10 October 2023
near York: home of
the Archbishops of York
for almost 800 years
One afternoon last week, we took the 3 or 4 km journey from York, where we were staying off Bishopthorpe Road, south to the suburban village of Bishopthorpe, 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.
Bishopthorpe Palace has been the official residence of the Archbishops of York since 1241, apart from 10 years during the Cromwellian era from 1650 until the Restoration in 1660. The Palace is set in a wooded, rural area, 5 km south of York, on the bank of the River Ouse. It is a Grade I listed building and has a gatehouse, stables, brewhouse and brewster’s cottage.
The village is named in the Domesday Book and referred to as Torp, Thorpe or Badetorps in various translations. It was known as Thorp-super-Usam or Thorpe-on-Ouse in 1194.
The Prior and Gilbertine monks of Saint Andrew’s at Fishergate, York, built the first church there in 1202 and dedicated it to their patron saint. The name Thorp-super-Usam therefore gradually superseded by Andrewthorpe or Thorpe St Andrew.
Bishopthorpe Palace was originally built in 1241-1250 by Archbishop Walter de Gray after he bought the then village of Thorpe St Andrew (St Andrewthorpe) in 1226. He demolished the old manor house and used some of its local stone in the undercroft of the new palace and chapel he built by the river.
The archbishop conveyed this property to the Dean and Chapter of York, ensuring it remained with successive Archbishops and did not fall into the king's hands during a vacancy.
The house became known as Bishopthorpe Palace, and the village became known as Bishopthorpe. The earliest written record of the name Bishopthorpe, spelt ‘Biscupthorpe,’ appears by 1275.
Bishopthorpe was the site of great council in 1323 to agree a truce between Edward II and Robert the Bruce, whose forces had been harrying Yorkshire after the Battle of Bannockburn.
Over the years, the Palace has seen many changes. Archbishop John Thoresby extended his private rooms in 1365, and Archbishop Thomas Rotherham doubled the size of the living quarters in 1480-1500 when he added a red brick north wing and upgraded the kitchens.
The Enclosure Act in 1757 saw common land enclosed, placing restrictions on where local people could graze their animals and affected Bishopthorpe.
Archbishop Robert Hay Drummond transformed the Palace in the 1760s by building the now familiar ‘Strawberry Gothick’ west front and gatehouse. The architect John Carr designed the Gothic stable block and gatehouse in 1761-1769.
Around the same time, the Palace was remodelled in the Gothic Revival style by the architect Thomas Atkinson of York in 1763-1769. The front of Bishopthorpe Palace was rebuilt with a new entrance hall and drawing room, and the drawing room has several portraits of previous archbishops.
Controversy surrounding the 1832 Reform Bill saw rioters from York attempt to invade the Palace, angered by initial lack of support from Archbishop Edward Venables-Vernon-Harcourt. Archbishop Harcourt made further additions to the north wing in 1835 and also had rooms built above the chapel. He built a new village school and the Almshouses in 1846.
Since 1900, successive Archbishops of York have made more effective use of the space in Bishopthorpe Palace, designating separate areas for personal apartments, public rooms and offices for the archbishop’s staff.
The clock on the Gatehouse at the entrance to Bishopthorpe Palace, was made for Archbishop Cosmo Lang by W Potts & Sons in 1913. It has gilded numerals and hands painted in blue. The clock was restored by Smiths of Derby in 2013.
The first ‘Bishopthorpe Play’ or Bishopthorpe Pageant was staged in June 1928 in the grounds of the Bishopthorpe Palace in 1928. Further productions were held in 1930, 1954, 1956, 1965 and 1970.
Bishopthorpe Palace is a multi-functional place today. It is, primarily, the Archbishop’s home and office, and there are also working offices, meeting rooms, worship areas and living quarters. The Palace and its grounds are also used for charity days, retreats, receptions, village fetes, and dinners.
Parts of the village, including the Palace were designated a conservation area in 1989.
Many of the street names in the village recall past Archbishops of York, including: Ramsey Avenue (Michael Ramsey, 1956-1961), Maclagan Road (William Maclagan, 1891-1908), Lamplugh Crescent (Thomas Lamplugh, 1688-1691), Coggan Way (Donald Coggan, 1961-1974), Garbett Way (Cyril Garbett, 1942-1955), Temple Road (William Temple, 1929-1942), Lang Road (Cosmo Gordon Lang, 1909-1928), Vernon Close (Edward Venables-Vernon-Harcourt, 1808-1847), Drummond Way (Robert Hay Drummond, 1761-1776), Wolsey Drive (Thomas Wolsey, 1514-1530) and De Grey Place (Walter de Gray, 1216-1255).
In addition to the palace at Bishopthorpe, the Archbishop’s Palace, north of York Minster in what is now Dean’s Park, was the residence of the mediaeval Archbishops of York.
Roger de Pont L’Évêque, Archbishop of York in 1154-1181, rebuilt York Minster, after a fire in 1137 began building the palace. The college and chapel of Saint Mary and All Angels, also known as Saint Sepulchre, was built next to the palace in 1179. The palace grounds were extended up to the city walls in 1268.
While the archbishops lived mainly at Bishopthorpe, the palace in York served a wide variety of functions. Courts sat there in 1275, while Edward III based his court at the palace in 1327-1328 while he was leading a campaign against the Scots. The palace also housed the archbishop’s prison by 1385. A new chamber was added in 1400 so that Henry IV could watch a tournament held in the palace grounds. Richard III stayed at the palace in 1483, as did Henry VII in 1487, and Margaret Tudor in 1503.
During the Tudor Reformation, Saint Sepulchre’ s College was dissolved in 1547 at the Dissolution of the monastic houses. Thomas Young removed the lead from the palace roof in 1560 to pay for Grays Court, which he bought for his son George.
The palace in York was in ruins by 1616, and the grounds were sold to Arthur Ingram. He rebuilt part of the palace as his own house, and laid out gardens, including a fishpond, tennis court and bowling green. Charles I stayed in the house in 1642, but after Ingram’s death, his descendants divided the property into small tenements and let them out.
A theatre was built on the site of the tennis court in 1734. The former great hall of the palace was rebuilt as a riding school in 1780, and in 1785 it was the site of an early balloon ascent.
Ingram’s house was largely in ruins by 1799. York Minster bought the whole site in 1814, demolished Ingram’s house and the riding school, and used the site for its stone yard. The palace’s former chapel was restored for use as the minster library, and is now known as the Old Palace.
The remainder of the site was laid out as the Deanery Gardens in 1823, when the demolition of some sheds revealed a 12th-century arcade from the original palace.
More recently, the grounds have become known as Dean’s Park, and the stone yard has moved to Deangate. The surviving arcade from the palace was rededicated in 1987 as a war memorial, and it has been Grade I listed since 1997.
A former Dean of Cork, William Connor Magee (1821-1891), a key figure in the debates about the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, was Bishop of Peterborough when he was appointed Archbishop of York, but he died only four months after his appointment. The present Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, is visiting Cork this week, and is the speaker at the annual Cork, Cloyne and Ross Clergy Away Days.