East Hardwick is an ancient community, appearing in a deed of around 1120 as 'Herdwica' and in 1296 as 'Herdwyk', which means herd farm.
In 1653, Stephen Cawood, a local farmer living in the village, endowed a trust for the building of a chapel and a free school in East Hardwick. Revenues from the trust were designated to maintain a schoolmaster, a preaching minister and for the relief of the poor. The chapel and school were built about 1660 and Stephen Cawood was buried in the area where the chapel was built but no further information is available. The Cawood Trust still exists and provides a small annual sum which the church uses in its work with the sick.
Cawood Free School was run by the schoolmaster, Bernard Greenwood, BA, who was also a minister of the chapel. A memorial stone showing his connection with the school and chapel can be seen in the area near the kitchen in St Stephen's church today.
In 1873, the chapel was demolished and a new church was built. The chairman of the trustees at this time was Thomas W Tew, who was a partner in Leatham Tew & Co, bankers (at what is now Barclay's Bank in Pontefract). Thomas Tew was also the founder Master of the St Oswald Lodge of Freemasons in Pontefract.
The foundation stone for the new church was laid by the Marquess of Ripon, then Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England and Grand Master of the Province of West Yorkshire, on 23rd October 1872. A meeting of the Provincial Grand Lodge was held in Pontefract Town Hall, after which the gathering progressed, in full Masonic regalia, to travel to East Hardwick. The mallet used to lay the foundation stone is still in use by Pontefract Mason and the church continues its links with St Oswalk Lodge by holding an annual service in September.
A list of the trustees at the time St Stephen's was built can be seen on the brass plaque on the wall near the kitchen area. Edmund Lord and Samuel Slack were both Masters of the Lodge and Samuel Slack had been co-proprietor of the Boys' Boarding School in East Hardwick.
The church was consecrated by Dr Thomson, Archbishop of York, on 25th November 1874.
In 1927, the original wooden turret in the centre of the church was replaced by a stone belfry and the bells were moved.
This picture shows the original interior of the church, with bell-ropes dangling from the wooden turret in the centre of the church. Notice also the oil lamps hanging above the pews.
Historical information taken from the book 'East Hardwick Past and Present, published in 2000 by East Hardwick Millennium Book Project Group