St Martins on the Hill

Meeting held on 1st October 2018

The Building of the St Martins on the Hill Church

St Martins on the Hill in Scarborough is a Victorian church built for Anglo Catholics in a predominantly non-conformist town. The money was raised by subscription only.  How did they do it? The answer was given by our speaker, retired school headmaster, Michael Bortoft.  His slick presentation, helped with humour, held everyone’s attention.

Some money was raised from ex mayors, hoteliers and other dignitaries but the breakthrough came when Miss Mary Craven form Hull donated £2000 given in memory of her father, a Hull surgeon. The gift was not without provisos though. She insisted the architect must be family friend George Fredrick Bodley.

The building committee however decided to hold a competition. Mary struck back with a volatile letter to the press signed simply “C”, which our speaker showed. The committee thought this was “indecent and improper”.  However, with the promise of an extra £1000 from her sister and a promise to make up any shortfall, she won the day. Mary even had another family friend the Rev, Robert Henning Parr appointed to the church.

Michael described the architectural result in some detail. The tower has an unusual saddle roof. Bodley’s building is in a plain French gothic style in ashlar stone. By contrast, the famous pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows bring a lot of colour and fine detail. There are Catholic emblems everywhere – pomegranates, sunflowers, and the rose for Mary.

The speaker showed how little development there was on the South Cliff at Scarborough at the time the church was built. Even so the anti-Catholics soon built a rival church, St Andrews United Reformed Church, almost next door. When St Martins’ foundation stone was laid in 1861 a speech hoped the church would save the people of Scarborough from the dangers of “the allurements of vice all around them”.

Antagonism against St Martin’s continued.  Michael showed a doggerel which went round the town just after its consecration which referred to the “church in the lurch”, “popish chants”, and “vain ostentation”. Even the archbishop was unhappy as the pulpit depicted a cardinal and even a pope.  For a number of years these were covered with a curtain.

A number of changes have been made over the years, particularly after the dominating Mary Craven died when, for example, a rood screen was added.

Our speaker concluded with a quick review of the wonderful windows. An expert once said “each window demands individual appraisal as you would in an art gallery”. How true that is.

The Prior Bro Garry Sunley asked Judy Wilson to give the vote of thanks.  She thanked Michael for a full and fascinating story, which complimented the recent visit members made to the church.