Monkgate, York YO31 7NS

Now converted into apartments, York County Hospital was designed by one of the city’s most prolific 19th-century architectural practices, J.B. & W. Atkinson. The hospital benefited from the charities set up by Lady Elizabeth Hastings who was a founding member of the pioneering Bath Mineral Water Hospital which was set up to provide free treatment for the sick and poor.

Taking the waters

Although Lady Betty was devoutly religious, she was well known in society, travelling to Bath for the season to take the waters. The popularity of the spa and its supposedly curative waters had attracted a large number of “beggars” who could not afford to pay for treatment. In 1716, Lady Betty together with Henry Hoare, banker to Bath’s Master of Ceremonies, Richard Beau Nash, proposed the foundation of a hospital which would provide ‘free treatment for the sick and poor of Britain and Ireland’. Nash arranged charity balls and collected subscriptions. The list of donors included most of the leading members of 18th-century society. But Lady Betty did not see her plans come to fruition; she died in 1739, three years before the Bath Mineral Water Hospital opened. Similarly, the hospital she planned in York, towards which she had offered the sum of £1,000, was not completed in her lifetime.

The site of the plaque by the front door of the County Hospital.

York County Hospital was founded in 1740 in a house in Monkgate. Funds came from a number of wealthy subscribers, including a legacy of £500 from Lady Elizabeth Hastings (1682-1739). ‘Lady Betty’, as she was known, was the eldest surviving daughter of Theophilus Hastings, 7th Earl of Huntingdon. At the age of 23, on the death of her brother, George 8th Earl of Huntingdon, she inherited a large fortune from her grandfather, Sir John Lewis of Ledstone Hall, near Castleford in West Yorkshire. She is said to have spent around half her annual income of in excess of £3,000 on charitable causes, founding schools, including those at Collingham, Ledston and Thorp Arch which still bear her name, and an orphanage for girls at Ledsham, a village close to Ledstone Hall.

Before her death, she established a trust deed to support a number of charities to be set up bearing her name. These charities still exist today. She also bequeathed the manor of Wheldale near Pontefract to Queen’s College, Oxford for the support of five poor scholars drawn from 12 named schools in the North of England. The value of this bequest was increased greatly when coal was discovered on the estate. Continuing the terms of her original will, the Hastings Trust today still offers scholarships at Queen’s College to students from schools in Cumberland and Westmorland, with senior scholarships awarded to graduates of the universities of Leeds, Sheffield, York and Bradford.

York County Hospital

In York, the accommodation soon proved inadequate and, in 1745, the hospital moved into larger premises also in Monkgate. For the next 100 years it remained the main hospital serving the city. By the early 19th century, the Georgian building could no longer cope with the demand and a competition for a new hospital on an adjoining site was held in the 1840s. York architects J.B. & W. Atkinson won the competition and the new County Hospital opened in 1851. Fifteen bays wide with a grand entrance arch topped by a Venetian window and sitting on a base of deeply cut rusticated stone, the building is one of the firm’s finest designs, exhibiting a high standard of craftsmanship. The balustrades on the two main staircases and the lamp standards in the forecourt are by York’s leading ironmaster William Walker.

There were further extensions to the hospital in the 19th century and it played a major role in treating the wounded in the Baedeker Raid of 29 April 1942. The institution relied on private donations, increasingly supplemented by fees until the formation of the National Health Service in 1948. In 1977, most of the medical services were transferred to the new York Hospital in Wigginton Road which had opened in 1976; an ante-natal clinic remained until 1980 in temporary buildings on the Monkgate site. After a period as the headquarters of Yorkshire Water, the building was converted into flats.

York architectural dynasty

The Atkinsons were one of Yorkshire’s most prolific architectural dynasties. Starting off in life as a carpenter, Peter Atkinson (1735-1805) became an assistant to John Carr and worked on many major projects including buildings for the Duke of Devonshire at Buxton and for the Lascelles family on the Harewood estate. In 1786, he was appointed steward of the property owned by York Corporation. When Carr’s health deteriorated towards the end of the 18th century, Peter took on increasing responsibility for projects such as Hackness Hall, near Scarborough (1797) and estate buildings for the 1st Earl of Harewood (c.1803). Carr’s expertise in the design and building of bridges was also continued by the practice.

When Carr died in 1807, his nephew, William, continued his uncle’s practice. However, William had no children and Peter Atkinson eventually took charge of the flourishing business. Carr’s restrained interpretation of Classicism had proved popular with the Yorkshire aristocracy and Peter continued in this conservative Georgian style until his death on 19 June 1805. He is buried in the churchyard of St Mary Bishophill Senior. His son, Peter Atkinson Jnr (1776-1843), became a partner in the practice in 1801, taking over on his father’s death in 1805. He also became surveyor and steward to York Corporation. Initially, Matthew Phillips was also a partner but this partnership was dissolved in 1819 and Peter Atkinson Jnr entered into a new partnership with Richard Hey Sharp which was dissolved in 1827.

Atkinson Jnr’s most accomplished buildings are in the Greek Revival style. However, for the Commissioners for Building New Churches, he built a large number of churches, primarily in Yorkshire, in an impoverished version of Gothic. The Commission had the task of building a large number of Anglican churches on a limited budget and budget constraints, not surprisingly, affected the quality of the architecture. Howard Colvin describes them as ‘somewhat dreary buildings with wide, bleak naves’. Atkinson Jnr’s two sons, John Bownas Atkinson (1807-74) and William Atkinson (1811-86), joined him in the practice. Retiring around 1833, he lived abroad and died in Calcutta on 13 January 1843. A portrait of Peter Atkinson, attributed to Martin Arthur Shee, is owned by York City Art Gallery. He is depicted holding a view of the Ouse Bridge (1810-20).

Victorian public buildings

The Industrial Revolution combined with the growth of the British Empire and expansion of overseas trade resulted in a building boom in the early 19th century. As the population grew and concentrated in urban centres, social issues such as poverty, inadequate housing and the health of the workforce could no longer be ignored. The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 and the County Police Act of 1839 resulted in a wave of new public buildings. J.B. & W. Atkinson designed a number of workhouses, the last refuge of the poor, the elderly, infirm or sick. In 1848, the practice won a competition for the design of York Union Workhouse, Huntington Road (1848-9). The remaining buildings are now student accommodation. Other notable workhouses by the firm include Skirlaugh Union Workhouse (1838-9), now offices, and Beverley Union Workhouse (1860-1), now converted to housing.

Restoration of historic buildings

In addition to new churches, J.B. & W. Atkinson was responsible for the restoration of a large number of existing churches in Yorkshire carrying out Victorian “improvements” which were to be denounced by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings founded by William Morris. In York, Atkinsons rebuilt the west tower of St Martin-cum-Gregory, Micklegate in 1844-5, rebuilt the south aisle of Holy Trinity, Micklegate in 1850, restored the south wall of St John the Evangelist, Micklegate in 1866, and rebuilt the east and south walls of St Michael, Spurriergate in 1821-2 and the north wall in 1867-8. In 1860, the firm rebuilt the 13th-century chancel of St Mary Bishophill Junior, work which was condemned in a contemporary account in the influential journal The Ecclesiologist as ‘an unintelligent and destructive restoration’.

Key buildings in York by the Atkinsons

Peter Atkinson
c.1789 No.18 Blake Street
1794 Monk Bridge
1804 No.51 Bootham. Built for Sir Richard Vanden-Bempde-Johnstone of Hackness Hall near Scarborough, MP for Weymouth (1790-6). The house is now part of Bootham School.

Peter Atkinson Jnr.
1802-7 City Gaol (dem. 1880)
1810-11 (Council Chamber, Guildhall)
1810-20 Ouse Bridge
1811-2 Foss Bridge
1811-2 Subscription Library, St Helen’s Square
1814 House of Correction (dem. c.1840)
1821-2 Nos.78-84 Micklegate
1824-7 Purey Cust Chambers, Dean’s Park
1827-9 Ann Middleton’s Hospital, Skeldergate. Now part of Middleton’s Hotel
1829 Layerthorpe Bridge

J.B. & W. Atkinson
c.1835 Nos.39-41 Micklegate. No.39 was the office of the practice from 1837 to 1851. Peter Atkinson Jnr lived at Nos.35-7 Micklegate from 1812
1837-40 Fishergate House, Fishergate for Thomas Laycock (1812-76), apothecary to York County Hospital in 1836. Laycock became a noted neurophysiologist. He moved north in 1855 to take up the post of Chair of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh and, in 1859, became Physician to the Queen in Scotland.
1839 Yorkshire and Agricultural and Commercial Bank, High Ousegate, on the corner of Nessgate.
1845 Institute of Popular Science and Literature, St Saviourgate. Now a Masonic Hall
1848-9 York Union Workhouse, Huntington Road
1850-1 St Paul, Holgate Road
1851 Nos.2-4 Museum Street
1857-8 St Paul, Heslington
1858 Nordic House, Holgate Road
1859 Nos.17-25 Ogleforth
1865 Dean’s Court Hotel, Duncombe Place. Originally three houses.
1872-4 St Clement, Scarcroft Road. Described by Nikolaus Pevsner as the ‘fiercest Victorian church in York’

The records of Lady Elizabeth Hastings’ Charities are held by the Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York

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

© Richard Wilcock

Photos: Rachel Semlyen