Garforth House, 54 Micklegate YO1 6LF

Run by the Community of the Sisters of the Church, St Margaret’s Independent Grammar School for Girls moved into No.54 Micklegate, one of York’s finest eighteenth-century townhouses, in 1912. The school closed in 1968.

Originally established as the Church Extension Association, the Community of the Sisters of the Church, founded in 1870 by Emily Ayckbowm (1836-1900), is an international Anglican order of women taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. In the late nineteenth century, the Sisters established a network of schools and orphanages throughout England. They were also active overseas and, by the mid-1890s, were working in Canada, Burma, India, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Christian education

The Castlegate Higher Grade School was established by the Sisters in York in 1890 and, in 1891, 102 girls and 83 infants were attending. Two mistresses and two teaching assistants taught the curriculum which included music, domestic economy, cookery and book-keeping. The school was fee-paying but, from 1892, received an annual government grant. Whilst remaining ‘faithful to the traditions of the Religious life’, the Sisters aim to explore ‘new ways’ of working within communities. As well as their pioneering work in Christian education and child care, the Sisters also minister to vulnerable adults caught up in prostitution, drug or alcohol addiction and homelessness, to people with physical disabilities and psychiatric issues and to elderly people.

In July 1905, in order to gain religious freedom in teaching, the Castlegate Higher Grade School was withdrawn from the jurisdiction of the Board of Education and closed. The 248 pupils were moved to other schools where they could be accommodated as, that year, the North Eastern Railway had closed its Locomotive Works in York, relocating manufacturing to a larger new facility at Darlington. The removal of railway workers and their families to Darlington caused a decrease in the number of school places required in the city. The Sisters reopened the school as St Margaret’s Girls School in September 1905 with only 80 pupils.

In 1912 the corporation purchased the Castlegate premises and Castlegate Council School opened in January 1913, remaining there until 1954. St. Margaret’s moved into No.54 Micklegate and, in 1925, there were 115 girls on roll. Extra accommodation was leased at No.55 Micklegate. In 1957, pupil numbers comprised 188 girls, aged from 5 to 17 years, and 10 boys under 8 in the infants.


54 Micklegate

Micklegate mansions

Running from Micklegate Bar to Ouse Bridge, Micklegate was the main entrance to the city from London and, in the 18th century, several of Yorkshire’s most prominent families built new townhouses in this principal thoroughfare. The Garforth family, wealthy merchants and bankers of York, owned property on Micklegate and, by 1736, William Garforth, Governor of the Merchant Adventurers’ Company, 1719-21, had acquired No.54. There is a portrait of William at Merchant Adventurers’ Hall with the inscription: “Wm Garforth Esqr. Late Gouernvour of this Company, in his life time, gave Five pounds a year forever, to be paid out of a House in Micklegate, towards the Maintenance of the Widdows, in our Hospital, 1722”. Following the death of William Garforth in 1746, his nephew, the Revd Edmund Dring of Askham Richard, inherited a vast fortune, said to be £100,000, from his uncle on condition that he changed his surname to Garforth.

On his marriage to Elizabeth, daughter of the Hon Thomas Willoughby of Birdsall, in 1750, Edmund Garforth commissioned one of the county’s leading architects, John Carr, to remodel Askham Richard Hall. Carr proposed that the old hall should be demolished but his client wanted to retain the principal rooms. Despite this, Carr’s extensions and alterations were considerable. He added a new dining room and drawing room to the main house, designed an extensive new service wing and, in addition, a new stable block and coach houses. In 1801, Carr acquired Askham Richard Hall and spent his retirement there until his death in February 1807. The hall was rebuilt in 1889 and has now been demolished.

Garforth House

Following his marriage, Edmund Garforth also required a new townhouse in York. Although there is no firm documentary evidence, it is most likely that John Carr was commissioned to design Garforth House; the style is similar to Carr’s other known work in York including Fairfax House and Castlegate House and he was already working for Edmund at Askham Richard. A number of other houses in Micklegate are attributed to Carr including Micklegate House which was built for the Bourchier family of Beningbrough Hall. Presumably, Edmund inherited No.54 Micklegate in 1746 and, by 1755, he had also acquired No.52. He was, therefore, able to demolish the two houses to be replaced with a more impressive mansion. Confirming the completion date, a lead rainwater pipe on the rear elevation bears the date 1757 with the initials of Edmund and Elizabeth Garforth and the Garforth crest, a goat’s head couped.

Built of red brick with stone quoins and string courses topped by a triglyph Doric eaves frieze, the five-bay elevation reflects the arrangement of the internal rooms. To the left is the main door with its finely detailed pedimented doorcase flanked by two wrought-iron lampholders. Originally there was a balancing entrance door on the right which led to the servants’ accommodation but this has been replaced by a window. The three-bay centre of the façade projects slightly forward and rises to a pediment incorporating an oculus, an eye-shaped window. Carr’s floor plan is unusual and does not follow the standard plan for Georgian townhouses of this type. Circulation follows an H-shape on the ground floor with a lateral central corridor which is repeated on the first floor. The entrance hall leads to the main staircase at the rear of the house, lit by a large Venetian window on the landing. This is balanced by the servants’ staircase on the other side of the house. On the first-floor, a large central saloon overlooks the garden.

The interior of the house is remarkably well preserved; there is much fine panelling and plasterwork and many of the original fireplaces survive. Following the closure of St Margaret’s School, the property became offices. In recent years, however, the house has been restored and returned to its original use as one of York’s most important private residences.

Sources for St Margaret’s School

Van Wilson, The Best Years of our Lives, Secondary Education in York 1900-1985 (York Archaeological Trust, York, 2010)

P.M. Tillott (ed) Victoria County History of Counties of England. A History of Yorkshire: City of York (Oxford, 1961).

St Margaret’s School © Pat Hill

Sources for Micklegate Mansions

‘Secular Buildings: Micklegate’, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in City of York, Volume 3, South west (London, 1972), pp68-96. British History Online, [accessed 25 April 2018]

Nikolaus Pevsner and David Neave, Yorkshire: York and the East Riding (London, 1995)

Brian Wragg, ed. Giles Worsley, The Life and Works of John Carr of York (York, 2000)

Micklegate Mansions © Richard Wilcock