York's newest blue plaque to celebrate the life of female campaigner

The latest blue plaque to be erected in York will honour the work of a woman who established a charity that still exists to this day.

Lady Sarah Hewley
Lady Sarah Hewley

Lady Sarah Hewley lived on St Saviourgate, where the York Civic Trust's plaque will go on display at the site of her former home, number 31.

The 17th-century campaigner built almshouses to accommodate destitute widows. The daughter of a landowner, she married a lawyer and used her wealth and influence to further a number of causes.

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Blue plaque marks toy shop where Suffragettes met in YorkShe sympathised with 'dissenters' - members of Protestant sects who refused to worship under the Church of England following the Reformation. She was a patron of these separatists, who held meetings in York, and she provided shelter for them and befriended preachers.

She funded the building of a Unitarian chapel on St Saviourgate in 1692 and the building is still in use today.

Lady Sarah used her inheritance to build a set of almshouses on Tanner Row to house nine elderly widows of dissenter ministers.

York architect honoured by blue plaqueThey had to be relocated in 1835 to allow George Hudson's new railway to enter the city, and a new set of cottages opened in 1840 on St Saviourgate. They remain in use and a charity trust established 300 years ago runs them.

She made a provision in her will for financial assistance of dissenter preachers and their widows, and left her entire estate to her trustees, as her two children had died in infancy.

York Civic Trust executive manager Duncan Marks said:-

“The life and deeds of Lady Sarah Hewley should be celebrated because of her personal commitment to provide almshouses for poor and elderly individuals in York. This has national resonance today, with the need for provision of adult social care as strong as ever.

“There is a remarkable and direct historical legacy in the Lady Hewley story. From what Sarah Hewley started in her will in 1705, through to the activities of the trustees of the Lady Hewley Charity Trust today, the city and beyond has greatly benefitted from the inconspicuous provision for good causes that they have bestowed.

“The plaque honours Lady Sarah Hewley and her charitable foundation of an almshouse on St Saviourgate. In doing so, the plaque also helps celebrate York’s rich history of almshouse provision, and noticeably the result of forthright and determined women of York. These include the Anne Middleton almshouse on Skeldergate; the almshouse on Bootham by Mary Wandesford, and Dorothy Wilson’s almshouse and schoolroom on Walmgate.”

Why history's forgotten deserve blue plaques tooThere are now over 100 York Civic Trust blue plaques scattered around the city.