An Outing to East Yorkshire’s Georgian Churches
East Yorkshire has few Georgian churches. It has lost most of what the dark genius of Nicholas Hawksmoor gave Beverley Minster: his high organ screen; his lofty reredos; his elegant pulpit - all replaced by workmanlike, less sensational substitutes - and, saddest loss of all, his central dome, dark, wholly original, ingenious, for which no substitute has ever been found. So we shall not begin our outing in Beverley.
St Edmund, Seaton Ross was rebuilt in brick, stone and tile in 1788. Temple Moore, restoring it in 1908, left it its pulpit, communion rail and commandment and Lord’s Prayer boards. William Watson in 1825 gave it its sundial, one of four he painted on buildings in the village.
Not far away, John Carr may have been the architect of the small, austere, well-proportioned nave and chancel of St Everilda, Everingham, in about 1763 when he was working on Everingham Hall nearby. He was not the architect of the much grander Roman Catholic chapel of the Virgin and St Everilda, designed by Agostino Giorgioli and executed by John Harper of York. It was begun in 1836, just within our period, and is entirely top-lit, for a community just emerging from official discrimination, avoiding notice but aware of belonging to a wider communion; we walk in from a secluded English park to a Roman basilica.
St Helen, Wheldrake, has a nave and apsidal chancel of 1778-9. It is spacious and full of light; a church which expresses a rational faith, a faith which presumed allegiance to the established order of society and more particularly to the reigning house; J. Brown of York was commissioned to paint for display the arms of King George III in the year the new building was finished.
We move to Holderness. At Goxhill, the date on the tower of St Giles is 1817, and the rest of the church was rebuilt in 1840 in the style of some sixty years earlier. This church was the burial-place of the Constables of Wassand. Its Georgian marble font has gone to Aldbrough; the font now in use is Norman. All these Georgian churches have earlier features and fittings; the eighteenth century did not sweep away all that had gone before.
At Hedon the Roman Catholic church of St Mary and St Joseph dates from 1803, before Catholic emancipation; the church of a community still maintaining a low profile, the memory of the Gordon riots still fresh. The priest’s house is part of the same building. At Marton the church of the Holy Sacrament, built in 1789 at the expense of William Constable, the local Roman Catholic landowner to the design of Thomas Atkinson, hides even more discreetly, well off the road, beside its priest’s house. As at Everingham, everyone locally would have been aware of the faith of the landowner and many of his tenants; that faith was none less genuine for not being placarded.
At Rimswell stands the church of St Mary of 1801 by Charles Mountain of Hull, now put to other uses but for a hundred and thirty-three years the only church in the parish of Owthorne; it replaced the church lost to the sea.
Now to the Wolds. John Carr was almost certainly the architect of St Andrew, Boynton, rebuilt all but for its mediaeval tower in 1768. Elegant monuments to members of the Strickland family of the nearby hall fill the chancel; the Strickland pew looks down from the west end; there is a pulpit of 1768 and glass by William Peckitt of York, an innovative artist whose work may be seen in York Minster and the York parish churches and as far away as the chapel of New College, Oxford; its quality and originality are coming to be more fully appreciated. Francis Johnson designed the lectern, with its turkey from the Strickland arms.
Our outing ends at Ruston Parva. The church of St Nicholas is easily missed, like several we have visited; we approach it by a path beside a house. No celebrated architect designed it; it was built 1832 in brick and stone by William Watson of Nafferton, builder and bricklayer, for £107.10s, a simple nave, chancel and bell-turret. It has kept its original pulpit and box pews. It is kept unlocked at all normal times. From its predecessor survives its Norman font. Each church we have visited has its own quality; each has said something of the Georgian period in which it was built or rebuilt. St Nicholas, Ruston Parva, perhaps speaks most quietly, most simply, most undemonstratively and most clearly of the life and faith of most of those who lived then.
NB The indispensable and most welcome guide on this outing has been Nikolaus Pevsner and David Neave’s erudite "The Buildings of England - Yorkshire: York and the East Riding" (1995). All details are from that source; all opinions and errors are my own.