and that James inherited the smallholding from him and lived there with his family.
  5. Following James' early death, Margaret Postgate continued to live at Kirkdale Banks. She signed a conveyance relating to the property in 1620, and remained there until her death in 1624 when it was inherited by her eldest son, Matthew, thus continuing the Postgate presence at Kirkdale Banks. Appendix A (4).
    The return to the moors by Nicholas Postgate c.1662-5 is very significant. It followed more than 30 years ministry in West Yorkshire, East Yorkshire and North Yorkshire near Thirsk during which the Civil Wars were fought. At the age of around 62-65, when life expectancy for a man was about 38-40, he returned to his home area, probably expecting to die there and be buried in Kirkdale. His tiny moorland base near Ugthorpe was only a mile from Westonby Lodge and two miles from his childhood home at Kirkdale Banks - in effect, he had come home. His mother and father had died at Kirkdale Banks and might have been buried in St Hilda's churchyard at Kirkdale with a secret Catholic ceremony or even in a special Catholic place of burial nearby.
    His further 17 years or so of ministry on those moors followed by his martyrdom at York were destined to conclude his life but during that time there is no evidence of him living at, or working from, Egton Bridge, although he and visiting priests were in regular touch with the Smiths of Bridgeholme Green.
    We must not forget the earlier priests who staffed the bridge chapel prior to the Reformation.
    So were his martyred remains returned from York to Kirkdale by his friends for secret burial? That is not impossible.
  6. Strong circumstantial evidence suggests that Blessed Nicholas Postgate was born at Kirkdale Banks, Egton. There is no doubt the family home was an unnamed house/smallholding at Kirkdale Banks near Egton, and not Egton Bridge. However, in the Whitby Gazette (February 1967), Father Quinlan wrote of the family home at Kirkdale House, Egton Bridge, adding "At Nicholas' birth in 1599, the family had lived here for only some four years or less..."
    Lived where? There is no record of the family living at Egton Bridge. Father Quinlan had himself referred to known family home at Kirkdale Banks in his Whitby Gazette feature in 1967. It is feasible that James and Margaret had been married for about four years before James' death during which time they produced three sons and perhaps a fourth child. If "the family" referred to by Father Quinlan were Nicholas, his two elder brothers and perhaps a fourth sibling plus his mother and father, James and Margaret, it follows that Nicholas must have been born at Kirkdale Banks.
    If Father Quinlan was unknowingly writing about Kirkdale Banks to which he had previously referred, (Appendix A, note 4), it supports the proposition that Nicholas was born at Kirkdale Banks, Egton (now with a Glaisdale postal address).
    That was the true family home. From that home on Kirkdale Banks, we know that the recusants' valley of Kirkdale is where Nicholas Postgate grew up to become Martyr of the Moors.

*  *  *



  1. The Father Postgate Story by Fr David Quinlan
    Whitby Gazette 17th February 1967
  2. ibid.
  3. The Postgate Society Newsletter, February 2013.
  4. Hearts of Oak (website of the Blackburn Kitching Ancestry.) J.L. Connor
  5. The Father Postgate Story by Fr David Quinlan
    Whitby Gazette 17th February 1967
  6. ibid.
  7. ibid.

*  *  *

Nicholas Rhea is a pseudonym of Peter N. Walker. He is author of more than 133 books, fact and fiction, and has written thousands of articles about North Yorkshire and the Moors.

His 'Constable' series of books were televised as the 1960s ITV drama Heartbeat set in Goathland and regularly featuring Egton Bridge and Glaisdale. The Postgate Inn at Egton Bridge featured as The Black Dog in Heartbeat and Beggar's Bridge, Glaisdale made regular appearances in the series.

Nicholas Rhea grew up in Glaisdale and attended St Hedda's School in Egton Bridge, marrying his wife Rhoda in St Hedda's Church. Married for more than 54 years, they have four children and eight grandchildren.

Some of his Rhea ancestors are buried in the graveyard of St Hilda's former Catholic Church now overlooking what used to be known as the recusant valley of Kirkdale.

Postscript: Nicholas Rhea now adds a very personal note.

At the Glaisdale side of the River Esk only about a quarter of a mile from, and within sight of, the location of the Postgate family home at Kirkdale Banks, there stands Thorneywaite House with Thorneywaite Cottage. That cottage was my childhood home - I was born there in 1936 and throughout my 77 years, I have never had any reason to link it with Father Postgate or the recusant valley of Kirkdale. Even when I started the research for my book about Father Postgate, I had no idea we had both been born as near neighbours and in such close proximity. From my earliest years until my book was nearing completion, I thought Father Postgate had been born at Kirkdale House, Egton Bridge. Discovering and linking the emerging facts that form the contents of this article, and the remarkable coincidence they have revealed, has been my greatest surprise and delight.

Back to the Postgate home page