King’s Manor, Exhibition Square, York YO1 7EP

Now part of the University of York, King’s Manor was originally the Abbot’s House of St Mary’s Abbey. As the headquarters of the Council of the North, it was the official residence of the President of the Council and played host to visiting royalty. Henry VIII, Charles I and James I all stayed there. The coat of arms above the main entrance is that of Charles I who stayed at King’s Manor in 1633 and 1639.

The Coat of Arms over the entrance to King’s Manor, Exhibition Square.

As part of the celebrations to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the granting of the city of York’s charter, the coat of arms was restored in 2012. Ron Cooke, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of York, was the driving force behind the initiative which formed part of Reinvigorate York, a programme of works to improve the city’s public spaces. Following a detailed condition survey and architectural paint research, the stonework was repaired and repainted. In an earlier restoration by York Civic Trust, carried out in 1972, the cartouche was recarved by the renowned York architectural sculptor and carver Dick Reid and the paintwork reinstated. The more recent work was carried out by Hirst Conservation on behalf of the University of York.

To ensure the treatment had been successful and all materials had cured properly, the second phase of work involving the redecoration of the coat of arms was delayed for 10 months, taking place from August to November 2013. Traditional lead-based paint was used following the colours and design of the 1970’s restoration. Finally, gilding was carried out in 23¾-carat gold using loose and transfer gold leaf. 24-carat gold leaf is 100% gold; 23¾-carat gold, containing a small amount of alloy, is particularly suitable for outdoor gilding.

Restoration process

Restoration process The restoration was undertaken in two phases. First, from June to October 2012, research was carried out into the stone type and pointing mortars used and the degraded and failing layers of paint were removed using materials that would not leave any residue. Following the removal of the paint, the condition of the stonework was assessed and extensive repair and consolidation work carried out. Repairs were undertaken using lime-based materials and included consolidation using nanolime, a relatively new product which puts calcium carbonate back into the stone without introducing materials which would be incompatible with the paint finish. The apex stone to the pediment above the coat of arms was found to be beyond repair and replaced with magnesian limestone.

Heraldic symbols

The royal coat of arms of Charles I depicts the emblems of France, England, Scotland and Ireland. The central shield is quartered depicting, in the first and fourth quarters, the three passant guardant lions of England quartered with the fleur-de-lis of France; in the second quarter, the rampant lion and double tressure, flory counter-flory (decorative border) of Scotland; and, in the third, a harp for Ireland. On the left is a crowned statant guardant lion, the dexter (right hand of the bearer) supporter of England, and, on the right, is a unicorn, the sinister (left hand of the bearer) supporter of Scotland. The two beasts hold lances with the flags of St George and St Andrew respectively. Considered in legend to be highly dangerous, the unicorn is chained to harness its power to the Crown. An unusual feature of the arms is that, instead of a crest of a lion passant crowned, there is a regal crown.

Depicted in the stylised greenery on which the lion and the unicorn stand are the Tudor rose, thistle and shamrock, the emblems of England, Scotland and Ireland respectively. Surrounding the shield is the Garter circlet inscribed with the motto of the Order of the Garter: Honi soit qui mal y pense (Shame on him who thinks evil). A mystery surrounds the carving of one of the letters of the royal motto Dieu et Mon Droit (God and my right): the “n” is reversed. It is unlikely that this was a careless mistake; perhaps it is a secret message which will never be deciphered.

© Richard Wilcock

photos: Rachel Semlyen