A History of York in 100 Pictures: 4 Holy Trinity Goodramgate

Copyright Kippa Matthews

Deconsecrated now, Holy Trinity Goodramgate is one of the most interesting medieval churches in York.  Tucked away behind  Lady Row, in a hidden angle between Petergate and Goodramgate, it is easy to miss the entrance.  The very first time I came to York, I was walking past with my parents.  ‘I wonder what’s in there,’ I said, glancing incuriously in through the gateway.   At that, a passer by stopped us and took my arm.  ‘You mustn’t walk past,’ he said firmly.  ‘You must go inside and look.’

And I was glad I did.  The churchyard is a small, green, serene space, and the church itself very old, and very charming.  It is famous for its 17th-century boxed pews, but most of the church dates from the 14th and 15th centuries.  I like the fact that there is hardly a straight line in the place. The floor tilts, the pews are wonky and even the stone arches are squashed and skewed.

As Hawise lived with the Beckwiths in Goodramgate, this is the church where she was married to Ned Hilliard in Time’s Echo.  Read an extract below about what happens when Grace walks past the entrance in Goodramgate …

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There was a rushing around my heart, pulling me back, pulling me along the path towards the church.  I couldn’t have walked past if I had tried.  This was Holy Trinity, Hawise’s parish church.  I knew it in my bones.

To my twenty-first century eyes, it was a humble, higgledy-piggeldy building,  a cottage of a church in comparison with the bulk of the cathedral that soared behind it, but at the same time I saw it as sanctuary, as certainty.  The churchyard was a tiny oasis in the centre of the city.  There were  three or four gravestones leaning in the grass, and a cherry tree bursting with blossom.   Two Japanese tourists were sitting on the bench, heads bent over their digital camera, but they smiled and nodded as I walked up to the porch.  Somehow I managed a smile back.

I didn’t want to go in, and yet, when I pushed open the door and stepped down into the nave, it felt like coming home after a long journey.

Inside, age had buckled the church out of shape. The flagstones, worn smooth by generations of feet, dipped and sagged, the stone arches were squashed and slightly askew.  My pulse boomed as I walked down the central aisle towards the altar.  Those high wooden box pews dominating the nave shouldn’t be there, I thought, but when I laid my palm against one of the sturdy pillars, the stone seemed to thrum.

Copyright Kippa Matthews

Hawise was right beside me now.  I could feel her, part of me and yet separate for once.  I stood very still, watching the meagre winter sunlight that slanted through a window, briefly striping the flagstone beneath my feet.

Yes.  Yes.

The words rang in my head and approval settled like a hand on my shoulder.  Yes.  At last.  Now, remember how it was …

After a week of rain, the sun has come out for my wedding day.  It pours through the stained glass windows and makes puddles of colour on the stone floor.  They look so pretty that I try not to stand in them.

I am married.  I stood with Ned Hilliard in the church porch and we exchanged the vows that made us man and wife, and then we came inside for the nuptial mass.  Now Meg is pouring hippocras for all our guests and Agnes is handing around the cakes with a martyred air.  She said she was too tired to go out with Meg and the other girls to gather flowers this morning.  She said it was just a tradition and that there was no point in throwing flowers in the street.  They would just get trampled into the mud.

I would have collected armfuls of flowers if this was Agnes’s wedding.  I know she thinks that I have been  unfairly fortunate, and I dare say it is true, but I would be happy to change places with her if I could.  Does she think I want to marry a widower, a stranger?  But Agnes sees only that she has been unlucky again.  I wish my sister could be happy, I wish it as much as I wish happiness for myself, but I am afraid that she doesn’t know how to feel joy.  I am afraid that if we could change places, so that she was the bride, and I her maid, she would still be discontented and envious.

Perhaps the flowers are trampled now, but the street looked like a meadow when we set out in procession from my master’s house.  Dick, Mr Beckwith’s apprentice, held the bride-cup aloft and the ribbons fluttered gaily in the breeze as we followed behind the waits.  No expense has been spared.  There were fiddlers and drummers and trumpeters and pipers and we laughed and smiled and clapped our hands in time to the music and the passers by all stopped to watch us pass, craning their necks to see me in my bridal finery.  My maids walked with me, carrying the great wedding cakes that will be broken at the bridal feast later, each with a sprig of rosemary tied to their arm.  Meg is going to put hers under her pillow tonight and dream of her future husband.  I did the same when I was a bride’s maid.

But I never dreamt of Ned Hilliard.

© Pamela Hartshorne 2012


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For more information about Holy Trinity Goodramgate, see: http://www.visitchurches.org.uk/Ourchurches/Completelistofchurches/Holy-Trinity-Church-York-North-Yorkshire/


5 Responses

  1. Lacey Devlin says:

    Wow it’s a good thing that passer by stopped you. I’d love to see it for myself.

  2. I’m ashamed to say I lived in York for seven years and never went in! I must put that right in my next visit.

  3. It’s easy to miss the places right on our doorstep, isn’t it? I spent three years as a student in Edinburgh without once going to the castle or Holyrood Palace so I can’t criticise. Next time you come, I will give you a tour. You too, Lacey!

  4. Cheryl Sanderson says:

    A friend told us about this wonderful old church, an absolute haven amongst the hustle and bustle of York. We will most certainly visit it again, and it began our quest to visit other historic churches in Yorkshire.

    • It’s the one place I insist on taking visitors, Cheryl. Even more than the Minster, beautiful though it is, Holy Trinity Goodramgate encapsulates York for me: not smart, not spectacular, but a place where the past seems almost touchable. There are some absolutely wonderful old churches in Yorkshire, so enjoy your quest, but Holy Trinity will always be my favourite.

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