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Posted by: mike on Jan 21, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureHistoric York

The Principal's House, King's Manor, York

The Principal's House, King's Manor, York

When people think of the wealth of architecture and history in York, the Victorian period isn’t prominent.  Yet much of present-day York owes its appearance to the Victorians.

After all, it was in the Victorian age that York became a great railway centre and a major chocolate producer.

When I joined a Victorian Society South Yorkshire Group walk around York, the leader, Philip Wright, pointed out the Principal’s House (1900) at the King’s Manor, built when the site was occupied by the Yorkshire School for the Blind by Walter Henry Brierley (1862-1926).

Glancing at it, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was built in the seventeenth century, like some of the buildings around it – such is the subtlety and good manners of Brierley’s design.

Like John Carr of York and Francis Johnson of Bridlington, Brierley chose to practise in his home area, where he designed around four hundred buildings in the course of his career.

The reason he was labelled “the Yorkshire Lutyens” is obvious from his very last building, Goddards, completed in 1928 for Noel Goddard Terry of the chocolate dynasty.

From the summer of 2012 it’s possible to visit Goddards, now that the National Trust has moved some of its administration away from the building.  Opening times and visiting arrangements are at http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/goddards.

The Principal’s House and the other buildings at the King’s Manor are used by the University of York and are not open to the public.

The 44-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Historic York tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Aug 6, 2012

Category:Transports of delightHistoric York

National Railway Museum, York:  L&YR signalman training model

National Railway Museum, York:  L&YR signalman training model (1912)

It’s an interesting reflection on British culture that, in addition to a National Gallery and a National Portrait Gallery, we have a National Collection of railway vehicles – 280 locomotives and items of rolling stock, most of them distributed between the Science Museum in London, the Locomotion museum at Shildon, Co Durham, and the National Railway Museum in York [http://www.nrm.org.uk/OurCollection/LocomotivesAndRollingStock.aspx?pageNo=1&cat=All&comp=All&ipp=96].

The York museum has something for everyone.  I once took a school group there, and discovered the kids enthusiastically tracking the lavatory outlets on the Royal Train carriages.

NRM York, as it’s now called, started in a small way, built around the core collection of historic artefacts that came from the Stockton & Darlington Railway and its successors, the North Eastern and London & North Eastern Railways.  Gradually, the other three of the pre-war “Big Four” railways added items which ultimately found a home on the site of the York North locomotive depot, literally across the line from the city’s passenger station.

This location has been repeatedly transformed, in 1975 when the Museum opened celebrating the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, in 1990-2 when the main building was re-roofed to create the Great Hall and in 1999 when the site was extended to create The Works.

An ambitious new plan, NRM+, has been shelved, unsurprisingly, for lack of funds, and the existing displays and activities stretch between serious museum work such as the splendid new research facility, Search Engine, and popular exercises to increase footfall such as the Railfest gathering [http://www.nrm.org.uk/PlanaVisit/Events/railfest2012.aspx].

There is so much potential in this vast collection of transport memorabilia.  I’d particularly like to see the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway's signalman training model displayed with sufficient space to appreciate fully its scale and complexity.

It’s unfair to expect exciting new developments at a time when every pound counts.  All that matters is that places like the NRM survive to maintain their collections and give pleasure and learning to their visitors.

And the miracle of the NRM and the other great national museums and galleries is that they continue to offer free admission.

For that we should be grateful – and as generous as possible in support.

Posted by: mike on Aug 3, 2012

Category:Historic York

Fairfax House, York

Charles, 9th Viscount Fairfax of Emley (1700-72) had a hard life, despite his aristocratic status.  His first wife died less than a year after their marriage.  Of the nine children by his second wife, seven did not survive, and she died not long after her last pregnancy.  One of the two remaining daughters died at 17 in 1753.  His only surviving daughter, Anne, was twice engaged, but never married.

Probably in the hope of giving Anne a secure place in York society, Lord Fairfax purchased a property on Castlegate, and in 1762 commissioned the most prestigious Northern architect of the day, John Carr, to build the residence now known as Fairfax House.

After Anne died in 1793 the house passed through a succession of owners until 1865, when it became a gentlemen’s club (in the Victorian, rather than the modern sense).

In 1919 it was purchased so that a thousand-seat cinema could be constructed on the back-land.  The entrance was made through the next-door house, no 23, and Lord Fairfax’s house was incorporated.  The rear domestic offices, including the original kitchen, were demolished;  the drawing-room and saloon were amalgamated as a ballroom, and a first-floor bedroom became  lavatories.

Nevertheless, at the behest of an early York conservationist, Dr Evelyn, most of the interior features were safeguarded, and the grand staircase became a positive asset for the St George’s Hall.

Eventually, in 1980, the York Civic Trust took it on as a museum of eighteenth-century domestic life and a home for the valuable furniture-collection bequeathed by Noel Terry, the chocolate manufacturer.

The restoration was accomplished by another first-rate architect who chose to base his practice in North Yorkshire, Francis Johnson (1911-1995), a Classicist of subtlety and judgment.  [See the late Giles Worsley’s obituary – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-francis-johnson-1576378.html – and the website of Johnson’s successors’ practice:  http://www.francisjohnson-architects.co.uk.]

The tactful 1920s cinema foyer remains as a public entrance.  Much of the superb eighteenth-century plasterwork by James Henderson and Guiseppe Cortese remained sufficiently intact for restoration, though the busts of Shakespeare and Newton on the main staircase are replicas.  Similarly, the ironwork of the main stairs, by Maurice Tobin, is original, as is all but the bottom flight of the secondary staircase.  Of the public rooms, only the kitchen is a replica.

Francis Johnson knew where to find the best craftsmen to work in the eighteenth-century manner – Hare & Ransome (joiners) http://www.hareandransome.com, Bellerbys Ltd (interior decoration), W M Anelay Ltd (leadwork and stonework) http://www.williamanelay.co.uk/early.php, Dick Reid (carved woodwork) http://www.conservationyork.org.uk/html/reid.htm, Leonard Stead & Son Ltd (stucco) and Moorside Wrought Iron of Kirkbymoorside (wrought iron).

The Assembly Rooms gives the modern visitor the scale of grand living in Georgian York;  Fairfax House provides the style.  It’s a museum that feels like a home, and offers a rewarding couple of hours’ looking and learning:  http://www.fairfaxhouse.co.uk/?idno=720.   Even if it’s not practical to visit the house, visit the informative, erudite, beautifully organised blog, a classic of the genre, at http://blog.fairfaxhouse.co.uk.

The 44-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Historic York tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Aug 1, 2012

Category:Life-enhancing experiencesHistoric York

Assembly Rooms, York

The most magnificent eighteenth-century interior in York is the Assembly Rooms (1731-2), designed for grand public gatherings by the grandest architect of the day, Lord Burlington (1694-1753), who for a generation locked British building design into the classical Roman style promoted by the sixteenth-century Italian architect, Andrea Palladio.

Burlington’s Yorkshire residence (now demolished) was at Londesborough, from where he would naturally visit York for the assizes and the races.  His neighbours were clearly grateful to him for providing a decorous environment for social occasions:  “We entirely leave to your lordship to do in what manner you shall think proper.”

His lordship conceived the Great Assembly Room, as it was called, as a Vitruvian Egyptian Hall – in other words, Egyptian as understood by the Roman writer Vitruvius, interpreted by the Italian designer Palladio.

It is a truly magnificent space, 112 feet by 40 feet and 40 feet high, bordered by huge Corinthian columns, eighteen on the long sides and six across the ends, painted, marbled and gilded.  In daylight this toplit space is breathtaking;  at night, when sympathetically lit, it is magical.

Now it’s a restaurant, operated by the ASK Italian chain [http://www.askitalian.co.uk/#!/restaurants/york].

I’ve taken every opportunity to eat there because there’s no more elegant accessible eating place in the city, and I’ve regularly brought people there to be impressed.

Originally, there were tablecloths, and elegantly dressed staff, and baroque music on the PA system.

The last time I went the tables were bare and the chairs hard and modern.  All the waiters, male and female, were in denims and T-shirts.  The music was wallpaper.

The cheerful and welcoming staff were energetically hospitable.  They asked how we were so often they might have been working for the NHS.  When they were wrong-footed into a unscripted conversation they turned out to be warm and charming.

The maitre d’ tells me that all this is a marketing concept.  It’s called Milano.  Presumably it saves laundry bills while increasing footfall.  But it demeans the building.

The food is as excellent as ever.  For £13.95 my mate Richard and I had bruschetta classica (Italian bread with chopped marinated tomatoes), rigatoni di manzo piccante (pasta and meatballs) and apple rustica (essentially apple crumble).  This was the winter set menu, and will no doubt have changed with the season.

I’m imagine this admirable menu is on offer at every ASK Italian restaurant in the country.  I gather that wherever you eat it you sit on the same tables and chairs.

The furniture sits well in an ordinary building, like my local ASK Italian in Sheffield.  But there’s nothing anywhere like the York Assembly Rooms.  The building deserves appropriate dressing.

ASK Italian’s mission-statement says, “We want it to be amazing.  A restaurant that's fresh and bold.  With a passion for the details.”  To which I say, in York at least, bring back tablecloths (paper if necessary) and turn up the Vivaldi.

The 44-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Historic York tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Jul 30, 2012

Category:Life-enhancing experiencesHistoric YorkFun Palaces

Blue Bell, Fossgate, York

When my mate Richard and I have a day out together there’s always a problem period around late afternoon, when we struggle to find something to do.  The shops and tourist places start to close down, and it’s too early to dine in style.

In York recently we sandwiched the National Railway Museum between coffee, lunch and afternoon tea, and then spent an hour in the small but enriching York Art Gallery [http://www.yorkartgallery.org.uk/Page/Index.aspx].

Thanks to the Good Beer Guide [http://www.camra.org.uk/gbg] we came upon the Blue Bell, 53 Fossgate – easily missed, and unmissable.

It’s an utterly unremarkable-looking place until you step inside.  It has a bar and a smoke-room, neither big enough to swing a cat in, board-panelled from floor to ceiling.  There’s a real fire and a splendid choice of beers.  The old cliché about stepping into someone’s front room is entirely apt at the Blue Bell.

It seems odd that the Blue Bell is listed II*, until you read the English Heritage list description:  http://list.english-heritage.org.uk/resultsingle.aspx?uid=1257825.

Like many buildings in the streets of central York, the Blue Bell and no 54 next door have a timbered core, here dating back to the middle of the seventeenth century.  The jettied timber fronts were cut back and refaced sometime in the late eighteenth century.

At the end of the nineteenth century, when no 53 became the Blue Bell, an embossed front window was installed.  Since then, very little is changed:  the list description, without specifying a date, describes it as “the last C19 pub interior in York to survive intact”.

This is probably because it was continuously owned by the same family for almost a century until 1993.

Like the more famous “Nellie’s”, the White Horse Inn in Beverley, East Yorkshire, the Blue Bell has survived all the vicissitudes of the licensed trade through the twentieth century, so that it’s now a tiny treasure, an unlikely jewel in the crown of the historic heart of York.

And it’s a particularly good place for what in Yorkshire we call a “sneck-lifter”.  “Sneck” is the latch of a door or gate.  When you lift the sneck, literally, it lets you into warmth and hospitality.  When you sip your first pint (and your second), you’re ready to enjoy the next few hours.

Update:  Evidence that a quiet night is virtually guaranteed in the Blue Bell is to be found in this article in the Daily Mail (March 22nd 2013):  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2297549/The-Blue-Bell-York-axed-national-beer-guide-discriminates-non-regulars.html

The 44-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Historic York tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Apr 1, 2012

Category:Sacred placesHistoric York

St Martin's Church, Coney Street, York

The church of St Martin, Coney Street (otherwise known as St Martin-le-Grand) is a familiar and much-loved York landmark because of its overhanging clock surmounted by the figure known as the “Little Admiral”.

The actual clock is mounted in the tower, and the hands are turned by a drive-shaft that runs the length of the building.

The clock, the dials and the Little Admiral have been restored in order to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the “Baedeker” blitz which gutted the church and the Guildhall nearby, along with the railway station and the Bar Convent, and killed some 79 people on the night of April 28th-29th 1942.

The present-day clergy and parishioners dislike the name St Martin-le-Grand, which they dismiss as a piece of Victorian pretension:  http://www.stmartinsyork.org.uk/history/churchname.html

Certainly the church was grand, a mid-fourteenth century rebuilding of an earlier building, and it traditionally gained prestige from its proximity to the Guildhall and the Mansion House.

After the War, the decision was taken to rebuild only the south aisle of the gutted church, keeping the rest of the shell as a memorial garden. 

The outstanding restoration was carried out by George G Pace (1915-1975) between 1961 and 1968, and the church rededicated as “a shrine of remembrance for all who died in the two world wars, a chapel of peace and reconciliation between nations and between men”.

The stained glass of 1437, which had been removed from the west window before the bombing, was installed in the new north transept:  it depicts the life of St Martin.

The east window, in contrast, dates from c1965 and shows the night of the bombing.  It was designed by the artist Harry Stammers (1902-1969), instigator of the York School of Glaziers after the Second World War.

There is a well-illustrated description of St Martin’s at http://www.yorkstories.co.uk/churches/st_martin_le_grand_york.php.

The parish has a ministry of peace and reconciliation, affirmed by the coincidence that the feast day of St Martin is November 11th.  Current discussions about the work of the parish are outlined at http://www.stmartinsyork.org.uk/pdf/transcending_the_parish.pdf.  Other pages of the well-designed website http://www.stmartinsyork.org.uk provide details of regular services and the 70th Anniversary Service.

There are oral testimonies of the Baedeker Blitz in York at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-york-north-yorkshire-17872823 and images at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-york-north-yorkshire-17872824.

The 44-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Historic York tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Mar 30, 2012

Category:Sacred placesHistoric York

All Saints', Pavement, York

York has churches to spare.  There were forty-five of them in 1300.  Nineteen of these still stand, though only eight are used for worship.

They’re worth seeking out, because most have hidden treasures, and many have been so much altered that they are fascinating archaeological jigsaws.

Perhaps the most distinctive is All Saints’, Pavement, which stands higher than the surrounding streets, directly aligned on the Ouse Bridge.  Its lantern tower was an inland lighthouse, guiding travellers through the Forest of Galtres towards the city.  Now it’s lit as a war memorial.

Though the present building dates from the fourteenth century, the site has been used for worship for much longer – possibly back to the time of St Cuthbert c685 AD.  There was certainly a church in existence by the time of Domesday Book (1086).

This was an imposing cruciform church, with transepts and an aisled chancel, until the east end was demolished for road-widening in 1782.

It now contains the 1634 pulpit from which John Wesley once preached, as well as the fifteenth-century lectern and the 1688 Royal Arms from the nearby lost church of St Crux, which became structurally unsound and was demolished in the 1880s [http://allsaintschurchpavementyork.co.uk/StCrux.aspx].

The stained glass ranges in date from the fourteenth-century west window (transferred from the church of St Saviour), to four Victorian windows by Charles Kempe and a modern addition of 2002.

All Saints’ is the Guild and Civic church, with a ministry for the shops and businesses of the city-centre, and the regimental church of the Royal Dragoon Guards.

The parish clergy and congregation take pride in welcoming visitors.  There is a website at http://allsaintschurchpavementyork.co.uk/default.aspx, but it’s not necessarily up to date:  current services are posted at http://www.achurchnearyou.com/venue.php?V=18961.

There’s a positive “mystery worshipper” report at http://ship-of-fools.com/mystery/2009/1686.html.  The choir and the chocolate biscuits are particularly commended.

The 44-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Historic York tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Mar 28, 2012

Category:Sacred placesHistoric York

York Minster

York Minster is a symphony in stone – Tadcaster stone, actually.  The great church dominates the city from a distance and when you glimpse it through the streetscape.  It tells you where you are as you walk round the city walls, and it tells you where you’ve arrived when you pass north on the train.

The Yorkshire:  York and the East Riding volume of Pevsner’s Buildings of England comments, “it tells us a more consistent and complete story of the Gothic styles in England than any other cathedral”.

Throughout what we now call the Middle Ages it was a building site, rebuilt not once but twice between c1230 and c1472.  That’s as if we were now to see the completion of a building begun the year Captain Cook discovered Australia.

It’s likely that its builders at some point intended it to be bigger and even more dominant than it is.

Misjudgements in rebuilding work in 1407 caused the collapse of the central tower, which contained a belfry.

The replacement central tower is an oddity.  It’s only two feet higher, at 198 feet, than the western towers, which were built in the same period (south-west, 1432-56; north-west, 1470-4).

It has an oddly truncated appearance, abruptly cut off above the great windows which light the crossing within.

It seems unlikely that this huge structure would have been built simply to act as an empty lantern, but it’s never had a belfry:  the Minster’s bells have hung in the south-west tower ever since it was built.

Perhaps the fifteenth-century builders got nervous about the foundations, and decided that a peal of bells swinging around two hundred feet up might not be a good idea.

If so, their judgement was sound, as became clear in the mid-twentieth century when active settlement around the central crossing required a vast stabilisation programme, directed by Dr Bernard Feilden, between 1967 and 1972.

Huge medieval spires had a poor track-record.  Lincoln Cathedral used to be the tallest building in the world:  it had a 524-foot spire until it blew down in a storm in 1549.  The 493-foot spire of London’s Old St Paul’s Cathedral was destroyed by lightning in 1561.

It’s interesting to gaze at York Minster from a distance and visualise it with a taller central tower and perhaps a spire.  Even if they had been built it’s unlikely they would have lasted.

As with Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony”, we must be grateful for what we have.

Tourists are charged admission to York Minster [see http://www.yorkminster.org/visiting/opening-times-prices/], with the customary concession that you can enter free of charge to pray or light a candle.

The 44-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Historic York tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Aug 8, 2010

Category:Historic YorkCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

York Minster (detail)

York Minster, West front (detail)

John St John Long, the quack doctor who is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery [see Equestrian genii and Lapidary description], could have had an alternative, much less dangerous career.

One of his oil paintings, 'The temptation in the wilderness' (1824), belongs to the Tate Britain collection [http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ViewWork?workid=13062&searchid=25174].  Apparently, he spent the early 1820s as a painter of biblical subjects before turning to medicine.

His tutor was the apocalyptic painter, John Martin (1789-1854), a fascinating character who took time out of a commercially successful artistic career to support his eldest brother William's career as an inventor, to join in the controversy over how to solve London's sewage problem, and to care for his demented elder brother, Jonathan (1782-1838).

Jonathan Martin witnessed the murder of his sister, a trauma which he never overcame. At his confirmation he was "astonished at the wonderful size of the bishop", and took to an abusive correspondence with clergymen, who tended to exclude him from their churches because of his antics.  He was for a time a Wesleyan minister, and was locked up for threatening to assassinate the Bishop of Oxford.

One missive began, "Blind Hypocrits, You serpents and vipers of Hell, you wine-bibbers and beef-eaters, whose eyes stand out with fatness..." and another made the more sinister prophecy, "You whitent sea pulkirs...your Gret Charchis and Minstairs will cume rattling down upon your Gilty Heads.")

Perhaps someone should have kept a closer eye on Jonathan Martin.  On February 1st 1829 during evensong at York Minster he was apparently distressed by a buzzing in the organ, and concealed himself inside the building.  He started a fire, before escaping through a window, and succeeded in burning down the entire east end.  One of the bystanders remarked that the spectacle reminded him of one of John Martin's canvases, not realising that the sight was the result of the artist's brother's work as an arsonist.

Jonathan Martin was committed to an asylum for the second time in his life, and remained there until his death.

York Minster suffered further fires in 1840, when a workman's lamp set fire to the south-west tower, sending the bells to the ground "with a deep hollow sound" and gutting the nave, and again in 1984 when lightning set alight the roof of the south transept.

The south transept was restored by 1988.  Now there is a major campaign once again to safeguard the east end of the Minster.  See http://www.yorkminster.org.

The 44-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Historic York tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.


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