11 October 2023

Three churches, three pubs
and some episcopal ruins by
the river in Bishopthorpe

The Gothic ruins of 18th century Saint Andrew’s Church, on the site of a 13th century church in Bishopthorpe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

During our visit to Bishopthorpe, south of York, we took time to see Bishopthorpe Palace, the official residence of the Archbishop of York, to see the village churches and pubs, and to walk along the banks of the River Ouse.

Saint Andrew’s Church was first built ca 1205-1215, probably by the Gilbertine monks of York, whose priory at Fishergate was also known as Saint Andrew’s. The church was built in Bishopthorpe in the Early English style of architecture and was cruciform in shape, with a central tower and two bells.

The Priory of Saint Andrew was founded in York in 1202 by Hugh Murdoc, who endowed it with rents and land in the village of Bishopthorpe. The village was known by several names, including Thorpe Saint Andrew, and then later Andrewthorpe.

The name of Bishopthorpe was not used until Walter de Gray, Archbishop of York, bought lands in this village owned by the Priory and monks of Saint Andrew’s. Archbishop de Gray built his palace there. Ever since it has been the palace of the Archbishops of York and the village has also been known as Bishopthorpe.

John Sharpe, Archbishop of York in 1691-1714, erected a gallery in Saint Andrew’s Church in 1700, and the choir and chancel were repaired and beautified in 1707.

The church built by Archbishop Drummond was too close to the River Ouse and was regularly flooded (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

However, the mediaeval church was in very poor condition by 1768, and its foundations had been eroded by the River Ouse. The church was demolished on the orders of Archbishop Robert Hay Drummond, and only its foundations retained.

Archbishop Drummond commissioned the architect Thomas Atkinson to design a new church on the site of the original church. Atkinson’s church was largely built of brick, and retained the earlier cruciform plan. Its windows were relocated from the chapel at Cawood Castle, and their glass was designed by William Wailes.

But this church was still too close to the River Ouse and it too was regularly flooded. Archbishop Edward Venables-Vernon-Harcourt paid £2,000 to replace the roof and floor in 1842, a south vestry was added, and porches were added to each transept.

Archbishop Harcourt also built a stone wall on the riverbank to reduce the risk of floods. Gas lighting was added in 1868, a new organ was installed in 1870, and the pews were replaced in 1872.

The church was built of brick, covered in Magnesian Limestone. It was in the Gothic style, including a Tudor-style central doorway, with a three-light pointed window above. However, the new church was built entirely of brick, the walls were only 14 inches thick.The church suffered a further major flood in 1892, and it was decided to build a new Saint Andrew’s Church, away from the river.

The third Saint Andrew’s Church in Bishopthorpe was built away from the River Ouse in 1898-1899 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The new church was built in 1888-1899, and the old church was largely demolished, with just the west front retained. Other than the west front, the foundations of the nave, transepts and chancel survive, as does the head of one window.

The third Saint Andrew’s Church in Bishopthorpe was built away from the River Ouse in 1898-1899 on Back Lane, now known as Church Lane, and the tower was added in 1903. The church was designed by the church architect Charles Hodgson Fowler (1840-1910), who began his career as an apprentice of Sir George Gilbert Scott.

The Early English piscina from the earlier church was found in the old Churchyard in 1895 by Canon John Robert Keble, Vicar of Bishopthorpe in 1891-1903, and is now built into the sanctuary of the present church.

The new church was consecrated by Archbishop William Maclagan on Saint James’ Day 25 July 1899. Incumbents in the 20th century included Canon Mark Green (1917-2009), who was Vicar of Bishopthorpe (1964-1972), before becoming Bishop of Aston (1972-1982).

A large red granite cross marks the grave of Archbishop William Thomson of York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The ruins of the earlier, 18th century Saint Andrew’s Church in Bishopthorpe still stand south of the village, close to the banks of the River Ouse and Bishopthorpe Palace. A large red granite cross marks the grave of Archbishop William Thomson of York who died on Christmas Day 1890.

The ruin was listed Grade II in 1985.

The present Methodist Church in Bishopthorpe opened in 1899, replacing an earlier Methodist chapel built in 1833.

The present Methodist Church in Bishopthorpe opened in 1899 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Bishopthorpe is close to the River Ouse, and has a population of about 3,200. In recent decades, the village has effetively become a commuting suburb of York, but it retains its individual identiry and charm.

As well as these three churches – the present Saint Andrew’s, the ruined Saint Andrew’s, and the Methodist church – there are three pubs in the village: the Ebor Inn (previously the Brown Cow) takes its name from Eboracum, the Roman name for York; the Marcia was previously known as the Grey Mare; and the Woodman is both a restaurant and pub.

We called into the Woodman as our afternoon visit to Bishopthorpe came to an end, and received a warm welcome before heading back to York.

The Woodman was a welcome stop at the end of walking about Bishopthorpe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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