The church of St Martin, Coney Street (otherwise known as St Martin-le-Grand) is a familiar and much-loved York landmark because of its overhanging clock surmounted by the figure known as the “Little Admiral”.
The actual clock is mounted in the tower, and the hands are turned by a drive-shaft that runs the length of the building.
The clock, the dials and the Little Admiral were restored in order to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the “Baedeker” blitz which gutted the church and the Guildhall nearby, along with the railway station and the Bar Convent, and killed some 79 people on the night of April 28th-29th 1942.
The present-day clergy and parishioners dislike the name St Martin-le-Grand, which they dismiss as a piece of Victorian pretension: http://www.stmartinsyork.org.uk/history/churchname.html.
Certainly the church was grand, a mid-fourteenth century rebuilding of an earlier building, and it traditionally gained prestige from its proximity to the Guildhall and the Mansion House.
After the War, the decision was taken to rebuild only the south aisle of the gutted church, keeping the rest of the shell as a memorial garden.
The outstanding restoration was carried out by George G Pace (1915-1975) between 1961 and 1968, and the church rededicated as “a shrine of remembrance for all who died in the two world wars, a chapel of peace and reconciliation between nations and between men”.
The stained glass of 1437, which had been removed from the west window before the bombing, was installed in the new north transept: it depicts the life of St Martin.
The east window, in contrast, dates from c1965 and shows the night of the bombing. It was designed by the artist Harry Stammers (1902-1969), instigator of the York School of Glaziers after the Second World War.
There is a well-illustrated description of St Martin’s at http://www.yorkstories.co.uk/churches/st_martin_le_grand_york.php.
The parish has a ministry of peace and reconciliation, affirmed by the coincidence that the feast day of St Martin is November 11th. Current discussions about the work of the parish are outlined at http://www.stmartinsyork.org.uk/pdf/transcending_the_parish.pdf. Other pages of the well-designed website http://www.stmartinsyork.org.uk provide details of regular services.
There are oral testimonies of the Baedeker Blitz in York at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-york-north-yorkshire-17872823 and images at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-york-north-yorkshire-17872824.
The 44-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Historic York tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing. To view sample pages click here. Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.