York Walks /2


Photographed in March 2004

Sign reads: St Saviour's Parish, 1842 Sign for Aldwark and Merchant Taylors' Hall

Above: Signs on the wall of the former chapel of St Anthony's Hall, at the Peasholme Green end of Aldwark.

The housing development in the Aldwark area is admired as an example of how to create attractive modern dwellings in a historically sensitive area. It was, as the sign (right) tells us, designed to reflect Lord Esher's recommendation that a return to living within the city walls should be encouraged. In the report, Esher describes Aldwark in the 1960s:

'Its forlorn character is a surprise to every visitor who penetrates into it. This has been due partly to the destruction by 19th century backyard industry and 20th century office blocks of residential amenities, partly to 'planning blight'.'

- Lord Esher, 1968

Information plaque, Aldwark. Click to enlarge

The new building had to work around several historically significant buildings, including the Merchant Taylors' Hall.

Aldwark: a variation of ancient and modern buildings  

So much in a small space. Shame about the signpost (!) – but behind it, on the left, newer buildings, then a glimpse of the city wall, then on the right the historic Merchant Taylors' Hall, which is also pictured below.

The hall dates from the late 14th century, but was later encased in brick, in the late 17th and early 18th century.

At one time the hall appears to have been hidden by buildings, cleared in the mid-20th century:

'The York Merchant Taylors Company has removed the old tumbledown buildings which for so long stood between their Hall and the street, and has commenced to carry out an extensive restoration scheme . . . the hall will stand revealed as a very attractive example of York's medieval treasures.'

C B Knight – This is York (1954)

  Merchant Taylors' Hall

But in 1968, Esher's judgement was that 'the present forecourt of Merchant Taylors' Hall is too large for this modest but vital building.' I think I agree with Lord Esher. Those cars in particular are rather out of place.

Merchant Taylors' Hall

It has a long history of hosting memorable events:

'I was accompanied with all the officers of the garrison to Merchant Taylors' Hall, where the retiring and incoming Lord Mayors, all the aldermen and common council, received us with the waits of the city at our entrance into the hall, and treated us to dinner very splendidly, where we debauched a little too freely.'

Sir John Reresby, in 1687

Hospital plaque, Merchant Taylors' Hall

In the 18th century there were all kinds of unusual entertainments in this hall:

'In January 1748 it saw the staging of "a variety of rope dancing and tumbling by Mrs Garman, Mr Pedro and Others". The "others" included Mr Dominique who, twice a week, Wednesday and Saturday, "beat a drum upon the stiff rope". Mr Pedro was billed to "perform on the stiff rope with a wheelbarrow and a child in it" followed by "a variety of new tumbling by the Russian boy"'

Ronald Willis – Portrait of York (1982)

I can't follow that really, so time to move on, back into the street called Aldwark. The street presents a mixture of architectural styles, including the impressive Oliver Sheldon House (below) alongside new build housing and a fragment of apparently historic wall. The planting too is sympathetic and well cared-for.

Information plaque, Oliver Sheldon House Oliver Sheldon House in Aldwark
Aldwark development and preserved section of wall A view along Aldwark
One of the courtyards of residential development off Aldwark

Above and left: Images of Aldwark, March 2004. This area has obviously come a long way since it was described in the sixties as a depressing and derelict part of town:

'silent, deserted, its last Georgian houses falling into decay, its half-empty workshops and warehouses awaiting clearance.'

Lord Esher, 1968

At the end of Aldwark, approaching Peasholme Green, several older buildings remain, including the ancient St Anthony's Hall, just visible, with its white limestone, at the end of the road. Unfortunately also visible is the horror shown below (right). Hilary House replaced the Salem Chapel, demolished in the 1960s. Its front, facing into St Saviourgate, is hideous (so much so I've never managed to get around to taking a photo of it), and its back view, shown here on Aldwark, is even worse.

View down Aldwark towards Peasholme Green

Hideous Hilary House, back view

I don't think it's fair to leave you with an image of Hilary House to end this particular page, so I revisited on a sunnier day and photographed St Anthony's Hall, at the end of Aldwark.

St Anthony's Hall on the corner of Aldwark and Peasholme Green St Anthony's Hall

Also the end of Aldwark, just past Hilary House, is a converted former Methodist chapel. Just around the corner is St Saviourgate.