The Civic Society column with David Winpenny

Ripon Cathedral; Dering restored the monument to Hugh Ripley, Ripon's first Mayor. (Copyright - David Winpenny)
Ripon Cathedral; Dering restored the monument to Hugh Ripley, Ripon's first Mayor. (Copyright - David Winpenny)

We are familiar with the names of many of the architects associated with Ripon – chief among them Sir William Chambers, educated here but not represented in the city by any of his designs. We know of James Wyatt, who designed the Town Hall, and Joseph Hansom, architect of St Wilfrid’s Church. And we are, of course, familiar with Nicholas Hawksmoor, who designed the obelisk and laid out the Market Square to emulate a Roman forum.

We know also of Sir Gilbert Scott, who restored the cathedral between 1862 and 1872, but we may not be quite so familiar with Edward Blore who between 1829 and 1831 did an earlier restoration of that building.

The Old Deanery, repaired and extended by Heneage Dering. (Copyright - David Winpenny)

The Old Deanery, repaired and extended by Heneage Dering. (Copyright - David Winpenny)

A little later, from 1843 to 1844 William Railton also worked on the cathedral; a little before that, in 1838, he had designed the palace on Palace Road for the new Bishop; its chapel followed in 1848. Others with Ripon buildings to their names are three Leeds-based architects – Thomas Taylor, who designed Holy Trinity Church, George Corson, a Scot, who designed the Jubilee Clock Tower and the Grammar School, and James Simpson, responsible for Coltsgate Hill Chapel.

All these men were recognised as professional architects, some more successful than others. And all except Corson, who was too young, have entries (or are at least mentioned) in the bible of architectural historians, ‘A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840’ by Howard Colvin.

So far, so predictable. Look up ‘Ripon’ in the book’s index and you’ll find them all docketed in a neat list. But there’s an oddity – ‘Deanery, 301’ is listed between ‘Bishop’s Ho., 791 ’ and ‘Holy Trinity Ch., 968’. And when you turn to page 301 you find an unfamiliar name – Heneage Dering.

Unfamiliar, certainly, as an architect, though he may have a little more fame in his main vocation, as a clergyman of the Church of England – in fact it was said that in his time he was the wealthiest of all the Anglican clergy. His rise to eminence and wealth perhaps owed more to patronage and influential friends than to holiness of life and fine preaching.

In the 1740s Studley Royal's grounds were being overhauled, prompting an oblique protest from Dering. (Copyright - David Winpenny)

In the 1740s Studley Royal's grounds were being overhauled, prompting an oblique protest from Dering. (Copyright - David Winpenny)

Heneage Dering was born in London on 7 February 1665; his father was a barrister of the Inner Temple and had an estate in Kent.

The child, baptised on St Valentine’s Day, was named after his godfather, his father’s friend Heneage Finch, who was later made Earl of Nottingham; ‘Heneage’ was Finch’s grandmother’s maiden name. After schooling in St Albans he followed his father to the Inner Temple (his father paid £140 for a set of chambers for him there), and also entered Clare College, Cambridge, though he didn’t take a degree.

His godfather Heneage Finch became the Lord Chancellor in 1675, remaining in his post until his death in 1682. Finch had a household Chaplain called John Sharp, who became friendly with young Heneage Dering.

Sharp quickly rose in the church, becoming successively a chaplain to the King, Dean of Norwich and Dean of Canterbury and then, in 1691, Archbishop of York.

This was Heneage Dering’s chance. He was appointed the new archbishop’s secretary and moved into Bishopthorpe Palace just outside York. He decided to follow his employer into holy orders, and he was ordained deacon in the palace chapel in February 1701 and made priest five months later.

It was a smart move: Dering was appointed Archdeacon of the East Riding and a canon of York Minster in 1702 . Two years later he was also made rector of the parish of Scrayingham, north-east of York, then in the East Riding, now in North Yorkshire.

This was a very rich living, and provided Dering with a good income.

It was here, it seems, that Heneage Dering began his modest architectural career.

He rebuilt (apparently to his own designs) the parsonage house at Scrayingham for the use of his resident curate; he didn’t live in the parish himself. He also seems to have helped the local gentry with their building plans; in the North Yorkshire County Record Office there is a design for a new house for the Darley family of Aldby Park, in the Scrayingham parish.

The design is inscribed ‘Doct. Dering’s Plan for a House’, and an accompanying letter from Dering says he is ‘a well-wisher to Architecture’. Unfortunately, the new house at Aldby was not built for some years – and then not to Dering’s design.

In the meantime, Dering’s ecclesiastical career was progressing, for in 1711 he was appointed Dean of Ripon, (he was not installed in the Minster, as it then was, in person, but by proxy, but he did arrive in the city soon afterwards) and he became Master of the two Ripon Hospitals, of St John the Baptist and of St Mary Magdalen, the following year.

Despite his vast wealth from his preferments and from his family estates in Kent, he was a conscientious Dean – he looked after both fabric of the Minster building and after the welfare of his clergy and choir. He set up the Consistory Court at the west end of the north nave aisle, and repaired the monument to Hugh Ripley, the city’s first mayor.

In 1723 he provided a public clock on the south-west tower. He also made additions to his deanery – now the Old Deanery Hotel.

Heneage Dering was also a poet; he wrote two works in Latin hexameters. The first, published in 1743, was ‘Reliquiae Eboracenses’, which told in 95 pages the history of the Romans in Yorkshire.

The second was called ‘De senectute’ – ‘On Old Age’. It’s not what it may seem: rather than a melancholy look back on his life (it was published in 1746 when he was 81; he lived another four years), is an imaginary lament in which an oak tree in Studley Royal Park laments to another that they are soon both to be felled. It’s an oddity, certainly, but it may have had a conservationist aim; it was written at the time when William Aislabie was undertaking far-reaching changes at Studley Royal.

So Dering may have been an architect; he was a poet, a conscientious pastor and, probably, an environmentalist; he is remembered today only by a monument in the Cathedral’s north choir aisle.