Grade I-listed Yorkshire church to install carvings of pioneering women

It was decided instead that nine new carvings commemorating trailblazing women throughout history would be installed.

As part of a conservation project in the Yorkshire town of Beverley, crumbling carvings in the 12th-century Grade I-listed St Mary’s Church will be replaced by new sculptures celebrating the achievements of female pioneers in the fields of science, mathematics, literature, medicine, and politics.

Since last year, conservation work has been underway to restore the fragile stonework at St Mary’s Church. However, the external carvings on the South Nave Clerestory have weathered to such an extent that they are now unrecognisable, and with no record of their original design, their restoration would be impossible.

As a result, it was decided instead that nine new carvings commemorating trailblazing women throughout history would be installed.

The carvings will celebrate Mary Wollstonecraft, the 18th-century author and advocate of women’s rights; Amy Johnson, the first woman to fly solo from London to Australia; Mary Seacole, the pioneering British-Jamaican nurse; Marie Curie, the chemist and Nobel Prize winner; Helen Sharmer, the first British astronaut; Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer; Hilda Lyon, the aeronautical engineer; and Rosalind Franklin, who contributed to the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA.

J.Hannan-Briggs Interior of St Mary’s Church in Beverley. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The ninth carving awaits approval from Buckingham Palace, as the intention is that it will portray Queen Elizabeth II.

‘Church carvings have always reflected the lives and interests of the time in which they were created,’ said Roland Deller, Director of Development at St Mary’s. ‘The south side of St Mary’s… is home to St Catherine’s Chapel, and it features the stained glass window of St Ethelburga, St Hilda and St Mary. In deciding how to replace the worn-away carvings, it felt interesting to draw on this, by adding nine pioneering women to this flank of the church.’

Becky Lumley, Vicar at St Mary’s, said: ‘We have chosen these women because of their contributions to science, technology and compassion – for the work they have done which has either inspired or enhanced the lives of others.’

The carvings will be crafted by the Yorkshire-based artisan stone masonry firm of Matthias Garn.