Posted on 1 October 2014
On entering the parish church of St. Martin-cum-Gregory, the site of the York Stained Glass Centre, I already felt a tingle of excitement, but also some apprehension. I’d walked past the church hundreds of times as many of us have, mostly on the way to the drinking-holes and shops Micklegate is now known for, but I’d never actually been inside this beautiful building, so rich in layers of York’s hidden history.
What struck me initially was the size of the space inside – the pews had been removed in the early 20th Century as the church had lost its primary function as place of worship, and many of the artefacts it once contained had been moved to other religious buildings or worse, as in the case of a strikingly-wrought candelabra, stolen.
My task, in brief, was to research the lives of parishioners memorialised in the stones and the grave-slabs of the church, peeling away at the personal and community narratives hidden behind the whitewashed walls. The material I found would then be used by volunteer-guides as part of an exciting new project to open up the building further.
One of the major challenges I faced was the highly variable amount of information available on individual parishioners. Whereas families like the infamous Gisburns or the Hoyles opened up a wealth of wider information, people like the Perrott’s or – surprisingly – the Peckitts (including the famous York glass-painter William) proved far more evasive.
I dealt with this by using family-narratives as a catalyst to reflect the broader chronology of the church, within York as well as the whole country. Where textual records proved sparse, I was sometimes able to draw on surviving architecture – as in the case for the Bathursts, whose initials remain inscribed on the outside of their grand family home on Micklegate – as well as other sources to set these families in the wider context of the city and culture in which they lived.
I chose this internship because I was interested in the history of the building, the nature of the memorials as part of the human fabric of the church and, most importantly, the Stained Glass Centre itself. Through my time as an intern I’ve developed valuable skills in research, as well as a closer understanding of the challenges and innovations within the cultural heritage industry.
I’ve been able to work within a team set to really kick-start what will doubtless be viewed as another worthy jewel in York’s heritage crown, refreshingly different for its focus on stained glass as well as the people who made the St. Martin-cum-Gregory great. Our last task was to consider the way visitors would experience the building, blending my research with an intern focussing on stained-glass and an MA archaeologist to formulate a tour-route.
The range of periods covered certainly broadened my focus as I’m usually a late-medievalist, yet through the work I feel more confident in being able to access these valuable narratives myself, and make them engaging and accessible to the general public.
Public History Internship