Photographs and captions by Ingrid Brown, who provided much of the material for the commentary by Jacqueline Banerjee. Thanks also to Pat Chandler, St Peter's School librarian and archivist. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL or credit the Victorian Web in a print document.]

St. Peter's School, Clifton, York, frontage by John Harper

St. Peter's School, Clifton, York. Listed Building. Front range by John Harper (1809-1842). 1838. Faced with limestone ashlar. This building has a striking gabled centrepiece, complete with canopied niches, oriels with traceried lights, parapet, and octagonal corner turrets with openwork at the top. Nikolaus Pevsner saw it as "ornately Gothic ... An attractive symmetrical design" (199). [Click on all photographs to enlarge them.]

St. Peter's School, Clifton, York, frontage by John Harper

St Peter's School frontage, perspective view.

John Harper was born in Lancashire, at Dunkenhalgh Hall, near Blackburn, but trained in London as a pupil of Benjamin and Philip Wyatt, members of the Wyatt architectural dynasty, helping them prepare designs for additions to Apsley House at Hyde Park Corner; the neo-classical York House (now Lancaster House) in St James's; and the Duke of York's Column in Carlton Gardens. When he returned to York, Harper opened his own practice, and was clearly well thought of — for example, he was retained by the Duke of Devonshire for works at Bolton Abbey. He was ambitious, too, submitting a design for the competition for the new Palace of Westminster.

Despite his training under the Wyatts, most of Harper's work was in the Gothic style (see Nicholson), and St Peter's is a good example of that. Originally founded in 1838 as the York Proprietary or Collegiate School by a group of York businessmen, it was built to Harper's design in the same year. The oldest part, the frontage shown above, is described by Patrick Nuttgens as "cardboard gothic in style ... giving a suitable impression of austere antiquity" (61). Other examples of his work are St Marie's Roman Catholic Church, Bury (1841), and All Saints, Elton (1841-43). He was recognised as "an accomplished draftsman and his sketches of antiquity were admired by his contemporaries" ("John Harper"). He was also a great friend of the Yorkshire artist William Etty. Sadly, Harper died of malaria in Naples in 1842, still in his early 30s, whilst on a trip to Italy.

Left: The Alcuin Library, St. Peter's School, York, by Francis William Bedford of Leeds, 1894-95. This photograph shows windows with cusped tracery in the Gothic style, and "finely detailed Arts and Crafts Gothic doorways" (Pevsner 199). Right: Detail of door and sundial.

The next stage in the school's history came in 1844, when it was taken over by the original medieval school of the Minster (see Pevsner 199), founded by St. Paulinus, in 627 AD. One of that school's earliest and most influential pupils had been the famous scholar Alcuin, hence the name of the newer building's library, added at the end of the nineteenth century in a more picturesquely Gothic style. Other notable alumni had included Guy Fawkes, who attended the original St Peter's when it was situated on the "Horsefair", now Gillygate in York. An alumnus of the school at its present location was Frank Pick, who played a key part in designing the London Underground system and map in the early 1900s. Alongside the buildings shown above is another attractive neo-Gothic structure, a chapel built in the 1860s by J. B. and W. Atkinson.

Link to related material


"Hall Range and Chapel at St Peter's School, York" British Listed Buildings. Web. 31 October 2011.

"John Harper." The DiCamillo Companion to British and Irish Country Houses. Web. 31 October 2011.

"John Harper, Architect." Richton Web. Web. 31 October 2011.

Nicholson, Albert. "John Harper (1809-1842)." Rev. Anne Pimlott Baker. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Web. 31 October 2011.

Nuttgens, Patrick. York. London: November Books, 1970.

Pevsner, N. Yorkshire, York and the East Riding. 2nd new ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.

Further Reading

Drysdale, Richard, ed. Over Ancient Ways: A Portrait of St. Peter's School, York. London: Third Millennium Publishing, 2007.

Last modified 4 June 2022