Religion in Doncaster has played a very important part of the town’s history for hundreds of years. From the early Roman Gods to the present multicultured denominations that make up our population. Out of all the religious houses, I believe that Doncaster Minster (formerly the parish church of St. George) is the most impressive, both historically and architecturally. At one of the main entrances to the town the Minster towers majestically above us, at night it is illuminated in such an atmospheric way that it never fails to impress me.
The site of the present Doncaster Minster was once the centre of Roman rule in the town of Danum.
In early Saxon times there was a castle in Doncaster, and there was a church within it. There were other churches in Doncaster that may or may not have been, at other points in history, more important than St. George’s. Another church in the town and certainly the older of the two was St. Mary’s in the market place. St. Mary’s was encroached upon for more and more market space and St. George’s, not least because of its position, grew in importance. Around 1303 St. George’s was rebuilt in the more magnificent perpendicular style and St. Mary’s lapsed into insignificance.
A reference by Leland, who visited Doncaster in the 16th century, seems to clinch the point. He mentions St. George’s, and then says: “There was another parish church in the town yet standing, but now it serveth for a chapel of ease“. In other words, Leland would be informed, on his visit to Doncaster, that the magnificent church of St. George was the parish church, and that crumbling St. Mary’s had lost that honour and become merely a subordinate chapel. The Minster was elaborated and beautified until it became one of the most imposing parish churches in England, and certainly the noblest in South Yorkshire.
Doncaster is a flat town in the centre of a flat country. The church tower then, as now, struck the eye of the beholder at every point of the compass, the parish church tower was the first landmark to be seen from every direction. Who built the earler churches we do not know but we can say that the church which was destroyed by fire in 1853 was erected in the 13th century. It was of the Early English style of architecture. St Mary’s abbey at York defrayed some of the cost; Robert de Furnham, a crusading knight of the reign of Richard I, who was Lord of Doncaster and owner of the estates later possessed by the corporation, is also supposed to have been a substantial donor. It is believed to have had a spire, and, if that is so, its appearance would be very much different from the later and more enduring church. At some point in the 14th century the character of the church began to change from Early English to Perpendicular, the spire was taken down, and in about 1430, the decorated tower, the church’s crowning glory, was built in its place.
Another great feature of the church is the organ. There seems to have been one as far back as 1567. Later and better instruments were provided; and in 1740, one John Harris, of Red Lion street, Holborn, London, built a new organ for the sum of £525, the Corporation undertaking to provide an organist at at salary of £20 per year. It had 23 stops with 1391 pipes, and it is said of the reed stops that they had no equal either in England or on the Continent. It was still further improved and enriched at a cost of £1000, until by 1850 it was declared to be one of the very finest in Europe. Only the year before the Great Fire that destroyed the church, namely, in 1852, the organ was removed to the north chapel of the chancel. One of its organists, as is well known, was Dr. Miller, who, in addition to works of music, published in 1804 a History of Doncaster, which is the foundation on which most modern writers begin to build their works.
The current ‘Schulze’ organ dates from 1862, four years after the church was completely rebuilt, and is the work of Edmund Schulze of Paulinzelle in Saxony. The Doncaster instrument is their largest organ. It has undergone several restorations over the years and is, at present, out of action once more while £16000 is raised for essential works. A concert in aid of the restoration is being held at the Minster shortly. Please take a couple of minutes to watch the short video promotion below.
Over the last few years I have been photographing Churches around the borough, all of which are amazing architectural feats from Norman times right through to modern day. My work as an undertaker sees me frequenting many Churchyards throughout Doncaster and I never miss an opportunity to take a few shots. I have set up the rolling picture gallery below to display some of the photographs.
Below the gallery is a list of the churches that have been photographed so far. Each photograph is available as a framed (A4 sized) print for the modest fee of £7.99 with ALL of the proceeds going to Help For Heroes. For more details please contact us via the contact us page
If you have any pictures of local Churches or indeed would like to photograph some for this site then please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will add them to the gallery.