George Street, York, North Yorkshire
A Gothic Revival church by Joseph and Charles Hansom, displaying renewed Catholic confidence at the time of the restoration of the hierarchy. Built in a poor area of the city, primarily for Irish immigrants, the church was briefly the pro-cathedral of the new Diocese of Beverley. It is an assured essay in the style of about 1300, and contains some notable furnishings, including glass by Hardman (possibly designed by Pugin) and an early nineteenth century James Davis organ from the old St Wilfrid’s chapel. The church and presbytery form a good group in a conservation area, close to the medieval town wall.
York’s population rose by about a quarter in the 1840s, a large proportion of this increase being the result of immigration in the wake of poverty, eviction and famine in Ireland. Immigrants settled in the poor areas of the city, such as Walmgate, and the Long Close Lane area in particular became notorious as a place of teeming squalor and poverty. Many died from typhus fever, including the Rev. Thomas Billington, the priest administering to the local population. A church was needed, and in 1849 a site at the corner of George Street and St Margaret Street was purchased for £1,200, only twenty yards from the site of the medieval parish church of St George. The foundation stone was laid on 25 October that year. In August 1850 Bishop Briggs, Vicar Apostolic of the Yorkshire District, consecrated the bells, cast by Taylors of Loughborough. The completed church was opened by Bishop Briggs on 4 September 1850. The architects were Joseph and Charles Hansom, the builder R. Weatherley of Micklegate, with Messrs Bookles and Ashmore responsible for the joinery. The church accommodated 500 people and the cost (including site acquisition) was £3,550. At an evening reception after the opening, Bishop Briggs contrasted St George’s with previous Catholic chapels in York, where people ‘had to steal in by an intricate way for fear that those not of their religion might notice’. Another speaker said that this was the first church deserving the name to be built in York since the Reformation, and that it had been justly dedicated to the poor.
With the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy, Bishop Briggs was appointed first Bishop of Beverley, and was enthroned at St George’s on 13 February 1851. The Yorkshire Gazette wrote:
‘On Thursday last the Romish priests in this city went through the Papal mummeries of a mock enthronisation of John Briggs, who under the authority of the late aggressive bull of the pope has gone a step further in the impudent assumption of the title of Bishop of Beverley’.
The church was the pro-cathedral of the new diocese until the building of St Wilfrid’s church in 1864.
The attached presbytery was built in 1856, also from designs by the Hansoms. Originally served from St Wilfrid’s, St George’s had its own resident priest from 1858.
In 1861 the James Davis organ from the old chapel of St Wilfrid, then being demolished, was taken out and restored by the York organ builder Joseph Bell. In 1862 it was installed in the west gallery at St George’s. When built in 1821, the Davis organ had cost £500 (a considerable sum), and was often played by the organist from the Minster.
Alterations and restoration took place in 1901 and 1923. In 1990 the sanctuary was reordered and the underside of the western gallery enclosed. More recent works have included the HLF-funded restoration of the organ, the installation of an accessible WC in the disused south porch, and the opening up of the sacristy at the east end of the north aisle to double up as a meeting room.
The list description (below) provides a full account of the building and its contents. The one major omission is any reference to the organ. As stated above, this is the John Davis 1821 organ from the old chapel of St Wilfrid, restored and installed here in 1862. It has a fine mahogany front by Davis, and retains most of its original pipework and action. It has recently been restored by Kenneth Tickell & Co. of Northampton.
Hansom’s polychrome timber rood beam and figures, originally located in the chancel arch, are now fixed to the east wall of the north aisle. The plain octagonal font in the north aisle has delicate carvings of angels on the base, of fourteenth century type. No information is available regarding its provenance. The nave benches are of pine, and are plain in character. The Stations of the Cross are high relief polychrome panels in timber Gothic frames, probably early twentieth century and Continental.
List description (church, attached rectory, gates and railings)
Includes: No.7 St George’s Church Rectory PEEL STREET. Roman Catholic church, rectory, gates and railings. Church 1849-50, Rectory 1856; church altered and restored in 1901 and 1923, further restored and re-ordered in 1989-90. By Joseph and Charles Hansom.
MATERIALS: church of magnesian limestone ashlar, cement-rendered in places; Welsh slate roof in three parallel ranges, with brick stack to sacristy. Rectory of white brick in English garden-wall bond with ashlar dressings; brick stacks and stone coping to slate roof. PLAN: chancel with west bellcote, south chapel, and north sacristy; 5-bay aisled nave with south porch. Church is encircled by 2-stage buttresses with offsets.
EXTERIOR: CHURCH: east end: twin-gabled front with 1-storey 2-bay sacristy on high basement to north. 4-centred east window of 4 trefoiled lights, 2-centred chapel window of 3 trefoiled lights, both with traceried heads and hoodmoulds on foliate stops. Sacristy has blocked doorway between 2- and 3-light mullion windows, all in chamfered openings with shouldered heads: inserted flat-topped dormer with 4 pivoting windows, and ridge stack. Gabled and buttressed bellcote on chamfered plinth has paired trefoiled openings and quatrefoil in apex. North side: largely obscured by Rectory and sacristy. Sacristy has single shouldered light in north gable and chamfered shouldered doorway in west return. South side: buttressed and gabled porch has boarded double doors in pointed opening of 2 continuously moulded orders beneath hoodmould on foliate stops: returns have square-headed windows of paired lights with cusped ogee heads. Nave windows are of 2 trefoiled lights, chapel window to east 3, lights, all with traceried 2-centred heads and head-stopped hoodmoulds. Buttress to west of chapel has gabled niche housing figure of St George carved in the round. West end: triple-gabled. West doorway has boarded double doors in 2-centred arch of two orders with filleted columns and foliate capitals, and head-stopped hoodmould above. West window of 3 lights, aisle windows of 2 lights, all trefoiled and all with hoodmoulds on head stops. Nave gable end has sexfoiled light beneath hoodmould, aisles trefoil lights in triangular surrounds. All window tracery is Geometrical; openings are chamfered and quoined. Chancel, bellcote, porch and nave and aisle west ends have gable crosses. At west end, square section gate piers with pyramidal caps approximately 2.25m. high flank gates approximately 1.75m. high. Gates incorporate bands of concentric circles, scrolls, and pierced rails. Railings of same design, approximately .75m., high on low stone wall. Gate and railings on south side have spear tips, and gates hang from posts with tapered octagonal finials.
RECTORY: George Street front: 2 storeys on chamfered basement plinth: 2 gabled bays, left bay with attic. Entrance in left return, to Peel Street. Ground and first floor windows are of 3 mullioned and transomed lights, those on ground floor with 2- centred heads; attic window is of 2 mullioned lights with casements. Moulded first floor band continued on Peel Street front, and moulded gable coping. Peel Street front: basement and 3 storeys; 2 bays with irregular fenestration: lower 3-storey wing to left. Square-headed doorcase in wing, with sunk-panel door in 4-centred arch and spandrels carved with shields of the cross of St George set in foliage. To left, paired 1- pane sashes with stone sill and flat brick arch. Main front has full-height stack in right bay, and 2-light windows in left bay: paired 1-pane sashes on ground floor, mullioned and transomed on first floor, and single casement beneath the eaves. All window surrounds are square-headed and quoined and chamfered: mullions are chamfered.
INTERIOR: OF CHURCH: 4-centred double chamfered chancel arch with head- stopped hoodmould, on clustered columns with moulded capitals and bases. North and south arcades of 2-centred double chamfered arches on octagonal piers with moulded capitals and bases. Lady Chapel screen of 3 gabled bays of paired trefoiled lights with traceried heads, between foliate colonettes: centre opening flanked by winged angel corbels. Gables are crocketed, centre one surmounted by pedestal housing canopied image of the Virgin and Child, the outer ones by crocketed finials. Octagonal font on square pedestal with panels carved in high relief and cover of clustered volutes. Reconstructed altars incorporating communion rail marble in Sanctuary and pulpit marble in Lady Chapel: marble given by Irish dealers from the cattle market formerly held in the Fishergate area. Glass: east window by Hardman possibly designed by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin: Lady Chapel by Barnett and Sons. Roofs: nave and aisle roofs are scissor-braced and chancel ceiling coffered and painted.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: cast-iron gates and railings.
HISTORICAL NOTE: the medieval church of St George at Beanhills, suppressed in 1547, formerly stood in the surviving graveyard on the west side of George Street. The present church of St George was used as temporary Pro-Cathedral of the Catholic Diocese of Beverley until replaced in 1864 by the church of St Wilfrid in Lop Lane, now Duncombe Place (qv).
(Bartholomew City Guides: Hutchinson J and Palliser DM: York: Edinburgh: 1980-: 195; The Buildings of England: Pevsner N: Yorkshire: York and the East Riding:,Harmondsworth: 1972-:119; City of York: RCHME: The Central Area: HMSO: 1981-: 20).
Listing NGR: SE6078651410
Architect: Joseph and Charles Hansom
Original Date: 1850
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade II