Back in the 1980’s, North Street was an almost forgotten part of the City of York. The only notable feature seemed to be “The Viking Hotel”. Tucked away on the opposite side of the road, hidden behind trees and a vast Lilac Bush was what appeared to be a forgotten Church, which could only be accessed up a narrow passageway, and down some very warn, and dimly lit steps.
The building was insured for less than the value of one of the medieval cottages along its access path. Most people thought that the Church had closed many years ago. Listed for closure, the Church had remained open, partly because no-one could come up with a better use for the building, and it was decided to leave it “alone” while it had any congregation at all.
Yet, this was a hidden gem, containing one of the finest collections of early 15th century stained glass in the world. When someone suggested adding some new bells, the bemused Church Council had no objections, and when asked about “Sound Control” this was refused since they wanted the bells “to be as loud as possible, so that people will know that we are still here”. Today, the bells still ring out to proclaim the Church’s presence!
The new bells—four from a redundant Church at Highfield, and two new (silvery grey coloured). One of the new ones was cast in memory of Fr Peter Bastock whose inscription it bears, stating that he was “The Last Rector of All Saints North Street” He was a non stipendiary priest, employed as General Secretary of the North Eastern Division of the Territorial Army, where he was better known as Lieutenant General.
However, the installation was far from easy. When the spire was surveyed, the engineer said that it should be fine if in good repair, but that the architect should have a look at the wind erosion on the inside.
It turned out that no architect had climbed the strange narrow stairs with each one overhanging the one beneath, for as long as anyone could remember. A new architect, sent one of his juniors who scaled the structure, including and ancient ladder to the base of the Spire.
The spire was lit on a sunny day by what appeared to be a myriad of tiny stars—gaps in the structure. On leaning out of the doorway onto a the decorative balcony, the young Stephen Parry stuck an envelope between two stones, and drew a line each side. On pulling the envelope out, his face turned white - he called down to the young research chemist below that the lines were less than two and half inches apart. And that is a good piece!
There was a real risk of imminent collapse. The Church Council were speechless. The research chemist, said that he could “have a go” at raising the money to save the building, if the Church Council agreed, but he needed some authority, so could he use the title “Appeal Secretary”. A very fortunate tender of £96,000 was made by a local stone mason—Trevor Lancelot. Most of the money was raised, and Trevor Lancelot made a loan of the difference so that work could commence.
Thus, Church and Windows were saved (by the bells). Now, after mending the roofs, installing new floors at the West End, a new Organ, and new, more inviting, entrance on the South Side, new railings, new floor and statue in the Lady Chapel, and enlarged Vestry - we must turn to the windows which are so important to the building.
Work to the windows continues with support from The Lottery Fund, and many others, including our King. As Prince of Wales, he came on a private visit to See the windows in January 1996. And more recently directed that his trust should contribute towards the cost of their restoration.