Helmsley All Saints, Town Hall, and Vicarage


Temple Moore's designs for the interior of All Saints' add an understated touch to its lavish decor.

Moore supplied the charming design for the ceiling of the north aisle, along with the high altar and reredos. The last two are in wood. They were made for Moore by Robert “Mousey” Thompson, the celebrated furniture maker of Kilburn. Both feature his characteristic adzed finish. Look out for his well-known trademark, a little carved wooden mouse. It appeared on everything he made.

 Helmsley's parish church belongs to the first flourishing of the Gothic Revival. It was built in a 13th-century style between 1866 and 1869. Something about its size and solidity seems to evoke that high noon of mid-Victorian imperial self-confidence. Temple Moore's interior decor exudes the same spirit, even though it was done in the Edwardian twilight of 1909.

At one time the parish of Helmsley was the largest in England. Vicar Gray was obviously keen to equip it with a church that was in keeping with its importance. 

Before you look up at the ceiling, you may have your eye taken by the murals on the north wall. They were designed by Vicar Gray himself and painted by one Mr Gast, a London artist. They fell foul of damp and crumbling plaster in the decades after they were painted, so in 1949 they were repainted in oils.

Helmsley was at the centre of Vicar Gray's parish and sphere of influence, so it's unsurprising that there's a particular concentration of Temple Moore buildings here. Besides employing Moore's services at the church, he had previously commissioned him to design and build a new vicarage, which is similarly ambitious in size and appearance. 

Helmsley is well-off for former vicarages. The timber-framed wing of the Black Swan hotel which fronts onto the market square is one; Canon's Garth, behind the church, is another. Helmsley has recently acquired yet another new vicarage, behind the town cemetery. Vicar Gray outgrew the latter around the turn of the century. 

The handsome vicarage on Bondgate that Moore designed for Gray is a remarkable departure from the gothic style. It draws instead from the baroque architecture of the reign of Queen Anne (1702–14), which also underwent a revival in the late 19th century. The new vicarage was built in hammer-dressed sandstone with a plain tile roof and stone chimney stacks. It consists of 7 bays with 2 storeys and an attic. The sash windows sit beneath cambered stone arches. 

Having become known nationally as a trainer of clergymen, he found himself short of space to accommodate them. Trainee clergy and lay readers were put up in the wing to the rear of the building, under Gray's watchful eye.Life at the vicarage was governed by strict rules. A trainee clergyman's day began at 6am with a cold bath and proceeded with breakfast, which was held in silence. The vestry door of the church was locked at 6.55am against latecomers for the 7 o'clock service. Any mistakes a clergyman made in conducting the service were noted and analysed in detail afterwards.

Today Moore's building is the main office of the North York Moors National Park Authority. When it took possession of the old vicarage in 1974 the bell pulls that were used to summon the servants from the attic to the lower floors were still in place. The building is said to be haunted and various National Park staff have attested to a supernatural presence in the building.

Besides the church and the vicarage, Moore also designed Helmsley's town hall 1901 a 17th-century-style building which is not one of his most admired. Pevsner called it “a serious, somewhat dull job”.

There is an excellent collection of photos of old Helmsley at www.helmsleyarchive.org.uk