05 October 2023

Saint William’s College
beside York Minster
has survived changes
over the centuries

Saint William’s College was founded for chantry priests in York Minister (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Saint William’s College is a beautiful mediaeval building beside York Minster and a Grade I listed building. It is a unique example of the survival of a non-monastic religious building to survive despite its suppression during the Tudor Reformation.

The college was founded in 1461 as a residence for priests serving chantry altars in York Minster. It is named after Archbishop William Fitzherbert of York, who was canonised as Saint William of York in 1227.

The college was founded by George Neville and the Earl of Warwick to house a provost and 23 fellows or priests. Work started on the present building in 1465.

The courtyard structure may incorporate parts of two earlier houses. It included a great hall to the north, with a chapel to its east. The hall survives in part, but its ceiling has been lowered and the plasterwork was replaced in 1910. The posts of a screens passage also remain, the other side of which is the fireplace of the original kitchen. It has been suggested that doorways led off the courtyard to staircases, with rooms for the provost and fellows of the college leading off them.

Although the college was not a monastic establishment, it was affected by the Dissolution of the Monasteric houmes. Saint William’s College was sold after the Reformation, and the building was converted to a substantial house in 1548. A century later, the building was owned by Sir Henry Jenkyns in 1642 and housed the printing presses of King Charles I during the Civil War.

Later tenants included Charles Howard, 3rd Earl of Carlisle (1669-1738), who commissioned the building of Castle Howard. In the 17th century, the ‘Bishop's Chamber’ was created on the first floor, to the west of the great hall, and it survives largely intact. Around the same time, a single main staircase that survives was added, while a room to the south-west has remains of wall paintings from this era.

Part of the ground floor was in retail use in the 18th century, and bow windows that were at the time still survive. Otherwise, the façade generally survives as it was built, with an ashlar ground floor and a timber-framed, jettied upper floor.

The doorway itself is a replacement, but the coats of arms above are from about 1670, and carvings of Saint Christopher and the Virgin and Child either side of the entrance also survive.

The building was bought by the Province of York in the Church of England in 1902 for use by the convocation, and it was restored by the Irish-born architect Temple Lushington Moore (1856-1920).

Temple Moore’s alterations at Saint William College included the creation of the Maclagan Memorial Hall in the upper part of the great hall, where the original roof structure can be seen, although much renewed.

Temple Moore was born in Tullamore, Co Offaly, the son of an Irish general. He grew up in Scotland and was articled to the architect George Gilbert Scott, Jr. He practised as an architect in London and is known for a series of fine Gothic Revival churches built in 1890-1917. He also restored many churches and designed church fittings.

His other works in York included the reredos behind the high altar, and the pulpit and its sounding board in Saint Mary Bishophill Junior, possibly the oldest surviving church within the city walls of York.

Temple Moore was an Anglican in the Anglo-Catholic tradition and has been described as ‘England’s leading ecclesiastical architect from the mid-Edwardian years.’ The architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner once said that Moore ‘is always sensitive in his designs and often interesting.’

One of Moore’s best-known works is Pusey House, Oxford, where he designed a large Gothic building around a quadrangle. The Chapel and part of the Library were complete by 1914, and most of the remaining portions of the building were finished in 1918. That year, Temple Moore’s only son, Richard More (1891-1918), was killed when the RMS Leinster was torpedoed and sunk off Dublin. Moore’s south range of the quadrangle at Pusey House remained unexecuted when he died in 1920, and was only finished in 1925 to sympathetic designs by John Duke Coleridge (1879-1934).

Since 1972, the Dean and Chapter of York Minister have been the Trustees of Saint William’s College.

The doorway itself is a replacement, but the coats of arms above are from about 1670 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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