Monday 27 January was a day for a drive. Howden Minster is incredible – in the centre of a small market town SE748283. The Minster had nice flat access, a notice warning us of CCTV, and absolutely no one around. I can’t find a church website, but there is a fascinating one about the artist J.M.W. Turner in Yorkshire. He went to Howden and to many other bits of Yorkshire – and there are pictures, podcasts, trails – a great deal to explore.
Originally, that is before the Norman Conquest, the church belonged to the abbey at Peterborough, but then it served as a southern pro-Cathedral for Durham. The Prince Bishops of Durham had a palace here, and Bishop Anthony de Bec established the minster to provide a southern HQ – it was also safer when the Scots were being troublesome.
The present church was rebuilt in the thirteenth century, it was one of the first churches in the north in the decorate or geometric style (the guide leaflet – they have no decent guidebook on sale – says that all the abstract design was done with a pair of compasses). The nave arcading has merged the traditional triforium and clerestory into one. It is suggested that some of the masons (or their sons) from Notre Dame de Paris, who went on to work on the rebuilding of Westminster Abbey under Henry III, then came north to Howden. You can imagine their van has “Paris, London and Howden” painted on the side! The first senior canon was John de Howden, died 1275 – confessor to the queen and a noted poet – after his death, his tomb became a place of pilgrimage.
In the early C15 Howden was a favourite residence of Bishop Walter Skirlaw, who added the Chapter House and the top stage of the Tower. His successor was Thomas, Cardinal Langley (Lord Chancellor to Henry V), who added a fine brick gatehouse to the Palace (I missed it).
In 1536 Howden Minster was at the heart of the Pilgrimage of Grace, the most serious Catholic rebellion against Henry VIII – Robert Aske was a local. The Reformation removed the Canons and the revenue. The Prince Bishops went back north. The East End is ruinous, the parish took the rest of the church over. In the Civil War the parliamentarians marched through in 1644 and did a lot of damage. In 1696 the choir roof collapsed in a storm. The draining of the marshes, then the canal to Goole, changed the whole area, and Howden became a backwater – even the station is a couple of miles away!
In 1929 arsonists forced their way into the tower, sanctuary and choir stalls. After the fire, the building was restored as if it actually stops under the tower. The choir stalls and many of the other wooden furnishings were made by Mousy Thompson of Kilburn – there are 30 mice to be found, but I didn’t go searching! It was rededicated in 1932.
The Great West Window is C19, by the Belgian stained glass window designer J.B. Capronnier – his masterpiece is in Cologne, and his work can also be found in Philadelphia. It is suggested that in this window the shepherds represent the common man of the American republic, and the wise men the European monarchies – believe that if you will. There are some other nice windows too – this Good Samaritan one is rather fun (spot the priest and Levite).
The font cover, 1960s, symbolises the flames of Pentecost. The side chapel, dedicated to St William of York was established in the north transept in 1979. Some wonderful Saltmarshe tombs and other statues and stonework.
One interesting plaque inside and stone outside commemorate Flight Lieutenant William Glew, 99th Squadron RAF, who died from wounds received in aerial combat, in defence of his country, on November 6th 1918, aged 18 years and 10 months, buried at Sarrebourg, Lorraine. It struck us because he was a flyer, he was less than 19, he died on Julie’s birthday, and the war ended five days later. A quick google does not give any more information, although I have found the blog of Susan Butler, a Howdenshire historian – so I’ll see if she knows any more.
Outside is a sculpture trail – the circles on the north side represent “Air”, granite carvings by John Maine – grey from Scandinavia, black from Russia, red from India. They also hint back to the Durham link. The tall one is “Element of fire”, 12 courses of Aberdeen granite. A rather fun addition to an interesting area – and a stunning church.