Vicar Gray of Helmsley

Vicar Gray, one of Temple Moore's greatest patrons and supporters, was a charismatic, maddening, inspiring, argumentative, endlessly energetic character who arrived like an earthquake in the small Yorkshire town of Helmsley in the late 19th century and set about shaking up the place and it's people.

From the moment Charles Norris Gray was appointed vicar of Helmsley in 1870 to his death (from overwork) in 1913, he dominated life in the town. In those days Helmsley was a sleepy, rather backward country town. Church attendance was low and the illegitimacy rate was high. The beck running through the town was an open sewer.

Vicar Gray set about reforming the hearts and minds of the local population by sheer force of personality. One of his first acts was to start a parish magazine, which was among the earliest of its kind in the country. Through its pages he demanded improvements to sewerage and public health, picked fights with other churches, chided his own bishops, and campaigned on behalf of local apprentices. He turned out a steady stream of books and pamphlets designed to address the moral shortcomings of his parishioners as well a vast array of other subjects, from the correct way of making tea to poultry-keeping. He modernised the local postal service, improved conditions for children at the local workhouse, organised flower shows, extended educational provision in the parish, and organised public festivals attended by thousands.

But perhaps his greatest legacy to the parish was its churches, and it is here that his story becomes bound up with Temple Moore's. During his four decades as vicar of Helmsley, Gray managed to get every hamlet church in the surrounding area rebuilt. Lord Feversham of Duncombe Park was prevailed upon to bankroll the building work. Through his local connections, Temple Moore was brought in to redesign the churches in an appropriately high-church style. He also worked on improvements to Helmsley church, a new courthouse and town hall, and Vicar Gray's model vicarage on Bondgate.

The patronage of Vicar Gray and Lord Feversham had a huge impact on Moore's career. At a time when clergymen had to raise money to for church-building by going cap in hand to their congregations, it was rare to have the opportunity to design anything too ambitious. Because of Gray's campaigning vigour and Feversham's financial muscle, Moore was able to design with the kind of free hand that most architects of his day could only dream of.