Building » Ripon – St Wilfrid

Ripon – St Wilfrid

Coltsgate Hill, Ripon, North Yorkshire

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

A cleverly designed church of 1860-2 by J. A. Hansom in the early French Gothic style, which manages to both dominate the north-east skyline of the city while remaining harmoniously situated within its immediate neighbourhood. The relatively unassuming exterior belies the dramatic and richly adorned interior.

Until the middle of the nineteenth century, Catholics in Ripon were reliant upon the private chapels of the local gentry families, such as the Messangers at Fountains Hall. Fr Garstang was the first priest in the city in 1850 and Mass was first said at Heath Court in Low Skellgate. There was initially some opposition to the building of a Catholic church and this resulted in Fr Garstang asking an intermediary, Thomas Bradwell, to buy a site on Coltsgate Hill. Plans were drawn up for a new church, presbytery and school by J. A. Hansom. It has been suggested that the design for the dramatic height of the sanctuary was influenced by A.W. N. Pugin’s design for the chapel at Alton Castle in Staffordshire, 1847. More usually the main design influence is said to be the twelfth century church of Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in Provence. The foundation stone was laid on 21 November 1860 by the Rev. Joseph Render and the church officially opened on 23 April 1862 by the Bishops of Beverley, Hexham, Nottingham and Liverpool. By that time there was a new priest, Canon Vavasour and it was the Vavasour family and friends who financed the building work which is said to have amounted to £5,000. At the time of the opening, the two side altars had not been installed and some of the internal decorative work was incomplete. The high altar and reredos are said to be have been designed by Edward Pugin.

The school was opened on July 2 1863. In 1874 the Marquess of Ripon became a Catholic and created the Lady Chapel. After his death in 1909 some of the fittings from his private chapel at Studley Royal were moved to the church. Following the reforms of Vatican II the sanctuary was reordered. The mensa of the high altar was brought forward from the gradine to allow for westward celebration. The font was also moved from the west end to the southeast, near to the sanctuary.


See also list entry, below. 1860-62 by J. A. Hansom, early-French Gothic, honey-coloured stone with red stone banded decoration, blue and grey decorative slate roof. The principle elevation is that to the north, facing Coltsgate Hill. It contains a central section with a projecting aisle of 4 bays, each with stepped stone buttresses. Two pointed-arch windows with polychrome stone decoration to each bay. Above at clerestory level there are seven quatrefoil windows in circular stone surrounds, flanked by plain stone pilasters. Blue and grey decorative banded slate roof with decorative ridge piece. To east there is a projecting bay containing the Lady Chapel, with three windows and with a slate roof with decorative stone crosses. Rising above, on a line with the clerestory is the polygonal tower above the sanctuary, its slate roof finished with a large decorative metal ridge piece. At the west end, the main entrance is contained within a projecting ‘transept’ porch. Pointed stone doorway with stone shafts and stone carved heads to either end of  the hoodmould. Above, a rose window lights  the western gallery. The eastern elevation is dominated by massive stone buttresses which combined with the lower courses of blank stonework give a slightly rocket-like appearance to this facade. The tower has six large windows, paired trefoil-headed lancets and a rose window above. Unfortunately all the windows are obscured by polycarbonate sheets and add a rather gloomy feel to the lofty exterior. The west elevation contains a central section again dominated by three large stepped buttresses and a large rose window in a highly geometric, polychrome stone surround. The gable is topped-off with an imposing carved stone crocket. To the north the ‘transept’ porch bay has a group of three windows stepping upwards marking the internal stairs to the gallery

Entry to the interior is through a modern narthex, formed by a glazed screen under the western gallery. The south wall of the narthex contains the original font from Low Skellgate. The overwhelming characteristic of the interior is the soaring height of the nave and sanctuary; the latter flooded with natural light. The aisled nave is of four bays with wide pointed arches forming an arcade with a clerestory above, pierced with quatrefoil windows. The arcade has dog-tooth mouldings and the pillars are formed out of groups of clustered shafts with precise, rich foliate capitals. The arcade wall contains six medallion mosaics of saints including St Wilfrid, by Salviati of Venice. Simple wooden nave pews, with two further sets in the side aisles. The wide pointed chancel arch springs from a slightly more elaborate pillar, formed out of a larger group of stone shafts which terminates in trumpet capital and then rises to a further waterleaf capital. The side walls of the sanctuary contain an open arcade of three arches, formed by sharper pointed arches and with carved stone angels between them.  The sanctuary is raised up a few steps with the original floor levels slightly obscured by the altar having been moved forward. Many of the decorative encaustic tiles survive, as do the brass and wrought-iron altar rails. The reredos, said to be designed and carved by Edward  Pugin, is of Caen stone and depicts the life of St Wilfrid. It incorporates an alabaster tabernacle with brass doors flanked by angels. The altar has been moved forward; the front contains three carved medallions, now painted, depicting the Sacrifice of Abraham, Jesus consoler of the afflicted and the Israelites gathering manna. To the left of the sanctuary is the Lady Chapel, the decoration of which was finished by The Marquess of Ripon following his conversion in 1874. To the right is the Chapel to St Joseph, set up in 1882 by Bernard Maxwell in memory to his first wife. On the south wall is the Our Lady of Fountains altar, from the Marquess of Ripon’s private chapel at Studley Royal.

There is much fine glass throughout the church. Ten stained glass windows came from the Marquess of Ripon’s private chapel at Studley Royal as a bequest and they are situated in the north and south aisles. They were made in the workshops of James Powell in 1878 to the designs of John Hungerford Pollen. There is also some stained glass by Barnett of Newcastle. The windows behind the reredos of Jesus and Mary were funded by public subscription following the death of Canon Vavasour in 1887.

List description


Roman Catholic 1858-62. Architect: I A Hansom. Nave and aisles; west “transepts” with polygonal ends and hipped roofs; chancel raised very much higher than nave, with polygonal apse and hipped roofs; chancel chapels. The source for this unusual and dramatic elevation of the chancel roof may be Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin’s chapel at Alton Castle, Staffs (1847), and ultimately the C12 church of Les Saintes de la Mer, in Provence.

Interior. Nave has 4 bays and a west gallery. Choir has 3 shorter bays. Details earliest French Gothic, viz: arches pointed, ornament geometrical, capitals foliate but with some crockets. Elaborate arcaded reredos designed by Edward Welby Pugin, with sculpted scenes from the life of St Wilfrid in high relief. Bowl-shaped font on thick central column with 4 thinner ones, each of pink marble. Pulpit has simple balustrade of pink marble columns. Communion rail of brass and delicate wrought iron ornament. The altar to Our Lady of Fountains in the middle of the south aisle used to be in the 1st Marquess of Ripon’s private chapel at Studley Park, but was given to St Wilfrid’s by the 2nd Marquess (a Protestant) when disposing of his father’s things in 1909.

History. Throughout penal times the country around Ripon supported a small Catholic community, and mass was held regularly at Bishop Thornton in Nidderdale. Mary Ward, foundress of the IBVM and Bar Convent in York came from between Bishop Thornton and Pateley Bridge. The Catholic community was strengthened by immigrants from Ulster working at Mickley Flax Mill, and was patronised by the Vavasours of Hazlewood Castle.

In Ripon itself a warehouse in Heath’s Court, Low Shellgate was used as a chapel throughout the 1850s. In 1858 the priest, Father Robert Garstang bought the site of St Wilfrid’s, his friend Mr Bradwell bidding for him to avoid anit-Catholic prejudice. His successor, Father Philip Vavasours built the church, the school and the presbytery. The foundation stone was laid on 21 November 1860 by the Vicar – General of the Diocese of Beverley. It was opened on 23 April 1863. It had cost £5,000, but this may not have been completely paid by the time of the opening, as it was not consecrated until 1912. The Catholic community in Ripon gained considerably in prestige with the conversion of the 1st Marquess of Ripon in 1878.

Listing NGR: SE3107371544

Heritage Details

Architect: Joseph Hansom

Original Date: 1862

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II*