Beverley

People have been coming to Beverley for 1300 years, on foot, horseback, ship, cart, carriage or coach, and in the last 150 years, by train, car or bus. Any way you come, you see the two great churches towering above the houses, as they have done for centuries. Two churches and a town, not a town with two churches.

The town existed because of the Minster, built and rebuilt in honour of the miracle-working St John of Beverley, bishop of Hexham and later of York, who retired to a monastery in woods around a beaver lake, and died there in 721. Pilgrims came to his shrine, and their needs for shelter and food had to be met, so Beverley grew: northwards, because of the marshy land to the south. Around 1120 the archbishop of York created the northern market, and some decades later another great church, St Mary’s, was built.

Since then the pattern of the central streets, the winding ways between the southern church and the northern, has hardly changed. People living in 1220 would still find their way around in 2021. The streets witnessed the history of every century: rich merchants trading all over Europe in wool and cloth, the market with stalls and shops, civic pageants and plays in the streets, apprentices and journeymen in multiple trades: and still the churches stood. Only when the world turned upside down when St Mary’s church fell down, the Tudors closed the monasteries and sold the Minster, did the town falter.

Beverley survived by the skin of its teeth. St Mary’s was rebuilt. A group of merchants paid £100 for the Minster and it became a parish church. Having suffered the disorders and deaths of the Civil Wars, the economy gradually recovered, achieving a golden age in the long 18th century, when gentry families built their elegant Georgian town houses: and, like their predecessors, embellished the churches as well as the town.

Change, quickening change, ran through the 19th and 20th century. More and more people came to live in Beverley, new industries came, housing blossomed. Still people come and linger, loving the place even though they can’t always say why. Perhaps it is that very long history, always around us, reminding us that as long as the churches stand, we can look up at those amazing buildings, and feel they somehow protect us?