York Civic Trust plaques

Robert Holgate and the restored Archbishop Holgate’s Grammar School playing field gates

Location of plaque: on the restored gates in Bridge Lane, off Wigginton Road near York Hospital

THINGS are a little bit different now. But back in Tudor times it wasn't the done thing for a priest who had taken a vow of chastity to suddenly decide to get married.

Robert Holgate wasn't just any priest: he was the Archbishop of York and President of the King's Council in the North. When he married in 1550, at the age of 68, it caused quite a scandal - particularly in conservative northern Church circles.

He got away with it during the reign of the young, and Protestant, King Edward VI, Henry VIII's son. But when Edward died at the age of 15 in 1553 and his Catholic sister Mary succeeded him, Robert quickly found himself in hot water.

He was imprisoned in the Tower of London for 'divers offences' - most notably getting married after having taken a vow of chastity.

Stripped of all his offices, he apologised to the Queen, and was eventually released in 1555 on payment of a huge fine. It did him little good - he died ten months later, clearly a broken man.

Robert's career was typical of many statesmen in Tudor times. Like Cardinal Wolsey, he rose to dizzying heights, only to fall quickly from grace when he offended the ruling monarch.

His name survives in York, however, because of something he did while at the height of his power in York.

Holgate had bought the Treasurer's House and other property in Minster Close.

In 1546, he founded three schools - one in York, one in Hemsworth, and one in Old Malton. The York school was in Ogleforth 'close by the cathedral' and, like other early grammar schools in England, was intended to train students for the church. The curriculum included Latin, Greek and Hebrew with some history, geography and maths but with the emphasis firmly on religious and moral education. Discipline is said to have been severe - as it was for poor Archbishop Robert himself once Queen Mary came to the throne.

The school survived the Archbishop's fall from grace, however. More than 200 years after his death, an advert in the York Courant in December 1799 stated that: "The Free Grammar School situate within the Close of the Cathedral Church of York founded by Archbishop Holgate for the Instruction of Youth ... will open again after the Christmas recess on Monday, January 20, 1800."

Like other grammar schools Archbishop Holgate's struggled for pupils in the early 1800s: it had just 10 in 1818, and 17 in 1824.

Then, in 1845-6, the York Diocesan School Society built a new training college (St John's College) on Lord Mayor's Walk. A new school, the Yeoman School, was built next door. Opened in 1846 this was intended to cater for the 'middle class children' of agriculturalists, as well as to provide teaching practice for student teachers at St John's.

The new school ran into financial difficulties, however, and in 1858, after 300 years in Ogleforth, Archbishop Holgate's School took it over.

The iron gates to the school's playing fields seem to have been designed between 1850 and 1860 by George Townsend Andrews, the architect who had designed St John's College itself. They were made by the Walmgate-based Walker Iron Foundry, which also made railings and gates for the British Museum, as well as others across York, including in St Leonard's Place, York Cemetery, Dean's Park and at St Peter's School.

Archbishop Holgate's School thrived in its new location in Lord Mayor's Walk. By 1915, when the Rev William Johnson retired as headmaster, the school had 294 pupils.

By then, the school had leased part of Bootham Stray for playing fields, which is why the school playing field gates - which were restored in 2017 by York Civic Trust working with York Hospital - are there to this day.

The school itself moved to its present site on Hull Road in 1963.

Stephen Lewis

For the stories behind more York Civic Trust plaques, visit yorkcivictrust.co.uk