St Martin-le-Grand, Coney Street

St Martin-le-Grand

Best recognised for its clock overhanging Coney Street

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The church of St Martin-le-Grand is situated on the south side of Coney Street; it is known simply as St Martin, Coney Street. The church is named after the patron saint of soldiers, St Martin of Tours, whose Feast Day is 11th November, Armistice Day. The church’s title of St Martin-le-Grand came about in the 1830s and became its popular name. St Martin’s is well known for its landmark double-sided clock which overhangs the shopping street below.

A stone church was first built on this site in the Norman period (the most ancient one being wooden and of around 1000 years old) and some of the original stonework survives in the church’s north aisle. The church was extended in the 13th century when a south aisle was added, and a chancel was added later that century. Further extensive work was undertaken in the 15th century thanks to Robert Semer, the vicar between 1425 and 1443.

St Martin-le-Grand Church

St Martin-le-Grand Church

In 1730 with the building of the Lord Mayor’s residence, the Mansion House, St Martin’s became York’s official civic church. In 1853 major restoration work was undertaken by J.B. and W. Atkinson.

Sadly the church suffered severe damage during a WWII air raid in 1942.  It was reduced to a smouldering pile of masonry and stood practically abandoned until 1961 when restoration work finally began under the auspices of church architect George Pace. He planned it to be ‘a completely integrated work of art’. A complete change in the layout and much restructuring was undertaken.

A new north wall incorporating a five-sided tower was constructed to frame the huge St Martin window which depicts the life of the saint. This dates to 1440 and had been removed to ensure its safe keeping in 1940. At 9m high and 4m wide, it is the largest window of any parish church in York. An east window had previously been transferred to the Minster in 1722. The north side of the church became a walled garden.

Looking along Coney Street towards the clock of St Martin

Looking along Coney Street towards the clock of St Martin

The church font which was used at the baptism of St Margaret Clitherow dates to around 1553; the font’s cover is later, dating to 1717. Following its major restoration in 1968 St Martin’s was dedicated to reconciliation and peace – a memorial to all those who perished in the two world wars.

The famous clock, first fitted in 1668, and the gilded wooden head of Father Time are replacements for the originals which were destroyed in the air raid.  The jolly naval officer the ‘Little Admiral’, dating from 1779, did survive the fire storm and now revolves for the first time in almost 200 years. The clock’s bracket and decorations were suffering badly from corrosion and were removed for restoration, at a cost of £54,000, in November 2011. The clock is of a traditional turret movement, the last of its kind to be installed in England.

St Martin’s and St Helen’s churches make up the small parish of St Helen with St Martin. The two churches are united with All Saints Pavement, St Denys and St Olave. Street Angels, volunteers who can befriend young people suffering on the streets during night time and at weekends, is the church group’s recent venture.

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