While Scarborough is best known for its sun, sea and sand, and is immortalised in the song ‘Scarborough Fair’ celebrating 500 years of a major medieval trading fair that ran from 1253: it is also the location of the church of St. Martin on the Hill. St. Martin’s, built between 1862 and 1863, contains some remarkable examples of pre-Raphaelite decoration. The architect, was G.F. Bodley, a pupil of Giles Gilbert Scott, a well-known exponent of ‘Gothic’ style architecture. Bodley, who was a friend of William Morris, and who is credited with designing some of the Morris wallpapers, engaged the newly founded firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. whose associates included Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones and Ford Maddox Brown. As a consequence, the church incorporates the work of Morris, Burne-Jones, Rossetti and Maddox Brown.
Rossetti, along with William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 while Hunt and Millais were students at the Royal College of Art and Rossetti a pupil of Maddox Brown. The group objected to the loose and lazy ‘sloshua’ style of Sir Joshua Reynolds which they saw as a deterioration in art that began with the classical poses of Raphael and Michelangelo leading to a mechanistic approach to art. The Brotherhood began as a secret society, at least obscured from the RCA. They took as their guides the intense colours and attention to detail that was evident with earlier Medieval artists which led to the rich, stylised and somewhat romantic style of the movement in general.
St. Martin’s church itself was controversial. Its benefactor, Miss Mary Craven, conceived of the church as a memorial to her father, R Martin Craven, who was a Hull Doctor and developer who had retired to Scarborough and died in 1858. Mary Craven sponsored as vicar, The Rev’d Robert Henning Parr, who, besides being a caring and dedicated pastor, was also a member of the Oxford Movement or Tractarians, essentially what we now call Anglo-Catholics or High Anglicans. Parr introduced a robed choir and rich vestments, a feature of Anglicanism that was unusual at the time, and certainly not a feature of the ‘Yorkshire Church’. The then Archbishop of York, William Thompson, refused to consecrate the new church unless some of the richer paintings and art were covered up. These, of course, were the works of Messrs’. Morris, Rossetti, Burne-Jones and Maddox Brown. It is perhaps ironic that today, few churches do not field a robed choir, or do not use rich communion vestments.
The church is particularly proud of a red frontal, the east window and pulpit. The following descriptions are taken from the St. Martin on the Hill’s web site:
The Red Frontal (1862)
The earliest dated Morris & Co fabric – an embroidered velvet board to be placed against the altar. The wine red colour was in the 1860s the all-purpose colour used for hangings around the altar, until in 1875, St Martin’s began to use seasonal colours (white for Christmas and Easter, purple for Advent and Lent etc) The pomegranates allude to the catholicity of the faith of the Tractarian Anglicans – they can also be seen painted on the east gable wall of the nave.
The East Window (1862)
The central crucifixion panel is by Brown, and identical to, if larger than, a panel in the east window of an another Morris window of 1862 at Selsley in Gloucestershire. The panels around it tell the story of the parable of the vineyard and were created in 1861 by Rossetti for the South Kensington International Exhibition. They are therefore the earliest examples of Morris glass, and indeed launched the firm.
The Pulpit (1862)
The front panels feature the four Evangelists, and below, the Four Doctors of the Western Church. Seeing among them Pope Gregory in 1863. Archbishop Thomson ordered them curtained off as offensively papist ( they remained so until 1879). The side panels feature an Annunciation by Rossetti, with Jane Morris as the Virgin, and one of the Burne-Jones girls as the archangel.
The church is also the site of a Father Willis Organ, which provides a rich tonal sound typically associated with Victorian church music. These are typically extraordinarily good recital instruments as they have a considerable tonal range. Though eschewed by performers of Renaissance music, who prefer a simpler and ‘purer’ sound, these organs are really splendid instruments for performances of the 19th and 20th century repertoire.
The church is to be found in Craven Street, just off Albion Road in Scarborough. It is reasonable walk from the railway station, about a mile, and less than the distance to the shore via the pedestrianized part of Westborough Street. When you leave the station you turn right onto Westborough Street and then right again onto Valley Bridge Road. Drivers will recognise this as the end of the A64 where they turn right onto the A165 with the Stephen Joseph Theatre is on the left and the station on the right. Valley Bridge Road morphs into Valley Bridge Parade which then morphs into Ramshill Road. Albion Road is a turning to the left, toward the coast and Craven Street is the first turning on the right. The nearest bus stop is St. Andrews Church southbound, and after getting off the bus you walk back and take the second turning on the right which takes you onto Albion Road. For online map aficionados, the church’s postcode is YO11 2BY.