University of York, Exhibition Square, York YO1 7EP

King’s Manor from Exhibition Square

The earliest wing of the complex of buildings now known as King’s Manor was once part of the richest Benedictine abbey in the North of England. St Mary’s Abbey was founded in 1088 and rebuilt from 1271 onwards on a site just outside the city walls. Completed in 1294, the new abbey included a cloister, chapter house, scriptorium, library, kitchen and novice’s accommodation. The buildings were largely dismantled in the years following Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 and the few remains of the abbey itself give little impression of its size and magnificence.

Simon de Warwick, Abbot of St Mary’s from 1258 until 1296, oversaw the abbey rebuilding programme which included a new Abbot’s House most likely constructed on the foundations of an earlier 11th-century structure adjoining the wall of the abbey precinct. The U-shaped house formed three sides of a courtyard open to the north. Sections of the 13th-century stonework can be seen on the lower parts of the current building. The upper stories are thought to have been timber-framed and this was replaced by brick when the house was rebuilt in the 15th century. Abbot Thomas Boothe was granted a Crown licence on 30 September 1483 to retain a local bricklayer, Richard Cheryholme, and his four servants to carry out the building work which was completed by the abbot’s successor, William Sever, Abbot of St Mary’s from 1485 to 1502.

Council of the North

The King’s Manor survived the Dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 and became the headquarters of the Council of the North. King Edward VI, the first monarch from the House of York, established the Council in 1472 to improve the system of government in the North of England. The Council was based first at Sheriff Hutton Castle and, later, Sandal Castle near Wakefield. Its power gradually waned under successive monarchs until the Council was re-established by Henry VIII in 1537 in response to the Catholic uprising of 1536, centred on York, known as the Pilgrimage of Grace.

In 1541 Henry had planned to meet his nephew, James V of Scotland, in York – the meeting did not take place – but the main purpose of the royal progress in that year was to strengthen the king’s authority in the North of England. On 16 September 1541, Henry VIII and Queen Catherine Howard, accompanied by a huge entourage, were met by the city’s officials at Fulford Cross and entered York through Walmgate Bar. In an act of contrition for the rebellion, the mayor and aldermen of the city begged the king for forgiveness, presenting the royal couple with cups of gold coins. No expense had been spared as the progress was designed to impress. It was the ‘most extravagant progress to occur in Henry’s reign’, according to Tim Thornton, with 4-5,000 horsemen accompanying the king and queen. In preparation for the royal visit, substantial improvements were made to King’s Manor where the Royal party stayed for 12 days.

After Henry VIII’s death in 1547, the future of the manor became more uncertain. In 1550, the south aisle of the abbey and a number of the other monastic buildings were demolished and the Abbot’s House itself was at risk. In 1562, when a possible meeting place for Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots was under discussion, Henry Manners, the 2nd Earl of Rutland, Lord President of the Council of the North (1561-3), told Secretary of State William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, that the manor was not fit for the purpose ‘as it has been so defaced that only one large chamber remains’. A major rebuilding campaign followed with the addition of a gallery, new residential accommodation and a service building.

Surviving documents show that, as building costs mounted, it proved difficult for the President of the Council to obtain the necessary funds from the Crown. On 8 September 1570, Thomas Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex (President 1568-72), requested £2-300 to finish off work commissioned by the Earl of Rutland and between November 1568 and April 1570 a further £400 was spent. Queen Elizabeth I authorised the felling of 100 oak trees from the royal Forest of Galtres immediately to the north of the city for use on the King’s Manor building works and the Earl of Sussex petitioned for a further 100 oaks. Further work was carried out by the Earl of Huntingdon (President of the Council, 1572-95) who created a Council Chamber on the first floor. An elaborate plaster frieze incorporating Huntingdon’s arms can be seen in the surviving chamber now, appropriately, named the Huntingdon Room.

The next monarch to visit the King’s Manor was James I who visited York following his accession in 1603. Improvement work continued throughout the 17th century. On 4 July 1616 Edmund, Lord Sheffield (President 1603–19), received £1,000 for building work. An additional payment of £3,500 was made in 1617 in preparation for a visit of King James that year. Extensive work was carried out; the kitchen was remodelled and updated, a new hall was created, elaborate stone doorcases were carved– these are now on the east elevation – and decorative fireplaces installed.

On the morning of 31 October 1628, a violent storm caused severe damage to the manor; seven chimney shafts collapsed and the eldest son of the Vice-President, Lord Osborne was killed. Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford (President, 1628–41) oversaw the rebuilding work, adding a new gallery and a chapel costing £1,000. Charles I stayed at King’s Manor in 1633 and 1639.

English Civil War

The Council of the North was abolished in 1641 and the manor suffered damage in the civil war in 1644. It was ‘spoiled and wasted’ by 1653 and repairs were put in hand to make it habitable. In 1667 the manor became the official residence of John, Lord Freschville, Governor of the City of York. From the late 17th century onwards, the King’s Manor was leased to a succession of individuals. Maintenance was a continuing issue. In 1690 the manor was described as ‘ruinous’. A survey drawing dated 19 June 1726 shows that King’s Manor had been much divided. Tenants included Sir Tancred Robinson, the artist Francis Place and Mr Lumley’s boarding school. Before this date the chapel had been converted into a banqueting hall for “assemblies” where the High Sheriffs of the county could entertain the nobility of York during the assizes and races. Assemblies at King’s Manor began in 1710 and the hall served this purpose until the completion of York Assembly Rooms in 1732.

As a school

The educational use of the manor would continue up to the present day. In January 1813, the Manor School moved to the King’s Manor and, by 1818, there were 440 boys. Some girls, including Anne Lister, also attended the school in the early 19th century. York architects J.B. & W. Atkinson extended the school in the late 19th century. In 1922 the Manor School moved to Marygate and the York School for the Blind, which had already occupied part of the building since 1835, expanded its premises. During the tenancy of the Blind School, a new headmaster’s house was built in 1899, standing to the east between the old manor buildings and the City Art Gallery, to the designs of Walter Brierley. In 1958 the City of York acquired the King’s Manor and in 1963-4 it was restored, modernised and extended for the University of York by William Birch & Sons under the direction of architects Feilden & Mawson of Norwich in association with Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall & Partners.

Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies

Now part of the University of York

From 1966, the principal academic department to use the Manor was the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies which specialised in architectural conservation studies. Patrick Nuttgens, architect, broadcaster and founding director of Leeds Polytechnic was director of the IoAAS, 1962-8, and Professor of Architecture at York University, 1968-9. Initially, the institute offered postgraduate courses for practising architects. Nuttgens hoped that the institute would grow into a fully-fledged school of architecture but his vision was never to be realised. Robert Macleod succeeded Patrick Nuttgens as director of the institute in 1969-73 and, in 1972, he was made professor at the age of 40. When it joined the university in 1963, IoAAS had premises in the redundant church of St John’s, Ousebridge. It moved to King’s Manor in 1966 and there taught its very successful Diploma in Building Conservation.

Joining the IoASS at King’s Manor in 1996 were two other university departments: the Department of Archaeology, which relocated from its former home on Micklegate, and the Centre for Medieval Studies. Martin Carver, Professor of Archaeology and head of the department from 1986 to 1996, oversaw the move. ‘After Ron Cooke, the new vice-chancellor, arrived in 1993, we had a choice of moving to a new campus or staying in town at King’s Manor, and we plumped for the latter. The city was our teaching aid and we needed to use a historic building to burnish our medieval brand.’ As Martin comments wryly, ‘The three departments shared the Manor in an historically appropriate manner; the architects in the Jacobean part, the Centre for Medieval Studies in the 19th-century Headmaster’s House, and Archaeology in Bernard Feilden’s 1962 prostrate brick building founded on the stone walls and vaults of the former abbot’s lodging.’

Managerial changes in 1996 led to the closure of the Institute but its library has remained in King’s Manor and the Department of Archaeology has continued to enhance and broaden York’s international reputation for the postgraduate study, appreciation and conservation of historic buildings, of which King’s Manor remains a precious example.


“The King’s Manor”, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in City of York, Volume 4, Outside the City Walls East of the Ouse (London, 1975), pp30-43. British History Online (accessed 11 April 2019)

Tim Thornton, ‘Henry VIII’s Progress Through Yorkshire in 1541 and its Implications for Northern Identities’, Northern History, Vol. 46, No.2, September 2009

For details of the MA Conservation Studies (Historic Buildings) at the University of York, visit

I would like to thank Martin Carver, Kate Giles and Gill Chitty for their contribution to this short history of King’s Manor.

© Richard Wilcock