Chapel for poor of Falsgrave

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by Dr Jack Binns

What’s the connection between St James’ church on Seamer Road and the inventor of the world’s first steam hammer? The answer is Mr James and Mrs Anne Elizabeth Nasmyth: the former was the eminent Scottish engineer, artist and astronomer, the latter his rich widow, who gave £2,000 to pay for St James’s mission rooms and the upkeep of an assistant curate there.

The story starts in February 1885 when the Scarborough Mercury included a letter from the Rev Robert Brown-Borthwick, the notoriously autocratic vicar of All Saints’, Falsgrave. He told readers that his parish was soon to gain a new mission chapel, but he emphasised that St James’, as it was to be called, was not a church. Like Scarborough’s St Paul’s in Regent Street, opened seven years earlier, it would be subordinate to and dependent on its mother church, in this case, All Saints’. Also, like St Paul’s, it was to be built for “the poorer people” of the immediate vicinity in Seamer Lane who could not make the journey to All Saints’ and who preferred a simpler Anglican service.

The new chapel on the corner of Seamer Lane and Valley Road had seating for only 150 with rooms below for a Sunday school and mothers’ meetings. The main cost of the building was to be borne by the Rev Frederick Hartop Holt, presently curate of All Saints’. Appropriately, on July 25, St James’ Day, 1885, Falsgrave’s newest place of Christian worship and Anglican instruction was officially opened by archdeacon Blunt, vicar of St Mary’s and future bishop of Hull.

The mission chapel was an instant success, mainly because of the dedication, enthusiasm and popularity of its curate. Born in Wakefield in 1858, Hartop Holt had originally intended to make a career in farming and attended the Agricultural College at Cirencester, where he excelled as a student. However, at the age of 19, he was accepted by Trinity College, Cambridge, to read theology and graduated with a BA in 1880. Three years later, he took holy orders as an Anglican deacon and in 1884 was ordained priest.

By 1893 St James’s congregation was exceeding 200 and the numbers attending Sunday school and Bible classes had reached about 300. Also, Brown-Borthwick, who had strongly opposed parish status for St James’, had left Scarborough, so that his former curate had no difficulty winning the support of the Anglican hierarchy.

The new parish in Falsgrave, said in 1893 to have a resident population of 1,500, was bordered to the east by the railway line, to the south by Seamer parish, and to the north and west by the parish of All Saints’. The dividing lines ran down the middle of St James’s Road, Oak Road and Spring Hill Lane. The vicar’s salary was to be £150 a year, a handsome sum at that time.

The grant of parish status was conditional on the extension of the chapel building to accommodate 350 and the addition of adjacent premises for social and recreational gatherings. Altogether the cost was expected to come to £2,000, but St James’ had a wealthy benefactor at hand.

When James Nasmyth stayed at the home of the manager of the earl of Fitzwilliam’s ironworks at Wentworth near Barnsley, he fell in love with his host’s daughter. Two years later, he married Anne Elizabeth Hartop. They lived together for 50 years until his death in 1890 at their country mansion at Penshurst in Kent. Soon afterwards Anne returned to her native Yorkshire and retired to Scarborough. One reason for her choice of location was the presence there of her nephew, Frederick Hartop Holt, soon to become vicar of St James’.

Unfortunately, Anne did not live quite long enough to see the fulfilment of her endowment in 1894, but she would surely have been delighted with it.

At the end of 1893, the Mercury reported that Lady Legard of Ganton Hall had found time to open St James’s Working Men’s Club and Church Institute on the south side of its parent building. Made of the same red brick, the recreation room had a billiards table, bagatelle board, chess and draught boards, parallel bars and other gymnastic apparatus, surrounded by settees for spectators. All these facilities were designed to offer “innocent amusement for working men in their leisure hours”.

There was also a retirement room “which will be sure to tend towards temperance”. Both rooms would be open from 5.30am until 11pm, every day except Sundays.

Finally, in July 1894, on St James’s eve, the parish church was consecrated by the archbishop of York “in the presence of a crowded congregation”. Before the ceremony even began, the church doors had to be closed “to stop the rush”. At least 500 people must have been inside St James’ that memorable evening.

It was not to last: within a decade the new vicar, the Rev CR Bramley, deplored the meagre attendance at the annual vestry meeting and there complained of the “leakage” and “thinning” of his Sunday congregations. After claiming that he had spoken 225 times during the past year, one parishioner said, rather unkindly, “you feel that you have given us quantity if not quality”. In March 1912, the Mercury announced the closure of St James’s Institute.

Yet, “the poorer people” of Falsgrave had kept their beautiful church. It had been designed by the Lancaster architects, Paley and Austin, who as the sons of clergymen were especially skilled and original in building new Anglican churches and restoring old ones. They had been responsible first for the old mission chapel of 1883-5 and then its enlargement in 1893-4. Constructed entirely of red brick, with a south porch, nave, chancel and vestry, St James’ was given fine traceried windows, and a bell turret with three arched openings crowned by a spirelet. Scarborough had no other church like it.