Parish Church of St. Michael-le-Belfrey

Pages 36-40

An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in City of York, Volume 5, Central. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1981.

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Parish Church of St. Michael-le-Belfrey

(12) Parish Church of St. Michael-le-Belfrey (Plates 13, 19; Fig. 26) stands S. of the Minster along the N. side of Petergate following the alignment of the Roman road. The church is named, to distinguish it from the other churches dedicated to St. Michael, by its propinquity to the Minster belfry which was added to the gable of the S. transept in the first half of the 14th century and itself probably replaced an earlier bell-tower attached to the S. transept. A passage in the life of St. John of Beverley (Bishop 705–18) written by Folcard, a Flemish monk at Thorney Abbey, and dedicated to Archbishop Ealdred (1061–9), refers to the saint using the church; this suggests the possibility that it was in existence by the beginning of the 8th century (fn. 1). However there is no further mention of it until the late 13th century when it was in the hands of the Dean and Chapter (VCH, York, 395). Two chantries were established in the church in the 14th century and various wills refer to five altars and an Easter Sepulchre but otherwise nothing is known of the mediaeval church except that by the 15th century the structure was in an advanced state of decay (SS, xxxv, 247, 253). Further visitations in the early 16th century (ibid., 261–2) reported continuing decay and in 1525 the old church was entirely pulled down and the present church was completed by 1537. References to the rebuilding in the Minster Fabric Rolls (SS, xxxv) show that the master mason was John Forman and other tradesmen included James Sympcock and Robert Harbert, masons, and John Sykes, carpenter; John Maugham provided ironwork and Thomas Flemyng and Thomas Williamson made partitions in the new choir.

In 1712 the E. end was furnished with a classical reredos and fine altar rails made by William Etty; the reredos cost £68 (Morrell, Woodwork, 160) and was originally surmounted by urns, which have been removed, and the Royal Arms, by Mr. Carpenter, now on the front of the W. gallery. A faculty for the erection of the W. gallery was granted in 1785 and it formerly carried an organ.

In the early 19th century, houses which had been built up against the W. end of the S. aisle were removed and drawings of that time show the W. end of the nave with a horizontal parapet above a four-centred arch with traceried spandrels framing a recess containing the W. window; above the parapet was a small rectangular bell-cote of timber with a tiled roof. Extensive renovation was completed in 1823 (YG, 29 Nov. 1823) and in 1848 a new bell-cote was erected to the designs of Mr. Coates of York, architect (YML, Hornby MSS., Churches II; The Builder, xxvi, 1 Feb. 1868, 75). A faculty was granted for repairing and reseating in 1853. Further restorations were carried out in 1867 when the N. and S. doorways were remodelled and elaborated and a new W. front was built to the design of George Fowler Jones, architect. A new bell was presented in 1884 and the following year a new organ was built in the N. aisle. Some further restoration of external stonework has been carried out since then. A modern vestry has been added at the E. end.

The church is of interest as a complete 16th-century building, little altered apart from the W. front.

Architectural Description. The church forms a simple rectangle on plan, with ashlar walls and lead-covered roofs. The chancel and nave, structurally undivided, are separated from N. and S. aisles by arcades of six bays. The E. end is partly masked by a modern vestry and adjoining houses. The E. wall has a high moulded plinth and a buttress at the N.E. corner; the plinth is repeated on the walls of the N. and S. aisles with a break in the third bay of the N. aisle indicating a former doorway. The N. and S. walls are divided into six bays by two-stage buttresses surmounted by free-standing pinnacles tied back to the wall by through-stones and gargoyles. The E. window has five cinque-foiled lights and vertical tracery in a two-centred head, casement-moulded and with continuous jambs; the design is similar to that of windows in the Minster of c. 1400 and may be reused from the earlier church. The aisle windows are all of four ogee trefoiled lights grouped two and two under sub-arches with a heavy central mullion and have quatrefoils and mouchettes in four-centred heads with labels (Plate 25). Heads and jambs are all casement-moulded but those to the S. are a little more elaborate in their mouldings and the sills on the S. side are higher and have below them on the outside a band of cusped and sub-cusped lozenge panels containing shields, all restored, carved with crossed keys for St. Peter, crossed swords for St. Paul, crossed keys under a papal crown for the See of York, 7 mascles for St. William and 3 estoiles for St. Wilfrid.

The arcades have moulded four-centred arches carried on shafted piers and responds with moulded capitals and high bases (Plate 27). Over the arches are labels finishing on angel-stops and with traceried spandrels under a moulded string-course. The angels carry shields charged alternately with crossed keys and crossed swords. Within the traceried spandrels are roses, pomegranates, flowers, leaves and a 'wild man'. The clerestorey has a continuous band of windows, two to a bay set in deep recesses; each window has three trefoil-headed lights in a square head with matching panels below.

Fig. 26. (12) Church of St. Michael-le-Belfrey.

Fittings—Altar: in nave, in floor, marble slab, said to have come from the Minster (Johnston, Bodleian, MS. Top. Yorks. C14, f. 174), and to have formerly shown consecration crosses. Armour: breastplate and pot-helmet from a pikeman's armour, early 17th-century. Bell: one listed by Benson, dated 1635, recast 1883, attributed to William Oldfield (AASRP, XXVII Pt. 2 (1904), 633). Benefactors' Table: in N. aisle, five, 17th and 18th-century. Brasses and Indents. Brasses: in N. aisle, on N. wall, (1) Thomas Dawnay, late of Selby, with shield-of-arms, 1683; (2) Georgina Bigland, 1820; (3) Frances (James), wife of William Farrer of Ewood, 1680/1, signed Joshua Mann. Indents: in nave, (1) in older Purbeck marble slab, for Brass (2); (2) for small figure and inscription plate, mediaeval. In N. aisle, (3) for Brass (1); (4) for Brass (3). In S. aisle, (5) for two shields and inscription plate. Communion Rails (Plate 34): returned to enclose three sides of a rectangle and with gates forming a small semicircular projection; with turned and carved balusters, moulded base and heavy moulded and enriched rail, by William Etty, 1712. Communion Table: at W. end of nave, with turned legs, plain framing, 17th-century. Gallery: at W. end of church, with late 19th-century panelled front, supported by scrolled iron brackets from piers and two later iron stanchions, and approached by two staircases with plain wooden balusters forming intersecting arches, 1785.

Glass: in chancel, E. window, I (Fig. 2), contains glass assembled from more than one window, of mid 14th-century date unless otherwise stated (see J. A. Knowles, 'The East Window of St. Michael-le-Belfry Church, York', YAJ, XL (1959), 145–159). In tracery, (C2) censing angel, (C3) St. Michael with scales containing a devil, (C4) angel with instruments of the Passion, (C5) censing angel, (B2–B7) shields-of-arms hanging from hooks, (B2) Marmion(?), (B4) Latimer, (B5) Neville(?), (B7) oval inscribed 'leffery Linton 1746', (A2) St. Katherine, (A3) Christ in Majesty, (A5) martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket, (A6) nimbed figure, (A8) angel, (A9) nimbed figure. In main lights, at top, (4c) shields-of-arms of Metham and Hastings; (3a–3e) canopies of two different designs (Plate 56), those in (3a), (3c) and (3e) of late 14th-century date; in middle row, scenes all set beneath canopies, (2a) SS. Peter and Paul (Plate 49), (2b) Annunciation, (2c) Nativity (Plate 49), (2d) Resurrection (Plate 49), (2e) Coronation of Virgin; in bottom row, (1a) donor holding a window, (1b) two kneeling donors, (1c) fragments including a small Crucifixion, recently inserted, 15th-century, (1d) two kneeling donors, (1e) St. James as pilgrim.

The glass in the N. and S. aisles was extensively rearranged and restored under Dean Milner-White before being replaced in 1960. It is all of 1525–40 unless otherwise stated.

In N. aisle, 3rd window, nV: (3a–3d) panels from a series illustrating the story of St. Thomas Becket (Plate 63), (3a) Thomas' father, Gilbert, embracing Moorish princess, (3b) her father the Prince visits prison and is shown empty armand-leg-irons by the gaoler, (3c) the christening of princess, (3d) marriage of Gilbert and princess; middle row, (2a) roundel with eagle, (2b) and (2c) donor and family, wife and three daughters to left, donor and seven sons to right; above each, a fragmentary scroll, that in (2b) inscribed 'O ... meme(n)to mei', (2d) shield painted with Five Wounds; bottom row, (1a) lozenge with grotesque, 14th-century, (1b) and (1c) modern reproduction of inscription to Martin Soza and wife Ellen, who gave the window, (1d) lozenge with grotesque, 14th-century.

4th window, nVI. In top row, (3a and 4a) St. Michael and the dragon (Plate 63), (3b and 4b) St. Christopher bearing Christ Child (Plate 63), (3c and 4c) Virgin of the Annunciation on pedestal (Plate 49), (3d and 4d) St. Ursula on pedestal sheltering five virgins (Plate 49); middle row, (2a) roundel with initials 'I.L.' (for John Lister), (2b) and (2c) kneeling donor and his three wives with scroll inscribed 'S(an)c(t)e [Ioh]annes ora p(ro) nobis', (2d) roundel with leopard's mask between blades of pair of scissors; bottom row, (1a) quarry with bird, (1b) and (1c) modern reproduction of inscription to John Lister and his three wives, 1535, (1d) quarry with bird and scroll with illegible inscription.

5th window, nVII. In upper row, (3a) St. Christopher with 15th-century head, carrying Christ Child, (3b) St. Oswald, modern fabrication using old scraps, (3c) St. Katherine, head and parts of robe 18th-century, (3d) St. Thomas with spear and carpenter's square; middle row, (2a) small figure of saint, 15th-century, (2b) and (2c) two reconstructed donor figures, (2d) small figure of saint, 15th-century; bottom row, (1a) quarry with bird, (1b) and (1c) modern reproduction of inscription to Christopher Ceel, 1537, (1d) fragment showing sapper undermining castle wall.

In S. aisle, 2nd window, sIII. In top row, (3a and 4a) St. John the Baptist (Plate 49), (3b and 4b) St. Peter (Plate 49), (3c and 4c) St. James on pedestal, much restored, head 15th-century, (3d and 4d) St. Wilfrid with inscription on pedestal 'S(anc)tus Wylfrid(us)'; middle row, (2a–2d) two kneeling donors flanked by five boys and thirteen girls to left, and twelve boys and four girls to right, over donor in (2b) damaged inscription '[Sancte] petre [o]r(a) p(ro) no[bis]'; (1a) roundel with eagle, (1b) and (1c) modern reproduction of inscription to William Beckwith and Jane his wife, and . . Beckwith and Ann his wife, 1530, (1d) roundel with stag.

3rd window, sIV. In top row, all on pedestals, (3a and 4a) St. Hugh of Lincoln with swan, inscribed 'S(an)c(tu)s hugh.', (3b and 4b) a saint, 18th-century and modern restoration, (3c and 4c) St. Peter with inscription 'ap(osto)l(u)s', (3d and 4d) St. William with inscription '[Sanctu]s Willi[elmus a]rch(i)ep(iscopu)s'; middle row, shields all within wreathed roundels, (2a) Ashton (for Hugh Ashton, d. 1522/3), (2b) St. Paul, (2c) See of York, (2d) St. William; bottom row, (1a) and (1d) wreathed roundels with worn inscriptions, (1b) and (1c) modern reproduction of inscription to John Elwald and Agnes his wife, and Robert Elwald and Ellen his wife, 15 . . .

4th window, sV. In top row, (3a and 4a) St. George and dragon (Plate 63), (3b and 4b) St. Martin dividing cloak (Plate 63), (3c and 4c) a royal saint on pedestal, (3d and 4d) St. Christopher carrying Christ Child; middle row, shields within wreathed roundels, (2a) 'I C' (for John Coltman), (2b) arms of the Goldsmiths' Company, (2c) arms of the City of York, (2d) made up; bottom row, (1a) crown within wreathed roundel, (1b) and (1c) modern reproduction of inscription to John Coltman, 1514, recte 1525, (1d) wreathed roundel with winged heart and date 1746.

5th window, sVI. In top row, (3a and 4a) a martyr with jumbled inscription in English, (3b and 4b) St. James(?) as pilgrim, on pedestal, (3c and 4c) archbishop or bishop on pedestal, head 18th or 19th-century, (3d and 4d) St. James the Less on pedestal, with fuller's club; middle row, (2a) in wreathed roundel shield with winged heart pierced by sword, and in chief 'AVE', (2b) and (2c) two kneeling donors with jumbled inscriptions, over (2b) 'dei miserer[e]', over (2c) 'O fil[i] dei misere(r)e', (2d) wreathed roundel with shield of St. George, above, and beneath (2a) and (2d) quarries containing initials 'T M' (for Thomas Marsar), female busts and scrolls with inscription 'Adiutoriu(m) altissimi'; bottom row, (1a) and (1d) roundels with initials 'T M', (1b) and (1c) modern reproduction of inscription to Thomas Marsar, 1535.

Lord Mayors' Tables: on W. wall of nave, (1) painted with arms and insignia of the City of York, and names of Lord Mayors 1764–1859, dated 1808; (2) with royal insignia, initials A R and shield-of-arms of City of York, names of Lord Mayors 1711–1720, dated 1711. Monuments and Floor-slabs. Monuments: in chancel, on E. wall, (1) Robert Harrison, 1822, Ann his wife, 1823, William Bilton, 1823, white tablet surmounted by urn, by Fisher; (2) Ann (Peirson), wife of William Walker, LL.B., 1687, carved stone cartouche with scrolled border; (3) John White, printer, 1716/7, carved stone cartouche with scrolled edges, shield-of-arms above. In N. aisle, in N.E. angle, (4) Marion Christina, wife of George Lloyd of Clifton, 1821, white marble tablet and draped urn; (5) Sophia Margaret (Stainforth), wife of William Watson Bolton, 1821, white marble tablet; on E. wall, (6) the Rev. William Richardson, M.A., 1837, white marble tablet with moulded base and cornice; (7) John Todd, 1811, Sarah his widow, 1813, Henrietta their daughter, 1830, Sarah, eldest daughter, 1833, George Westerman, son, 1834, John, eldest son, 1837, white marble tablet, by J. Tilney; on N. wall, (8) the Rev. William Knight, subchanter of the cathedral and rector, 1739, white marble tablet with moulded base and cornice, apex finial missing; (9) the Rev. William Richardson, subchanter and vicar of St. Sampson's, 1821, black tablet with side pilasters and sarcophagus above, signed Taylor, York; (10) Martha, widow of William Richardson, 1829, marble tablet; (11) Elizabeth, widow of John Wycliffe of Gales near Richmond, 1777, Lucy his daughter, wife of the Rev. Thomas Barker, 1826, the Rev. Thomas Barker, rector of Nether Poppleton 1782–97, 1829; (12) Mary Grammer, 1738, tablet with pedimented head, floral side scrolls and shaped base, at head shield-of-arms of Grammer impaling Beaumont; (13) Roger Darvall, 1813, white marble tablet, signed Fisher, York; (14) Mariana Belcombe, 1842, William Alexander Milne, grandson, 1834, white marble tablet; (15) Thomas James, 1732, scrolled cartouche, inscription restored; (16) Mary Mawe, 1823, white marble lozenge with cherub's head and acanthus decoration; (17) Thomas Willis, 1815, oval tablet of white marble; (18) Baldwin Wake, M.D., 1842, sarcophagus-shaped marble tablet, signed Flintoft; (19) Charlotte, 1832, and Isabella Frances, 1836, daughters of Baldwin Wake, white marble tablet, signed Flintoft. In S. aisle, on E. wall, (20) Thomas Mitchell, 1762, and Ann his wife, daughter of Thos. Cholmeley of Bransby, 1773, white marble tablet with draped urn on pedestal bearing two shields-of-arms of Mitchell and Cholmeley; (21) an infant Vavasour, great grandson of Michael Fawkes of Farnley in Wharfedale, 1728, shaped tablet (Plate 42) with cornice, floriated sides, gadrooned base and apron bearing shield-of-arms of Vavasour impaling Fawkes; (22) Charles, son of Thomas Gent and Alice (Guy) his wife, formerly widow to Charles Bourne, printer, 1723, simple stone tablet with addition inscribed to Adeliza, 1761; (23) Sir Robert Squire, 1707, and Priscilla his wife, 1711, large wall-monument (Plate 44) with nearly life-size figures of Sir Robert and his wife standing in a niche with Corinthian pilasters and open pediment, each figure resting an arm on an urn set on a pedestal; two cherubs support a coronet and drapery, at the top a cartouche-of-arms of Squire impaling Bower, attributed to John Nost and Andrew Carpenter (Esdaile quoted in Morrell, Monuments, 39); (24) Mary (Kirkby), wife of Capt. Stephen Waterhouse, 1786, rectangular panel with urn above and shield-of-arms below, of Waterhouse impaling Kirkby, all against a background of Sienna marble; (25) Mary (Drake), wife of George Woodyeare of Crookhill, 1728, scrolled cartouche of markedly convex form, designed to suit its original position on a free-standing pier, with shield-of-arms of Drake impaling Woodyeare between two cherubs (Plate 42), signed IB; (26) Anne Mary, daughter of Thomas Thornton, 1753, small tablet; on S. wall, (27) William Dossie, 1808, tablet with cornice; (28) Alexander Hunter, M.D., 1809, Elizabeth his wife, 1794, Ann, second wife, 1814, John, 1798, and George, 1794, sons, tablet surmounted by urn, erected 1813, signed Fishers, York; (29) Catherine and Christine, daughters of Sir Roger North, 1734, wall-monument with flanking pilasters, cornice carrying urns, and lozenge-of-arms of North, apron decorated with shell and cherub, signed Charles Mitley, Edwd. Raper; (30) Catherine, widow of William Salvin of Croxdale, 1807, tablet with garland on background; (31) Mrs. Mary Pickering, 1748, sarcophagus under pediment and shield-of-arms of Pickering below, erected by Mrs. Ellen Bowes; (32) Sir Thomas Fothergill, Kt., 1735, tablet with shield-of-arms; (33) Susan Marshall, 1794, James her husband, 1796, simple tablet; (34) Julia Salmond, 1860, Maria Salmond, 1858, tablet, signed Skelton; (35) John Blanshard, proctor in the Ecclesiastical Court of York, 1770, and Mary his wife, 1789, tablet with urn and shield-of-arms; (36) Carleton, Dorothy and Elizabeth, children of John Metcalfe of Bellerby, 1773, and Elizabeth (Carleton) his wife, 1790, marble tablet with broken pediment enclosing an urn; (37) Thomas Brook of York, proctor, 1795, Ann his wife, 1836, and children, John, 1771, Thomas, proctor, 1817, Ann, 1846, Martha, 1853, Sarah, wife of Eric Rudd, 1821, marble tablet, signed Fisher, York; (38) William Staveley, 1814, Ann his wife, 1812, marble tablet; (39) Lieut. and Adjutant John Crossland of York City Regiment of Local Militia, 1813, monument now in two separated parts, inscribed tablet between pilasters and cornice and upper part with sarcophagus and military emblems, signed Fishers, York; (40) Mary Lawson, 1774, oval tablet of black marble with urn in low relief; (41) Richard Farrer, alderman, mayor 1756 and 1769, died 1780, and Margaret (Napier) his wife, 1764, marble tablet with urn on pedestal with garland and shield-of-arms; (42) John Richardson Currer, 1840, marble tablet with single white flower with broken stem against black background; (43) Henry George Currer, son of the Rev. D. R. Currer of Clifton House, 1837, marble tablet, signed M. Taylor (see York IV, Monument (69)). Floor-slabs: in nave, (1) fragment of white stone with marginal inscription, in black-letter, 1400, 8th day of July; (2) Frosterley slab with indent, reused with inscription to Mary, wife of Nathaniel Parkinson, and two children, 1818; (3) Robert and Ursula Parkinson, 1818; (4) wife of Randall Wilmer, 18th-century; (5) (Elizab)eth Metcalfe, 19th-century; (6) Nicholas Roberts, 17.7; (7) George Smith, 19th-century; (8) (Ed)ward Clough, 1839; (9) William Jolliff, 1835, and William Wilson, 1844; (10) . . .ence Eyre, 1746; (11) Elizabeth Fowler, 1804, Mary Fowler, 1806; (12) Jane, daughter of Sir William Adams of Scawsby, Kt., 1684/5, Thomas her brother, Recorder of City of York, 1722, Margaret her sister, 1730; (13) Mary (Harrison), wife of Thomas Wanless, 171.; (14) Thomas Wanless, 1711/12; (15) John Yarburgh, 1653/4; (16) inset in last, Marion Lloyd, 1821; (17) Sir George Morwood of Little Busby, Bart., husband of Frances Bethell of Alne, 1680/1, with shield-of-arms; (18) Elizabeth Dalton Drake, 1746. In N. aisle, (19) Nathan Drake, 1778, Mary his wife, 1825, and three children; (20) Charlotte Wake, 1832; (21) Robert Clough, 1791; (22) Robert Clough, 1800, and John, 1797; (23) Anne . . . and Christopher Newst . ., 1825. In S. aisle, (24) Mary Smith, 1762, John Blanshard, proctor, son-in-law, 1770, and George Blanshard, grandson, 1779; (25) Ann Fisher, 1827, and William her husband, 1834; (26) Thomas Brook, 1817; (27) Mary (Goodlad) Chippendale, 1786, and Joseph Goodlad, 1811 (see York IV, Monument (68)); (28) D. R. C., of Clifton House, 1837, and Henry George Currer, 1837 (see Monument (43) above); (29) Annis Pyemont, 1837.

Plate: (1) cup with cover, richly ornamented, gilt (Fallow and McCall, Plate VII), London 1558–9; (2) cup and cover, copies of last, gilt, York c. 1780; (3) paten, given by Mrs. Douglas Vaughan 1672, by George Mangy, York, 1665–6; (4) stand-paten, given by the Rev. Danson Richardson Currer 1846, London 1713–4; (5) flagon, given in memory of Mary and Isabella Thompson 1739, London 1738–9; (6) flagon, given by Mrs. Ellen Bowes 1756, London 1756; (7) alms-dish, given by Susanna relict of Herbert Jeffreys who died 1689, with lozenge-of-arms of Jeffreys impaling unidentified (a chevron between three Moors' heads), by John Oliver, York 1688–9; (8) spoon, given by the Rev. D. R. Currer 1841, London 1652–3. Reredos (Plate 37): of wood, divided into three bays by Corinthian columns on panelled pedestals, carrying enriched entablature with segmental pediment; panels between columns formerly painted with Creed and Decalogue, painted out 1924 and modern painting placed on central panel; formerly surmounted by urns and Royal Arms; by William Etty, 1712. Royal Arms: on gallery front, formerly over reredos, of Queen Anne, carved in wood by Mr. Carpenter, 1712. Seating: seven loose benches, four having ends carved with poppy heads, including two with ends carved with window tracery, 16th-century; two with scrolled ends to stand against a wall, 16th-century; one with turned legs, 17th-century.

The suggestion of confusion with Hexham (VCH, York, 395) is without justification.


  • 1. 'Siquando in metropoli Eboraco, archiepiscopatus scilicet sui [Johannis] sede, eum contigisset morari, amplectebatur valde basilicam Sancti Michaelis Archangeli ibique excubias celebrabat solliciti operis; contigua enim erat suae mansioni'. J. Raine (ed.), 'Vita S. Johannis episcopi Eboracensis auctore Folcardo', Historians of the Church of York, 1 (1879), RS 79, 257.