St Mary’s at the V&A

The V&A is the world’s leading museum of art and design, housing a permanent collection of over 2.3 million objects that span over 5,000 years of human creativity. The Museum holds many of the UK’s national collections and houses some of the greatest resources for the study of architecture, furniture, fashion, textiles, photography, sculpture, painting, jewellery, glass, ceramics, book arts, Asian art and design, theatre and performance.

Among those vast collections are a number of items both from and featuring St Mary’s. We highlight some of them here.

The Frith photographs

The museum holds six photographs of St Mary’s by Francis Frith, one of the most successful commercial photographers from the 1850s and 1860s. He also established what was to become the largest photographic printing business in England. These images of St Mary’s are part of the V&A’s Francis Frith ‘Universal Series’ archive which consists of over 4000 whole-plate albumen prints predominantly of historical and topographical sites.

It’s interesting to see the chancel before the misericords were moved into that space. It’s also nice to see a cobbled North Bar Within.

Two medieval oak doors

Now in the V&A’s store for architectural woodwork, these fifteenth century doors from St Mary’s, were previously on display in gallery 48 (north side) of the museum.

Although listed as a ‘pair’ in the V&A catalogue, the left-hand door (ref. W.5-1921) belonged to the entrance doorway of the south porch and the right-hand door (ref. W.5a-1921) is the eastern leaf from the south transept doorway.

They were probably taken out and disposed of at the time of the restoration of these parts of the church under A.W.N. Pugin (see below) and his son, E.W. Pugin between 1844 and 1859. We can guess from the condition of these doors that it must’ve been pretty drafty in St Mary’s before Pugin’s restoration!

St Mary’s doors in the V&A (reference numbers W.5-1921 and W.5a-1921)

Topographical drawings and notes by Pugin

Among the more than 100 assorted topographical drawings by AWN Pugin in the collection of the V&A are four leaves of a sketch book from 1850 which contain notes about his work in Beverley. Those notes are next to details of medieval stained glass and pillars in the Church of Ottery Saint Mary in Devon (where Pugin was also working at that time).

For more information about Pugin’s restoration of St Mary’s Beverley please see the July 2020 special edition of the Pilgrim Rabbit, our heritage newsletter: