TV Historian, Dr Emma Wells, explores the illustrious history of Mansion House in York

in York

In the heart of St Helen’s Square, lies this rather understated yet radiant architectural gem hidden in plain sight amongst bustling city-goers. This is the Mansion House—or the official residence of the Lord Mayor of York.

(c) Rob Andrews

This area of the city has served as the site of governance for centuries. The first royal charter was granted by King John in 1212 in return for £200 and three riding horses. The independence bestowed on the citizens to conduct their own affairs as a result allowed them to elect the city’s first mayor within the year—and the city’s beginnings as host to many a royal guest.

Richard II was so taken by his visit to York in 1396 that he granted the mayor and aldermen full powers as justices of the peace while the city and its surroundings were dubbed a county of itself. As such, the mayor had become the king’s direct lieutenant—and he needed a fitting place to entertain as the nearby Guildhall was perceived as unsuitably archaic for hosting such significant civic guests. 

The Mansion House was subsequently built in the mid-1720s as the nation’s first civic residence, thirty years before London’s was even a thought. The approval for the new dwelling on Coney Street was given and a budget was set at £1,000 (though swiftly blown) for a prominent new building in the fashionable Palladian style.

Yet, whilst the architectural profession was in its infancy, and though often attributed to Lord Burlington, or possibly William Etty, to this day, the name of building’s architect has been lost to history. Whomever he was, he created a forward-thinking and elegant design, particularly when it came to the Minstrel’s Gallery which was home to the York Waites: the city’s own band of professional liveried musicians. It was also used by a string quartet, notably last in 2012, when the Queen paid the city a visit. 

Books by Dr Emma Wells

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