Georgian York

York Georgian Society

Georgian York

The Georgian period saw a marked increase in York’s prosperity and a revival of its importance as a regional centre. Partly as a result of this, most of York’s public buildings date from that era. The prominent houses were either the town residences of County families at a time when the social season in York was as fashionable as it became in Bath a little later, or they were the homes of wealthy merchants and civic dignitaries. The Red House was so much admired by the City Fathers that they offered to buy it as a residence for the Lord Mayor during his year of office, but, being unable to do so, they commissioned the present Mansion House in St Helen’s Square, which was built between 1726 and 1732. Although the architect is not known, the design is based on the Palladian principles then newly in fashion, and echoes that of larger and more important buildings illustrated in Colen Campbell’s book Vitruvius Britannicus. The rusticated basement has five round-headed openings, one of which is used to take the carriage entrance on the line of Common Hall Lane, an ancient right of way. Inside, a fine staircase leads up to the State Room on the grand first floor, a magnificent apartment rising through two storeys and ornamented with Corinthian pilasters.

Grand Assembly RoomThe Assembly Rooms in Blake Street were built by public subscription to the design and under the detailed supervision of Lord Burlington, whose country residence was at Londesborough, twenty miles east of York. Burlington, both as a highly gifted amateur architect and as a discerning and bountiful patron of the arts, played a key part in initiating the Palladian revival in England. He modelled the great hall of the Assembly Rooms on Palladio’s design for an Egyptian Hall, with a close-set colonnade inside the walls and clerestory windows. A series of rooms grouped round it were used for weekly assemblies, games and refreshments. The present street front is not Burlington’s but was rebuilt to a completely new design by J.P. Pritchett in 1828.

Two particularly fine houses, both designed by John Carr, those of Viscount Fairfax and of the Recorder of York, Peter Johnson, stand in Castlegate, which was an important thoroughfare before Clifford Street was created. The judges lodged in a court off Coney Street and the present Judges’ Lodgings Hotel in Lendal was the house of the Royal Physician, Sir Clifton Winteringham. Another group of fine houses surrounds the Minster, among them the Treasurer’s House which, built in its present form in the seventeenth century, became in the eighteenth the town residence first of John Aislabie of Ripon and later of the Morritts of Rokeby.

Micklegate in the eighteenth century was indeed ‘The Great Street’, containing the town houses of the Bathursts, Bourchiers, Garforths, St Quintins, Bielby Thompsons and others. It was convenient as well as fashionable, for a short distance uphill through Micklegate Bar and over the Mount, was the Knavesmire where York society could watch the races from John Carr’s Standhouse, as did the Prince of Wales in 1789. Downhill and over the Old Ouse Bridge led to the Assembly Rooms, built by Lord Burlington in 1732, where balls and card parties whiled away the evening.

Header image: Detail from ‘Prospect of a Noble Terras Walk’, York, by Charles Grignion, etching and engraving, 1756 (© York Museums Trust: York Art Gallery. YORAG: R2510)