Conservation, n. The preservation or restoration of archaeological artefacts, historical sites, works or art, etc., by means of specialized techniques  (Oxford English Dictionary)

Since the 19th century, York has been at the forefront of conservation practice in the UK. The city’s built heritage has provided the material for major conservation reports such as those of Lord Esher in the 1960s, and Ove Arup in the 1980s. The city itself has consistently sought to balance the needs of its heritage assets against those of its inhabitants. In the latter part of the 20th century, the City Council through its professional conservation staff has provided advice and guidance to residents, business and developers against a backdrop of rapid legislative change, strategic planning and an increasing interest in historic environment amongst the general public. Many local Amenity Societies and charities such as York Civic Trust, York Conservation Trust and York Archaeological Trust have also made an important contribution to protecting, conserving and understanding the city’s unique cultural heritage. See this page for a description of York’s special character.   The city has become the natural home for the regional headquarters of many organisations involved in the conservation and management of the historic environment, from English Heritage to the National Trust and the Council for British Archaeology. Its special qualities have led to the creation and development of a centre of excellence for the conservation research of and the management of cultural heritage, at the Department of Archaeology, in the University of York.


This contribution to ‘The Knowledge’ project is concerned with providing access to sources of knowledge about ‘conservation’, particularly the conservation of the historic environment of York.

It is aimed at several audiences including those seeking specific information to inform conservation work on historic properties and buildings, as well as those who simply want to find out more about the city’s conservation resources. Links are provided both to official sources of data and to research resources and projects which might be of interest.

Conservation in York: Official Bodies

The City of York Council’s Directorate of City Strategy has overall responsibility for planning advice and guidance, building control and conservation. Its website provides information about heritage assets, including conservation areas listed buildings the city.

This is a really useful starting point for anyone thinking about working, or making changes to the historic environment. The website also links to the UK Government’s Planning Portal online, which is a really useful source of information for the public, professionals and local authorities themselves.

A suite of important policy documents under development in Spring 2012 should provide important frameworks for future development in the City of York. These are the Historic Core Conservation Appraisal approved by CYC at the end of November, 2011 and the draft Local Development Framework (which was due to become the Local Plan).  The aim is a portfolio of strategic documents managing change in the city for the next twenty years or so.

Historic England

Historic England (formerly English Heritage) is the official body responsible for advising the Government on understanding, valuing, caring for and enjoying the historic environment. Their website facilitates access to a series of useful research resources on conservation, including:

Heritage Gateway where you can search for both local and national records about historic sites and buildings, and archives and records associated with them:

The site also links to the National Heritage List, the official list of listed buildings, sites and monuments.

The site also contains the Heritage At Risk Register for the north-east of England

City of York Conservation Areas Advisory Panel

There is no website for the Conservation Areas Advisory Panel. However, minutes are made public through Planning Committee papers in relation to planning applications considered at the relevant Planning Committee meeting.

The York Conservation Areas Advisory Panel was set up in May 1969 and is empowered to advise the Local Planning Authority, through its Planning Committees, on the effect various proposals referred to it by the planning department may have on the character or appearance of listed buildings and designated conservation areas. Although it is serviced by Council Officers, the Panel is not regarded as a Council Committee. Its decisions are advisory in nature and cannot be construed as legally binding on the Council or any other organisation.
Membership of the Panel consists of appropriately qualified professionals and individuals nominated by:

  • York Civic Trust
  • York Georgian Society
  • Yorkshire Architectural and York Archaeological Society
  • Royal Institute of British Architects
  • Yorkshire Philosophical Society
  • The York Guild of Building
  • Two individuals nominated by the Council

York Conservation Societies

There are a number of local societies which play an active role in advising and lobbying the City Council, although they are independent from it. They are:

York Civic Trust

The aim of York Civic Trust is to “protect and enhance York’s architectural and cultural heritage, to champion good design and to advance the high place which York holds amongst the cities of the world”.

Founded in 1946, the Trust plays an active role in supporting research into conservation, including its involvement in Lord Esher’s report of 1966 and current conservation initiatives, such as ‘the Knowledge’ project. The Trust has played a leading role in many of the city’s celebrated planning cases, including the closure of Deangate, the Coppergate II enquiry, and the Terry’s site, details of which can all be found on their website. The Trust has also funded the practical conservation and restoration of buildings such as Fairfax House and the Mansion House.

The Trust maintains an active programme of events and lectures and membership is open to the public. It also publishes on various aspects of Georgian architecture and culture and has an Annual Report and Review.

York Georgian Society

York Georgian Society was funded in 1939 to promote the preservation and care of Georgian buildings in and around York, while fostering the study and appreciation of them. The Society’s remit extends beyond architecture and the crafts associated with building to include the arts, culture and society of the period. The Society organises a lively programme of visits to Georgian buildings throughout Yorkshire and a series of winter lectures for members, guests and visitors. Its activities are recorded in an illustrated Annual Report

York Conservation Trust

The aim of the York Conservation Trust is to “to preserve for the benefit of the townspeople of the City of York in the county of North Yorkshire and of the nation at large, whatever of the English historical, architectural and constructional heritage may exist in and around the City of York aforesaid in the form of buildings of particular beauty or historical, architectural or constructional interest”.

Founded in 1945, as part of the legacy of Dr John Bowes Morrell and his brother Cuthbert, the Trust now owns and some 100  historic buildings in the city, which are a combination of residential and commercial lets. It has also produced a Historical Properties Walking Guide of the city.

York Consortium for Conservation and Craftsmanship

The York Consortium for Conservation and Craftsmanship is association of people in York and its surrounding area who are actively engaged or interested, in the conservation of the cultural, historic and artistic heritage, or the skills associated with conservation. It seeks to promote the skills, knowledge and capabilities of those involved with conservation in the city, and encourages and facilitate the training of more practitioners in the theory and skill of conservation.

One of the useful aspects of the York Consortium is a list of practitioners involved in consultancy in the conservation field.

York Guild of Building

The York Guild of Building was founded in 1954 to encourage communication between the many different sections of the construction industry and professional organisations within the city, and represents all the skills which have connections with the construction and maintenance of buildings. The Guild is committed to the advancement of design, management, science and craft in building and the encouragement of a better understanding of the problems and achievements of those engaged in building and many of its members also have strong interests in conservation. It supports training such as the School of Construction at York College. The Guild of Building also demonstrate their commitment to York history by performing in the Mystery Plays:

Historical and Philosophical Societies

York boasts a number of active historical and philosophical societies, many of whom have an active interest and involvement in the history of conservation.

YAYAS: Yorkshire Architectural and York Archaeological Society

The Yorkshire Architectural and York Archaelogical Society was founded in 1842 “to promote the study of ecclesiastical architecture, antiquities, and design, the restoration of mutilated remains, and of churches which may have been desecrated, within the county of York: and the improvement, as far as may be within its province, of the character of ecclesiastical edifices to be erected in the future”. Since its foundation the Society has been actively involved in many campaigns to protect the city’s heritage, including The Shambles Area Committee.  YAYAS maintains an active programme of lectures and excursions, and publishes the journal  York Historian. Membership is open to the public.

Yorkshire Philosophical Society

The Yorkshire Philosophical Society was founded in 1822 and was responsible for founding the Yorkshire Museum and Botanical Gardens in 1830. Its primary aim is to promote public understanding and involvement in the academic disciplines of the natural and social sciences.

The Society delivers a programme of over twenty lectures a year, held in the Tempest Anderson Lecture Hall,which is part of the Yorkshire Museum in York, which was originally built by the YPS. The Society also organises social event and excursions for its members. It also publishes an annual report, publications relevant to the Society’s interests and makes awards and grants to school pupils and students for academic achievement. Membership is open to the public.

National Amenity Societies

There are many other Amenity Societies whose members play an active role in York’s local history and conservation groups and who organise local visits and lectures (although not based in York). These include:

Georgian Group

Victorian Society

The Twentieth Century Society

Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB)

SAVE Britain’s Heritage

Churches Conservation Trust

Churches Conservation Trust Established in 1968 under the Pastoral Measure: Ecclesiastical as the ‘Redundant Churches Fund’.  The Churches Conservation Trust is the leading charity protecting historic churches at risk. To date, the CCT has saved over 340 buildings, which attract over 1.5 million visitors per year. In York, the CCT is the guardian of Holy Trinity, Goodramgate , but also plays an active role in supporting conservation crafts, research and understanding in the city.

Researching Conservation

Although other areas of this resource deal explicitly with archives, it is worth noting that major collections relevant to conservation are contained within the city’s archives and libraries.

A useful national guide to local archives is the website Access to Archives

Many of York and North Yorkshire’s local archives are linked to this resource which you can search with keywords relevant to a site, building or individual.

York City Libraries and Archives

York City Libraries and Archives are held within the Libraries and Archives Department of York City Council. They include documents, maps, pictures and photographs of the city, as well as the City’s civic records and engineers’ records, which might inform conservation research. Their website provides information about the collections, how to access and use it, as well as links to other York-based projects such as:

Imagine York – an online collection of York photographs, drawn from the Archives

The History of York – fantastic resource which charts the historical development of the city from prehistory to the present day.

The Borthwick Institute for Archives

The Borthwick Institute for Archives is one of the biggest archive repositories outside London. It houses archives from all around the world, from the 12th century to the present day. This includes ecclesiastical records of the York Diocese, parish records, probate records, as well as the city’s Health Archives, the Atkinson-Brierley architectural collection and industrial records such as the Rowntree Archive. Many of these contain photographs, plans and documents relating to the city’s architectural heritage. The BIA has considerable expertise in the conservation of archive sources.

York Minster Library.

The Library holds the extensive historic printed collections of the Dean and Chapter of York, as well as a modern reference and lending library.  The library holds more than 120,000 books. Collection strengths include local history, early York printing, Civil War tracts, ecclesiastical art and architecture, theology through the ages.

Modern books include theology, church history and the history of the Minster and city.

Conserving Paper and Objects

Although conservation in York is often associated with the historic environment and buildings, the conservation of objects and collections is also of relevance to ‘The Knowledge’ project. Organisations and charities involved in object conservation include York Museums Trust and York Archaeological Trust.

York Museums Trust

YMT is an independent charitable trust established in 2002 to manage the museums and gallery service previously run by the City  of York Council.  See below for the York Castle Museum, Yorkshire Museum and York Art Gallery.

York Castle Museum

York Castle Museum is one of Britain’s leading museums of everyday life. It shows how people used to live by displaying thousands of household objects and by recreating rooms, shops, streets – and even prison cells. Its collections include not only costumes and textiles, military history and particularly social history which have been awarded ‘designated’ status for their national and international importance. It has considerable expertise in the conservation of objects.

Yorkshire Museum

Founded in 1830 by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, the Yorkshire Museum is now at the heart of the Yorkshire Museums Trust. It houses collections from archaeology, astronomy, biology and geology and has recently been the subject of an £2 million HLF-funded restoration and development project. Its collections have been awarded ‘designated’ status for their national and international importance and it has considerable expertise in the conservation of objects.

York Art Gallery

The York Art Gallery is not only a fantastic collection of paintings, decorative arts and studio pottery but also a paper archive of over 17,000 drawings, watercolours and prints.  These include over 4,000 views of the city by artists such as Henry Cave, John Harper and John Browne.  1,200 of these formed the core of local collector Dr W A Evelyn’s collection, purchased from him  in 1931.  It re-opened after major development on 1 August 2015.  Its collections have been awarded ‘designated’ status for their national and international importance. It has considerable expertise in the conservation of paper, paint and drawn records.

York Archaeological Trust

Founded in 1972, York Archaeological Trust is an independent charity which has an international reputation for its investigation of the past for the benefit of present communities and future generations, undertaking professional and commercial work in archaeological recording, excavation and research. It has particular expertise in the investigation of deeply stratified and well-preserved urban archaeological deposits of historic York.  It runs the award-winning JORVIK centre,  DIG, a learning resource centre, the medieval townhouse of Barley Hall, the Richard III Museum in Monk Bar and the Henry VII museum in Micklegate Bar. There is a membership organisation, Friends of York Archaeological Trust, which offers free membership to these attractions and also has a programme of lectures, walks and visits.

YAT’s specialist Conservation laboratory expert advice and guidance in object conservation and finds research.