St Peter’s church, Croft (Yorkshire North Riding) sits beside an ancient bridge over the Tees. It contains an array of unusual items including a sedilia with rustic carvings of figures (one of which may have been influential in the design of Charles Dodgson’s Cheshire Cat), a large 18th century font which would look more at home on the formal lawns of a grand house, and two enormous tomb chests (two of the largest I have ever seen in a parish church). Perhaps the most unusual and striking feature is the family pew in the north aisle.
The pew belonged to the Milbanke family, formerly of Halnaby Hall. Nikolaus Pevsner in the Buildings of England says it dates from before 1680, although I get the feeling it is somewhat later; perhaps early 18th century (the Victoria County History also suggests an 18th century date). It sits on five large wooden Tuscan columns and is equipped with a set of fetching red curtains. One ascends to the pew via a three-stage staircase with fancy twisted balusters.
Behind and underneath the enormous pew is an equally enormous tomb chest surrounded by an iron railing. It has no inscription but sports a funeral helm, sitting rather ill-at-ease on the top, and a series of heraldic shields of the Milbanke family. It is most probably the tomb of Sir Mark Milbanke 1st Baronet (d.1680) or, less likely, to his son Sir Mark (d.1698) who built a large family vault in the church.
The first Sir Mark was created a Baronet on the 7th of August 1661, presumably helped by the fact that his father, Mark Milbanke, had been High Sheriff of Northumberland and had also been instrumental in the restoration of Charles II to the Throne in 1660.
If you visit the church, try tapping on the front columns. You’ll find only the inner two are for structural support; the outer two are hollow and for show only.