fonds UCSS - Records of the Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, York

Identity area

Reference code



Records of the Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, York


  • 1579-1989 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

0.84 cubic metres

50 boxes

Context area

Name of creator


Administrative history

St Saviourgate Chapel was registered on 12 April 1693 and was sometimes known in its early days as ‘Lady Hewley’s Chapel,’ in honour of one of its principal benefactors, Lady Sarah Hewley, the wife of Sir John Hewley, MP for York. The chapel was built in brick the shape of a cross, with an adjoining burial ground. It is the oldest surviving place of nonconformist worship in York and was registered just four years after the Act of Toleration.

It was founded as a place of worship for 'Protestant Dissenters'. Although it was sometimes described as a Presbyterian chapel, this title was never formally adopted by its trustees. Its first pastor was Dr Thomas Colton, who succeeded his father in law Ralph Ward as minister to the city's dissenting congregation. Colton later established the charitable Colton Trust in 1731. He was succeeded by John Hotham. The minister’s stipend was augmented by Lady Hewley during her lifetime and then, after her death, by an allowance granted through the Hewley Charity she founded.

In 1756 the chapel’s trustees appointed Newcome Cappe as sole minister following the death of Hotham. It was under his ministry that the chapel became predominantly Unitarian, a controversial move that led to a decline in the number of worshippers. In 1764 only 32 families remained. Cappe died in 1800 and was succeeded as minister by Charles Wellbeloved. Wellbeloved had been assistant to Cappe at St Saviourgate since 1792 and was a prominent antiquary and social reformer in York, as well as Principal of York’s Manchester College, a dissenting academy that is now part of Oxford University.

In the 1830s the augmentation of the minister’s stipend by the Hewley Charity was challenged in the Court of Chancery, on account of the chapel’s alleged change from a predominantly Presbyterian to Unitarian place of worship. The lengthy legal case, which argued that these Unitarian beliefs had not been shared by Lady Hewley, resulted in the removal of the charity’s trustees and the termination of the stipend. The loss of the Hewley funds was a significant financial blow to the chapel and its ministers. Nevertheless the chapel interior was restored in 1860 by the architect George Fowler Jones. Further work was carried out c.1881. This included a new roof, the restoration of the chapel’s memorials and the addition of five new windows and gas lighting.

Congregation numbers remained low until the late twentieth century when the Reverend Sydney Knight, a retired Unitarian minister, moved to York with the intention of reviving Unitarianism in the city. Under his stewardship the chapel building underwent extensive repairs and began to attract new members. In 2006 funds were raised to replace the slate roof and in 2008 the interior was redecorated and modernised.

As of 2017 the chapel remains in use by the York Unitarian community.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

The archive was deposited at the Borthwick Institute in 1968. Further additions were made to the archive in 1977 by Munby & Scott, solicitors, and then in 1985 and 1991.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Papers relating to St Saviourgate Chapel, comprising administrative records, including chapel constitution, 1861, resolutions of the congregation, 1784, 1819, committee meeting minutes, 1852-1875, 1892-1900, 1911-1971, annual and special meetings minutes, 1844-1929, printed reports of the committee of St Saviourgate chapel, 1879, 1883, papers, circulars etc concerning registration of births, marriages and deaths, 1837, with list of baptisms at chapel, 1826-1837, and other papers, 1857, and correspondence, 1836-1923; financial records, including accounts of Trustees of St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel, 1976-1979, 1981-1983, cash books, 1899-1986, chapel accounts and statement, 1977-1979, chapel balance sheets, 1955-1974, collections for the poor, 1747-1813, pew rent books, 1859-1920, Fellowship Fund papers, 1843-1880, chapel restoration fund, 1860, and account book of the York branch of the Women’s League, 1964-1977; property records, including petition to the House of Lords concerning bill for limitation of suits relating to property held for religion purposes by nonconformists, n.d, papers concerning the renovation of the chapel forecourt, 1973-1977, papers relating to repairs to chapel, 1973-1977, plan of Unitarian Chapel showing positions of memorials, n.d, and property papers, 1920-1980; ministers’ records, including report of the Colton Trustees for the SS Chapel offering position of minister to William Mellor, 1894, circular concerning termination of the engagement of the minister, 1896, opinion concerning claims of ministers widow on the trust fund and dismissal of a minister, n.d; papers relating to the celebration of the tercentenary of the ‘Great Ejection’ of 1662, 1967; and orders of service for reunion services of the 12th (Yorks) Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, 1985-1989.

Papers of the Wellbeloved family of York; comprising 2 manuscript volumes by Reverend Charles Wellbeloved: ‘Scriptural terms and phrases’ and ‘Appendix to Critical Remarks etc by the Rev N. Cappe’, n.d; and papers of his son John Wellbeloved, including 3 volumes of manuscript notes on his lectures and studies, 1815-1818, 2 volumes of manuscript poems and stories, 1816-1819, and a journal of his travels on the continent which includes copies of letters sent home, 1819.

Printed volumes by various authors, including Charles Wellbeloved, Newsome Cappe, Catherine Cappe and John Kenrick; and issues of assorted periodicals including ‘The Christian Examiner and Religious Miscellany’, 1838-1857; ‘The Christian Reformer or Unitarian Magazine and Review’, 1835-1863; ‘The Christian Teacher: A Theological and Literary Journal’, 1939-1944; ‘The Prospective Review: a quarterly journal of Theology and Literature,’ 1845-1854; ‘The Monthly Repository of Theology and General Literature’, 1806-1832; ‘The National Review’, 1858-1859; ‘The Theological Review’, 1864-1874; and ‘The Unitarian Chronicle’, 1833.

Papers of The Colton Trust, comprising records of administration, including documents relating to appointment of trustees, probate papers, minute book, accounts and bank books, 1605-1984; property records, 1579-1930, including valuations of property at Cawood, Lower Dunsforth and Thorpe Willoughby, title deeds to property at Woodhall, Eston, South Duffield, West Walham, Knaresborough, Myton of Swale, Alne, Strensall, Stranghow and Skelton, Howden and Market Weighton, Commondale, Danby, Kirkleatham, Cawood, Thorpe Willoughby, Lower Dunsforth, and York, and undated maps and plans of property at Woodhall, Scarborough, York and Lower Dunsforth; Trust correspondence, 1718-1924; grant of general pardon to Christopher Brooke of Lincoln's Inn, 1626.

Financial papers comprising account books for the Trust, 1785-1891, chapel, 1822-1834, and hospital accounts, 1865-1893; personal expenditure book, n.d; miscellaneous financial papers and receipts, 1756-1964.

Documents relating to other trusts, including The Garforth Trust, 1694-1923; The Geldert Charity, 1753-1902; Ravens Trust, 1861-1908; and Lady Hewley’s Charity, 1701-1874.

Driffield and Beilby papers, comprising business and financial papers of Robert Driffield, Richard Driffield, Samuel Driffield, Richard Bealby and Varley Bealby. Includes plans, costings, lists of supplies and receipts for work done in building of a house at Thorpe Willoughby and building work on the St Saviourgate Chapel, 1690, 18th-19th century; the lease of a tenement in the parish of York St John, 1773; an apprenticeship indenture between Robert and Samuel Driffield, 1782; and assorted papers relating to the business partnership between the Driffields and the Bealbys, 18th century.

Miscellaneous items, including marriage settlement between Reverend Richard Hill and Henrietta Goodricke, 1731; rules and catalogue of the Book Society at York, later the York Subscription Library, 1793-1805; advertisement of sale of farm house in Earswick, 1832; papers concerning the Hope Street British School for Boys, 1873-1874; petition for greater religious toleration, n.d; indentures concerning property in Marlborough Avenue, Hull, 1907-1911; papers relating to other Unitarian churches in England, Scotland, and the USA, 1964-1983, and other assorted items.


Further accruals are expected.

System of arrangement

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Records are open to the public, subject to the overriding provisions of relevant legislation, including data protection laws. 24 hours' notice is required to access photographic material.

Conditions governing reproduction

A reprographics service is available to researchers subject to the access restrictions outlined above. Copying will not be undertaken if there is any risk of damage to the document. Copies are supplied in accordance with the Borthwick Institute for Archives' terms and conditions for the supply of copies, and under provisions of any relevant copyright legislation. Permission to reproduce images of documents in the custody of the Borthwick Institute must be sought.

Language of material

  • English
  • Latin

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Finding aids

A typescript finding aid, to file level, is available for consultation in the searchroom of the Borthwick Institute.

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

Related descriptions

Notes area

Alternative identifier(s)

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Description control area

Description identifier

Institution identifier


Rules and/or conventions used

ISAD (G): General International Standard Archival Description, International Council on Archives (2nd edition, 2000); Rules for the construction of personal, place and corporate names, National Council on Archives (1997).

Level of detail

Dates of creation revision deletion

Created by S. A. Shearn, 27.01.17.




Accession area