Spiritual house of beauty

Holy Trinity
Holy Trinity
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by Dr Jack Binns

As early as November 1875, public notice was given of yet another new Anglican church to be built on what was then known as Bleach House Lane. Its triangular, sloping site was part of the extensive estate of banker John Woodall and bought from him by the church trustees for £1,176. 10s. As yet the surrounding area was mostly green field and country lane, but the newspaper announcement referred to an adjacent new terrace of houses called Westbourne Grove.

Ewan Christian (1814-95), the distinguished architect, who had been responsible for the restoration of St Mary’s between 1848 and 1852 and the re-building of Scarborough’s National (Anglican) school in 1859, was employed as architect for this new church and John Barry hired as contractor. It was to be called Holy Trinity.

Long in advance of completion, the Scarborough Gazette published a detailed description of Christian’s ambitious and expensive plan. A continuous nave and chancel, 30 feet wide, were to end at the east in a semi-circular apse. To them would be added a north aisle and later south aisle, vestry and, at the north-west angle above the porch, a tall square tower with spire.

Lord Derwent had provided grey stone from his Hackness quarry and the roof would be constructed of Baltic pine and fir under Westmorland slates. The lancet windows were to be in the Early English style of the thirteenth century. Altogether the initial cost was estimated at £10,000, a colossal sum, all to be raised by public subscription.

Nevertheless, by Easter Sunday, March 28, 1880, the first instalment of the work was finished and most of it paid for. Seats on the south side of the nave were to be free and the remainder let to parishioners, resident and visitor, on Easter Monday and Tuesday. So successful had been the appeal for gift money that a meeting at the Cambridge Hotel the following July unanimously resolved to go ahead with the next building stage, the erection of the south aisle.

By that time the church of the Holy Trinity had been consecrated by the archbishop of York after he had done the same that morning for two plots of land in Scarborough’s Manor Road cemetery.

During its early formative years, Holy Trinity was fortunate to have outstanding clergymen as its “incumbents”. The first was the Rev Robert Vetch Dunlop, later described by one admirer as “a simple and trusting Christian”. Like others who were to follow him, Dunlop’s background and experience were as a colonial missionary. For 25 years he had lived in British Ceylon as a business man and banker and he was not ordained until he returned to England in his early 
forties. He called his home in Princess Royal Park, Ceylon House.

But after serving at Holy Trinity for less than a year and at the age of only 45 he died suddenly from smallpox contracted at Boulogne. Yet such was his reputation that two years later a new mission room on the south side of the church was dedicated to his memory. Lord Derwent donated the rubble wall stone from his quarry at Suffield.

Holy Trinity’s next vicar, James Arthur Faithfull, lasted 13 years. During that time the debt was paid off, a powerful electric organ installed, the south aisle built and the 100-foot-high tower and spire completed. If all that was not enough, Faithfull was also chaplain at Scarborough’s workhouse in Dean Road, founder and first secretary of the town’s YMCA and district secretary of the Church Missionary Society. In 1894 he left Scarborough for a London parish, died young in 1902, and was recalled at Holy Trinity by a new stained glass window of three lights.

The final extension of Holy Trinity took place in 1903 when the Victoria Memorial Hall was opened right next to the church in Westbourne Grove. On two floors to accommodate 400 people in each, this fine red brick building was intended to be used as a gymnasium and a drill room for the Church Lads’ Brigade, but it also served many other useful community purposes.

Unfortunately, Holy Trinity suffered severely from the consequences of falling Anglican attendances. From April 1 1990 it was declared redundant and the last service was held there after 110 years on the following Trinity Sunday. The Rev Richard Martin, its vicar since 1988, had been appointed to both St James’s and Holy Trinity, so in November 1990 the two congregations were merged.

Martin had hoped that Holy Trinity might be preserved as a museum, a heritage centre or even a concert hall, but his superiors seem to have favoured demolition. To their credit, Scarborough Borough councillors, however, looked into other solutions. After all Holy Trinity’s interior furnishings – pulpit, pews, font, organ, bells and altar - had been removed by order of the York diocese at the end of 1997, Ryedale Housing Association were granted permission to convert the Grade Two listed building. They proposed to create 27 flats around the nave which would become a communal street and keep its colonnade of Whitby stone arches.

It was not to be: Ryedale failed to secure the necessary funding and Holy Trinity was bought by Hunmanby-based Humming Bee Holdings, which was given planning consent in 2001. Two years later, their radical conversion was finished and 11 “houses” were offered for sale at prices ranging from £250,000 for Spire House to £120,000 for Nave House.

What had been a most impressive landmark in Scarborough’s townscape for more than a century was thereby saved for posterity: its transformation from memorable public place of worship into private up-market residences was a cost that had to be paid for it to survive in a secular age when the established church was fighting for its very existence. A decade later, a declining number of older Scarborians recall with regret the loss of Holy Trinity’s “congregational and hearty” services in what they remembered as a house of beauty and spiritual inspiration.