A question: where would you find the biggest parish church in England, a carving that inspired Lewis Carroll, and a clutch of old pubs with bars that seem to have been untouched for centuries? And where do citizens still have an ancient right to graze their cattle on the common land outside the town?
All of this, and more, can be found in Beverley, a small but attractive market town that was once the capital of East Yorkshire. It has long since since been overtaken in size and importance by Hull, its nearby rival, but it retains many historic buildings and a few quirks, making it a worthwhile detour for any visitor.
The Oldest Parish Church in England
Although the title of “biggest parish church in England” is disputed, there is no doubt that Beverley Minster is bigger than most, and larger than many cathedrals as well. But it is visited more for its architecture than its size, with an interior to rival the greatest Gothic cathedrals.
A peaceful view of Beverley Minster
Walk along the high-vaulted nave then stop to admire the fine carvings on the 16th century miserichords. And don’t miss the carvings of minstrels along the walls – over seventy wood and stone depictions of pipers, flautists and even a hurdy-gurdy player, a testament to Beverley’s musical heritage. (If you are lucky you may be able to time your visit to catch one of the early music concerts that are regularly staged in the Minster.)
The Gothic interior of Beverley Minster
A stone minstrel plays the hurdy-gurdy
Beverley’s Old Buildings
The centre of Beverley is a delight for anyone who enjoys old buildings, a higgledy-piggledy mixture of shops and houses from the medieval period to Georgian and Victorian times. Shoppers will be pleased to find several independent retailers, including one of an endangered species – a secondhand bookshop!
Beverley’s town centre displays a variety of styles
The Market Cross, built in 1714
The 15th century North Bar, the only one remaining of five original gateways. A nearby pavement plaque gives a tally of expenditure on the building of the Bar – a total cost of £96-0-11½!
Then there are the pubs. Try the 17th century White Horse (known to one and all as “Nellies” after a former proprietor) with its maze of tiny bars, or the Monks Walk, parts of which date back to the 13th century, and which offers atmospheric bars, accommodation and fine dining.
The historic Monks Walk
And Some Oddities
Like all the best towns, Beverley has a few oddities. As you stroll about the streets, you may spot reproductions of paintings by the local artist Fred Elwell (1870-1958), or pavement plaques behind the Minster with verses from the traditional song John Barleycorn. And if you step inside the 12th century St Mary’s Church, look for the carving of a rabbit that is said to have been the inspiration for the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. Finally, just outside the town is the Westwood, a vast area of common land where the locals can, and do, graze their cattle in the summer months!
You will see many pictures by Fred Elwell, but this one (At the Mirror) is by his wife, Mary Elwell
St Mary’s Church, where you may spot the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit