Archbishop Thomson’s Water Tower

Water_TowerThe water tower and pump house in Acaster Lane looking towards Main Street.  This photograph was re-discovered earlier in 2006 by Mrs. Barbara Suffield.  It was taken by her mother, Mrs. Nicholson, c1940.


Dr. William Thomson, the 86th Archbishop of York, had hardly set foot in Bishopthorpe when the appearance of the village dramatically changed.  Only months following his enthronement in February 1863, the Archbishop removed the antiquated machinery which pumped water into the Palace from the murky depths of the Ouse, and built a water tower and pump house in Acaster Lane.  This, presumably, drew water from an underground spring which was probably somewhat cleaner than the supply his predecessors had used.

On his arrival in Bishopthorpe, the new Archbishop would soon have become aware of the pitiful state of his drinking water.  Three miles up river, the increasing numbers of York citizens were discharging raw sewage straight into the Ouse; not to mention the detritus from slaughterhouses, pigsties and dung heaps.   The situation had been eased in 1846 when the York New Water Works Company built a filtration works at Acomb Landing.  This meant that, happily for the inhabitants of York, their domestic water supply was extracted upstream of the city’s foul outlets.   However, downstream, this was not the case with the Archbishop’s household.

It was to be many years before further utility improvements materialised in the city and, in turn, Bishopthorpe.  In 1880, the village worthies became impatient at the situation and sought to interest the directors of York New Water Works Company in laying a mains water supply.  The response to a letter from Bishopthorpe vicar Rev. Hudson was positive, but a guaranteed rental of £80 per annum was demanded.  The idea was dropped and another fifteen years passed before the Company expanded its plans to include Bishopthorpe.

Three years later, in 1898, water was finally laid on to supply the whole village; the water tower and horse-driven pump house in Acaster Lane at last became redundant.  Archbishop Thomson had died in 1890, but would surely have welcomed such developments. Succeeding Archbishops did not find further use for the buildings, neither were they unduly bothered about what became of them.  The two buildings, therefore, remained in the village landscape resembling misplaced follies.

Pigeons moved into the tower and made nests which were raided by young boys keen to take eggs and enjoy a furtive drag or two on a cigarette. These activities came to a head in 1935 when ten-year-old Alwyn Seward fell from the tower.  He died from his injuries in hospital the following day.  Despite this tragic event, the tower remained in place.

Alwyn_SewardAlwyn Seward, who was tragically killed after falling from the tower, is seen here on a trip to Scarborough only months before the accident occurred in 1935.  Photograph: With thanks to Mrs. Audrey Bastard.

During World War II, the Home Guard found the tower a useful place in which to store ammunition, but years of neglect had taken their toll.  Villagers were concerned about loose tiles being a danger to pedestrians.  The Ecclesiastical Commissioners now owned the two structures and W. J. Simpson, the well-known local builder, carried out repairs on their behalf as were required to make it safe.  Following the war, Mr. Simpson, who was chairman of the Parish Council, came up with an idea on how to recycle the circular, tiled roof of the pump house; after all, building materials were in short supply at the time.

The Parish Council had been negotiating with the West Yorkshire Road Car Company over the installation of a bus shelter.  Mr. Simpson offered to reconstruct the pump house roof on to the circular pinfold wall, which was situated at the junction of Main Street and Copmanthorpe Lane, thus converting it into the much-needed shelter.  He measured both structures and knew they would be a perfect match.  However, the West Yorkshire County Council turned down the proposal telling Mr. Simpson that the shelter would constitute an encroachment and obstruct the visibility across the road.  The pinfold was eventually used as a bus stop, but the villagers went without protection from the weather.

Water_Tower_2A view of the water tower and pump house looking south.  Note that part of the first semi-detached house in Acaster Lane can be seen immediately to the left of the tower.  Photograph taken by Mrs. May Hill, c1935.

Following this episode, the Archbishop’s water tower and pump house were demolished in July 1946.  The late Robin Hill, a former resident, recorded in his diary that the water tower was “…felled by having a hole blown out of the base on the E. side”.  Apparently, the cap on top of the roof shot into the field on the opposite side of the Lane.  Mr. Hill further remarked that village opinion was divided as to whether the structures were demolished out of necessity – in order to build houses – or, that it was an act of vandalism.

Would Archbishop Thomson have minded?  Being a man interested in science and all things mechanical, he would probably have knocked the tower down much sooner and moved on.

Linda Haywood



M. Tillott (Ed.), Victoria County History: The City of York (1961), pp 281-286, 461.

John R. Keble, History of the Parish and Manor-House of Bishopthorpe (1905), pp 88, 30.

Rev. Hudson’s letter to York New Water Works Company, 1 March 1880. (Borthwick Institute PR BIS/113)

The memories of Mrs. Audrey Bastard, sister of Alwyn Seward.

Yorkshire Gazette: 31 May 1935, p5. (Report of the funeral of Alwyn Seward.)

Bishopthorpe Parish Council Minutes: 1945 – 1946

Robin Hill’s Diary (Bishopthorpe Archive)

  1. Kirk-Smith, William Thomson, Archbishop of York (1958), pp167-168.

Sensory Garden Opens

Saturday 11th November 2006 saw the opening of the new Sensory Garden next to the Library in Bishopthorpe Main Street.

Garden_1Watched by over one hundred people, Geoff Dixon, 90, the well known local butcher, cut the ceremonial tape. He was then accompanied into the garden by two of the younger residents of the village, 6 year old Max Jones and three year old Mai Harris.

As people moved for the first time into the new garden (leased from the Library Service for seven years), to look at the layout and the plants, Bishopthorpe Millennium Trust Chair John Bettridge spoke about the development of the garden and its place in the Bishopthorpe@Crossroads improvement scheme. Geoff Freeston of Brunswick Organic Nursery then told his audience about how the design of the garden was influenced by the need to provide sensory stimulation and access for all – and provides a community owned and run facility.

Garden_2John Bettridge (right) and M/C Andrew Dunn 

The opening ceremony concluded with the switching on of the water feature and lights by Alfred grandson of Mrs Spooner who used to live in School Lane, and to whom the water feature was dedicated by her family.

Also on hand were some of the people from Vernon House day centre who had created the sunflower mosaic at the centre of the garden, workers from Brunswick, Parish Councillors and Trustees, our local councillor and City of York representatives. And of course volunteers and residents of Bishopthorpe.

Garden_3Music and the PA were provided by Brian Ross-Williams, and a display was on hand to tell the story of the Crossroads scheme.

The garden will be unlocked and open every day during daylight hours. A display about the scheme is on show at the Library for the next three weeks.

A series of photographs of the opening event can be found at from where prints can be ordered.




Unveiling the Sundial

On the 18th May 2006, the restored Bishopthorpe sundial  was officially ‘unveiled’.



To be accurate, the explanatory plaque fixed to the shop wall was unveiled instead – as no one could be persuaded to shin up onto the Co-op roof!

Sundial_3Shown here are, from left to right: John Briddon, Co-op Senior Operations Manager; Stewart Harrison, Chair Bishopthorpe Parish Council; Tessa Chesworth, Manager Bishopthorpe Co-op; Michael Mathieson, Co-op; Linda Haywood, Bishopthorpe Local History Group and Brenda Lees, retired Co-op assistant.

Many well-wishers attended the unveiling ceremony – and some even stayed to have their photograph taken!



Sundial_5Brenda Lees and Brian and Diana Forrester look at the historic photographs displayed outside the Co-op.  Brenda retired from the Bishopthorpe Co-op in 2000 after thirty years working there as a shop assistant.

With many thanks to United Co-operatives for the photographs – and for restoring the sundial.

Players Upstaged in Dramatic Finale

Well this the inaugural cricket match between the Ebor Players and  combined Parish Council/Millennium Trust team had it all. What began as a beautiful sun drenched evening ended with a nail biting finish and a wounded match winning hero.


The final ball is struck…but what happened next?






Having won the toss, Ebor Players captain Lisa “Fairy” Thornton elected to bat. Openers “Bossy Boots” Patrick and Ben “The Sound” Smith put on a solid partnership with the latter having to retire after hitting 3 consecutive boundaries off the bowling of Liam Godfrey, the first act in their unfolding sub plot.

Next in was captain Thornton who after making a stunning 3 runs was Run Out by a brilliant combination of fielding from “The Dude” Martin Dudley and Parish Council captain Stewart Harrison. That turned out to be the Parish Councils team only wicket of the night.

The scoreboard ticked along with Tim “Lord” Bruce and Steve Harrison both hitting boundaries, and there were scoring contributions from Chris Gajewicz, Julia Sykes, the aptly named “Comedy” Tom Davis (we are not talking about his wit and banter) and “Dancing” Diane Curran.


Tim ‘Lord’ Bruce bonks one to the boundary 




However tight bowling by “the Dude” Martin Dudley, Julian “Deadly” Davies, David Livesley, and Andrew Dunn who bowled to his son Alistair for some of the time, kept the Ebor Players total to 56. An indication of the overall bowling quality however was the fact that top scorer for the Players were extras at 25, with wides contributing 24 runs.

So a good total of 56 meant that the Parish Council team had to score nearly 6 an over, could they do it?

Openers Glynn Drummond and Julian Davies got them off to a flying start with a flurry of boundaries including the only 6 of the night, caught brilliantly by a spectator a rare example where those watching were probably better than those playing. Both retired on 13 and 11 respectively. Curiously however the Players had decided not to open with their best bowler Smith, what was the reason behind this tactical move?

The scoring continued slowly but surely with “Belter” Bewley and captain Harrison at the crease until a mix up over calls led to Harrison being Run Out. At last the Players had a wicket. Next up was another Harrison Jess “Slogger” Harrison, who batted gamely seeing out the best the Players had to throw at her, but still no sign of the Players best bowler.

Step up to the crease Liam Godfrey regarded by many on the Players team as a traitor and subjected to a chorus of boos and generally unpleasant barracking which umpires Green and Wilkinson had to note. Then surprise surprise on comes the previously anonymous Smith.

Godfrey was joined at the crease by his wife Cayley who gamely held off Smith bowling for 2 balls. Then it was Godfrey’s turn to face Smith, the previous barracking melted away, the field crowded round the batsman as there was complete silence, unique in any previous Ebor Players gathering.

Ball after ball rained down on the batsman who stoically defended, then end of over, mini crisis over. With 52 on the board and 3 overs remaining, and 4 batsman still to come in, captain Harrison pulled Liam Godfrey off, the match was well as won – or was it?

On comes Lizzie Patrick to bowl and 3 balls later Cayley Godfrey is out caught and bowled for the only non-Run Out wicket of the evening.

“Silly mid on” Green and Dudley are batting but the runs are now like thick set treacle and not flowing. Green gets a single, then disaster as another mix up leads to the run out of Dudley.

There’s tight bowling from Curran. Andrew Dunn is now at the crease and following the retirement of Green is joined by David “Lively” Livesey, “Lord” Bruce is bowling the last over, they go for a quick single, Dunn is slow out of the blocks another Run Out looks a certainty, the tension is unbearable, but no The Players miss the stumps, and the scores are level.

Two balls to go, Bruce to Livesley who skies one in the air. Underneath it is Diane Curran, if she catches it the Parish Council are all out, the Players win on account of having lost less wickets. Livesley is running for the single which if Curran drops the ball, the Parish Council win. The crowd cannot bear it as we appear to go into suspended animation the ball hangs forever in the air, Curran fumbles, the ball flies out of her hands, she has another attempt to cling on but to no avail. Cricket like life can be cruel. The Parish Council have won with one ball to spare, you could not have scripted a better ending.

But wait, as the rest of the Parish Council team exuberantly invade the pitch the hero of the hour Livesley is down injured felled by a stray ball from “Comedy” Tom and Livesley like Nelson at Trafalgar is fallen in this his most heroic hour.

For a few of us we can say “I was there”.



Ebor Players



T Patrick

B Smith

*L Thornton

+T Bruce

C Gajewicz

S Harrison

J Sykes

T Davis

L Patrick

D Curran

A Dunn


Extras                         25

TOTAL                                 56



Run Out




















Parish Council / Millennium Trust


+G Drummond

J Davies

J Bewley

*S Harrison

J Harrison

L Godfrey

C Godfrey

C Green

M Dudley

A Dunn

D Livesley


Extras                         22

TOTAL   57




Run Out



c&b L Patrick


Run Out


















‘* Captain

+ Wicket Keeper

Umpires: J Green & G Wilkinson

Scorers: J Bettridge & I Hodson






The Sundial is back

On Friday 12th May – a gloriously sunny morning – Bishopthorpe’s restored 17th-century sundial was fixed back into its nisundial_3_1che on the Co-op store.  It was last November that sun-dial restorer, Harriet James, took the York-stone dial down to her Wiltshire workshop.  There she stripped off many layers of flaking paint and limewash.  Harriet re-painted it, imitating the oldest white/cream layer and picked out the carved detail in black to ensure legibility.

Harriet had found the sundial to be generally in good condition with the carved numerals worn, but of good quality.  The corners of the dial, however, had to be re-formed using epoxy glue and ground stone.  Also, the iron gnomon (shadow caster) was badly rusted and could not be saved.  Harriet had a replica made from brass.

The restoration was funded by United Co-operatives Ltd. and will be officially unveiled on Thursday, 18th May at 11.00 a.m.


The sundial has been angled out from the wall in order to tell the correct, local, solar time.  It was found that the sundial was designed to face due south, but the facade it is fixed to faces 15 degrees to the east of south.

sundial_3_3Harriet James and a Co-op employee fix the plaque to the wall.  This gives details of the sundial including how to read the time.

The Bishopthorpe Sundial

Latitude 53° 55′ 18″ North, Longitude 1° 5′ 45″ West

Sundial_6c1900: This view looks almost the full length of Sun Dial Terrace in Main Street. The sundial can just be seen under the eaves of the second cottage. 


The style of the carved lettering on the sundial suggests that it dates from the late 17th century or early 18th century.  It was once mounted on a row of cottages known as Sundial Terrace.  In 1908, the two cottages at the end of the terrace were bought by the York Equitable Industrial Society (as the Co-op was then known).  They were later demolished when the Co-operative shop was built probably during the 1930s; and the dial was saved for the new building.

Sundial_7The restored sundial in Harriet James’s workshop. The Latin motto translates as ‘Time slips away’.


The technical stuff!

The restored sundial has been re-mounted on the Co-op wall at an angle to the façade of the building.  This is because the dial is designed to face due south but the building faces 15° to the east of south.  The two end cottages of Sundial Terrace probably faced even further to the east of south and so the sundial would never have read the correct time when it was on the wall.  This suggests that the sundial was originally made for a building elsewhere.

The angles of the hour lines on a sundial also have to be correctly calculated for its particular latitude.  Moving a sundial from one latitude to another will affect the accuracy of its time-keeping.  An analysis of the angles of the hour lines reveals that its maker accurately laid out the lines for the latitude of 54° North (+ or – 0.6°) which closely matches the latitude of Bishopthorpe, which is 53.9° North.  This means that the sundial was designed for a building in or near Bishopthorpe.

Telling the time 

To tell the time, look at the shadow cast by the projecting arm or gnomon of the sundial.  When the upper edge of the shadow lies along one of the longest black hour lines, it is the hour, local solar time.  Intermediate quarter-hours can be read from the short lines within the oval border.

Sundial time will not always agree with clock time.  There are three reasons for this:

1)   Clocks are set to the time at the Greenwich Meridian.  As Bishopthorpe is 71.8km (44½ miles) or 1° 5′ 45″ west of the Greenwich Meridian, the sun passes overhead here 4 minutes and 23 seconds later than it does at Greenwich.  This makes the sundial slow compared to the clock.

2)  Sundials can be fast or slow to the clock depending on the time of year.  The difference between sundial time and clock time is known as the Equation Time.  It happens because the earth orbits the sun in an ellipse and is tilted on its axis so it is not always at the same distance from, or at the same angle to the sun.

3)   The sundial will be an hour slow in the summer when clocks go forward an hour for British Summer Time.

With thanks to Harriet James for the above information.

About the Bishopthorpe Community Archive

Archive_1949When the children of Bishopthorpe posed for the camera during a day trip to Filey in 1949, little did they know that, 57 years later, their captured image would be reproduced within a community archive project.

Bishopthorpe Local History Group was awarded £5,000 from the Awards for All (Lottery) scheme to set up a Community Multimedia Archive.  The money enabled the Group to buy a computer, scanner and software to record photographs of Bishopthorpe people, buildings and events.  Oral reminiscences can also be included as well as cine and video footage and other memorabilia.  The aim is to present an archive created by the people who live in the community.  The result will eventually be published on a CDROM.

The software we use is called COMMA (Community Multimedia Archive).  It was originally created by a Leeds co-operative called Storyville and first used by the Batley Community Archive in 1995.  Since then, many groups have built up similar archives in towns and villages throughout the UK and abroad including, more locally, at Poppleton and Tang Hall. The equipment is housed at Bishopthorpe Library in Main Street.

We have been working on the archive for some time and currently have about 1,200 photographs.  They range from the late 19th century to the year 2000.

How does it work? Once the material is scanned into the computer, it is catalogued and indexed thus making it easily searched by topic, name of person, place, location and date.  For example, searching an event such as the Bishopthorpe pageant will produce photographs and programmes dating from 1930 to 2000.   A local person can be followed through from childhood to adulthood and can even be identified within a group using a system called ‘hot-spotting’. Photographs of buildings and streets reveal the growth and change in the village.  Creating a collection in this way reflects our cultural heritage and preserves village history for future generations.

We will continue publishing photographs from the archive on these pages.

How can you help?

We always need help in identifying the people, places and events in photographs like the one illustrated.  The stories and memories which lie behind them are also of great interest and can be included in the ‘reminiscence’ sections.

In fact, we are interested in any Bishopthorpe-related material for the archive; not only photographs and slides, but also documents, newspaper articles and leaflets.

We can be contacted through Bishopthorpe Library or:

Linda Haywood, 39 Acaster Lane, Bishopthorpe, York YO23 2SA.

Telephone: 01904 704584


The restoration and history of Bishopthorpe’s sundial

The old sundial on the front of the Co-op store has been a minor pleasure in the village for many decades.  Unfortunately, time and weather has taken its toll on the familiar stone face and the Latin inscription, Tempus Labile, has become almost illegible.

Sundial_8It seemed a great pity that this landmark should be left to deteriorate so that it might, eventually, come to be looked upon as an eyesore and removed altogether. The Bishopthorpe Local History Group decided to take action.

The Group first contacted the British Sundial Society( and was given the name of Harriet James, an experienced sundial restorer who specialises in stone dials (  Photographs both old and new were quickly emailed to Harriet, along with the dial’s history.  She soon gave her opinion that it was certainly worth restoring.

Contact with United Co-operatives was, at first, a little slow but, eventually and much to our delight, the managing director agreed to fund the restoration.  On the 17th November 2005, Harriet came to Bishopthorpe to view the sundial at close quarters and to meet representatives from the Co-op.  Surprisingly, the decision had already been taken to allow Harriet to restore the sundial and it was removed from the building there and then.  She left the village with the dial for her workshop in Wiltshire, where she has started work on the restoration.



Sundial_9The earliest photograph showing the sundial and ‘date’ slab taken c1900.   


Before the Co-op

This photograph, which shows Bishopthorpe market gardener Mr. Forth in front of Sundial Terrace, is one of the earliest that we have which shows the sundial.  It was taken about 1900, but the age of the dial is harder to ascertain. From the style of the decorations and numerals, it could date from the late 17th century.

In 1898, Bishopthorpe vicar, Canon J. R. Keble showed an interest in the sundial when he wrote in the Parish Magazine that it was “one of the picturesque features in the village”.  The Latin motto inscribed on its face: Tempus Labile, he translated as, “Time is fleeting”.  The parishioners were asked if they had further information, but the response was, unfortunately, negative.  Canon Keble also remarked on the stone or marble slab which can be seen in the photograph positioned beneath the sundial.  The slab bore the date, ‘1691’ and the initials ‘T. P. M.’, which he thought referred to parishioners Thomas and Mary Pindar who owned the property at that time.

Canon Keble went on to mention Margaret Gatty, a well-known nineteenth-century children’s author who also took an interest in sundials.  In 1872, she published her well-known work on the subject: The Book of Sun-Dials, which included the Bishopthorpe dial.  Her husband, Alfred Gatty, was vicar of Ecclesfield near Sheffield which meant that the couple frequently travelled to York on ecclesiastical business.  They became firm friends with Archbishop Thomson and his wife Zoë and it is probable that Mrs. Gatty became aware of the sundial on one of her many visits to the Palace during the 1860s.  In her book she, described the sundial as,

… an old, nicely-carved stone dial which is fixed against the front of a cottage house in Bishopthorpe, near York; and below is a small, apparently marble slab, let into the wall, with the date 1691.  They have possibly no connection with each other, and may be relics of some former archiepiscopal buildings.

Over 100 years later, sundial restorer Harriet James shares the view that the dial and slab were not connected and that the dial was not designed for this building.  There are two reasons for this: First, the dial can be seen sitting high up under the eaves of the cottage which would have caused serious overshadowing making its use as a teller of time obsolete.  Secondly, the dial is laid out to face due south, and yet the property it was fixed to faced slightly east of south.

Changes during the twentieth-century

Sundial_10Sundial Terrace following refurbishment c1908. 

In 1908, the York branch of the Co-op, then known as the York Equitable Industrial Society, was expanding the number of stores in the area and decided to ‘set up shop’ in Bishopthorpe.  They purchased the last two cottages in Sundial Terrace with a view to demolishing them at a later date and, when the money became available, replace them with a purpose-built shop.  In the meantime, the cottages were refurbished and continued to be let.  The sundial and the ‘1691’ slab were carefully preserved and seem to have been made more of a feature, as seen in the photograph above.

A temporary store, which became branch No. 19, was put up on the land behind the first cottage.  This can just be seen on the left of the photograph.  Made from wood and corrugated iron the structure could easily be erected and dismantled in sections by the staff.  The store was familiarly known as the ‘Tin Tabernacle’ and first used in 1901 in South Bank.  Whenever a permanent store was built, it was moved on.  Several other new York suburbs saw the ‘tabernacle’ before it arrived in Bishopthorpe in 1908.

It is not known exactly when the Co-op demolished the two cottages in Sundial Terrace and built the new shop, but it is likely to have been during the 1930s as it appears on the revised 1938 Ordnance Survey map of Bishopthorpe.  Once again, the Co-op decided to keep the sundial and fixed it to the centre of the building.  Unfortunately, the ‘1691’ slab was not retained and it has disappeared.  The sundial, however, remained in position, gradually falling into a sad state of disrepair until November 2005 – and the rest, as they say, is history!


George Briggs, Jubilee History of the York Equitable Industrial Society Limited (Manchester, 1909), p217.

Mrs Alfred Gatty, The Book of Sun-Dials (London, 1st edition, 1872), p110.

  1. C. Rickards, Zoe Thomson of Bishopthorpe (London, 1916), p164.

Bishopthorpe Parish Magazine, September 1898.

With thanks to Harriet James for further information.