York Civic Trust unveiled a blue plaque to Lady Sarah Hewley (1627-1710) on Friday, 26 July 2019, at No.31 St. Saviourgate, York.

Dr Peter Addyman, York Civic Trust's President and Dr Philip Thake, Chair of the Lady Hewley Trust
Dr Peter Addyman, YCT’s President and Dr Philip Thake, Chair of the Lady Hewley Trust

Following the English Reformation of the C16, a number of Protestant sects – Baptists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Unitarians and Quakers – refused to accept the Anglican communion or the tenets of the Church of England. They therefore came to be known as separatists or dissenters. Sarah Hewley was as influential force in religious provision of ‘dissenter’ causes in York during the C17 and early C18, including the foundation of almshouses, some of which continue to this day.

Dr Philip Thake (centre) having just unveiled the Lady Hewley plaque

As a woman, Sarah Hewley was unable to hold public office. All the same, she protected and befriended dissenting preachers, and, along with her husband, the Hewleys contributed towards the building of a plain brick Unitarian chapel in St Saviourgate, the street in which the family lived, which provided a meeting-place for nonconformists from across the county. The chapel is still in use today and portraits of Sir John Hewley and his wife, Sarah, are preserved in its vestry.

Hewley Plaque
Lady Hewley’s Almshouse, St Saviourgate – designed by James Pigott Pritchett (1840)

Sarah Hewley constructed a set of almshouses on Tanner Row in 1705 to house nine elderly widows of dissenter ministers, and one poor man to act as chaplain. These almshouses were relocated in 1835 by George Hudson (“The Railway King”) in order to drive two railway tracks through the city walls and build a railway terminus. James Pigott Prichett, of whom YCT unveiled a plaque to in May 2019, designed a new set of almshouses on a site next to St Saviour’s Church in St Saviourgate. These opened in 1840 and remain in use.

Lady Hewley Trust Trustees with Peter Addyman at the plaque unveiling

In her will, Lady Sarah made provision of financial assistance for ‘poor and godly Preachers’ and their ‘poor and godly widows’ of a dissenter persuasion. The Lady Hewley Trust continues in York to this day. Through its generosity, each year it grants a total of approximately £250,000 to Ministers, Retired Ministers, Widows and Spinster Daughters of Ministers, Students studying for the Ministry and Church Institutions helping to spread the word of the Gospel in the United Reformed, the Congregational and the Baptist Churches throughout the North of England

The blue plaque was unveiled at No.31 St. Saviourgate, an attractive Georgian terrace building owned by York Conservation Trust, who have kindly agreed for the placing of the plaque. It is the site where Lady Hewley’s home once stood.

No.31 St Saviourgate

The unveiling was marked by a brief greeting and introduction by Dr Peter Addyman, YCT’s President. This was followed by a short speech by the Chair of the Lady Hewley Charity Trust, Dr Philip Thake. It included mention of Lady Sarah Hewley’s life and deeds, and the range of philanthropic support provided by the Charity Trust.

26 people attended the unveiling, largely comprising members of the Lady Hewley Trust, York Civic Trust and those from the nearby Unitarian Chapel on St. Saviourgate.

After the unveiling, UHY Calvert Smith Accountants, No.31 St Saviourgate, kindly provided a reception for attendees.

Hewley plaque
Reception after the unveiling

More details on Lady Sarah Hewley’s life and deeds can be found on our website.