St. Michael le Belfrey, York (I)

On 18 August, de Mestre Ch. handed down the comprehensive judgment Re St. Michael le Belfrey York [2023] ECC Yor 2 concerning the extensive reordering of the church. This was summarized by the Ecclesiastical Law Association:

“St. Michael le Belfrey York is a Grade I 16th century church standing next to York Minster. It is a Resource Church for York Diocese and the Northern Province. It has a weekly congregation of 500+ and has plans for further growth. The Faculty petition contained plans for a major reordering, estimated to cost £10M (of which £8M was already obtained or pledged). The work would involve major changes to the historic fabric, including (inter alia) removal of the gallery and stairs and replacement with a new gallery with lift access; replacement of pews with chairs; and the installation of a full immersion baptism pool.”

In addition to the judgment, the Church’s web page Impact includes a video and some still photographs showing what the church will look like when the works are completed. Aspects of this important decision are reviewed in three-part post [1].


The Belfrey[2] is one of the Church of England’s largest churches (i.e. in the top 5%) the largest Anglican Christian body in York, and one of the largest Christian communities in the North of England. For many years has been one of the largest parish contributors to diocesan funds. Its collection of windows is thought to be one of the largest of mid-16th century glass in any parish church in England. Guy Fawkes was baptised in the church.

The church has played a significant part in the life of the diocese, and the national church, since the mid-1970s when the congregation of St Cuthbert’s outgrew their building and the parish was merged with that of the Belfrey; it is now a resource Church of the Diocese [4]. The original 16th century design was for an open interior space; this was subsequently overlaid in Georgian and Victorian times by re-orderings introducing, amongst other things, the large, dark wood Georgian Gallery and accompanying Gothic staircases, and fixed nave and aisle pews [5]. This does not accord with the current worshipping style and the Belfrey’s evangelical, contemporary approach and new programmes of outreach and engagement.

“[6]. By way of a broad overview, the needs the Petitioners have articulated in support of the works petition include important structural repair  a lighter, more spacious and inviting  welcome; flexible use of internal space and capacity to seat over 550 people; facilities for  full immersion baptism; new toilet facilities (including changing area and accessible  toilets); accessibility throughout the church and high-quality AV and lighting facilities”.

There was formal consideration of plans for reordering on the present scale (DAC review) in 2009 although “it is apparent that serious thought and planning was underway well before that time” ([8], footnote 4). The Chancellor summarized the rationale behind the petition, which are itemized at [7]. There were no objections under the public notice, and none of the consultees expressed a will to become a party opponent [9]; the Chancellor undertook a site visit on 19 June 2023, accompanied by the Registrar and Registry Clerk, the Archdeacon and Church Buildings Adviser, “observing all of the relevant case law rules as to the conduct of site visits, which were notified to all in advance” [12] (See footnote [3], infra). The petition includes the current version of a fundraising campaign summary. The estimate of the costs of this major project comes in at £10M, of which £8M is already obtained or pledged [14].

Public Notice, general consultation, the opposition of the amenity societies

The Chancellor noted that the proposals had long been considered to be controversial, and there had been strong opposition over time from consultees – both to the project as a whole and to specific aspects of it, [15] to [19].  In broad summary, the position ultimately reached (by spring 2023) on the part of the consultees was as follows:

19.1. Church Buildings Council (CBC): did not object;
19.2. Historic England (HE): did not object, subject to certain matters being given more detailed consideration;
19.3. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB): objected on the grounds of the extent of the interventions, irreversible harm and loss of significance, but elects not to become a party opponent;
19.4. The Victorian Society: objected, in particular to the loss of the pews allied to what it characterised as the “almost total loss of the historic interior and its component parts”, but elects not to become a party opponent;
19.5. The Georgian Group: objected strongly, particularly on relation to the proposed removal of the existing gallery, Gothic staircases to the Gallery and the Gallery pews, but elects not to become a party opponent.

Analysis and decision

The Chancellor noted that in some circumstances it was appropriate to consider reordering proposals holistically using the Duffield framework [4], assessing their composite impact on a church and perhaps simply evaluating the areas around which objection remains. However, in the instant case, there had been (and remained) wholesale objections to the scheme, not merely to elements of it. Furthermore, it was widely recognised that the various elements of the proposals were deeply intertwined. Noting the Victorian Society description of the project:

probably the most comprehensive and destructive scheme of reordering of a Grade I listed multiphase church interior on which the Society has been consulted for many years…”,

she noted that it was “important to review each individual aspect of the petitioned-for works as well as stepping back to review whether, whatever the outcomes of each element, the impact on the building as a whole is justified, in each case addressing the Duffield questions” [22]. However,

“[23]. …the key to evaluating the proposal lies in starting with the changes proposed to the Gallery, narthex and West end. It is by the replacement of the Gallery with a newly designed and functional gallery, and the creation of flexible meeting spaces in the narthex, opening into the nave, that the objects of seating capacity, flexibility of use, openness, light, access and therefore welcome are said to be achieved”.

Part II of this post includes extracts from the conclusions to the Duffield questions regarding some of the major components of the petition [5]; Part III will consider the overall impact of the proposal and the court’s conclusions.


[1]. In view of the length of the judgment – 252 paragraphs and 2 Annexes – extracts from the conclusions to the Duffield questions regarding some of the major components of the petition are included in the second part of this post. Part III considers the overall impact of the proposal and the court’s conclusions

[2]. The “Belfrey” is used as a shorthand for the church building, but also for the church family, as this is how it terms itself and is widely known as a community.

[3]. In Changing Churches [Bloomsbury, 2016] at p156, Mynors directs readers to Re Holy Trinity, Eccleshall [2010] Court of Arches and  Re St. Peter Shipton Bellinger [2015] Court of Arches “which contain useful guidance on the procedure to be adopted”.

[4] Re St John the Baptist, Penshurst [2015] (Court of Arches) and the guidance in Re St. Alkmund, Duffield [2013] Fam 158.

[5]. Aspects of the Petition addressed by the court with reference to the “Duffield Questions”:

  • Removing the existing Gallery and staircases and replacing with a new gallery with lift access [24] to [76]
    • Duffield assessment [34] to [76]
  • Removing the existing narthex: screen and creating a new narthex with a servery and two wheelchair accessible WC cubicles [77] to [94]
    • Duffield assessment [81] to [94]
  • Relocating wall memorials [95] to [103]
    • Duffield assessment [100] to [103]
  • Inserting two new entrance doors at the West end [104] to [121]
    • Duffield assessment [110] to [121]
  • Removing all Nave and Aisle pews and replacing with stackable seating [122] to [144]
    • Duffield assessment [126] to [144]
  • Creating a flexible meeting space [145]
    • The assessment of whether or not creation of such a space is appropriate is considered as an integral part of each of those proposals.
  • Replacing the existing floor with limestone flags, relocating ledgers and installing underfloor heating [146] to [163]
    • Duffield assessment [149] to [163]
  • Introducing a modular stage [164] to [168]
    • Duffield assessment [164] to [168]
  • Upgrading the AV system [169] to [174]
    • Duffield assessment [171] to [174]
  • Replacing internal lighting [175] to [177]
    • Duffield assessment [175] to [177]
  • Installing a hydraulic full immersion and wheelchair accessible baptism pool [178] to [188]
    • Duffield assessment [180] to [188]
  • Conserving the stained glass windows and introducing EPG [189] to [203]
    • Duffield assessment [193] to [203]
  • Introducing vestry, meeting rooms, kitchenette and WC facilities in 12 Minster Yard [204] to [206]
    • Duffield assessment [204] to [206]
  • Inserting an exit door at the East end [207] to [209]
    • Duffield assessment [207] to [209]
  • Installing air source heat pumps [210] to [214]
    • Duffield assessment [212] to [214]
  • Re-covering the roof [215] to [219]
    • Duffield assessment [218] to [219]
  • Carrying out repair and conservation works, external works and introducing floodlighting [220] to [227]
    • Duffield assessment [225] to [227]
  • The overall impact of the proposed re-ordering scheme [228] to [245]
    • Duffield assessment [230] to [245]
  • Conclusions [246 to 252]
  • Annex 1: Conditions of grant of faculty: pp 94 to 97.
  • Annex 2: Listing description, (14/06/54) : pp 98 to 100
    • YORK HIGH PETERGATE Church of St Michael le Belfrey (Formerly listed as Church of St Michael-le-Belfrey, MINSTER YARD (south-west side), YORK)

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "St. Michael le Belfrey, York (I)" in Law & Religion UK, 29 August 2023,


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