Village Focus: Coxwold’s historical charm

St Michaels of Coxwold, which lords over the landscape, is said to be one of the first churches in Yorkshire. Picture by Tony Johnson.
St Michaels of Coxwold, which lords over the landscape, is said to be one of the first churches in Yorkshire. Picture by Tony Johnson.
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Its pristine streets, manicured grass banks and honey-coloured stone houses lend Coxwold village qualities that undoubtedly see it qualify as a setting for big screen period dramas.

In fact this quiet village of just 190 residents in the North York Moors National Park, 22 miles north of York, is so well presented that it is a multiple-time winner of the ‘Best Kept Village’ competition.

The recognition is not lost on visitors, for the information is volunteered up by way of a sign outside St Michael’s Church.

“We were the last to win it before the Dalesman stopped doing it, you see,” explains parish councillor Jean Richardson.

According to the Coxwold Local History Society, there are a number of tell-tale signs that the village has its roots in early pre-Saxon times, from its proximity to Roman routes to the north from London to the location of a well under St Michael’s.

The Society reports that in the Domesday Book, Coxwold was called by its Saxon name, Cucvalt, as in ‘Cuc’, to cry, and ‘Valt’, a wood, and that this was translated as Cuckoowood, eventually evolving to the name it is known by today.

St Michael’s is architecturally imperious and lords over the landscape. Locals tell of it being one of the first churches in Yorkshire and probably built on the site of a pagan temple. The church visitors book notably contains the signature of Queen Mary.

Just down the road from the church is the village’s only pub, The Fauconberg Arms, which features pieces of Mouseman furniture and has a garden and terrace overlooking Byland Abbey in the distance.

The abbey lies one and a half miles north of the village and a visit on foot makes for one of a number of pleasant local walks.

Another fascinating diversion is Newburgh Priory, half a mile away, formerly the site of an Augustinian Priory and now a private estate which remains in the ownership of the Wombwell family. It is currently open to the public, allowing visitors to take in its extensive gardens and tour the stately home on Wednesdays and Sundays between 2-6pm but only until June 28.

The village’s 15th century Shandy Hall also commands curiosity. Two original wall paintings survive inside what was the home of author, Laurence Sterne, also Coxwold’s most famous parson, during the 1760s. Here, he penned celebrated novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy - the title that inspired the building’s present name.

“It’s nice to hear people comment when they come to see what a lovely village we have,” says Jean. “Even though we have lost a lot - two shops, the post office, school, railway... but there’s been very little development here and I hope it continues to be like that.”