Of   all   the   priests   who   worked   in the        north-east        corner        of Yorkshire     during     penal     times the    one    remembered    with    the greatest      affection      is      Father Nicholas     Postgate.     The     exact year     when     Nicholas     Postgate was    born    is    uncertain;    at    the time    of    his    arrest    in    1678    he himself   said   that   he   was   ‘about the   age   of   four   score   years’   so   his birth     must     have     taken     place around   1599.   His   parents   were James    and    Margaret    Postgate who    lived    in    Egton    Bridge,    a small    hamlet    about    ten    miles inland from Whitby. Seminary training Little   is   known   about   Nicholas’ early    life.    On    4 th     July    1621    he entered       Douai       College       in northern   France   to   study   for   the priesthood.   He   would   have   been in      no      delusion      about      the probable   fate   he   would   face   on his   return   to   England:   Catholic priests   were   regularly   betrayed, hunted     down,     condemned     as traitors     and     executed     in     the most      barbaric      way.      Having completed    eight    years    of    study he   was   ordained   in   1629   and   left Douai   for   England   on   29 th    June 1630. Earliest missionary work The   only   knowledge   we   have   of the   missionary   career   of   Father Postgate      is      in      the      official account    of    his    examination    at Brompton    after    his    arrest.    The gentry were better able to
    conceal    a    Catholic    priest    than were   the   much   smaller   working- class   families.   He   said   that,   back in   England   from   France,   his   first home    was    at    Saxton    Hall    near Tadcaster    with    Sir    William    & Lady     Hungate.     He     remained there   until   May   1642   by   which time    both    of    his    patrons    were dead.    His    next    placing    was    at Halsham     in     Holderness,     the home    of    Sir    Henry    Constable (later     Viscount     Dunbar)     from there   he   went   to   a   junior   branch of      the      Constable      family      at Everingham. Later missionary work Precisely   why   Nicholas   Postgate, when   he   was   over   sixty   years   of age,      returned      to      his      native moors   is   a   matter   of   conjecture. At     first     he     may     have     been sheltered   by   the   Radcliffe   family at    the    Old    Hall    in    Ugthorpe. Later    he    was    able    to    establish himself   in   a   thatched   cottage   on the   moor   on   a   site   which   is   now occupied   by   the   house   known   as ‘The   Hermitage’   within   sight   of the    Whitby-Guisborough    road. Father      Postgate      served      the Catholics    of    the    whole    of    the North     Yorkshire     moors     from northern   Cleveland   to   well   south of       Whitby       and       inland       to Pickering.    He    became    a    well- known   and   much   loved   old   man as   he   walked   the   moors   dressed as   a   gardener,   visiting   his   people and saying Mass in their homes.
On   8 th    December   1678   Father Postgate     went     to     Littlebeck, about   five   miles   from   Sleights to      baptise      a      child.      John Reeves,   an   exciseman   based   in Whitby   and   a   vehement   anti- Catholic,   together   with   others came    on    the    scene    hoping    to find    arms    or    ammunition    in connection      with      the      Titus Oates   plot.   Instead,   they   found a   prayer   book,   altar   breads   and rosary    beads.    Father    Postgate was   arrested   and   taken   about twenty   miles   away   to   the   house of    the    magistrate    Sir    William Caley.    After    being    examined the   following   day   he   was   taken to   York   where   he   spent   months imprisoned   in   York   castle.   His trial   took   place   in   March   1679, he    was    convicted    of    being    a priest   and   sentenced   to   death. On    7 th     August    that    same    day the    sentence    was    carried    on what    is    now    the    site    of    York racecourse.     A     contemporary broadsheet     records     his     last words on the scaffold: “Mr    Sheriff,    you    know    that    I die   not   for   the   Plot   but   for   my religion.   I   pray   God   bless   the King   and   the   Royal   Family.   Mr Sheriff,   I   pray   you   tell   the   King that    I    never    offended    him    in any   way.   I   pray   God   give   Him his     grace,     and     the     light     of truth.    I    forgive    all    that    have wronged    me    and    brought    me to     this     death,     and     I     desire forgiveness of all people.