A NORMAN fortification is known to have occupied the site of Doncaster’s minster and it is most likely that the materials from that building were partly used to build the early church.
The church was described as “one of the noblest of its own degree, if not in England, certainly in Yorkshire”. It had a lovely chancel screen, rather ugly galleries, a three-deck pulpit, fine stained glass, and many memorials.
Its Harris organ and its bells were famous. It’s crowning glory was undoubtedly the central tower standing 141 feet above the surrounding countryside, the pride of the town and the neighbourhood.
Its destruction by fire on the night of February 28, 1853, was a major calamity for the town.
Amazingly, within seven days, a rebuilding committee had been formed and raised over £11,000 ,helped by a donation of £100 from Queen Victoria who broke her own rule of not contributing to local charities.
The Archbishop of York also sent £500 and the town council donated £5,000.
It was a tribute to the determination of all concerned that it was possible for the Archbishop of York to lay the foundation stone for the new church exactly one year to the day after the fire, a truly amazing achievement.
The new building to the design of George Gilbert Scott took four years to build at a cost of £43,126 4s. 5d. Great celebrations accompanied the consecration of the building by the Archbishop of York on October 14, 1858.
The local newspaper said of the new building: “It is undoubtedly better than the average Gothic revival building, and it has been suggested that it is the ‘proudest and most Cathedral-like of Gilbert Scott’s parish churches.’”
The tower is 20 feet square and is supported by massive pillars with a circumference of 28 feet which are needed to support the full height of 169 feet as well a peal of eight bells within it.
The observant will note that although the clock strikes every quarter hour there is no visible clock face on the exterior of the tower. The clock was designed by Lord Grimthorpe and made by Mr Dent, as was “Big Ben”, and the chimes were first heard on October 23, 1858, just a few weeks before Big Ben was first heard.
There are rich carvings both inside and outside, the fine stained glass and the magnificent organ, which was added in 1862 by the famous Organ Builder, Edmund Schulze.
The Forman Chapel, which also serves as the baptistry, was built at the sole expense of William Henry Forman in memory of the Seaton Family and is built in an advanced decorated style.
In the centre of the chapel stands the massive font carved out of a single piece of serpentine. As the civic church for Doncaster, visitors will note the ornate pew at the front of the nave , with a special stand for the official mace, where the civic mayor sits.
It was then and still is now a splendid building but it was not until June 17, 2004, that the Bishop of Sheffield granted the Church of St George its minster status in recognition of its unique position in Doncaster and district and its involvement in so much of the religious, social and cultural life of the town.
On December 8, 2008, the minster was honoured to receive a visit from HRH The Princess Royal who came to view the building and meet many of the people involved with the current restoration programme.