Bishopthorpe, a few miles outside York, has been home to the Archbishops of York for centuries. In the 1760s Archbishop Drummond added a new facade to the palace, constructed a gatehouse, and rebuilt the village church. His architect of choice was Thomas Atkinson, a respected designer but a curious choice as he was a Roman Catholic*. All three structures were built in a whimsical gothick style, much of the stone coming from the ancient former episcopal palace at Cawood, a few miles south. When first built the three buildings formed an ensemble around a small ornamental lake, sadly long since drained.
By the late 19th century the situation of the church on the waterlogged and eroding bank of the river Ouse was causing concern. A flood in 1892 washed bodies out of graves and the ‘inadequate and damp’ church was abandoned a few years later. In 1899 a new church was consecrated and such fittings as could be reused were transferred from the old to new church. The Consistory Court in York then issued a decree that the old church could be taken down.
With its useful life as a place of worship ended the church was adapted as a delightful landscape ornament. It is not clear who decided to leave the facade of the old church to stand as an eye-catcher, but they are to be congratulated for it is a lovely feature in a tranquil spot by the river. One contender must be Archbishop Maclagan, whose palace overlooked the old church. Or perhaps his good friend the vicar of Bishopthorpe, Canon J.R. Keble, who was the key mover in getting the new church built, may have wanted to save a piece of village history?
The former churchyard with its folly, tucked away from the main street overlooking the river, became a tranquil haven and was a particular favourite of the composer William Baines. The Folly Flâneuse is hugely grateful to Linda Haywood, manager of the Bishopthorpe Village Archive, for introducing her to this largely-forgotten musician. Baines died aged only 23, but not before he had composed a vast body of work. In his last years he lived in York and often walked to Bishopthorpe where the ‘enchanted lake’, a pond in the Palace grounds, inspired a composition, and where his favourite place was the old churchyard; ‘What a divine spot it is’, he wrote, with the church facade ‘covered partly with creeping roses and ivy’.
The roses and ivy have gone, as has the bell that Baines saw, but it remains a divine spot thanks to the work of the St Andrews Trust, a small charity formed to safeguard the folly. The trust masterminded an exemplary restoration in 2002, which included reinstating the window tracery. The crumbling stonework had been taken into storage in 1979, and craftsmen were able to copy it using matching magnesian limestone sourced locally in Tadcaster.
The Bishopthorpe facade is petite in comparison with another eye-catcher at Guisborough, in the Tees Valley, in the far north east of Yorkshire. The Augustinian Gisborough [sic] Priory was taken down during the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century, but the Chaloner family later restored the Gothic east end as the termination of a walk in the grounds of their nearby seat. The Folly Flâneuse visited with the Yorkshire Gardens Trust on the wettest day imaginable when the folly looked particularly dramatic.
A warming cup of tea was in order at Gisborough Hall, a 19th century seat of the Chaloner family now a hotel, where an extra treat was the discovery of this model of the folly facade made of alum. The Gisborough area was once a centre for alum production, essential for fixing dyes, and the Chaloner family developed a factory. As human urine was a necessary for the manufacturing process, it is surely no coincidence that this wee model can be found by the hotel loos.
For more on the St Andrews Trust see http://standrewstrust.co.uk
And click here for more on the Yorkshire Gardens Trust (which, rest assured, arranges visits on glorious days as well as wet) https://www.yorkshiregardenstrust.org.uk
Thanks to The Decorative Friend for a lovely day in Bishopthorpe
* Atkinson is not named on the website of the current Archbishop of York where the gatehouse is said to be by John Carr.