06 June 2024

Bishop Street Methodist
Church in Leicester is
part of the heritage
of Town Hall Square

Bishop Street Methodist Church in Leicester dates from 1815 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

Bishop Street Methodist Church in Leicester dates from 1815 and is an important part of Leicester’s church history and architectural and religious heritage. The church has been adapted and extended over the years, with each generation that has worshipped there leaving its mark. The building and fittings have changed to meet their needs and those of the city. This is a process continues to this day.

The chapel now faces onto Town Hall Square, with its cherry trees and central fountain. Handsome buildings dating from the later 19th and early 20th century surround the square: the Reference Library (1904), the former Central Post Office, and the Town Hall (1873).

The chapel is one of the oldest surviving building in that part of Leicester. When it was built, however, it looked out onto a cattle market, the only place in Leicester where the early Methodists could afford a site.

The front of the chapel has altered little since it was built. The design is symmetrical, with ordered rows of round-arched windows and a classical style and elegant simplicity that was popular at that time in nonconformist places of worship.

Inside Bishop Street Methodist Church, Leicester, designed by the Revd William Jenkins (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The architect of the chapel, the Revd William Jenkins, was a Methodist minister. He knew what was important in a chapel building and designed many chapels. The best preserved is Walcot Chapel near Bath; the closest in appearance to Bishop Street is the chapel he designed in Carver Street, Sheffield.

Originally the chapel was entered by the large doors on the left and right, one for men and one for women. The central door is a later addition, one of many alterations in 1883. The foyer was created in the late 1960s and refurbished in 1994.

The original chapel building was practically square with a high flat ceiling. This ‘box-like’ design was designed to allow the congregation to hear the preacher clearly. and churches such as this were known as ‘auditory’ churches.

Looking out onto the world … Bishop Street Methodist Churches faces onto Town Hall Square in Leicester (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The interior has been extended and altered through the years. In 1847, the church was extended southwards, and the choir and organ area created above the vestry. The interior was remodelled in 1883. The present pulpit and communion area dates mostly from 1894, although the Communion rail may be older.

The interior was altered again after World War I, the roof was renewed, and the present arched ceiling added. The ceiling closely resembles early cinema designs and may have been intended to make the interior look more ‘up-to-date’.

The gallery tip-up seats were also a feature more at home in a cinema. Each seat has a wire hat rack, so a bowler hat or top hat could be stowed under the seat.

The pews downstairs were installed in the late 19th century, replacing the previous box pews. The new pews were numbered, so they could be rented individually. Fold-down bench seats fixed to the walls provided extra seating.

Almost all the elements in the pulpit and Communion area date from the remodelling of the chapel in 1894. The ‘rostrum’, which many consider resembles a wedding cake, is in an elaborate Italian Renaissance Style. The ornate wrought iron panels may have been made by blacksmiths in Narborough.

The arrangement of this part of the church and the emphasis given to each element are typical of Methodist Church designs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although the fittings are elaborate, there are no figurative images. The gilded cross is empty as a reminder of both the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.

In central place, encircled by a wooden rail, is the Communion table. The rail allows those taking part to kneel. The small regular holes pierced in the wooden ledge behind the rail were designed to hold individual glasses typically used at Methodist celebrations of Holy Communion. By the late 19th century, most Methodist churches stopped using alcoholic wine at Communion. The individual glasses, an innovation from America, prevented the spread of disease once alcoholic wine was abandoned.

Above the table is a broad pulpit. Its elevation expresses the centrality of preaching in Methodism, and allows the preacher to be seen and heard by people in the gallery. Beyond this are the choir stalls and boards for displaying hymn numbers.

Music for worship was originally provided by a small orchestra, and it was not until the mid-19th century that an organ was acceptable. The organ installed in 1858 is the oldest object in the chapel, and may date back to the 1680s or 1690s.

The case is said to have been built by the famous organ builder Father Smith of Bremen. It has delicate carved panels, including two cherub heads. The casework was previously in Saint Margaret’s Church, Leicester. The organ was extensively remodelled in 1936 and it is likely that none of Father Smith’s original pipes remain.

Recent changes and the removal of the side pews have opened up areas under the galleries for exhibitions, stands and displays (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

On either side are World War I memorials from the chapel and from other Methodist congregations that were in other places in Leicester.

Arthur Wakerley (1862-1931), a prominent member of the congregation, was Mayor of Leicester in 1897. He was also a renowned architect in Leicester, and the buildings he designed include the former Turkey Café on Granby Street and the synagogue of the Leicester Hebrew Congregation on Highfield Street.

The chapel complex includes rooms developed for meeting, education and charitable work. In the 19th century, the Methodist minister lived in a building now occupied by the Zinthiya Trust. A large Sunday School, designed by Burton and Willoughby, was built in 1873 at the east side of the chapel. After time as a carpet warehouse and a magistrates court, it was refurbished in the 1990s and now houses the Zinthiya Trust Community Shop, Community Cycles and the Leicester Council of Faiths Office.

Within the main church building, the church rooms and lower hall provide a range of meeting and activity spaces used by community and self-help groups.

With recent changes, the removal of the side pews opened up areas under the galleries for exhibitions, stands and displays. More recent changes include a ramped entrance, a more open layout for the worship area and the Chapel Café, which is open throughout the week.

The front of Bishop Street Methodist Church in Leicester has altered little since it was built in 1815 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Ordinary Time 2024:
28, 6 June 2024

Holy Trinity Church Goodramgate is a hidden treasure in the centre of York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The week began with the First Sunday after Trinity (Trinity I, 2 June 2024). Today, the calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship remembers Ini Kopuria (1945), founder of the Melanesian Brotherhood.

In the week after Trinity Sunday, I illustrated my prayers and reflections with images and memories of six churches, chapels and monasteries in Greece I know that are dedicated to the Holy Trinity. I am continuing that theme this week with images from churches, chapels or cathedral in England that are dedicated to the Holy Trinity.

StonyLive!, a celebration of the cultural talent in and around Stony Stratford, began on Saturday and continues until next Sunday (9 June). The StonyLive! Programme continues today with a number of creative events at venues throughout Stony Stratford. They include an open rehearsal by the handbell ringers from 6:15 to 7 pm this evening in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, directed by Kath Hindley, followed by refreshments and a concert by Saint Mary and Saint Giles Band, directed by Fiona Collins.

I have a flight to catch from Birmingham Airport this afternoon. But, before today begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

3, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

Holy Trinity Church Goodramgate is lit only by candles and light filtered through the stained glass windows (Photograph Patrick Comerford)

Mark 12: 28-34 (NRSVUE):

28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength’ and ‘to love one’s neighbour as oneself’ – this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

The irregular and rare 17th century box pews are unique in York and the only remaining box pews in the city (Photograph Patrick Comerford)

Holy Trinity Church Goodramgate, York:

Holy Trinity Church, on Goodramgate in York, is a Grade I listed former parish church in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.

Walking into Holy Trinity, the church has the air of a hidden treasure. It stands in a small, secluded, leafy churchyard, with the Minster towering behind, tucked away behind Goodramgate – one of York’s busiest shopping streets.

Two of us found our way into the church through an 18th century archway tacked on to buildings that served as artisans’ workshops in the 14th century.

Inside, the church is full of character. The interior is lit only by light filtered through the stained glass windows and by candlelight. There is no electricity or gas in the church, nor running water, with candles offering a soft golden glow. Light filters through the windows, illuminating honey-coloured stone. The floors and arcades are charmingly uneven.

There was a church on this site at the time of the Domesday Book, and Holy Trinity includes features from the 12th century. However, most of the building today dates from the 15th century, most of the exterior dates from the 17th and 18th centuries, and there are right up to the 19th century.

There are two mediaeval altar stones, one set in the chancel floor and one in the north chancel aisle. In the south-east chapel is a 1452 brass to a former Mayor of York, Thomas Danby.

The mediaeval features include the late 15th century east window, donated by the Revd John Walker, rector in 1471. Walker was not averse to a degree of self-aggrandisement, and inserted an image of himself, kneeling in prayer, below a depiction of the Holy Trinity.

The unusual inner Chantry Chapel of Saint James was separated from the south aisle and main body of the church, and dates from the 13th century. A hagioscope or angled window was built into the the chapel wall and allowed the chantry priest to say Mass simultaneously with the priest celebrating at the High Altar. This is a rare feature and the only one of its type in York. However, local lore continues to claim the hagioscope was a ‘leper squint’ that allowed people with leprosy to keep at a distance yet still take part in church services.

The south aisle and south arcade date from the 14th century, the font dates from the late 15th century with an oak cover is made from oak and dates from 1787, the reredos boards were installed in 1691, the double-decker oak pulpit is dated 1695, and the oak Communion rails and Altar or Communion table date from the late 18th century.

The irregular and rare 17th century box pews are unique in York and the only remaining box pews in the city. The high-sided pews gave churchgoers a degree of privacy but also helped to keep out drafts on a chilly day.

The monuments and memorials paint a picture of life in York through the ages. Two boards, with heads shaped like grandfather clocks, record the names of the Lords Mayors of York, including George Hudson, who made York a major railway centre in the 19th century.

The church was enlarged in 1823 when the north side was rebuilt. The south porch was added in 1849.

The church was in a poor state of maintenance by 1882 and regular worship was suspended for over half a century until 1937, when restoration work was completed. The oak rafters were renewed and the unusual saddleback roof was restored. The pier supporting the arches between the nave and north aisle were underpinned with concrete, and the decaying stonework on the south aisle walls was renewed.

Outdoor benches make the churchyard an inviting place for reflection, offering a welcome retreat from the hectic world outside.

A blue plaque marks the occasion when Anne Lister and Ann Walker took Holy Communion together at the church at Easter 1834 as an affirmation of their relationship. After that they considering themselves married.

The church was declared redundant in 1971, and has been in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust since 1972. Restoration was carried out between 1973 and 1974. Holy Trinity Church is used for services on at least two days a year and is open to visitors on most days.

Holy Trinity Church Goodramgate should not be confused with the similarly-named Priory Church of Holy Trinity, Micklegate, the only pre-Reformation monastic building still in use in York.

Holy Trinity Micklegate is on the west bank of the River Ouse inside the walled city. The church building is a complex structure incorporating parts of the fabric of a mediaeval priory church dedicated to Holy Trinity and a mediaeval parish church dedicated to Saint Nicholas.

Holy Trinity is listed in the Domesday Book in 1086 as one of five great northern churches, alongside York Minster.

The church was re-founded ca 1089 as a Benedictine priory. It may be that a ‘double church’ was built at that date, with one half, Holy Trinity, providing a place of worship for the monastic community and a second, dedicated to Saint Nicholas, used by the parish.

Today, the parish includes the former parishes of two neighbouring churches, Saint John and Saint Martin in Micklegate, which are now redundant and have other uses. Holy Trinity is a living, inclusive church and is open every day for prayer and meditation.

The unusual inner chapel was separated from the main body of the church in the 13th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Thursday 6 June 2024):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Volunteers Week.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by Carol Miller, Church Engagement Manager, USPG.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (6 June 2024) invites us to pray:

Jesus, you were bound and crucified for our freedom. We ask you to be near to those who volunteer for prison ministries. Allow them to share your love and the freedom available in you alone.

The Collect:

O God,
the strength of all those who put their trust in you,
mercifully accept our prayers
and, because through the weakness of our mortal nature
we can do no good thing without you,
grant us the help of your grace,
that in the keeping of your commandments
we may please you both in will and deed;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

Eternal Father,
we thank you for nourishing us
with these heavenly gifts:
may our communion strengthen us in faith,
build us up in hope,
and make us grow in love;
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect:

God of truth,
help us to keep your law of love
and to walk in ways of wisdom,
that we may find true life
in Jesus Christ your Son.

xxx (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The 15th century east window shows the donor, the Revd John Walker, kneeling in prayer below a depiction of the Holy Trinity (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition copyright © 2021, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

The Priory Church of Holy Trinity, Micklegate … not to be confused with the similarly-named Holy Trinity Church Goodramgate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)