Doncaster Minster of St George
Doncaster Minster History and Heritage:
The early history of the Church of St. George, Doncaster is somewhat lost in the mists of time. It is known that the church, occupies the same site as the Roman fort of Danum and, indeed, a 18 metre stretch of the fort wall was discovered by excavation some thirty years ago and is to be viewed at the north east end of the grounds. A Norman fortification is known to have occupied the site and it is probable that the materials from that building were used in part, to build the early church but a precise date for its foundation is not possible.
Jackson’s history of the Church suggests a progression from Early English to Perpendicular style over the years from its foundation to its destruction by fire in 1853. The same work suggests a central tower surmounted by a spire in about 1300AD. A progression of additions and alterations is catalogued and a later woodcut suggests the spire had been replaced by a tower by 1430AD.
The church was described as “one of the noblest, of its own degree, if not in England, certainly in Yorkshire”. It had a lovely chancel screen, rather ugly galleries, a three decker pulpit, fine stained glass, and many memorials. Its Harris organ, and its bells were famous. But its crowning glory was the central tower standing 141 feet above the surrounding countryside. It was the pride of the town and the neighbourhood.
“In the centre of a wide and level district this rose before the eye with an air of ancient dignity, rich and pleasing in its proportions even from a distance, producing an immediate impression of stately solidity”
Thus its destruction, by fire on the night of 28th February 1853, was seen as a great calamity for the town and the neighbourhood. Nevertheless, within seven days, a rebuilding committee had been formed and raised over £11,000. Unusually Queen Victoria broke her own rule not to contribute to local charities and contributed £100 to the fund. The Archbishop of York sent £500 and the Town Council donated a generous £5,000. It is a tribute to the determination of all concerned that it was possible for the Archbishop of York to lay the foundation stone for the new church exactly one year to the day after the fire. The new building to the designs of George Gilbert Scott took four year’s to build at a cost of £43,126 4shillings and 5 pence. Great celebrations accompanied the consecration of the building by the Archbishop of York on 14th October 1858.
The new building was reviewed by the local newspaper (The Doncaster, Nottingham and Lincoln Gazette) thus: “We have obtained a building far superior to the one we have lost; an edifice worthy of the town and of the deanery, and equally worthy of the age in which we live most admirably adapted to the great purpose for which it is intended” It is undoubtedly better than the average Gothic revival building, and it has been suggested that it is the “proudest and most Cathedral-like of Gilbert Scott’s Parish Churches.”
This is most evident when entering the building through the West Door and the 169 feet length is equally balanced by the width of some 65 feet. The tower is 20 feet square and is supported by massive pillars with a circumference of 28 feet which are needed to support the full height of 169 feet as well a peal of eight bells within it. The observant will note that although the clock strikes every quarter hour there is no visible clock face on the exterior of the tower. The clock was designed by Lord Grimthorpe and made by Mr. Dent as was “Big Ben” and the chimes were first heard on 23rd October 1858 just a few weeks before Big Ben was first heard.
The visitor is struck by the rich carvings both inside and outside, the fine stained glass and the magnificent organ, which was added in 1862 by the famous Organ Builder, Edmund Schulze. The Forman Chapel, which also serves as the Baptistry, was built at the sole expense of William Henry Forman in memory of the Seaton Family and is built in an advanced Decorated style. In the centre of the chapel stands the massive Font carved out of a single piece of serpentine. As the civic church for the town visitors will note the ornate pew at the front of the nave where the Mayor sits on official visits and has a special stand for the official mace.
It was not until 17th June 2004 that the Bishop of Sheffield granted the Church of St George its Minster status in recognition of its unique position in Doncaster and district and its involvement in so much of the religious, social and cultural life of the town.
On 8th December 2008 the Minster was honoured to receive a visit from HRH The Princess Royal who came to view the building and meet many of the people involved with the current restoration programme.
George Gilbert Scott
Dan Cruickshank and the Family That Built Gothoc Britain A Film on BBC Four on Tuesday 21st October 2014 at 9.00pm
"As good as any Dickens novel, this is the triumphant and tragic story of the greatest architectural dynasty of the 19th century. Dan Cruickshank charts the rise of Sir George Gilbert Scott to the very heights of success, the fall of his son George Junior and the rise again of his grandson Giles It is a story of architects bent on a mission to rebuild Britain. From the Romantic heights of the Midland Hotel at St Pancras station to the modern image of Bankside power station (now Tate Modern), this is the story of a family that shaped the Victorian age and left a giant legacy."
Unfortunately the film does not include Doncaster Minster but will still be worth watching. A short film of items, filmed at the Minster during the summer of 2014, will be available shortly.
The Schulze Organ
The organ in St. George’s Doncaster is the work of Edmund Schulze of Paulinzelle in Saxony, and dates from 1862, four years after the completion of the present church building.
The medieval church had possessed a fine organ by Harris and Byfield from 1739-40 but the organ perished in the fire of 1853.
The firm of Schulze had exhibited an organ in the Exhibition of 1851 and this marked the beginning of a wide influence in this country. The Doncaster instrument is their largest organ, to be compared with that of St. Mary’s, Lübeck in scale.
It has undergone several restorations. 1894 Messrs Abbot & Smith, of Leeds replaced the original blowing apparatus with a Shipley Gas Engine in a chamber l2Oft from the organ, a new console and action being provided. In 1910 Norman and Beard of Norwich added a new solo department including a tuba, and also swell strings, a Great No. 1 large scale diapason, and tubular-pneumatic action. In 1935 J. W. Walker & Sons replaced this largely with electro-pneumatic action, adding a new detached stop-key console. In 1959 some of the action was restored, and the pedal organ placed on new sound boards.
The Schulze Organ is now back in working order and the programme of monthly organ recitals has now resumed. Check the Events page for details of all musical events.
The choir of Doncaster Minster continues an unbroken tradition of choral music in this country spanning back to mediaeval times.
The choir normally sings on Sunday mornings at the 11am Sung Eucharist and for Choral Evensong every Sunday evening at 6.30pm (save for half-term breaks and the summer vacation).
There are from time to time special services and civic events at which the choir take part.
Unlike a cathedral, the Minster has no choir school and the boys and girls are drawn from a variety of different schools across the town.
In 2010 a new choir was formed at the Minster for Adults called Harmoniae Sacrum. This Choir consists of Adult Sopranos, Altos, Tenor and Basses. This Choir has been set up to lead services, when the regular Minster Choirs are on holiday and to lead the worship at Choral Eucharist on feast days during the week.
Membership of this choir is for those who cannot commit to the weekly schedule of rehearsals and services of the Minster Choirs.
If you are interested in joining any of the Minster Choirs contact the Director of Music on 07921868366 or email: email@example.com
Vicar Revd David Stevens
Associate Clergy: The Venerable Robert Fitzharris
Director of Music: Mr Darren Williams
Fundraiser & Development Manager: Ms Louise O'Brien
Churchwarden: Dr Rebecca Carpenter
Churchwarden: Mr Clive Howarth
Church of England Religious services
Concerts and Events
Doncaster Minster is located in the heart of Doncaster Town Centre.