The Minster in the 19th Century

The Minster from the South East - c1840 Attributed to Frederick Mackenzie - York Art Gallery

Following the arson attack in 1829 the Chapter decreed ‘that henceforth a watchman shall be employed to keep watch every night in and about the cathedral’ and created the Minster Police, the same force that protects the Minster building and grounds today.

On 20 May 1840, the Minster was damaged further by fire, this time accidentally, when a candle left burning in the tower by William Groves, a clockmaker from Leeds who had been called in to carry out repairs, destroyed the belfry in the South West Tower and the Nave roof and vaulting.  The cathedral slumped deeply into debt, and in the 1850s services were suspended.  Finances were found and the Minster was reopened in 1844 after the restoration of the Nave and the installation of new bells, including The Great Peter Bell.  The Great Peter Bell is the third heaviest bell in Britain at 10 and three quarter tons and was installed and rung for the first time in 1845.

The installation of Dean Augustus Duncombe in 1858 provided the stability the Minster needed and with the finances recovered, the restoration was able to continue.  In 1866 Dean Duncombe reintroduced choral celebration of Holy Communion to the Minster, the first in any cathedral since the Reformation.  Dean Duncombe also implemented the change in dress for the choristers, from fur-trimmed coats to cassocks and surplices with linen ruffs.


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