Convent of St Joseph and Precinct Walls, Lawrence Street, York


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Convent Of St Joseph and Precinct Walls, Lawrence Street, York, YO10 3EB


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Statutory Address:
Convent Of St Joseph and Precinct Walls, Lawrence Street, York, YO10 3EB

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

York (Unitary Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


Convent, 1870-5 by George Goldie for the Order of Poor Clare Colletines. Common brick with blue-brick, orange-brick, and ashlar stone dressings. Slate roofs. Gothic Revival.

Reasons for Designation

The sisters' house, church, externs' house, priests' house, and precinct walls of the Convent of St Joseph, Lawrence Street, York, 1870-5 by George Goldie for the Order of the Poor Clare Colletines, are recommended for designation at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Historic Interest: the founding of a new female religious community in York is an important continuation of Catholic history in a city with a particular association with female Catholic observance, having been home to Margaret Clitheroe, canonised as an English martyr, and the Bar Convent, the oldest Catholic convent in England; * Date: for its place in the Catholic Revival in Victorian England and as a good example of women's architecture reflecting the idea of an ideal female community; * Benefactor: the building of the convent was largely funded by Marcia, Lady Herries, a prominent Catholic born into the Vavasour Family and married to William Constable-Maxwell, 10th Lord Herries of Terregles, who was an important benefactor for convents, also funding the building of St Benedict's Convent in Dumfries, Scotland, and who was considering a contemplative life herself when she died in 1883; * Planning: designed as a single-phase set piece, the layout of the convent follows a cloistered quadrangular plan, a revival of medieval religious planning initiated by A W N Pugin, and remains highly readable, displaying clear spatial differentiation between the enclosed nuns and the extern sisters who interacted with the outside community, and also having clearly identifiable rooms with specific uses for a convent; * Architect: designed by George Goldie, a York-born Catholic architect who was one of the most able and active Catholic ecclesiastical architects in the country during the second half of C19; * Architectural Interest: for the quality of its subtle Gothic Revival style in keeping with the particular austerity of the Order of Poor Clare Colletines, who were devoted to a high degree of poverty; * Interior: for the high degree of survival of original features such as doors, staircases, timber mantelpieces, and items specific to convent regime such as a revolving cupboard in the parlours, fixed wall benches in the chapter room, refectory, and choir, and the austere character of the church, which has a fine wagon vault roof; * Setting: the precinct walls which enclose the convent are an integral designed element of the complex, having regularly-spaced internal gabled buttresses with niches for statues which were used as an element of the nuns' liturgical observance. Additionally they clearly demonstrate the historical expansion of the convent grounds.


The convent was built in 1870-5 for the Order of the Poor Clare Colletines to designs by the Catholic architect George Goldie; the contractors were Weatherley and Rymer of St Leonard's Place, York, who had previously built Goldie's Roman Catholic Church of St Wilfrid, York (1862-4, Grade II).

The Order of the Poor Clare Sisters was originally founded as a Franciscan, contemplative, enclosed order by St Clare of Assisi in 1212. The Poor Clare Colletines was established as a reform order in 1406 by St Colette and was devoted to a greater degree of poverty, going barefoot and enduring perpetual fasting and abstinence. During the mid C19 there was a flourishing Poor Clare Colletines convent in Bruges, Belgium. In 1864 they were approached by Marcia, Lady Herries, of Everingham Hall near York who wanted to start a new House in York. Sister Philomene, later Mother Abbess, and some companions were sent from Bruges and at first lived at a property called Plantation House on Hull Road, which was likely to have been owned by Lady Herries. Plantation House turned out to be inadequate for the nuns' needs and fund-raising began for a new, purpose-built convent. By 1870 a site for the convent had purchased comprising a field of about one and a half acres with a couple of cottages on the south side of Lawrence Street, and Goldie had been appointed to produce a set of drawings, which he wrote to say he had supplied to Sister Philomene in an undated letter to the Bishop of Beverley.

An established feature of the Order was the concept of Enclosure, where engagement with the world was avoided by the voluntary withdrawal into a wholly enclosed community. In order to support the enclosed nuns, a second group of nuns known as Extern Sisters were required to perform outside duties, such as begging for alms. As they needed access to the outside community these nuns lived separately from the enclosed nuns. The duality of membership of the Order was expressed in the arrangement of the convent buildings and such a layout is clear at the York convent. The Sisters were officially enclosed in the House on 27th June 1872, though the building was not completed until 1873. The Extern Sisters continued to be housed in the pre-existing cottages on Lawrence Street at this time. In 1874 the church, which completed the fourth side of the cloistered quadrangular plan, was built following a substantial donation from Lady Herries. Internally it was divided into an enclosed choir and a public chapel. A separate Extern House and a priests' house were built in 1875; the latter replaced the earlier cottages fronting the street. These buildings are all shown on the 1:500 Ordnance Survey Map published in 1891, and also on the 1:2500 Ordnance Survey map published in 1892.

Between 1892 and 1909 an extension was built against the west precinct wall, at the left-hand end of the south range of the main House. This was extended in the mid C20 and largely rebuilt in the late C20, and was used in part as the infirmary. A number of minor alterations were made c.1973. These included the infilling of the narrow space between the west wall of the church and the west precinct wall with small flat-roofed extensions used as sacristies and flower rooms, and the building of a single-storey, flat-roofed extension against the outer wall of the north range of the House, resulting in the removal of a steep gabled porch over the passageway leading to the Enclosure door. Internally, the original iron grilles set in the Enclosure dividing wall within the church and between the sisters' parlour and guests' parlour in the north range were replaced with openings with curtains.

The convent land had a high precinct wall to prevent any overlooking of the buildings or sisters by neighbours. The original area occupied by the convent was on the north side of a diagonal ditch and field boundary which also marked the boundary of the City of York at the time. Later, the convent grounds were expanded several times to maintain its privacy. In 1884 land to the east of the Extern Sisters' garden was added, and in 1902 'two or three acres' to the south of the convent were purchased as it was feared that overlooking houses were to be built. A further strip of land to the east was purchased in 1911. There are a number of subsidiary buildings in the extensive grounds, which range from late C19 to c1937 in date. These include workshops, glasshouses, and a variety of sheds. In the south-west corner is the nuns' graveyard.

George Goldie (1828-1887) was born in York where his father was a doctor and a staunch member of the Catholic community in the city. His grandfather was the architect Joseph Bonomi the Elder. He initially worked with the Sheffield practice of Weightmen & Hadfield, before working alone, and then in partnership with Charles Edwin Child from 1867. Goldie was one of the most able and active Roman Catholic ecclesiastical architects of the mid C19, and a number of his churches are listed, including St Wilfrid's, York (1862-4, Grade II), built close to York Minster in an 'Early French' style as the pro-cathedral of the short-lived diocese of Beverley.


Convent, 1870-5 by George Goldie for the Order of Poor Clare Colletines. Common brick with blue-brick, orange-brick, and ashlar stone dressings. Slate roofs. Gothic Revival.

PLAN: two-storey priests' house incorporating carriage entrance fronting street. Small courtyard to rear with two-storey extern house on east side and liturgical west end of church on south side. Church has a dividing cross wall equating to the liturgical east end and separating the public chapel, reached by the west doorway, and the enclosed choir, with a sanctuary on each side. Sisters' house of three two-storey ranges set around an open cloistered quadrangle with the fourth side completed by the church; choir reached by a doorway off the cloister walk. The primary buildings, associated buildings, grounds and nuns' graveyard contained within a tall, perimeter wall.

EXTERIOR: Church: the liturgical west end (geographic north) of the church faces onto the small courtyard. It is built of common brick with blue brick banding and ashlar dressings, with a slate roof. The central doorway is set in a slightly projecting gabled porch with stepped ashlar coping. Above the door is a double, two-centred arched head of ashlar voussoirs with a tympanum of a relief-carved stone cross and herring-bone orange brickwork. The double boarded doors have decorative iron hinges. To each side of the porch is large, plain lancet with ashlar head and sill, with a large oculus window above with geometrical timber glazing bars. To each outer edge are shallow angle buttresses. Much of the rest of the seven-bay exterior is obscured. There is a small, square bell-tower with a pyramidal roof at the liturgical south-east corner and a small transept with an oculus window and pitched slate roof to the third bay of the west elevation; the other transept is within the north range of the Sisters' House.

Between the liturgical south elevation of the church and the west precinct wall are modern, single-storeyed, flat-roofed extensions set behind a timber and glazed screen facing into the small courtyard.

Sisters' House: this building comprises three ranges set around a cloistered quadrangle, all built of common brick with blue brick banding and ashlar dressings, with double-pitched slate roofs. The ranges are of two storeys with attics and at the north end of the east range there is a basement beneath the kitchen. The north range is of eight bays, abutting the church at the right-hand end, with the slightly projecting, three-bay gable wall of the east range at the left-hand end. The gable wall has angle-buttresses with a central doorway, now blocked, with a two-centred arched overlight. To each side is a window with a two-centred arched head; between the blocked doorway and right-hand window is a narrow aperture. In the fourth bay of the north range is the entrance doorway which leads through to the Enclosure door opening onto the cloister walk. To the left are three ground-floor windows and to the right are four ground-floor windows; the doorway and windows are presently largely obscured by a modern, flat-roofed timber and glazed extension though the two-centred arched heads are visible. Marking on the brickwork above the doorway indicates that there was formerly a tall, steeply-pitched porch. The first-floor windows in the three bays of the gable wall and the windows in bays one to three and five to eight of the north range are all small lancets set within larger, blind arches. At the left-hand end is a tall wall of orange brick connecting the House to workshop buildings to the east, with a wide carriage entrance with double boarded doors and a two-centred archway of ashlar voussoirs with an orange herringbone brick tympanum.

The east and south ranges face onto the enclosed grounds; they are of nine bays and ten bays respectively and have a hipped roof at the south-east corner. Both are similarly detailed with ground-floor windows with two-centred arched heads of ashlar voussoirs and stone sills, and narrow, rectangular first-floor windows with chamfered ashlar lintels and sills. Most of the ground-floor windows are three-over-three pane sashes with glazing bar overlights; the ground-floor windows to the kitchen at the north end of the east range have four-light casements, with obscured glass in the lower panes, and glazing bar overlights. The small, square basement windows look into a narrow area with cast-iron railings. The first-floor windows are six-light casements with obscured glass in the lower panels. There are a number of small timber dormer windows; some have been lost and replaced by glazed roof lights. Both ranges have a doorway in the fifth bay with a timber porch (shown on the 1931 OS map) and windows above lighting a staircase. The east range has paired two-centred arched windows set within a wider two-centred arch with an orange herringbone brick tympanum. The south range has a wide, two-centred arch with a later wide rectangular window. The south range also has a large eaves stack towards the right-hand end. In the seventh and eighth bays are two narrow doorways with two-centred arched heads (relating to the chapter room). The timber and glazed double doors are recessed with glazing bar overlights and black and cream diamond tiling to the steps. Between the doorways is a projecting niche for a statue, and below is a raised flowerbed. In the ninth bay is a wider first-floor window with a two-centred arched head which lights the first-floor corridor.

In the centre of the House is an open quadrangle laid out as a garden and surrounded by an enclosed cloister walk. The ground floors of the west and north elevations project to form a wide first-floor balcony walkway with plain iron railings. The ground-floor cloister walk is lit by wide windows with two-centred arched heads of ashlar voussoirs. In the centre of the north and south walls are projecting canted oratory chapels with pyramidal roofs; the angled walls have narrow lancet windows and the north oratory chapel has a central projecting niche for a statue. In the centre of the east and west walls are doorways set into the arches; the plain boarded doors have partially glazed sidelights and glazing bar overlights. On the first floor are narrow rectangular windows similar to those on the external elevations of the east and south ranges.

At the left-hand, west end of the south range is a two-storey range of several phases indicated by changes in the appearance of the brickwork. The main elevation faces east and is of six bays. The right-hand bay is similar in detailing to the other main House elevations, but the five bays to the left are different. The fifth bay has a gable and a timber and leaded oriel window on the first floor. The first to fourth bays have large rectangular windows. At the left-hand, south end is a modern single-storey brick extension (infirmary).

Extern House: the main elevation faces west into the small courtyard. It is of two storeys with an attic and five bays. It is built of common brick with blue brick bands, and a hipped slate roof with two small timber dormer windows, and a tall brick stack to the front and rear of the ridge between the third and fourth bays. The entrance doorway is in the fifth bay with a timber and glass enclosed porch (shown on the 1931 OS map). The doorway has an arched head of ashlar voussoirs, with a boarded entrance door with small iron grille, closed by internal sliding shutter, and glazing bar overlight. The ground-floor windows in the other four bays have two-centred arched heads with ashlar voussoirs and stone sills. The frames are three-over-three pane sashes with glazing bar overlights. The five first-floor windows are narrow, rectangular openings with chamfered ashlar lintels and sills. The frames in the second to fifth bays are six-light casements above an obscured glass lower panel; there is a single-pane light in the first-bay window, which lights the staircase. The left-hand, north end is buttressed, and in the centre of the north gable wall is a shallow, canted bay window, relating to an oratory chapel. At the right-hand, south end is a carriage entrance of common brick with a pitched slate roof, which links the externs' house to the left-hand side of the liturgical west end of the church; the carriage opening is now blocked. The ground floor of the east, rear elevation has been extended outwards to form a wide first-floor balcony to four bays; the original arched ground-floor windows have been re-set in the extension. The first-floor window in the second bay has been altered to form a doorway. Priests' House: the main elevation, fronting Lawrence Street, is of two storeys with an attic and five first-floor bays. It is built of common brick with paired blue-brick bands at sill and lintel levels, and a double-pitched slate roof with brick stacks to the left-hand gable and ridge between bays four and five. The entrance doorway is in the second bay, flanked by two windows, with a wide, segmental-arched carriage entrance in the fourth and fifth bays. The first floor has five windows; the second-bay window, above the doorway, is narrower. All the windows have brick segmental-arched heads and two-over-two pane sashes. The six-panelled door has a segmental-arched overlight. The segmental arch of the carriage entrance is infilled with a central ledge for a statue; there are double wooden doors. There is a single-storey service range against the left-hand, east gable of the house, largely obscured behind the high precinct wall which continues to the east. INTERIOR: Church: the interior has a boarded wagon vault roof with moulded tie-beams and curved ribs on timber corbels with slender turned and painted bolted king-posts. The space is divided by a full-height cross wall into a public chapel, analogous to the nave, and an enclosed choir; the walls are plastered and painted white. The four bays of the public chapel are defined by arcades of full-height shallow arches, with a dado rail and moulded string. Above the string, within the arches, are two-centred arched head clerestorey windows, except in the third bays, which have arches below the string opening into shallow transepts with an altar and reredos to Mary (S) and the Sacred Heart (N). Over the transepts arches are statues of praying angels standing on corbels. The fourth bay on the liturgical south side has a later wide opening with a curtained timber screen. The walls of the three bays of the choir are plain with a string and similar windows at clerestorey level. The true south end has smaller blind, paired lancet windows flanked by statues of angels holding candelabra standing on corbels. There is a vertically boarded dado panelling with fixed bench seating round the walls with hinged arms which lift up. The cross wall has a later wide, curtained timber screen (1973) with a painted revolving tabernacle to the centre. There is also a projecting baldacchino, rood, and altar on a plinth to each side.

Sisters' House: the interior is largely as built and retains many original fixtures and fittings. In the centre of the north range is a short bisecting corridor with an outer doorway and an inner enclosure door opening onto the cloister walk. Both doorways have two-centred arched heads and boarded double doors; the outer doorway has a tympanum with a stained glass cross in a roundel (boarded over on the outside), and the enclosure doorway has a boarded tympanum. The cloister walk has plain boarded floors, with two-centred arches at the corner intersections, two statue niches in the west cloister walk, and plain boarded doors to the rooms opening off the walk. In the centre of the west and south cloister walks are open-well staircases to the first floor. They both have square, chamfered newels and ramped, slender moulded handrails with boarded balustrading. On the ground floor of the north range are the parlours, with the sisters' parlour (in the NW corner) separated by a wall with a curtained opening, which replaces the original iron grille. To one side is the original revolving cupboard, used to pass small objects between those from the community and the enclosed sisters. The east range has the refectory on the south side of the staircase. It has wooden benches round the walls, boarded dado panelling, and niches for statues. On the north side of the staircase is the kitchen, with a basement beneath, which is partially fireproof with brick jack-arches springing from iron beams. The south range has the Mother Abbess's room, which has a fireplace with a plain timber mantelpiece, and the chapter room, which has fixed wall benching and two fireplace with similar plain timber mantelpieces. On the first floor are small individual cells to each side of spine corridors. They have plain boarded doors with tilting rectangular overlights. There are several gas light fittings on the ground and first floors. The roof structure over the east and south ranges uses queen post trusses, and the north range has a common rafter roof.

Externs' House: the interior is largely as built and retains many original fixtures and fittings. The entrance doorway opens into a small hall with decorative tiling and timber and glazed double inner doors. The ground and first floors both have a spine corridor with rooms to each side, with an oratory chapel at the north end of the ground-floor corridor. There is an adjacent staircase in the NW angle. The doors, staircase, and externs' cells on the first floor are similar in detailing to the main house. The attic has a series of rooms with boarded divisions, and a queen post roof with iron fixings.

Priests' House: fixtures and fittings of interest include six-panelled doors, architraves, and a staircase with turned wooden balusters, moulded handrail, and turned newel posts with ball finials, now painted.

SUBSIDIARY ITEMS: the convent is enclosed by brick precinct walls of around 5m in height. The walls are built of common brick in a variable English garden wall bond, usually 5:1, with a tile coping and denote the phases of the precinct. The three major periods of eastward and southward expansion in 1884, 1902, and 1911 can be seen in straight joints in the walls. The west end of the stretch of wall on Lawrence Street continues the blue brick banding of the priests' house as far as the doorway into the priests' walled garden. To the left the wall continues in plain brickwork, with some C20 rebuilding in engineering brick at its east end. The original 1872 walls and the 1902 walls, which enclose the area to the south of the original diagonal south precinct wall, both have regularly spaced full-height gabled buttresses to the inner elevations. Each buttress has a two-centred arched niche which originally held a statue relating to the Stations of the Cross. The 1872 diagonal south precinct wall has been broken through in places and partially reduced in height.

The workshop to the rear of the extern house, the L-shaped group of two-storey and single-story workshops built in a number of phases to the east of the extern house, various other brick-built sheds and structures such as glasshouses and cold frame bases within the grounds are excluded from the designation as they are not of special interest.

Whilst it is not technically possible to exclude the modern, single-storey additions to the sisters' house and church, these are not of special interest.


Colin Briden, 'St Joseph's Convent, Lawrence Street, York, Historic Buildings Assessment' (November 2012).,


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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