first reference to a church of All Saints in North Street is in 1089, when the
patronage of the rectory was granted by a layman, Ralph Paganell, to the Benedictine
Priory of the Holy Trinity he had refounded nearby in Micklegate. That a rectory
was established at such an early date indicates that a church existed on the
site before the Norman Conquest. This early building was probably a simple rectangular
structure, which fitted into the central space between the east end of the present
chancel and the western aisle of the nave.
As the population on this
bank of the Ouse expanded at the end of the 12th-century, an aisle was added
to the church. This incorporated fragments of Roman gritstone columns found
on the site. In the early 13th century the chancel was reconstructed in the
Early English style (receiving an internal decorative arcade), and a second
aisle was added, with capitals adorned with the distinctive nailhead decoration
of the period. In the first half of the 14th century, as the urban elite of
the city began to build their large houses in the parish, the east end was sumptuously
rebuilt. The present east windows with Geometric and Curvilinear tracery of
the Decorated period of Gothic architecture were installed and the side aisles
were extended east to be level with the east wall of the chancel.
The church took on its present form
in the late 14th century when the tower and spire were erected, the nave extended
and the arcades reconstructed. It is possible that almost the whole of the old
church was demolished, leaving only the easternmost bays standing in order that
mass might continue at the altars. The tower, octagon and 120 foot spire were
the first part of the new work to be constructed, this was underway in 1394
when Richard Byrd gave money in his will to the new fabric. The rest of the
building must have been all but complete by about 1410 when work began on glazing
the north and south walls (see below). The modest way the arcades were rebuilt,
using old material and with minimum detail, suggests that by the 15th century,
after the extravagance of the tower and spire, the amount of money available
for the work was restricted. In the 1440s the roof was still not complete and
although bequests of tiles and lead were made in order that work might proceed
'within a few years' the work was only completed in the 1470s when the lavish
ceilings over the chancel and aisles were installed.
By the end of the Middle Ages in
addition to the 'high' altar in the chancel, there were at least four and possibly
five other altars in the church. We know that one was dedicated to the Blessed
Virgin Mary and was situated in the north 'Lady choir,' where a statue of her
was also kept. The altar of St Nicholas was situated in the south choir aisle
known as the 'choir of St Nicholas and St Katherine', and two further altars
of St Thomas the Martyr and St James the Great, stood in the north and south
nave aisles. In addition to these altars there were also a number of lights
burning before images. In the early 15th century there was a light before 'our
Lady', a 'St Crux' or holy cross light before the rood and a light at the Easter
Sepulchre on the north side of the chancel. There may have been as many as eight
chantries established at the altars to say mass for the souls of deceased benefactors
of the church. We have details of only a few. The earliest was founded in 1324
by John Benge at the altar of our Lady. Two more were founded in 1410, one by
William Vescy at the altar of St Thomas the Matryr, and the second by Adam del
Bank and John Bawtrie at the altar of St Nicholas. In the early 16th century
a number of chantries including that of the Bolton family at the altar of our
Lady were amalgamated. Each altar and chantry was individually endowed with
all the plate and vestments necessary for a priest to sing mass. William Vescy
gave to his chantry two silver vessels to make a chalice and a length of linen
cloth to make albs, amices and other vestments. These basics were constantly
being augmented through bequests. In the 1455 will of Sir John Cliff, chaplain
of Benge's chantry, he gave to his altar 'a red vestment of cloth of gold',
and to the altar of St James 'a grey vestment with black orphreys (strips of
embroidery) worked with gold, another with red orphreys worked with garters,
and all his altar apparel'. The chantries provided All Saints with a clerical
staff as large as some of the great collegiate churches. In the early 15th century
there were at least three chantry priests, who along with the rector and his
assistant the parochial chaplain, ensured that there was a constant supply of
masses throughout the day.
The Reformation had an immense impact
on All Saints. The multiple altars and their ornamentation were gradually swept
away under the reforming legislation of Edward VI and Elizabeth I. The interior
was altered beyond recognition, the open spaces in the aisles and choirs being
filled with box-pews and the high altar replaced by a railed communion table.
The focus of the church shifted from sacrament to word, and from 1675 the present
pulpit, part of a double-decker, dominated the interior. The work of maintaining
and beautifying the fabric continued as before. In 1695 John Etty constructed
a new altarpiece and Mr Graime was paid for 'painting a dove' [the Holy Ghost?]
on it. With the medieval altars went the large staff of priests that served
them. By the end of the 16th century All Saints was served by a basic provision
of rector and lay parish clerk. The living was always poorly endowed, and as
early as 1548 there was a plan to amalgamate the parish with that of St John
Ousegate and to demolish All Saints. The maintenance of the church fabric and
the poor of the parish were supported by charities that generated income from
local properties. Some of these properties, including the 15th century row called
All Saints cottages, which face the north wall of the church, had probably supported
chantries before the Reformation. The income from property was augmented through
bequests: Ann Orfeur in 1790 and Dorothy Bowes in 1794 left £100 each to be
invested to provide coals for the poor.
You may also be interested
in purchasing our illustrated guide book.
Some Key Features of the
|The late fourteenth century
west end with tower topped by an octagon and 120ft spire.
The early fourteenth century east end.
|The interior of the nave.
|The south aisle, and the altar of St Nicholas.
|The chancel and high altar.
|A detail of the chancel ceiling.
This along with those that cover the chancel aisles, was erected during
the incumbency of John Gilyot 1467-1472. The hammerbeams of all three
ceilings are in the form of angels who hold a variety of objects, including
musical instruments and liturgical apparatus. The present colouring of
the ceiling dates from 1977.Detail of the chancel ceiling dating from
|Detail of one of the parclose
screens that divide the chancel from the chancel aisles. These were designed
by Edwin Ridsdale Tate (a former churchwarden) and date from the 1920s.
|A detail of the
altar of St Nicholas in the the south chancel aisle aisle, known as the
choir of St Nicholas and St Katherine in the Middle Ages. The altar, which
is made of panels of 17th-century carving collected by Patrick Shaw.
|The hexagonal wooden pulpit
dates from 1675. Around the top is a text from St Paul's epistle to the
Romans: 'And how shall they preach except they be sent', and on each side
is a painted female figure, each representing a virtue, see Faith with
a cross and Hope with an anchor.
|The floor of the church incorporates
many medieval and later grave markers including this 15th century floriated
cross bearing an inscription to Thomas and Juliana Illyngwyke.
|The stall that serves as
the sedilia is the same date as the chancel ceiling and bears the coat
of arms and initials of rector John Gilyot, flanking a carving of the
Pelican in her Piety, a symbol favoured by the Corpus Christi guild,
of which Gilyot was master in 1472.