The lost church of King’s Square

Old map, York
The previous page brought us, via the sinuous curve of cart tracks, to King’s Square, round the edge of the buildings still called King’s Court.

Repaving work began this week, in the central part of the square, and the remains of a church have been uncovered. This isn’t surprising, as it was widely known that until the 1930s there was a church here, as previously mentioned in these pages. Holy Trinity, King’s Court, also known as Christ Church.

Illustration of church, York
An illustration by Edward Brown, dating from around 1862, of the church before its 19th century restoration. From the Petergate end of King’s Square. By this time the church had already been reduced in size a couple of times (see notes below).

Old photo

The church in around 1910, after its 1861 restoration. (Photo: © City of York Council) So devoted were the Victorians to their churches that they financed the rebuilding of this one, even though it kept to the same severely truncated plan as the old one. (1861 plan for Christ Church, King’s Square, from churchplansonline.org)

Old guidebooks have some interesting descriptions of the church in the 19th century. Beginning in 1818, before the invention of photography, so these words are a valuable record of what the church looked like then:

‘The ditch, on one side of this church, is yet visible, and still retains the name of The King’s Ditch … Previous to the extension of the area for the Hay-Market, this church was much larger than at present; it however retains an appearance of antiquity, which is not surpassed by any other building in the city.

The entrance to it, is by a descent of six steps on one side, and three on the other. The floor is extremely uneven, and the whole interior exhibits the stamp of age, and the devastations of time.

… The confined entrance to St. Andrewgate, on account of the projection of this church, has often been the cause of misfortunes, which the feeling mind cannot but contemplate with horror. In short, the turn is so sudden from the narrowness of this part of the street, that several lives, at different times, have been sacrificed to the existing evil. The writer is therefore glad to embrace the present opportunity of expressing his anxious hope, that the subject will, ere long, be taken under consideration, by those who have it in their power to remove the danger, and to improve this part of the city. For, though he feels the highest respect for all houses of religious worship, and for all relics of antiquity, yet he would not suffer any such consideration to prevent him from suggesting the expediency of taking down the end of this church, or the houses on the opposite side, and by that means, of benefiting the citizens of York, by widening and improving this dangerous part.’

— William Hargrove, 1818

Visions for the city’s improvement aren’t just a 21st century thing.

Chopping away bits from churches was one way of achieving ‘improvements’. In 1768 the vestibule and vestry had been removed. In 1829 it lost more of its width to road widening, ‘for the purpose of increasing the width of the narrowest part of Colliergate’, as Bellerby’s 1837 guide tells us. Sotheran’s guide of 1852 thinks it’s not worth keeping: ‘the building has been several times curtailed, and if it was altogether removed there would be no loss of architectural beauty, and a great increase to public convenience.’

19th century sketch, York

This 19th century illustration by G F Jones shows its tower over the rooftops of Jubbergate (from what is now Newgate Market, where the stalls are near the Parliament St entrance).

In 1886 its parish was united with that of the nearby St Sampson’s. The rebuilding of 1861 appears to have been a waste of money:

‘Holy Trinity King’s Court otherwise Christ Church is in an unsanitary condition and dangerous to the health of a congregation assembled there and also that the same church is owing to defective construction ill-adapted to public worship’.

— London Gazette, 6 July 1886

Old photo, York
Holy Trinity/Christ Church in King’s Square, in the early 20th century. (Photo: © City of York Council)

The church was demolished in 1937. This wasn’t universally welcomed. A G Dickens, in 1954, lamented the loss:

‘the little grey building which made delightful the junction of Shambles and Colliergate, now reduced to the ideal municipalised stretch of clean pavement with seats for pensioners’.

Creating, of course, that space we who were born later have come to love as King’s Square.

With its new history, as a meeting place and performance space, and its markers of lives lived since, its commemorative benches and mulberry tree. Soon to change significantly, again.

Elsewhere on the web

Photos and information on the excavation of the site, yorkmix.com

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  By Lisa @YorkStories 6 September 2013 To link to this page's proper location please use the > permalink

About Lisa @YorkStories

Lisa @YorkStories is the creator, administrator, and writer of content on www.yorkstories.co.uk. She can be contacted on this link or via Twitter, @YorkStories

2 comments

  1. And now, after spending so much money on very little, it is no better than a car park. I have even been tooted at by a driver because I was standing on the footpath where she wanted to park.

  2. Absolutely criminal. I cannot understand the demolishing of historical buildings for no reason apart – creating barren spaces or worse 1950’s-70’s ugly buildings.

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