The Bar Convent was established in 1686 by Frances Bedingfield, an early member of Mary Ward's Institute, in response to Sir Thomas Gascoigne's words, "We must have a school for our daughters."
Sir Thomas, a renowned local Catholic landowner, who was later implicated in the Yorkshire Plot but acquitted, provided £450 for Frances Bedingfield to come to York with a small group of nuns and purchase a modest 17th century house standing just outside Micklegate Bar and the city walls. First they set up a boarding school for Catholic girls, and this was followed in 1699 by a free day school.
At this time of persecution for Catholics it was a secret community, known as the 'Ladies at the Bar' and the sisters concealed their identity, wearing ‘slate-coloured gowns’ in the fashion of the day to avoid arousing suspicion.
The community had a turbulent history during this period, suffering dire poverty, persecution and imprisonment in foul gaols. However, the community survived and in 1727 was joined by Elizabeth Stansfield and Ann Aspinal. The former's fortune paid the community's debts and from 1766 to 1788 Mother Aspinal worked with the architect Thomas Atkinson to demolish the original house and build the current Georgian house which you see on the site today.
On 27th April 1769 the first Mass was held in Mother Aspinal's new Chapel, with its magnificent neoclassical dome concealed beneath a pitched slate roof, but it was not until the second Catholic Relief Act of 1791 that the chapel obtained a licence as a place of worship.
During the French Revolution the community gave aid to refugees from France and émigré priests. Their influence played a part in the more cloistered existence adopted for the community under Mother Coyney in the 19th century.
In the 19th century the building was extended with a new community wing and kitchens.
The day school was rebuilt by the architect G T Andrews and from 1852 some sisters from the community went to teach at St George's School, newly opened for lrish immigrant children in Walmgate.
During the Great War 1914-1918 Belgian nuns and refugee children were given a home in the convent and the Concert Hall was converted into a hospital ward for wounded soldiers.
In World War II the convent was bombed and five sisters lost their lives in the blast. You can still see the repairs to the building on the Nunnery Lane side in the different coloured bricks.
In 1921 the day school and boarding schools merged, and later became the Bar Convent Grammar School. The school was recognised by the Board of Education in 1923 and received Direct Grant status in 1929.
The community ran the school for 299 years, until in 1985 it was transferred to the Diocese of Middlesbrough to form part of the new comprehensive school system as All Saints Catholic school.
The Bar Convent is still home to Mary Ward's religious order, the Congregation of Jesus, and the Grade I listed buildings remain open to the public as an Exhibition, Shop and Café, with a 20-bedroom Guest House and Conferencing Facilities, all run by the Bar Convent Trust.
Our thanks to Sr Patricia Harriss CJ for her invaluable contribution to this page.