History of York Civic Trust

Early days

The Trust was founded at the Mansion House in 1946 by four men — John Bowes Morrell, Oliver Sheldon, Eric Milner-White, and Noel Terry —  who saw the potential dangers that could beset an historic city immediately after the war, when there was a prevailing ‘spirit of renewal’.   These founder members had experience in various fields including the Church and commerce, but above all they had a passion for York. They intended that the Trust should have a wider remit than preservation alone, and hoped it would assist in schemes to improve the amenities in the city.  From that time onwards, we have sought to “Promote Heritage —  Shape Tomorrow”

The postwar period was a time when serious planning about the city’s future was underway, as you can see from this article ‘A Plan for the City of York (1948)’ 1948-Plan-for-the-City-of-York-final.  A fundamental aim of the Trust was to work with the City Council to help and offer ideas and assistance.

Gifts and Grants to the City

Through the decades, the Trust has made numerous gifts to the city.   We have restored and gilded the gas lamps around York Minster; we have installed commemorative plaques in streets; we have bought pictures for the Art Gallery, curtains for the Theatre Royal, and a new robe for the Lord Mayor;  we have repaved St Helen’s Square; and in the 1980s we paid for a full restoration of the Mansion House (the home of the Lord Mayor of York).

Shaping the City

At the national level, the Trust’s report, written by our longstanding member June Hargreaves, advocating the creation of Conservation Areas became a concept which was incorporated within the Civic Amenities Act 1967.   This seminal report Historic Buildings Problems of their Preservation by June M Hargreaves 1964  now forms an important tool in conservation law in England and further afield.

In the mid-1960s York was chosen as one of four historic towns to study the issues of conservation. This report was later to be known as the Esher Report, 1968. The Trust joined the City Council in contributing towards the fees involved. The influence of that report was to bring huge benefits to the city and fully justified having participated in Lord Esher’s Study.

Throughout its life the Trust has commented on planning applications submitted to the City Council and has aimed to be objective whilst being free to express concern at proposals which would be detrimental to the character of the city. The proposals that involved most effort and time have so far been for schemes adjoining Clifford’s Tower, for instance concerning a scheme aimed at making this site a retail focus  which provoked a public inquiry in 2002. The Trust provided substantial evidence in opposing that scheme which in 2003 was refused by the Secretary of State.  The Castle Gateway area remains very much on our agenda.

Pedestrianisation

Stonegate was the first pedestrian street in York, an outcome much influenced by the York Civic Trust.  The closure of Deangate, stopping traffic running alongside the Minster, was a campaign undertaken by the Trust, which after many frustrating years of effort culminated in the road being closed in 1989.

Fairfax House

Restoring Fairfax House in Castlegate and thus providing a home for Noel Terry’s collection of Georgian furniture must be regarded as central to the Trust’s achievements. This not only accommodated the magnificent collection but also restored a mid-eighteenth century house which displays all the elegance and craftsmanship of that rich period in our history.  Opened in 1984, it is one of York’s important visitor attractions, and has its own website at  www.fairfaxhouse.co.uk

Seventy Years and counting!

In 2016 The Trust celebrated its 70th birthday (See the York Press of 22 July 2016.) and was selected by the Lord Mayor of York as one of his charities.  We are open to all: the only qualification is to want to keep York a special place!