The history of South Kirkby is closely bound up with the history of its church.
The very name “Kirkby” derives from the old English word “Kirk” meaning church and the Old Norse “by” denoting village. Thus the word “Kirkby” means village with a church.
A wooden church occupied the present site in Saxon times but this was replaced by a stone building after the original wooden structure was destroyed in a fire.
According to the West Yorkshire Archeological Society, although appearing externally to be all one date, the different parts of the stone building date to different eras. Some parts probably date back to the 11 th century (or even earlier), while others e.g. the West Tower , were constructed in the major remodeling work that took place around 1470.
During this remodeling work of the 15 th century the church, as we know it today took shape. In addition to the West Tower the outer walls and both aisles were rebuilt, and the South Chapel was added.
This was a major reconstruction project and must have involved several highly skilled masons and their attendant labourers. Indeed, legend has it that the present named “ White Apron Street ” took its name from the route followed to work by these medieval workers.
The structure of the building has some interesting features: the South Porch has intriguing, if badly eroded, stone shields placed above the entrance which represent the coat of arms of the Wentworth, Wortley and Flinthill families. Wilkinson in his book “A History of South Kirkby” believes that these families may have given money to help pay for the restoration of the church and were rewarded for their generosity by having their coat of arms ostentatiously displayed over the South Porch.
Also, above the east and west sides of the Porch, are 2 small windows that suggest a hidden priest’s room. However, father Sibellas in his Guide to the Parish Church of South Kirkby, states that no such room exists.
Sibellas also suggests that the gargoyles and water spouts on the south side of the building dated from c.1260 and were taken from the earlier stone building and reused by the 15 th century builders.
The most striking feature of the Church is the lofty (approximately 96 feet) tower that is surrounded by battlements and 8 pinnacles. The tower had two different kinds of stone used in its construction: sandstone and limestone. The lower part of the tower is built in sandstone but the upper part of the edifice is built in limestone which because of its durability- making it less susceptible to weathering.
The interior of the Church also has several salient features that illustrate the history of the building. As a visitor stands with his/he back to the vestry, which is under the tower, he/she will be facing the Chapel of our Lady on the left and the Chapel of St George on the right. The visitor will also notice the huge Norman like sandstone arches that separate the North and South aisles from the nave. Gazing up at the ceiling of the church he/she will notice the wood beams decorated by various figures playing strange musical instruments.
Walking down the north aisle to the Chapel of Our Lady our visitor will notice various memorial tablets on the wall. One of them reads:” Near this place lieth interred the body of Sir John Wentworth of North Elmes …”
There are also several monuments in the Chancel to the Allott family-a family name closely associated with South Kirkby Church . Indeed it must be said that the history of the Church is more than just the history of the building. Many thousands of people have worshipped at this great monument to Christian devotion over many centuries. However, one particularly interesting account concerns one of the vicars of the Church –a certain George Beaumont who was executed for “treason” by the Roundheads after assisting local Royalists to recapture Pontefract Castle from the Parliamentarian forces. He was hung before the walls of the aforementioned castle in 1649 leaving a widow and 4 small children “with but little sustenance”.