30 August 2022

A short, quick visit to
some of the mediaeval
churches in York

All Saints’ Church on North Street is described as ‘York’s finest mediaeval church’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

My recent visit to York was short and brisk and it was impossible to include a proper visit to York Minster. However, I managed to visit some of the many mediaeval churches or their sites in York, and yesterday I described Saint Mary Junior Bishophill and the site nearby of Saint Mary Bishophill Senior.

All Saints’ Church on North Street is described as ‘York’s finest mediaeval church.’ It is attractively located near the River Ouse and next to a row of 15th century timber-framed houses.

All Saints’ Church was founded in the 11th century on land reputedly donated by Ralph de Paganel, whose name is commemorated in the Yorkshire village of Hooton Pagnell.

Externally, the main feature is the impressive tower with a tall octagonal spire. The earliest part of the church is the nave dating from the 12th century. The arcades date from the 13th century and the east end was rebuilt in the 14th century, when the chancel chapels were added. Most of the present building dates from the 14th and 15th century.

Inside, the church has 15th-century hammerbeam roofs and a collection of mediaeval stained glass, including the Corporal Works of Mercy (see Matthew 25: 31ff) and the ‘Pricke of Conscience’ windows, depicting the 15 signs of the End of the World. The pulpit dates from 1675.

The church was restored between 1866 and 1867 by JB and W Atkinson of York. This work included rebuilding the south aisle wall, adding a porch and a vestry, replacing half the roof, providing new seating throughout, scraping the pillars and walls, and installing a new organ.

The masonry work was carried out by Mr Brumby of Skeldergate, the carpentry by Mr Dennison, the plumbing and glazing by Messrs Hodgson and the painting by Mr Lee of Gillygate. The chancel ceiling and reredos were decorated by Mr Knowles. The chancel was laid with Minton tiles. The total cost of the restoration was £1,500. The chancel screen was installed in 1906, and designed by E Ridsdale Tate.

An anchorite building was erected at the west end of the church in the 15th century and a squint made through the wall so that Emma Raughton could observe the Mass being celebrated. The anchorites house was rebuilt in 1910 by E Ridsdale Tate.

All Saints’ Church is a Grade I listed building and was restored again in 1991 by the architect Peter Marshall.

The church has an Anglo-Catholic heritage, and worship is centred on the Eucharist. Mass is celebrated three times a week and the main service is Sung or High Mass at 5.30 pm every Sunday.

Saint Helen’s Church, Stonegate, facing onto Saint Helen’s Square (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Saint Helen’s Church, Stonegate, faces Saint Helen’s Square. The earliest evidence of the church is provided by the font, dating from the mid to late 12th century.

But, like other mediaeval churches in York, Saint Helen’s is probably a pre-conquest foundation, although most of the church dates from the 14th century and the church is essentially medieval. The west window incorporates significant amounts of 14th-and 15th-century glass.

The church was declared redundant in 1551 and partially demolished, but it was rebuilt in the 1550s.

Tombstones from Saint Helen’s Church in Davygate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

There was a large churchyard in front of the church until 1733, when it was bought by the Corporation of York and paved over to create Saint Helen’s Square. The bones and tombstones were moved to their present position in Davygate.

Saint Helen’s was rebuilt once again in 1857-1858 by WH Dykes and reopened on 16 September 1858. The north, south and east walls were taken down and rebuilt, the roof was replaced, pews were replaced with open seating, the chancel was rebuilt and extended by 10 ft, and gas lighting was installed. The tower was rebuilt by W Atkinson of York in 1875-1876.

The church is in a joint parish with neighbouring Saint Martin le Grand on the south side of Coney Street.

Saint Martin le Grand is the official civic church of York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

We stopped for coffee in a café overlooking the River Ouse, in a courtyard behind Saint Martin’s. The church is dedicated Saint Martin of Tours, the patron saint of soldiers, and while the church is generally known as Saint Martin le Grand, this title was coined in the 1830s and is not the official name of the church.

The church is the official civic church of York and was described in Victorian times as ‘one of the most beautiful churches in the city.’

The earliest masonry is from ca 1080, although the church is thought to be older. The tower was built in the 15th century.

The church was restored in 1853-1854 by JB and W Atkinson of York. The south side and east ends of the aisles were rebuilt, and the pierced battlement was added, to replace one removed 40 years earlier. The porch was added at the east end into Coney Street, and a south porch also added near the tower. New stained glass windows by William Wailes were added.

The church is known for the prominent clock on the east front overhanging the street. The clock was added in 1856 by Mr Cooke, with a carved figure of the ‘Little Admiral’ dating from 1778 – although the admiral seemed to be on shore leave when I went looking for him last week.

The church was largely destroyed in a bombing raid on 29 April 1942, but the 15th-century tower and south aisle remain, with a new vestry and parish room at the west end of the site. The Saint Martin window (ca 1437) was removed before the raid for safety. It now occupies a new transept opposite the south door, and it is the largest mediaeval window in York outside the Minster.

The church restoration by the architect George Gaze Pace in 1961-1968 is considered one of the most successful post-war church restorations in England, successfully blending the surviving 15th-century remains with contemporary elements. The reredos screen was designed by Frank Roper.

The tower of Saint Martin-cum-Gregory, now a Stained Glass Centre (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Another church dedicated to Saint Martin in York is the Church of Saint Martin-cum-Gregory in the Parish of Holy Trinity, Micklegate, now a Stained Glass Centre. The church was originally only dedicated to Saint Martin, but acquired its present name when it merged with Saint Gregory’s Church in 1585.

The church dates from the 11th century. Part of the nave and the north and south arcades date from the 13th century, the north aisle dates form the mid-14th century, and the chancel, chapels and arcades were rebuilt around 1430.

The north porch was added in 1655, and the west tower was refaced with brick in 1677. The clock was added in 1680. The upper stages of the tower were rebuilt again in 1844-1845 by JB and W Atkinson of York.

The church was restored in 1875 when the interior was cleared of the old square pews, the west gallery and the organ. The floor was levelled and laid with red and black tiles. The columns, arcades and walls were scraped and repaired. The roof of the nave was restored and painted. The organ was enlarged by Mr Denman of Skeldergate. New seating was fitted in the nave and Gurney stoves were introduced for heating.

A further restoration was carried out in 1894 when the chancel was re-roofed. The parish was united with Holy Trinity Church, Micklegate, in 1953.

After being made redundant, the church served as a public hall. Since 2008, it has been developed as a stained-glass centre and it is an occasional arts venue.

Saint John’s Church, Micklegate, has been an architectural centre, an arts centre and a bar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Saint John’s Church, Micklegate, is simple rectangular building, with the earliest parts including the tower base dating from the 12th century.

The chancel is 14th century. The north aisle and arcade were rebuilt, and the west end extended in the 15th century. The tower collapsed in 1551 and part of the north aisle was rebuilt.

The church was restored and altered by George Fowler Jones in 1850 to enable the widening of North Street. The south porch was added, the east end was rebuilt and there was extensive restoration. The windows were reglazed, a new floor laid and new pews were added.

JB and W Atkinson of York re-roofed the nave in 1866.

The church closed in 1934. It is a Grade II* listed church and later became the Institute of Architecture of the York Academic Trust, which merged into the new University of York.

The university later used the church as York Arts Centre in the 1960s. It was later sold and more recently has been used as a bar. The bell ropes hang around the bar float, and there is occasional ringing – though not very often.

Saint Sampson’s Church is the only church in England dedicated to Saint Sampson of York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Saint Sampson’s Church on Church Street, near Saint Sampson’s Square, lies across the line of the wall of Roman Eboracum, and is dedicated to Saint Sampson of York, the only church in England with this dedication.

The first church on the site was probably built before the Norman Conquest. A fragment of an early 11th-century cross has been found in the wall of a house on Newgate, within the former churchyard. The foundations of a Norman wall have also been found underneath the church.

The church was first referred to in 1154, and from 1394 the advowson belonged to the Vicars Choral of York Minster. The church was gradually rebuilt in the 15th century, the south aisle was rebuilt in the 1400s, and the north aisle dates from the 1440s, while the west tower was rebuilt in the 1480s.

There was a plan to merge the parish with that of Saint Helen’s Church, Stonegate, in 1549. Although this did not happen, Saint Sampson’s gained two bells from Saint Helen’s.

The tower was damaged during the English Civil War in 1644, and the Parliamentarian troops later destroyed most of the monuments in the church. The pre-Victorian features of the church include the east window of the north aisle, some roof bosses, the bell-frame and bells, the north and south doors, the piscina, and various monuments.

Most of the church was rebuilt by Frederick Bell in 1845-1848, and a vestry was added. The tower survived, but was reduced in height, although it was heightened again in 1910.

Saint Sampson’s Church was listed as Grade II in June 1954. But the church closed in 1969, and many of its fittings were removed. However, it was restored by George Pace, and in 1974 it reopened as a ‘drop-in centre’ for people who are over 60. Pace inserted a mezzanine floor over the north aisle to give space for offices, and placed a kitchen in the south aisle. The sanctuary was converted into a chapel, with a reredos from All Saints’ Church, Falsgrove.

Apart from Saint Sampson, York has its other saints too. Saint William of York, or William FitzHerbert, was twice Archbishop of York. He was restored after the death of his rival, Henry Murdac, in 1153, but died shortly after his return, allegedly from poison in the chalice he used to celebrate Mass on 8 June 1154. He was canonised in 1226.

Saint Margaret Clitherow (1556-1586) is known as ‘the Pearl of York.’ She was martyred by being pressed to death for refusing to enter a plea to the charge of harbouring Catholic priests. She was canonised in 1970 by Pope Paul VI. But more about her later this week.

The ‘Little Admiral’ appears to be on ‘shore leave’ from Cooke’s clock at Saint Martin le Grand (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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