A Brief History

In post-reformation times, there were very small numbers of recusant Catholics in the village of Burley-in-Wharfedale. In fact, in 1614, there were only five. The intermittent but punitive fines imposed on the Catholic gentry prevented a general resurgence of Catholicism in the North of England, despite the efforts of the seminary priests, Jesuits and Benedictines. However in the 1700s, a Benedictine mission at Myddelton Lodge in nearby Ilkley became a local centre of growth. In 1791, the position was improved by the Relief Act, and the Emancipation Act of 1829 finally gave Roman Catholics full recognition under the law. Numbers in England then increased both as a result of these legal changes and increasing immigration from Ireland.

By the early 1900s, the problem became one of providing sufficient numbers of churches and priests to cater for the increasing numbers of Catholic faithful. A single church in nearby Otley served an area of 90 square miles, including not only many separate towns and villages, but also three major hospitals that were established in the area to take advantage of the healthy rural air.

In 1930, a separate parish for Burley-in-Wharfedale and Menston was proposed, and the land for a church and house was bought. The bulk of the funding came from a retired civil servant living in Burley, a Mr. Frederick Le Fevre. The new church was consecrated in 1932, the first Parish priest being the selfsame but recently-ordained Frederick, now Father Le Fevre. It was the first church in England to be dedicated to the martyrs Thomas More and John Fisher, who were canonised three years later. The Parish Hall was added in 1936.  A yearbook from 1938 can be found here: Yearbook 1938

By the 1980s, SS John Fisher and Thomas More had become a thriving centre of worship for the Catholic population of the district. Not surprisingly, it was showing the effects of this usage and the general passage of time. In the late ’80s, a major restoration was carried out. Much of the fabric was renewed, a new foyer and passageway to the hall were added, and the layout was rearranged to cater for the liturgical requirements of Vatican Council II. The church and new altar were consecrated in October 1989.

In the 21st Century, the Church continues to serve the local population in Burley-in-Wharfedale and Menston, and continues to change to meet our needs for worship and companionship.