Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Historic Goodmanham: an ancient pagan temple and a beautiful bench.....

Historic Goodmanham East Yorkshire

Adventures around Goodmanham, 
Near Market Weighton, East Yorkshire.

When we trooped through Goodmanham on a Justbod field trip, we had no idea how much interesting history had occurred in this beautiful village. It was only when we got back and started researching that we realised that Goodmanham is a truly ancient site, where big events had occurred in the past.

With finds dating back to the stone age, the village boasts many ancient earthworks, and one of the most ancient roads of Britain, near the Western boundary.

All Hallows Church, Goodmanham

In Saxon times the village was the location of one of the main pagan religious sites of Anglo Saxon Northumbria (at this time it was an enormous kingdom stretching from the Humber to the Firth of Forth, and Westwards all the way to the Isle of Man.)

In 627 Goodmanham was witness to a pivotal point in British history when King Edwin of Northumbria was converted to Christianity, and his high priest Coifi took actions which led to the sacking and burning of the pagan temple. It is related by St Bede in his 'History of the English Church and People.'

All Hallows Church, Goodmanham

It is believed that All Hallows Church now stands on the very site of this ancient temple, originally a pagan shrine.

All Hallows Church, Goodmanham

A beautiful church, sited on a raised knoll in the centre of the village, we only had time to view the outside, as it was locked and we didn't have sufficient time to get the key from the pub with the remaining daylight that we had left to complete the trip. We will have to go back someday, especially in the light of all that we have learnt.

A bit further on the Wolds Way is one of six Poetry benches made by Angus Ross from steamed oak with the following atmospheric poem by John Wedgwood Clarke, a Scarborough poet, carved into it:

"From dark to dark the bird flies through the fire-lit hall,
flies through the axe that strikes the shrine,
through burning that grows once more in stone and coloured light,
through rain as it amazes chalk
and flowers in this latest cup of breath."

Poetry bench near Goodmanham

I think the bird in the poem is a reference to the speech made at the conversion of Edwin, reported by Bede, where the parallel is drawn between a person's journey through life and the flight of a swallow, entering a great hall through a window, finding comfort momentarily in light and warmth, before flying out the other side, into darkness.

I also think the axe is a reference to the axe thrown into the shrine by Edwin's High Priest Coifi, just before his followers burnt down the pagan temple, (although in Bede's text it is a spear.)

These are purely my own interpretations, and if anyone knows any more about the references in this poem, do please let me know.

Here's the text from Bede:

"Then immediately, in contempt of his former superstitions, he (Coifi) desired the king to furnish him with arms and a stallion, that he might mount and go forth to destroy the idols: for it was not lawful before for the high priest either to carry arms , or to ride on anything but a mare. Having, therefore, girt a sword about him, with a spear in his hand, he mounted the king's stallion, and went his way to the idols. The multitude, beholding it, thought that he was mad; but as soon as he drew near the temple he did not delay to desecrate it by casting into it the spear which he held; and rejoicing in the knowledge of the worship of the true God, he commanded his companions to tear down and set fire the temple, with all its precincts. This place where the idols once stood is still shown, not far from York, to the eastward, beyond the river Derwent, and is now called Godmunddingaham, where the high priest, by the inspiration of the true God, profaned and destroyed the altars which he had himself consecrated."

These were just a couple of the very interesting things we found on this trip. There was also the Wonderland Tree, Britain's Tallest Man, Londesborough Village / All Saints Church; and St Helen's Holy Well.

A great area to visit and explore!

Thanks for reading!


Justbod Team
Thank you to Kevin F. on Facebook for the extra information in his comment on our Facebook post on 17/04/16


  1. Fascinating! Will put Goodmanham on the list!

    1. Worth a visit Mike, as is the nearby Market Weighton & St Helen's Holy well :)

  2. The Pub is well worth a visit too! Award winning micro brewery!!!! then a lovely walk to Londesborough.

    1. We managed to visit the pub (before the church - and only found out about the key then, when we had no time left!) and you're right Mima - well worth visiting! Goodmanham Arms Ale house, if I remember rightly, with a couple of tankards on the sign and a wee gremlin on guard outside!