The connection between St Helen's Church, the Good Humour Club and Lawrence Sterne.
In the eighteenth century, The Good Humour Club was a society that celebrated the twin virtues of companionship and conviviality at a weekly meeting in York. In 2013 and 2014, The Good Humour Club became the focus of a new project based at The Laurence Sterne Trust at Shandy Hall, Coxwold which had the dual aims of conducting historical research and promoting the importance of fun and sociability in our own time. Find out more here: http://goodhumour.laurencesternetrust.org.uk/.
The historic Good Humour Club (c.1725 - 1800) has many connections to Laurence Sterne. His novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman was first published in York on 18 December 1759. These early volumes were printed by the widow of a Good Humour Club member on Coney Street and sold by another member, John Hinxman, at his bookshop on Stonegate. Sterne therefore would have walked by St Helen’s Church many times as he travelled between his printer and his bookseller. St Helen’s Church is also a significant landmark in the history of the Good Humour Club and memorials to some of the members and their descendents remain in the church today, such as those for James Atkinson and Theophilus Davey Garencieres.
In one of the stained glass windows in St Helen's Church, there is a figure of a 'blue-coat boy', a symbol of the blue and grey coat charity schools of the eighteenth century. On Good Friday 1747, Laurence Sterne preached the annual charity sermon at St Michael le Belfry, York in aid of the city's Blue Coat School for Boys (St Anthony’s Hall, Peasholme Green) and the Grey Coat School for Girls (Marygate). The York Journal reported that the respectable sum of '64 l. 11s. 81/4d.' was collected from the congregation. The sermon, 'The Case of Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath, consider’d', was subsequently published by Good Humour Club member, Caesar Ward, in Coney Street in York and sold by fellow member Hildyard at the Sign of the Bible, Stonegate.
St Anthony's Hall, the site of York's Blue Coat School, is now the home of the Quilt Museum.
Dr Kate Compton
Project intern, The Good Humour Club
Shandy Hall, Coxwold