subfonds YDA/9 - Rural Deaneries

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Rural Deaneries


  • 1843-2005 (Creation)

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Approximately 1.5 cubic metres

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Archdeaconries are divided into smaller units called rural deaneries (more often called deaneries, or area deaneries, today, as many are not ‘rural’). Every parish in the diocese is within a deanery and looking after the deanery is the rural dean.

Rural deaneries in the Diocese of York came gradually into existence at about the same time as archdeaconries - probably in the twelfth century. Some of the rural deaneries corresponded to the civil divisions of wapentake, but by no means all. By the third quarter of the thirteenth century, the deaneries in the diocese numbered 20. In the Archdeaconry of York were the five Rural Deaneries of York, Ainsty, Craven, Doncaster and Pontefract. In the Archdeaconry of the East Riding were the four Rural Deaneries of Buckrose, Dickering, Harthill and Holderness. In the Archdeaconry of Cleveland were the three Rural Deaneries of Bulmer, Cleveland and Ryedale. In the Archdeaconry of Richmond were the three Rural Deaneries of Boroughbridge, Catterick and Richmond. In the Archdeaconry of Nottingham were the five Rural Deaneries of Bingham, Newark, Nottingham, Retford and Southwell.

Numbers of rural deaneries in the Diocese of York altered with the diocesan changes of the sixteenth century and again in the early nineteenth century. The Archdeaconry of Richmond, with its rural deaneries, was removed into the new Diocese of Chester in 1541 and the Archdeaconry of Nottingham, with its rural deaneries, was removed into the Diocese of Lincoln in 1837. After 1836 the Rural Deaneries of Craven, most of the Rural Deanery of Pontefract and the western part of the Rural Deanery of Doncaster were removed from the Archdeaconry of York to become part of the new Diocese of Ripon.

In the mid to late nineteenth century many new parishes were created and the administration of the diocese became more complex and wide ranging. As a result, the number of deaneries increased. So, for example, by 1865, there were 26 deaneries in the diocese and by 1894 there were 32. Numbers, boundaries and names of rural deaneries underwent a number of changes during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and these can be traced through the annual editions of the York Diocesan Calendar (later the York Diocesan Yearbook). In 1914 there was a reduction in numbers of deaneries after the removal of the Archdeaconry of Sheffield to become the new Diocese of Sheffield. Further changes have meant that in 2016 there are 21 deaneries in the diocese: the Deaneries of York, Easingwold, Selby, New Ainsty, South Ryedale, Derwent and South Wold in the Archdeaconry of York, the Deaneries of Beverley, Scarborough, Hull, Bridlington, North Holderness, South Holderness, Harthill and Howden in the Archdeaconry of the East Riding and the Deaneries of Middlesbrough Whitby, Guisborough, Mowbray, Stokesley and Northern Ryedale in the Archdeaconry of Cleveland.

The rural dean, in charge of the deanery, is an office which has existed from medieval times, when his duties were to inspect clergy and laity in order to report to the bishop; he also regularly convened rural chapters to gain knowledge of the state and condition of the deanery and to discover any irregularities. However, the growth in powers of archdeacons from the early thirteenth century led to the decay of rural chapters and a diminution of the powers of rural deans. By the time of the Reformation the powers of rural deans had declined, and the office became extinct in some dioceses, or else existed in name only. However, the rural deans in the Diocese of York had developed a particular function which they exercised in relation to probate. Because of the extensive area of the Diocese, which included remote parts and difficult terrain, sometimes making journeys to York difficult, it had become the practice for rural deans to grant probates in common form and grants of administration, so that executors did not have to travel all the way to the Exchequer Court in York.

The office of rural dean underwent a revival and was expanded in its functions and duties from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, with the aim of increasing his role of inspection and reporting from the deanery. He (or she) now assists and reports problems to the archdeacon and advises parochial clergy and reports any matters to the bishop which are useful for the bishop to know. He convenes the Deanery Chapter, which is a gathering of clergy for mutual collaboration and support, prayer and the sharing of thoughts and ideas. He has a few statutory powers, for example in cases of incumbents’ resignations, disciplinary proceedings and ecclesiastical dilapidations. He has a role in the diocesan board of patronage and frequently acts as a sequestrator of any vacant benefice in the deanery. The rural dean is generally appointed by the bishop, must be in holy orders, but could be a deacon rather than a priest. The office is not permanent and the occupant can be removed at will. He receives no remuneration for this office.

The role of the rural dean has acquired a greater importance since the introduction of synodical government in 1970 and of the deanery synod, which is the lowest tier in synodical government under the General Synod and the diocesan synod. Deanery synods, which replaced a previous system of ruridecanal conferences, consist of a house of clergy and a house of laity and are jointly chaired by the rural dean (or ‘area dean’) and a lay chairman. The functions of deanery synods are much wider than the old ruridecanal conferences. Deanery synods consider matters concerning the Church of England and make provision for such matters in relation to the deanery; they consider and express an opinion on matters of religious or public interest (though they may not issue statements on doctrine); they gather the opinion of the parishes in the deanery on common problems, discuss and formulate policies, foster a sense of community and promote the mission of the church. They put into effect provisions made at diocesan synod and exercise any functions delegated by the diocesan synod.

Records in this section include minutes and other records of deanery chapters, ruridecanal conferences and deanery synods, administrative files, correspondence and papers, deanery newsletters and magazines, papers relating to committees, visitation books and other records. There are records for 22 Rural Deaneries: Ainsty (1845-1975); Beverley (1924-1981); Buckrose (1888-1995); Bulmer (1911-1980); Easingwold (1910-1999); Escrick (1916-1980); Guisborough (1980-1983); Harthill (1921-1969); Helmsley (1870-1937); Hull (1868-1967); Malton (1936-1988); Market Weighton (1843-1985); New Ainsty (1986-2005); North Holderness (1952-1969); Northallerton (1979-1991); Pickering (1925-1972); Pocklington (1873-1985); Selby (1909-1988); South Holderness (1892-1919); Tadcaster (1943-1977); Thirsk (1913-1991); York City (1937-1973).


Further accruals are expected.

System of arrangement

This is part of the new arrangement of the York Diocesan Archive which is currently being prepared.
The new arrangement draws on the earlier arrangements of 1973 and 2003-2005 but will also incorporate some reorganisation, based on a comprehensive survey and inventory of the archive, and much new cataloguing.

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  • English

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Finding aids

Until the new arrangement of the York Diocesan Archive is complete, the online finding aids to series level on the Archives Hub, should be consulted. These reflect the 1973 arrangement as modified in 2003-2005.

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Created by K. Webb April 2016




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