On the night of February 1st 1829, Jonathan Martin hid inside York Minster until it was closed up, then cut down a bell rope to clamber about the building so he could set fire to the magnificent cathedral, all the while singing hymns to the glory of God. Jonathan escaped, but the Minster burned for a day, the Archbishop’s throne, the organ, music manuscripts and the roof of the Choir was destroyed. The enormous East Window was only saved by desperate efforts of the city’s population.
It was only on Jonathan’s arrest near his birthplace in the North East of England, that it became clear he was no ordinary criminal.
He had been press ganged into the Royal Navy to fight against Napoleon, had made a dramatic conversion to Methodism and had been locked up in two lunatic asylums before escaping. He wrote his autobiography and sold thousands of copies before setting out for York.
In spite of his extreme views on religion. Jonathan was warmly regarded by his friends and they were reluctant to testify that he was mad, the only way he could escape the hangman’s noose for burning the Minster. Jonathan himself said he couldn’t be mad or God wouldn’t have told him to do it. It was up to Henry Anderson, the solicitor hired by his brothers, and surgeon Caleb Williams to save Jonathan’s life.
Jonathan Martin, the York Minster Incendiary is a five episode serial and was broadcast on BBC North Yorkshire from March 3rd to 7th 2003.
Cast and credits