by Dr Jack Binns
If it is true that there were 2,000 Methodists living in Scarborough by the 1860s, during that decade all the other main Christian denominations in the town were also prospering. George Bodley designed two new Anglican churches, St Martin-on-the-Hill and All Saints’ in Falsgrave, opened in 1863 and 1868; the Congregationalists finished their new South Cliff place of worship in 1865; and the Baptists celebrated theirs in Albemarle Crescent in 1867.
Last July 2013, South Cliff Anglicans proudly celebrated the 150th anniversary of the consecration of their St Martin’s. In the words of their Friends’ leaflet, more than any other Scarborough church, it expressed “the love of the ritual and worship inspired by the Oxford Movement [of Anglican reform] which began in the 1840s”. As such, in the fastidious opinion of Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, the distinguished architectural historian, St Martin’s was “the only church of Scarborough, other than St Mary’s, worthy of inclusion” in his volume on the buildings of Yorkshire’s North Riding.
Though Valley bridge, the road link between Scarborough town and South Cliff, was not completed until as late as 1865, the rapid residential development of this exclusive suburb had begun when the Crown Hotel opened in 1844 and had accelerated after Scarborough Corporation employed Sir Joseph Paxton to design the lay-out of what became the Weaponness estate. By 1881, the census of that year revealed a resident population there of 1,606.
It was therefore to serve the well-to-do society of this “fashionable part” of the borough, many of them summer visitors, their families and servants, that George Frederick Bodley was commissioned to design a suitable building for Anglican worship.
However, before the corner stone was even laid in November 1861, St Martin’s location and status on South Cliff had already caused rifts in the town’s Anglican hierarchy. The Rev Dr JW Whiteside, St Mary’s parish vicar, had been at odds recently with some of Scarborough’s Nonconformist leaders over their use of the Dean Road municipal cemetery. Now, in 1858, it seemed that another dispute was about to break out, this time amongst Anglicans, about the proposal to build a “rival” to St Mary’s and its vicar.
In September of that year, the Scarborough Gazette invited Whiteside to explain why his name was not one of the patrons or subscribers to a new church on South Cliff. Clearly annoyed, the vicar said that he was “pained” not even to have been consulted, though such a church would “cut off a large section of his parish”. Contrary to “industriously circulated” rumours, he was not opposed to an additional church on South Cliff, but doubted whether there were enough Anglicans there to justify a separate place of worship. Nevertheless, he was willing to endorse an endowment fund and, until sufficient was raised, suggested that there might be a chapel of ease on a site donated by John Woodall, the banker, on Washbeck Lane (now St James Road).
A week later, the Gazette published a reply from the lay promoters of the proposed church. Though they had assured Whiteside that they had “no desire to diminish his Fees and Emoluments as Vicar”, he had offered them “no hope of his cooperation”. They rejected his claim to any “primary right” in the matter and scorned Mr Woodall’s “small church” as “incomprehensible”.
No more was heard in the local press from St Mary’s vicar and the lay committee continued to raise their endowment fund without his assistance or interference. On November 4, 1858, an anonymous author, “Fairplay”, made a personal and “slanderous” attack on Dr Ledsam, chairman of the committee, but SW Theakston, the Gazette’s proprietor, refused to divulge the culprit’s identity.
Dr Whiteside was present at the laying of St Martin’s corner-stone and later welcomed the newly-appointed vicar, the Rev Parr, but was absent from the consecration by the archbishop of York in July 1863, “owing to the lamented death of Mrs Whiteside”. A year later, he too had died and was replaced as vicar of Scarborough parish by the Rev RFL Blunt.
Even before the second stone of St Martin’s had been laid, celebrations had already begun on South Cliff. Thomas Winn, one of the committee, provided a “sumptious cold collation” at his Crown Hotel for distinguished guests and Miss Mary Craven, principal donor, paid for an evening supper at Mr Hunt’s Prince of Wales Hotel for the 134 men who had been hired for the work. She had already given £700 to the endowment collection.
As early as April 1861, the Gazette was able to describe Bodley’s plan for St Martin-on-the-Hill. It would be built almost entirely of the finest Whitby stone, cost up to £8,000 and accommodate 800 worshippers, a third of them in free seats. There would be aisles to both nave and chancel and a tower up to 100 feet high at the north-west angle. “Effect will be gained by breadth and elevation and good proportion rather than by great amount of ornamentation”. The Gazette was right about breadth, height and proportion, but greatly underestimated the extraordinary and unique richness of St Martin’s “ornamentation”.
It would be impossible to exaggerate the splendour of the stained glass windows and the panel paintings produced by the newly-formed company of William Morris which Bodley commissioned to beautify his church. Besides Morris himself, many outstanding pre-Raphaelite artists are there represented in stained glass: Ford Maddox Brown’s St Martin, his Adam and Eve, The Crucifixion and Gideon; Edward Burne-Jones’ The Annunciation, Virgin and Child and Saints Peter, Stephen and Paul; and Rossetti’s East window, depicting the parable of the Vineyard and his Mary of Bethany, Pevsner described the pulpit, with its 10 painted panels, as “a pre-Raphaelite gem”.
Bodley continued to work on and add to St Martin’s for the next 40 years. The choir vestry was added in the south-east corner in 1869, the reredos and rood screen in 1890 and extensions to the north aisle lady chapel as late as 1902, by which time he was widely recognised as one of the nation’s greatest church architects.