3 July 2006
I knew little about this church – though I’d probably seen it more times than any other. Thinking about it, it would be the first church I ever saw, as it was visible from the garden of the house where I was born.
This is a personal appreciation of a church rediscovered – the familiar seen as if for the first time.
I grew up in Acomb, in a new house built in one of the new streets which made up part of this rapidly expanding area. St Stephen’s Church, built on a hill, was the focal point on the horizon from our back garden, as it was for many streets around.
It never looked particularly interesting to me. It was just there, on the hill, and we could see it when we were in the garden, and from various points in Acomb, and I passed it on my way to school.
These photos were taken in the early evening in July 2006, after I’d visited my family. Before leaving Acomb I thought I’d take some photos of these places that were so familiar to me in my youth. A long wander around Acomb ensued – with this visit to St Stephen’s a part of it.
Visiting here made me realise that we take familiar places so much for granted, particularly when we’re young. St Stephen’s looked beautiful in the evening sunlight, and its churchyard too, and it was like visiting the place for the first time, because it was the first time I’d looked at the place properly, close-up.
Acomb is an ancient settlement, originally a village outside of York. Its medieval church was rebuilt in the 19th century.
As I’m no expert on architecture, I’ll leave it to Eric A Gee to describe this church: "The nave, transept and west tower and spire are superficially Early English but are grafted on to a classical plan." He also mentions the magnesian limestone, and the "intriguing battered buttresses". The Pevsner guide mentions the tall lancet windows and describes the church as "an interesting essay in pre-archaeological Gothic".
Eric Gee also suggests that the church has "perhaps the most attractive situation in York, for it is on a hill a hundred feet high and from the churchyard most of the hills round the Vale of York can be seen on a clear day." I didn’t spend much time looking outwards from here – as I was so charmed by the place itself.
The churchyard too was far more attractive and peaceful than I ever remembered it. These Victorian churchyards always look happily settled into themselves. The stone monuments are so much more attractive than the modern marble ones, and here, as in other old churchyards, monuments leaned towards each other in the rough grass.
Perhaps on a cloudy day in winter it doesn’t look so beautiful here, but on its high hill this place seems to collect the summer sunlight falling through the surrounding trees.
Sources & background information
The Architecture of York by Eric A Gee (Cerialis Press, 1979)
Yorkshire: York and the East Riding (The Buildings of England series) by Nikolaus Pevsner and David Neave (2nd edn, Yale, 2002).
Website – www.acombparish.org