Building » Selby – St Mary

Selby – St Mary

Leeds Road Gowthorpe, Selby, North Yorkshire

A well-composed church with much external carved detail that takes full advantage of its site, with the steeple over the south porch being of particular importance in the townscape. Inside, the chancel retains its original good quality stone furnishings and stained glass and there is an extraordinary grotto of 1931 formed in an octagonal addition at the northwest.

The first public Mass house in Selby opened in 1791, provided by Lord Petre in his estate agent’s house in Ousegate. His son, the Hon Robert Edward Petre, died on 8 June 1848 and his widow the Hon. Mrs Laura Marie Petre commissioned Charles Hansom to build a church and presbytery in his memory, for the expanding Irish Catholic population. It opened on 26 November 1856.

In 1931, in the time of Fr Charles Walsh, Mrs Ellen O’Neill (nee Mullins) added a grotto, in imitation of the grotto at Lourdes, to the west end of the north nave aisle, in memory of her only son Maurice, killed in an industrial accident at Olympia Mills. It is constructed within a stone octagonal ‘chapel’, slightly larger than Hansom’s baptistery in the same position on the south. The adjacent west window of the aisle is dedicated to her husband, William O’Neill. In 1935, Fr Walsh (1916-35) filled a window to the east of the grotto with stained glass windows depicting scenes from St Bernadette’s story. In the 1970s, the east end was reordered and a timber panel ceiling inserted in to the nave, presumably to conserve energy. In the 1990s, the area under the west gallery was screened off to be used by children, but it is now mainly used for storage. A parish centre designed by Martin Stancliffe Architects of York was opened on 19 November 2004. The penultimate aisle window of the north nave aisle was removed and extended down to create a doorway to a long glazed link to the large hall and kitchen. This runs east-west parallel to the church and although there is quite a gap between it and the presbytery at the northeast corner, the result is effectively a cloister.


The Hon Mrs Petre must have made a large sum available, as the building is all of stone with carved c1300 details e.g. head stops to all the windows, a heavily undercut inscription around the principal south entrance door, and of course, it has a fully detailed tall broach spire. Externally it is an impressive well-proportioned building. An elaborate memorial stone with brasses inset into the wall just to the east of the south door internally records her intentions and the family heraldry.

Externally the south door has two orders, the heavily undercut hood mould rising from angel stops and reaching up to the big canopied niche with a statue of Our Lady. The broach spire sits on a decorated cornice with big diagonal grotesques at each corner. There are large two-light lucarnes with louvres; the top few courses of the spire have been replaced in a darker stone.

Internally, the architectural decoration is less obvious, as the nave arcades (four bays on the south, five to the north) are simply moulded in c.1300 style on octagonal piers. There are two clerestory windows to each bay and three-light aisle windows. Much use is made of cusped spheric triangles in the tracery and externally in all the gables. The original high pitched nave  roof is only visible over the west gallery, as the inserted timber ceiling stops at this point as it is too low to clear the apex of the west window. The arched main trusses rise off stone corbels at clerestory cill level, but they are now enclosed from springing level by the low pitched ceiling. This is formed of panels, painted rust red, scarlet and green, between moulded ribs with small painted and gilded bosses at the intersections. Some panels have intricate relief decoration surrounding recessed spot lights.

The west gallery is supported on a three-bay arcade (now glazed in) and has a stone balustrade of cusped trefoils. It has raked pews and an organ on its north side. Below are confessionals and glazed doors to the south baptistery. This is set within an octagon (not ‘apsidal’ as the list description) that emerges from the west side of the southwest porch. As the font has now been moved to sit against the east respond of the south nave arcade, the space is now used for storage.

As the list description states, the northwest grotto is ‘quite exceptional’. Externally it is a windowless octagonal ‘chapel’, echoing the baptistery. Its interior is formed of undressed boulders (probably sprayed concrete on wire netting?) that go up behind the cut off rafters of the north aisle roof as there is no entrance arch. It contains a central altar facing north, with a statue of Our Lady in a niche to the east side, so imitating Lourdes; a real piece of stone from Lourdes is inserted below the statue.

At the east end of the south aisle is the Chapel of the Sacred Heart, with a transverse gable over the large three-light south window. A smaller east gable encloses a spheric triangle east window containing three cusped roundels. Inside a large reredos rises into the east window; the stained glass in both windows is apparently by Ball.

The tall chancel arch has triple shaft responds and the chancel ceiling beyond is panelled, presumably of 1856 but the framing is painted white, emphasising the dirt on the dark blue painted panels which appear to have elaborate gold stencilling. The five-light east window is filled with good glass by Wailes; four standing saints flank Our Lady in the main lights, with Annunciation (left) and Nativity (right) scenes in the tracery. The original stone reredos with tabernacle and altar remain, both containing carved panels and marble columns. There are flanking arched recesses (aumbry to the north, piscina to the south) in the east wall which, like the arch to the sacristy door to the north, have carved hood stops. The stone pulpit (also with carved panels) appears to have been moved and lowered and sits awkwardly on the chancel carpet. Modern white paint and carpeted platforms have obscured the original floor and wall surface decorations.

List description


1854. Roman Catholic. Architect: Messrs Hanson of Bath. Built at expense of Hon Laura Maria Petre (1811-86), widow of the Hon E R Petre (1795-1848); Liberal MP for York (1832-2) and Lord of the Manor of Selby (1801-48); to accommodate the influx of Irish labourers in the Town. Hammer-dressed stone. Ashlar dressings. Pitched slate roof. Decorated style. Nave, chancel, lean-to aisles, tower over south door with broach spire and diagonal buttresses, apsidal baptistery at west end, vestry and sacristy, and a quite exceptional north-west chapel decorated internally with undressed stone in the manner of a grotto.

Interior: Elaborately sculpted pulpit, contemporary font, and crocketed font
cover. Three-bay arcade to west gallery. Stained glass. East window by Wailes. Window of Sacred Heart Chapel by Ball.

Listing NGR: SE6089532153

Heritage Details

Architect: Charles Hansom

Original Date: 1854

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II