HT’s Hidden History

John Alcock

John Alcock

John Alcock's South Porch Door

Mark Keith is Holy Trinity’s organist, but also a history buff, a passion gained from growing up with an archaeologist mother. Few have dug more deeply into the history of the church. Here, Mark shares one of the many remarkable, untold stories of the church.

“Right here,” says Mark, “standing in the south porch, there was once a door. Beyond it, over 500 years ago, stood a chantry chapel. Chantry chapels were used specifically for priests to pray for the benefit of deceased souls, and provided a valuable source of income for the priests. Holy Trinity had about a dozen of them, but this chapel was very special, and links Holy Trinity to places like Jesus College Cambridge, and the infamous tale of the princes in the tower.”

“The chapel was built by John Alcock, the son of Hull merchant, born in 1430, in honour of his parents. Around the same time, Alcock endowed Hull Grammar School, just across Trinity Square. Alcock would become one of the most important men of his generation,” explains Mark.

The south porch doors

The south porch doors

Armed with a doctorate in law from the University of Cambridge, Alcock went to work as a lawyer in London, becoming Keeper of the Rolls in 1462. By 1472, he was Dean of St Stephen’s, the royal chapel in Westminster Palace, and interestingly the church, now long gone, upon which some of the window traceries at Holy Trinity are modelled. 

In the same year he was involved in diplomatic negotiations with Scotland and was placed in effective charge of the estates of the infant Prince Edward (the future Edward V, and with Richard of Shrewsbury, one of the two Princes in the Tower). Two years’ later, having meanwhile been appointed bishop of Rochester, he became the prince’s tutor. In 1474 he was moved as bishop from Rochester to Worcester, and dignified by his appointment as Lord President of Wales in 1476.

Mark Keith

Mark Keith

Edward V was deposed in 1483, with Richard III taking the throne; the princes were never seen again. It is likely that they had been secretly murdered. That might well have ended Alcock’s career in government had Richard III not been defeated by Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. His appointment as Lord Chancellor quickly followed. As Chancellor Alcock opened (and preached to) Henry VII’s first parliament, and baptised his first son, Prince Arthur. He became Bishop of Ely, and remained one of the King’s most trusted councilors. Whilst Bishop of Ely, Alcock founded Jesus College Cambridge.

Alcock’s extraordinary career is a reminder of just how significant Hull was in medieval times, and of the great men who came from our city. “All behind here,” says Mark Keith, “in the space between the porch and the boiler room, where today we store the bins. Who could possibly have guessed?”