Author Rachel Wade has been researching one of York’s lost churches for her new book. Here she recounts its colourful history
From the Roman origins of Eboracum to a more recent facelift in 2013, King’s Square in York city centre has been at the heart of centuries of tradition and transformation.
It’s long been a place where locals and tourists alike can gather to rest and recharge among the lively surroundings, enjoying the buskers, street performers, market stalls, and the occasional funfair.
But step back in time to the previous century and the scene would have looked very different, with the grand edifice of Holy Trinity Church having stood in place of the raised platform for more than 650 years.
Also known as Christ Church, the building was first recorded in 1268 and formed a vital part of community life in the area for many decades until its demolition in 1937.
With this year marking 85 years since its demise, it seems fitting to remember one of our city’s many missing monuments.
As a fiction author, Holy Trinity was also one of the places I researched while writing my debut novel, Crow’s Haunt.
As a lifelong resident, I’ve long been enthralled by York’s varied past, particularly the Victorian period and Shambles, which both formed the perfect setting for my murder mystery.
A century of change
Set in the 1800s, my novel coincides with a crucial period of redevelopment. As the nearby streets and structures grew larger and busier, Holy Trinity needed to fit in with the times – quite literally.
It was chopped and changed before being completely dismantled and rebuilt, reopening in 1861.
Despite dwarfing the already cramped streets surrounding it, the ‘new’ church used the same layout as the medieval original, making the constricted and unsanitary conditions even worse.
In the end, the overhaul turned out to be unnecessary, as in 1886 the church was joined with St Sampson’s.
As industrialisation developed and the city transformed for the start of a new century, Holy Trinity ceased to be needed. The building was even used to house livestock – once a whole flock of sheep resided there – until it was eventually knocked down in the mid-20th century, with only a few faded headstones marking its former presence.
The main character of my novel is a Shambles shop owner called Mrs Holden, whose home of hidden treasures sits in the shadow of Holy Trinity Church.
Mrs Holden herself was also inspired by a real-life woman called Mrs Thornton, who my great uncle painted as a formidable character in her day!
Using my relative’s stories and my own research, I merged fact with fiction to help bring Victorian York to life for my readers.
Even now when I visit King’s Square, I’m amazed the church even existed and can’t help but wonder what other mysteries might make their way into my novels in the future.