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Church of St Oswald, Lythe
St Oswald's Church, Lythe
St. Oswald's church, Lythe, through lych-gate - 2016-05-28.jpg
St. Oswald's church, Lythe, through lych-gate
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54°30′24″N 0°41′18″W / 54.5066°N 0.6884°W / 54.5066; -0.6884
OS grid reference NZ850131
Location Lythe, North Yorkshire
Country England
Denomination Church of England
Weekly attendance 20
Status Active
Dedication St Oswald
Associated people John Fisher
Parish Lythe with Sandsend
Benefice Hinderwell, Roxby & Staithes with Lythe, Ugthorpe & Sandsend
Deanery Whitby
Archdeaconry Cleveland
Diocese York

The Church of St Oswald, Lythe, is the parish church for the village of Lythe, 4 miles (6.4 km) west, north west of Whitby in North Yorkshire, England. The church is at the top of Lythe Bank (the western end) and is just east of the village on the A174 road.

A church has been on the site since the 13th century, though the present building was adapted from the old church in 1910 by Sir Walter Tapper. It was grade I listed in 1969.


A church had been located on the site since the 13th century, but stones found in the early 20th century mark Lythe as being an important Viking burial ground. The tower of the old church was renovated in 1769, with the whole church being renovated in 1819. When Sir Walter Tapper rebuilt the church in 1910, only the north wall and the east end of the chancel were left untouched. During the rebuilding in the early 20th century, stones found in the walls of the tower were dated to pre-conquest times. Tapper also adapted the Norman tower to fit a spire, which acts as a way marker and coast marker for sailors travelling alongside the dangerous part of the coast near to here.

The church was granted to the monks of Nostell Priory during the period of Alexander III being pope (1159–1181) and so was named after their dedication of St Oswald. The church became crown property in the 1530s after its benefactor, Sir Francis Bigod was hanged at the Tyburn for high treason.

Before Tapper's restoration, several changes were made to the building which was essentially of 12th and 13th century origin. At some point, the walls were re-inforced with buttresses and two arches inside the church were demolished to make just one arch. The top of the tower was removed c. 1768 "for fear of it falling down upon the church." In 1818, the roof was stripped of its lead covering and replaced with slate. The churchyard was enlarged in 1887 and around the same period, a lych-gate was added.

The church is only 350 feet (110 m) away from the coast and is adjacent to a steep hill on the A174 road known as Lythe Bank. Its prominent location overlooking road and sea is often described as being in a commanding position for its views to the east. The chapel-of-ease of St Mary's at Sandsend, is believed to have been built when the population of Sandsend increased. The new church meant that worshippers could avoid the steep Lythe Bank to get up to St Oswald's.

Despite being described as having no antiquarian value by some writers (on account of its restoration in 1910) the building was given a grade I listing in 1969.

The roof was replaced again in 2018, when the roof tiles put up by Tapper were replaced with newer stones. The old sandstone tiles were carved into unique artworks by a local sculptor who then sold the pieces during the 2019 Tour de Yorkshire to raise money for the church.


The churchyard contains many graves, some dating as far back as the 10th century. Several of the burial plots are those from the Phipps family; the Phipps' are the family that have been in possession of Mulgrave Castle and woods for several centuries. Oswald Phipps, 4th Marquess of Normanby was buried here in 1994.

The churchyard also contains a memorial to the seventeen men from the village killed in the First World War and also commemorates seven unknown sailors who were washed ashore in the same period. The memorial sits to the south west of the church and is grade II listed.

In 1932, the Belgian trawler Jeanne was wrecked on the coast below Lythe. The graveyard contains a grave with three of the dead sailors.

Parish and benefice region

The Church of St Oswald, is the parish church for the Parish of Lythe which covers over 40 square miles (100 km2). The parish consists of the settlements of Lythe, Sandsend, Goldsborough, East & West Barnby and Kettleness and the area largely consists of a rural seaside landscape. The church is part of the benefice of Hinderwell, Roxby & Staithes with Lythe, Ugthorpe & Sandsend.

The benefice has a population of 2,700 but only 74 attend church, and of those, only 20 attend St Oswald's regularly. In 2016, St Oswald's performed three baptisms, nine weddings and seven funerals.


The following are listed as being rectors of St Oswalds between 1154 and 1537, when Edward Layton was presented as the vicar of St Oswalds by Henry VIII. Thereafter, all clergy are listed as vicars. Some sources list John Fisher, who was incumbent between 1499 and 1504 as being the Catholic Martyr of John Fisher and his recorder being Hugo Ashton, who succeeded him at Lythe.

Year Incumbent Year Incumbent Year Incumbent
1154 Robert, Priest of Lythe 1417 John Semer 1737 Thomas Gawton
1233 Hugo, Clericus 1433 Richard Langton 1739 Samuel Marsden
1267 John de Toucotes 1459 Christopher Bank 1760 Jonathan Robinson
1291 Stephen de Mauley 1481 Thomas Artas 1778 William Harrison
1296 Simon Clairvaux 1499 John Fisher 1780 Thomas Porter
1307 William de Melton 1504 Hugo Ashton 1826 William Long
1315 Nicholas de Huggate 1511 John Frost 1858 Henry R S Pearson
1318 Thomas de Pauhale 1516 Thomas Larke 1902 William G Harland
1319 Richard de Milton 1523 James Cockerell 1934 Phillip J Seymour Russell
1322 Adam de Heselbeck 1537 Edward Layton 1946 J K Bretherton Bennett
1328 Francis Gaytom 1544 John Pykering 1949 Dudley Joseph Hill
1330 William de Wardhoue ? Henry Fletcher 1957 Peter Richard Hodgson
1343 John de Bolton 1607 Robert Raynard 1961 Dennis Theodore Little
1370 Thomas de Myddleton 1640 Thomas Burrowes 1973 John William Foster
1372 John de St John 1662 William Shipton 1979 Peter Carr Ferguson
1372 John de Gascoigne 1667 Herbert Ferreman 1983 Robert Anthony Smailes
1394 Thomas Kellowe 1672 William Smeathman 1988 Walter Smith
1409 William Gaunton 1679 John Wiely 1999 E C Richard Burge
1416 Richard Yorke 1707 Ralph Bateman ? Malcolm Jackson/Josephine Evetts-Secker
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