Photographs by the author, who would like to thank Chris Williams, Head of Venue, for facilitating her visits. 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 cite it in a print one. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Central Methodist Church (Wesleyan), St Saviourgate, York. The architect Edward Taylor (1831-1908) was an active Methodist; he made additions to James Simpson's Centenary Chapel (as it was then known) of 1839-40, adding meeting rooms which are still in use today, accessed on the north side of the impressive frontage with its "giant three-bay stone portico" (Pevsner and Neave 178). The black doorway and the big brick gable, seen above, belong to Taylor's substantial additions: the doorway opens into a corridor following the curve of the church on the left. This gives access to a large hall, divisible by a retractable screen wall into two still large halves, with several smaller meeting rooms on the right. Further round are parts now used as a breakfast room for the homeless.

Left to right: (a) The hall lit from the roof. (b) The divison betweebn the two rooms. Note the normal window on the right-hand side. (c) The winding gear.

According to the Heritage Listing (no. 1256705) the ancillary rooms were built in 1872 and 1895 to replace similar structures of 1861 and 1864 destroyed by fire: slightly different dates are given on Central’s own web-site, which says the large hall and five smaller rooms were first built in 1861 and rebuilt after fire 1863, with further extensions in 1893. The basement floor in part shows the previous exterior stone flag paving, including a gutter.

Because of this variation in dates of the rooms in the extension, and the replacement of the original winding gear which might have had a maker’s stamp, it is not possible to date precisely the mobile screen wall which divides the largest hall, but it probably belongs to the 1860s. The two halls have different characters, one side-lit by normal windows, and the other lit by skylights. The screen is in two horizontal sections which when closed meet in the centre of the wall; when open, the halves are withdrawn and concealed between pairs of walls in the first floor and the basement. [Click here to see the slot in the floor, closed when the partition is withdrawn.] The manoeuvre is controlled from a single-handed winch in the basement; the two equal halves counterbalance each other, like the familiar sash window which is attached to lead weights. This is not the only example such an ingenious arrangement. In 1884-5, the same architect worked on alterations at the chapel of York Cemetery, and one of the things he did there was remove the redundant mechanism which had lowered coffins into the catacomb (Murray 2008, 53). That worked on the same principal, but would probably have been balanced with additional lead weights as required.

The Built Context: St Saviourgate

St Saviourgate is a street with terraces of fashionable eighteenth-century housing but also with several other religious buildings: the cruciform Unitarian Chapel was originally Presbyterian and is the oldest non-Conformist chapel in the city, it was built 1692-3 in brick (Pevsner and Neave 179). The Salem Chapel (Congregational) once closed the view at the head of the street; it was built in 1839 to the design of J. P. Pritchett, and also had a classical portico, but the building was demolished in 1964 (Murray, Whittock 20-1; Inventory, building 31, pls. 66, 67, fig. 32). Nearer the Centenary Chapel are the former Institute, a Masonic lodge from c. 1883; across the street are Lady Hewley’s almshouses; while the ‘gata’ or street itself is named after the medieval church of St Saviour, now ‘Dig’, an attraction of the York Archaeological Trust.

St Saviourgate is to the north bank of the city what Priory Street is to the south: the several Nonconformist buildings there are free-standing and grand, having this space because they largely occupy the former precinct of the important medieval Holy Trinity Priory (Murray, Whittock, 38-9).

Links to related material


An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in City of York, Volume 5, Central. Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1981.

Murray, Hugh. Nathaniel Whittock’s Birds Eye View of the City of York in the 1850s. York: Friends of City Art Gallery, 1988.

Pevsner, Nikolaus, and David Neave. Yorkshire: York and the East Riding. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2002.

Created 23 July 2020