Fit for a bishop

St Hilda's Parish Church, West Cliff, Whitby

St Hilda’s Parish Church, West Cliff, Whitby

Churches, like other buildings, don’t get built by accident. They owe their existence to someone’s drive and strength of intention.

On the opposite cliff to the splendidly archaic parish church of St Mary, Whitby, stands the magnificent late-Victorian Gothic church of St Hilda.

Built to serve the Victorian streets of the West Cliff, St Hilda’s is an impressive Gothic Revival composition of 1884-6 by the Newcastle architect, R J Johnson.

It replaced an iron church at the instigation of an ambitious rector, Rev Canon George Austen, who had arrived in Whitby in 1875 from Middlesburgh, where he had initiated a church-building programme [], and saw no reason why Whitby and its surrounding parishes should not become a bishopric.

Consequently, St Hilda’s is fit for a bishop, embellished with fine carving and glass by C E Kempe.

The bishop’s throne was installed c1908, and the first suffragan Bishop of Whitby was eventually appointed in 1923, by which time George Austen had become a Chancellor of York Minster.

When he died, aged 94, in 1933 he was, at his own request, brought back to Whitby and buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s, which had otherwise been closed to burials for sixty years.

The tower of St Hilda’s, in the style of the late-Victorian church, was completed by G E Charlewood in 1938

The fine Roman Catholic parish church by Matthew Ellison Hadfield (1867) in the town centre is also dedicated to St Hilda – a source of perennial confusion to visitors.

The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2015 Yorkshire’s Seaside Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing.  To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

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