Building » York – St Wilfrid

York – St Wilfrid

Duncombe Place, York, North Yorkshire

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

High Victorian design in French Gothic style by George Goldie, who was not cowed by the proximity of York Minster. A design of great power and conviction both inside and out, with many original and later furnishings of high quality. This was the pro-cathedral of the Diocese of Beverley from 1864 until 1879.

Catholic worship was never wholly extinguished in York, and in 1687-8, during a brief period of relative toleration in the reign of James II, Mass was said in the King’s Manor. A house at no.7 Little Blake Street (now Duncombe Place) may have been occupied by a Catholic priest about this time.

In 1742 the mission of St. Wilfrid (named after the seventh-century Bishop of York) was founded by Edward Dicconson, Vicar Apostolic, and put in the charge of Thomas Daniel, a Douai-trained priest who lived in the Little Blake Street house. In 1764 about 170 papists were said to be meeting in a house in the city, probably Little Blake Street. Catholic priests and their houses are recorded in other parts of the city in the eighteenth century, and the chapel at St Mary’s Convent (the Bar Convent) in Blossom Street was also used for worship by local Catholics from 1686. However, the Little Blake Street house seems to have remained the chief centre of Catholic worship in the city, and it is probable that a room in the house was used as a chapel until 1802, when a new chapel dedicated to St Wilfrid was built by public subscription opposite the house, on the site of the present church. This was built during John Gillow’s time in charge of the mission; he went on to found the seminary at Ushaw. It  provided accommodation for about 700 people and was a simple brick building of Nonconformist type, with a gallery and organ loft. To avoid provoking anti-Catholic feeling, the chapel was discreetly located behind the presbytery.

Irish immigration in the 1840s led to a considerable increase in York’s Catholic population, from 327 recorded in 1841 to 1,928 in the 1851 census. The response was the building of St George’s church in Walmgate (qv) from 1849. However, there remained a need for more spacious (and less architecturally unfashionable) accommodation at St Wilfred’s and a campaign to rebuild was spearheaded by Fr Joseph Render, resulting in the building of the present church in 1862-4. Little Blake Street was being widened at this time to form Duncombe Place, and the site was adapted to the new building line. The old house and church were demolished and a new church built, also dedicated to St Wilfrid and designed by George Goldie of York. It was opened on 2 June 1864 by Cardinal Wiseman and the Bishop of Beverley. The cost (including fittings) was over £10,000.

The church was the pro-cathedral of the Diocese of Beverley from its opening in 1864 until 1879, when Beverley was divided between the dioceses of Middlesbrough and Leeds.

In 2001 a general programme of refurbishment was undertaken. Outside in the car park, a former flower room was converted to a kitchen and an accessible WC, with a first floor meeting room (The Upper Room) reached from the sacristy.

In 2007 the sanctuary was reordered, with the installation of a new altar, ambo and presidential chair. The marble steps were replaced with stone. The cost of this work was approximately £70,000.


The architecture of the building is fully described in the list entry (below). Features not mentioned include:

  • The carving in the tympanum of the porch is by Thomas Earp of Lambeth
  • The large paintings in the sanctuary are by Goldie and Knowles
  • The  font is of a powerful design by Goldie
  • The stained glass in the (geographical) south aisle is by William Wailes, 1863-4
  • The metalworkers were Messrs Peard and Jackson of London
  • The stalls are by a Mr Havell of Sheffield
  • The tiled floors of the chancel, Lady chapel and baptistery were made by the Bentall works, Salop
  • There is a Gothic monument with portrait medallion to the Very Revd. Joseph Pender, driving force behind the rebuilding of the church, c1881, to the left of the chancel arch
  • The present confessionals are made from the original pulpit (original confessionals have been removed)
  • Good incised slate Stations of the Cross by Harry Ibbetsen, 1959 (see also St Paulinus, York).

List description


Catholic church. 1862-64. By George Goldie. Coursed squared yellow stone with grey ashlar bands and dressings: slate roofs with wrought-iron finials. PLAN: 5-bay aisled nave and clerestory with polygonal apse, west gallery and narthex; south-east vestry; south-west tower; north-west Lady Chapel. EXTERIOR: east end and north side not accessible. South side: 1-storey pent roofed aisle in front of aisle clerestory: at western end of aisle pent roofed porch projects. Porch has arched opening and diagonally boarded door on fine wrought-iron hinges in moulded 2-centred arch on squat columns with foliate capitals. Windows to east are of 1, 2 and 3 cusped lights with foiled tracery in 2-centred heads beneath coved hoodmoulds on foliate or head stops. Clerestory windows are of paired trefoil-headed lights with cinquefoil tracery in 2-centred heads. Windows to chancel are cusped lancets, paired and tripled and tied by impost string. Vestry: 2 gabled storeys. Ground and first floors have 4-pane sash windows; on first floor, surround is chamfered and has blind 2- centred head pierced with quatrefoil. Gable has circular window with cinquefoil light in centre. 4-stage tower has 2-stage setback gabled buttresses. South face lowest stage has window of 2 cusped lights in 2-centred arch with squat jamb shafts and plate tracery in the head: hoodmould on head stops. Second stage has single slit light beneath relieving arch on south and west faces: above, blind arcade of four 2-centred arches on slender colonettes with foliate capitals. Belfry openings are paired lancets with scalloped louvres in 2-centred arches of 2 orders: columns have foliate capitals. Ballflower frieze, cornice with gargoyles, and pierced parapet with oversized crocket finial at each corner: steep hipped roof with wrought-iron finials and crucifix. West end: gabled and flanked by setback gabled buttresses, from which pyramidal pinnacles with oversized crocket finials rise on north and south sides. West door has paired part-glazed C20 doors in 2- centred arch of 4 orders with stiff-leaf capitals and richly carved soffits: outer order carried carved gabled hood. Between doors, sculpted seated figure beneath canopy rises on column pedestal: above doors, tympanum filled with high relief carvings of four scriptural scenes. Two west windows of paired lights with cinquefoils in 2- centred arches on slender colonettes flank sculpted standing figures beneath tall crocketed canopy. Above is circular window of four foiled lights in carved surround and crocketed gable cross. Lady Chapel: 1-storey, with polygonal end. High windows have 2-centred arches on colonettes with waterleaf capitals. at west end is high relief carving of the Virgin and Child. INTERIOR: north and south arcades of 2-centred arches on high round columns with moulded shaft rings and waterleaf capitals carved with angels. North wall is blind arcade on square piers with stylised foliate capitals. Clerestory windows in 2-centred arches on shafts with foliate capitals, paired above nave, tripled in chancel. Apse lined with reredos of arcaded tier of biblical busts carved in high relief over tier of carved panels, and incorporating four sculpted figures seated at lecterns beneath canopies. Above are five painted panels. Outer arches to chancel are open and filled with sculpted standing figures. Opulent altar and baldacchino. Chapel at east end of north aisle has carved stone altar in semicircular apse beneath 2-centred arch. Narthex is vaulted springing from squat columns with stylised waterleaf capitals. Above is organ gallery with plain parapet. Lady Chapel: entered through screen of trefoiled arches beneath tracery quatrefoil in 2-centred arch on columns with waterleaf capitals and hoodmould on leaf stops. Chapel fitted with richly carved panelling to sill height. Altar carved with canopied figure of the Virgin and Child and two angels. Original chairs with pierced traceried backs survive.

The church was the Pro-Cathedral of the Catholic Diocese of Beverley until 1879 when the See of Beverley was divided between the Dioceses of Middlesbrough and Leeds.

(Bartholomew City Guides: Hutchinson J and Palliser DM: York: Edinburgh: 1980-:162; Parish Bulletin of St George’s Church, York: June/July 1988; The Buildings of England: Pevsner N: Yorkshire: York and the East Riding: Harmondsworth: 1972-:109). Listing NGR: SE6015152127

Heritage Details

Architect: George Goldie

Original Date: 1864

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II