Plaque at All Saints Church, North Street, installation: 11 July 2018

Edwin Ridsdale Tate was a man of many talents: an architect, artist, antiquarian, archaeologist, illuminator of books, graphic designer and photographer. He was born on 17 January 1862, the son of James Tate, a bookbinder and publisher of Bibles at St William’s College Yard, and Ann Ridsdale, formerly a dressmaker of Goodramgate, York.

Educated at the Model School, Lord Mayor’s Walk, York, York School of Art and Scarborough Art College, Edwin first entered the studio of Fisher and Hepper architects in Castlegate, York – now the 31 Castlegate Restaurant. Later he moved on to work for Charles J. Ferguson who had offices in London and Carlisle. The practice specialised in the restoration of historic buildings including the rebuilding of Bamburgh Castle for Lord Armstrong. Later he had his own partnership in Fulham, London and lived in Wandsworth with his first wife Jane Elizabeth (Ipsie) Arthur. He returned to York in 1904 following her premature death and lived at 14 Clifton Dale (Vale). He later lived and worked at 4 The Crescent, Blossom Street. In 1916 he remarried, to Mary Louisa Elsworth Wray, living at 20 Priory Street, York until his death in 1922.

Throughout his life, Edwin had a great love for the history of York and the old buildings of the city, a love which he had inherited from his father, James Tate, who was also a keen local historian and amateur artist. His interest in architecture may have arisen from his maternal uncle, Edward Scott Ridsdale, who was an established architect first in York then later in Evesham, Worcestershire. He also had a great admiration for the work of Henry Cave, the York artist and engraver who preceded Tate and whose prints were so often an inspiration for his later work.

Views of York

York in the 15th century. A watercolour by Ridsdale Tate, 1914

Tate was also a prolific artist being extremely skilful with pencil, pen and ink and the watercolour brush. In his early years he was the winner of many prizes and medals and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1895-7. The legacy of this tireless worker is the wonderfully accurate and detailed renderings of many York views and local buildings, many of which have since been lost to modern redevelopment. Some of his originals can still be seen at the York Art Gallery, the Explore York Library & Archives and in local buildings such as Merchant Adventurers’ Hall. Many other examples of his work can also be found illustrating publications from the turn of the last century which often accompanied his work in the restoration of old buildings such as St Mary’s Church, Bishophill Junior and All Hallowes (All Saints) Church, North Street in York, Selby Abbey and also books on the travels of Charles Dickens in North Yorkshire and others by his friend Thomas Parsons Cooper.

Edwin also had a ‘commercial’ view of his art and much of it was published for sale both as picture-postcard views of York and Fulham, London (whilst working in London) in addition to his better known publication Quaint & Historic York, a collection of 12 pencil sketches of popular views of York with historical notes by fellow architect and historian George Benson. This was published in1906 priced at just 7s 6d (37.5p).

His great talent as a gifted illuminator of manuscripts is demonstrated in the opening pages of the King’s Book of York Fallen Heroes, which he designed to commemorate the visit of King George V in 1921. This is now displayed in the Treasury at York Minster. However a facsimile copy may be viewed and inspected by prior appointment at the Minster Library at the Old Palace in Dean’s Park.

Buildings and church fittings in York

All Saints North Street, site of the Civic Trust plaque to Ridsdale Tate

Some examples of his architectural work still exist in York, foremost amongst which is the Tempest Anderson Lecture Hall at the Yorkshire Museum and Gardens. This building is notable for its pioneering use of reinforced shuttered concrete, a revolutionary form of construction in 1912. He also designed the decorative carved chancel screen and the Anchorite’s Cell at All Saints Church, North Street at which Edwin was a long-time worshipper and warden. Other examples of the church furniture he designed for several churches in York can be found at Holy Trinity, Micklegate and St Martin le Grand, Coney Street.

Detail of the chancel screen in All Saints.

Edwin Ridsdale Tate died at the early age of 60 years on 12 June 1922 from appendicitis. He fell ill at home but died in the York County Hospital, then in Monkgate, with his second wife by his side. After a life of prodigious work, much of it for the benefit of the City of York, and following a grand funeral service at All Saints, North Street on 16 June 1922 which was attended by many civic leaders, Edwin was finally laid to rest in a family grave at York Cemetery. Unfortunately his second wife omitted to have his name engraved on the headstone and so, to this day, this man rests there unrecorded as one of York’s forgotten heroes.

Edwin’s legacy was largely overlooked and forgotten until, in 2006, Peter Stanhope gave the first public lecture on his life and work in the National Centre for Early Music, York, the first in an ongoing series of talks, all with the aim of widening the knowledge and popularity of the architect’s contribution to the city. In 2015 Peter fulfilled a personal ambition with the publication of the result of 25 years of research, Quaint & Historic York Remembered.


York Explore Library & Archives:

The library holds various source materials regarding Edwin Ridsdale Tate. First and foremost is the volume of Old York Sketches by Tate and other artists, together with memorabilia collected by George Benson. Other references to Tate can be found in the Loadman archives, the T.P. Cooper archives and J.W. Knowles’s biographies of York artists.

City Of York Art Gallery:

The City Art Gallery holds a considerable number of works by Edwin Ridsdale Tate including original sketches, watercolours, sketch-books and scrap books.

York Minster:

The Chapter of York, the governing body of York Minster, holds the King’s Book of York Heroes. The huge and elaborately bound book records the names of the citizens of the city who were killed in service in the First World War together with individual photographs. It was presented to York Minster in 1920 by the Duke of York, on behalf of King George V, for the cathedral to keep as a ‘perpetual record and memorial’. At the time it was produced, it was one of the largest books in the world, weighing 9st 4lb. In 1920 the book recorded details of 1,162 people but additional names have been added in later years as new names came to light. The total now stands at 1,453 entries. These include George Edwin Ellison, the last reported British soldier to die in action in the First World War, who died just before the ceasefire at 11am on 11 November 1918.

The Company of Merchant Adventurers of the City of York:

The Company holds the largest collection of Ridsdale Tate originals on display to the public at Merchant Adventurers’ Hall.

Yorkshire Architectural and York Archaeological Society:

The Evelyn collection of lantern slides

Peter J. Stanhope, Quaint & Historic York Remembered (York, 2015)

Photos by Rachel Semlyen

© Peter J. Stanhope