The Anchorhold and its Occupants
Emma Raughton is the only medieval All Saints anchorite whose name we know. This is because of her fame, which rested on the visions. Seemingly no others were suﬃciently well known for their names to survive.
Emma was ‘enclosed’ as an anchorite at All Saints on 2 April 1425 – a date which we know because fortuitously the diocese of York was in the gap between the departure of one archbishop and the arrival of the next, and the administration of the diocese during during this gap, 1423-1426, is well documented. Emma’s visions seem to have been received shortly afterwards. Even before this Emma was evidently known and consulted, for Richard Beauchamp earl of Warwick, who was to become Henry VI’s tutor and guardian according to the visions, had spoken to her on his desire for a son, and his son Henry, the future earl, was born on 22 March 1425.
The necessary official investigation which always took place before an anchorite could be ‘enclosed’ was launched on 2 April 1425 – a date which we know because fortuitously the diocese of York was in the gap between the departure of one archbishop and the arrival of the next, and the administration of the diocese during during this gap, 1423-1426, is well documented. The investigation was carried out by the stand-in appointed to oversee the diocese in the absence of an archbishop, namely the bishop of Dromore (Ireland). We don’t know how long it took, but it can’t have been long because Emma’s visions were received shortly afterwards, and she was already enclosed then. Even before the investigation Emma was evidently known and consulted, for Richard Beauchamp earl of Warwick, who was to become Henry VI’s tutor and guardian according to the visions, had spoken to her on his desire for a son. His first wife Elizabeth had given him three daughters. His son Henry, the future earl, was born on 22 March 1425, before the inquiry was commissioned, so that it must have been before this that Warwick consulted Emma.
Emma was still in the All Saints anchorhold in 1430. In a will dated 9 August 1430 a priest, John de Richemonde, bequeathed 12d (12 pence, a considerable sum suﬃcient for a frugal person to live on for some months) to ‘Emma, an anchoress in the parish of All Saints North Street’ (Shaw, An old York church: All Hallows in North Street, 1908, p. 94). Other bequests are known, e.g. that of William Vescy, a mercer of York, who in 1407 left ‘To every anchoret and anchoress within the liberty of York city 3/-’ (3 shillings or 36 pence; we don’t know exactly how many this sum had to be divided among; possibly 5 or 6, so not as much each as John de Richemonde left specifically to Emma).
The life of an anchoress is well described by the American scholar Robert Hasenfratz in Ancrene Wisse, 2000, which may be viewed online here (consulted on 25.9.2023). Ancrene Wisse (‘Anchoresses’ Guide’) was a handbook written in Middle English around 1230 about the life of women recluses. It gives much fascinating information, as for example that an anchorhold had to have at least two rooms, one for the anchorite and one for her servant (‘maiden’) who acted as her liaison with the outside world and with other anchoresses, of whom there were over 100 in England in Emma’s time, several of them in York. Anchoresses were encouraged to form in effect a network.
The anchoress’s cell had to have a squint so that she could take part remotely in the various services in church. It also had to have a window into the servant’s room, for the ‘maiden’ to hand over food and other requirements and remove waste. At All Saints the anchoress’s squint is visible high on the south-west wall, as the photograph in the Guidebook shows. From it all the main liturgical areas of the church were visible – the High Altar, the Lady Chapel with its altar and its more-than-lifesize stone statue of our Lady, the other three altars – of St Nicholas (at the east end of the south Chancel Aisle), of St Thomas the Martyr and of St James (at the east ends, resectively, of the north and south Nave Aisles), and the Font. Directly below this squint a second opening survives, though blocked up. It is now hidden by the kitchen installed in 2022. This shows that the medieval anchorhold was a two-storey structure. The second opening may have been a ‘parlour’ or location for speaking – this was either a third room or, more likely, a grill, where the anchoress could hold brief conversation with outsiders.
The present anchorhold was built in 1910 to the design of Ridsdale Tate, the eminent architect and historian and churchwarden of All Saints. It has one chamber only – upstairs. Ridsdale Tate was a convinced medievalist who yet was at the forefront of modern building methods. The anchorhold is a pioneering structure in reinforced concrete – as is his more famous York building, the Tempest Anderson Hall at the Yorkshire Museum, built two years later.
Brother Walter being interviewed by Alan Whiker for a BBC documentary in 1961.