St Martin-on-the-Hill Parish Church (1861-2) on the South Cliff at Scarborough is celebrated for its rich collection of pre-Raphaelite art.
It was financed by Miss Mary Craven as a memorial to her father, a wealthy Hull surgeon. She provided £7,600 of the initial £8,000 cost of this remarkable building, and in the period up to the time of her death in 1889 contributed a further £2,000.
Naturally, this meant that she largely got her own way in determining what the church would be like, and how it would be run. Her architect was the young George Frederick Bodley, whose father was a Hull physician, and he introduced his friend William Morris and his associates Edward Burne Jones, Daniel Gabriel Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown and Philip Webb. Between them, they provided brilliant stained glass, wall decoration, carving and furniture.
Mary Craven’s role as sponsor also allowed her to choose the first vicar, Rev Robert Henning Parr, previously the young and enthusiastic curate of Holy Trinity, Hull. It seems that the establishment of this beautiful church was a remarkably harmonious project: Mary Craven, G F Bodley, William Morris and Robert Henning Parr all appear to have got on well with each other.
This is just as well, because the High Church tendencies of the new parish upset many Anglicans in Scarborough, and for a time Archbishop Thomson refused to consecrate it because Rev Parr declined to charge pew rents. Even then, Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s exquisite painted pulpit had to be curtained over to avoid offending the archbishop.
Ironically, one pew was reserved, and still carries its brass plate – “Miss Mary Craven’s seat”.
Furious arguments about the Anglo-Catholic goings on at St Martin’s were tempered for a long time by Archbishop Thomson’s friendship with Archdeacon Blunt of Scarborough, with whom he regularly spent seaside holidays.
So often, the history of Victorian parishes reads like a Trollope novel. Here at least the vicar didn’t end up in jail [see Liverpool 8 Churches (1)].
And Scarborough has, to this day, the finest collection of pre-Raphaelite art in the north of England.
For a detailed history of St Martin-on-the-Hill Church see http://www.st-martin-on-the-hill.org.uk.