A church is known to have existed at Pannal from the early 12th century, called St. Michael the Archangel (or All Angels) church.
The area was invaded by the Scots early in the 14th century, with St. Michael's church being sacked in 1318 and used as the Scot's headquarters.
After the defeat of the Scots, what was left of the church came into the possession of Edmund Earl of Cornwall, who in turn exchanged it for another part of Knaresborough Forest, which was owned by the brothers of the house of St.Robert of Knaresborough.
The remains of the old wooden building was replaced by a stone church and ordained in 1348. It was held by the order until the dissolution of their house in 1539. It is still known as St. Robert's to this day.
St. Robert's church is in Pannal village at the SE corner of the Parish of Pannal, which stretches about 3 miles north to Low Harrogate and about 4 miles west to Beckwithshaw. Crimple beck forms the southern border of the parish, with the parish of Kirkby Overblow to the south, Wetherby/Spofforth to the east and Knarsborough to the north-east.
Up to the 18th and early 19th C, a Church was not just the religious centre of any village, but also the civic and judicial centre. Important and valuable civil documents were kept in the Parish Chest in the village church. Keys to the chest were kept by the vicar and church wardens. The parish chest was also the repository (bank) for civic monies and social welfare was dispensed in the parish through the church. This included the setting up and operation of "Poor Houses" and "Work Houses". Parish responsibilities were strongly enforced between parishes. Thus if a poor person or family moved to another parish, the new parish could either send them back to their home parish or levy their home parish for poor house support.
The parish also had its own constable in addition to the village constable. Pannal was no exception as evidenced by the hand-cuffs and truncheon relics hanging in the vestry. Part of the constables duties included keeping the "stocks" in good repair. Up until the early 1960's, the Pannal stocks stood to the left of the gate in the church yard of St. Roberts. Their demise or current where-abouts is now unknown.
The appearance of a suspicious character in the village was a signal for the constable to raise the "Hue and Cry" which he did by calling "Out, Out!". The parishioners would follow him in hot pursuit. If a criminal offence had been committed, then the constable would seek to make an arrest. If a murder was committed, and the offender escaped out of the parish, then the parish could be fined for negligence in not preventing his escape.
In the anti-Catholic years, the church also enforced the financial penalty on people failing to attend weekly service.
As with most English churches, St. Robert's has the village grave yard adjacent. Often the wealthy were buried in stone coffins, but most were buried with no coffin at all. An old unused coffin or "robber" stone still stands in the yard today. An article in "Through Three Ridings by Wayfarer" in 1938, states that the stone bore an inscription reading 'This stone was originally made to prevent body-snatching from this church-yard. About 1932 it was removed and made into a sink. It was returned to the church authorities and replaced by the Harrogate group of the Yorkshire Archaeologcal Society in 1938.' Sadly, the inscription can no longer be seen.
In 1678, in order to boost the wool trade, a law was enacted forbiding all burial of bodies enclosed in anything except woolen cloth, under penalty of a 5 pound fine.
In 1999, extensions to the church building for the junior church and youth club, required relocation of 5 old (18thC and 19thC) graves. A world-wide search was launched by local historian Mrs. Anne Smith, to locate living relatives of the Bentley, Cluderay, Foster and Thackery families. The Cluderay descendants decided on full exhumation and reinterment, and the other families' descendants decided on simple relocation of the head-stones. In May 1999, the exhumation was carefully carried out under the oversite of an archeaologist. Then on the afternoon of May 28th, 30 descendants of the Cluderary family and a half cousin of the Bentley's attended the reinterment service led by the Rev. Mark Beresford-Peirse. The event received wide press coverage Yorshire wide.
St. Robert's is one of the few churches in the country that has bestowed the privilege of burial in the chancel, to the Lay Rector. The position of Lay Rector lies with the owner of Pannal Hall (the Bentley family for the last 275 years since 1724) and includes responsibility for maintenance of the chancel fabric 'wind and weatherproof'.
The church building is of simple, some would say plain, construction, reminiscent of the Norman style. It is constructed of locally quarried stone with a slate roof. The truncated clock tower and entrance face south-west.
A short nave with four window bays has inward facing choir seats in front of the pulpit on the right and pipe organ on the left. A smaller chancel to the rear contains the altar. It is said that the nave was rebuilt in 1772.
Amongst St. Robert's beautiful stained glass windows, is a small very old window said to represent the gateway of the Friary at Knaresborough. It is between two trees with a large cross below it. The trees represent the ancient Forest of Knaresborough and the cross was worn on the Friars robes. Further extensions to the building have occurred in the 20thC including the junior church and youth room in 1999 (see above).
The first recorded vicar at Pannal was William de Sancto, the Vicar of St. Michael's some time in the 13th century according to the Torres Archdeaconry of York.
The first vicar of the rebuilt St.Roberts in 1348 was John Brown, one of the brothers of the House of St.Robert, Knaresborough.
In 1822, Rev.R.B.Hunter is listed as the vicar in Baines Directory and in Langdale's Topographical Dictionary of Yorkshire (1822)
The Rev. Mark Rowntree was vicar at St. Robert's from 1883 to 1920, though resident in Harrogate. In addition to his vicarage duties, he found time to write a book entitled "Pannal Past and Present - The Past and Present of an Ancient Yorkshire Parish".
At the end of the 20thC, the vicar is Mark Beresford-Peirse.
Most of the material on this page has been derived from Anne Smith's book, "Postcards from Pannal", 1999, which in turn drew information from Rev. Mark Rowntree's book.
Details of the 1999 extensions and relocation of graves come from personal correspondence and newspaper clippings concerning the author's gr. gr. gr. grand-parents' grave.