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Sir Thomas Herbert’s House, Pavement
More than half a century ago, a Birmingham architect entrusted with the task of restoring this handsome property in Pavement described the house as “dejected and shabby” and “rather Dickensian London in character.” At that time, as a number of contemporary photographs show, the front was plastered over, with imitation quoins, window jambs and sills painted on the plasterwork. When the plaster was removed, the timber framing was found to be almost intact and in a good state of repair.
The architect who directed the restoration on behalf of an insurance company was Francis W. B. Yorke, FRSA, FRIBA. He first visited the house on 22nd July, 1924, and the work was completed on 13th January, 1926. Recalling his close connection with the property nearly 30 years later, he said that in the mid-twenties the house’s significance was little realised in this country, except by a small coterie of York antiquaries. However, according to a letter published in the York Herald of 12th May, 1925, the house was mentioned in current American guide books and was frequently visited by tourists from the USA.
At the time of the restoration the house was in use as a draper’s shop with a warehouse in the building at the rear in Lady Peckitt’s Yard. Above were dwellings which, when renovated, proved to be a charming example of domestic timber-framed work. Despite the citizens’ apparent apathy, the scheme did not pass without comment. The city had lost a number of its ancient buildings, and the intentions of the new owners of the Herbert House were apparently questioned and challenged.
Fragmentary wall-paintings were discovered in what is supposed to have been the Banqueting Room. Was it in this room that members of King Charles I’s retinue were entertained during the royal visit to the City in 1633, and the king himself on a second visit in 1639? The occupant at this time was Roger Jaques, Freeman of the City in 1618, Chamberlain in 1625, Sheriff in 1628 and Lord Mayor in 1639. Knighted by Charles and elected MP for York, he was later dispossessed by the Commonwealth. Jaques was the great-great-grandfather of Laurence Sterne, the clerical wit and novelist of the mid-eighteenth century.
When uncovered, one of the main beams of this room was seen to carry a painted frieze of pomegranates and grapes incorporating a medallion containing a merchant’s mark with the initials “C.H.” very prominently placed. Several of the beams were ornamental with scrolls ending in a rose. Panelling had already been removed from the room, but panelling found in the first floor parlour was cleaned and restored, and the deficiency made good with panelling mostly taken from the second floor, where it had been masked by lath and plaster.
The principal feature of this apartment is magnificent oak fireplace in its original position. The east, south and west walls are lined with re-set early seventeenth century panelling. The brick fireplace opening is flanked by tapering wooden side pilasters carved with vine and grape motifs. They are topped by a moulded and scrolled bracket carrying Ionic capitals. The overmantels is of three bays separated by four free-standing Corinthian columns. Fixed to the front of a central projecting feature is a modern painted panel with the arms of Herbert. Each panel flanking this feature is carved with grapes and a monster’s head.
This use of the Herbert arms underlines the family connection with the building. The first documentary evidence of a property on the site dates from 1557 when a deed recorded the purchase of the house fronting Pavement from the Merchant Adventurers’ Company by Christopher and Elizabeth his wife in consideration of the sum of £54 10s. 8d. paid over a period of three years. Christopher Herbert had been made a Freeman of the City in 1550 and was already living in the house when he bought it. He was a City Chamberlain in 1557, appointed Treasurer of the Merchant Adventurers in 1563 and was Governor of the Company from 1573 to 1575. He was Lord Mayor of York in 1573. He died in 1590 and was buried in St. Crux Church which stood on the corner of Pavement and Shambles until its demolition in 1884-87 and its replacement by the present parish room. Part of the church’s north wall still remains. On his death his son, Thomas, was living in the property at the rear of the Pavement house, fronting on to Lady Peckitt’s Yard, which runs down the west side of the building. The name of the yard comes from the wife of John Peckitt (or Peckett), Lord Mayor of York in 1701, who lived in the house at the bottom of the yard. His daughter-in-law, Alice, was in possession at the time of her death in 1759. The property then passed to one of her granddaughters, Sarah Rhodes, and was later sold to John Wood, who died in 1868 and left it to his daughter, Eliza Hardcastle. She and her sons owned it until 1939, when it was bought by Cuthbert Morrell.
Sir Thomas Herbert, born in the house in 1606, was a true seventeenth century Cavalier, traveller and adventurer. He joined the Earl of Pembroke in a mission to the Shah of Persia in 1626-29, and described his experiences in his Travels (1634), a volume illustrated with engravings of “a batt hanging from a coco-tree” and a “tropique bird” in flight. The Shah gave him a Persian costume and a black pageboy, both of which figure prominently in a portrait of Thomas Herbert by an unknown artist. This painting was lost for many years, turning up in about 1926 when it was bought and identified by a descendant, George E. Herbert of Upper Helmsley Hall, near York. To mark his appointment to the Governorship of the York Merchant Adventurers’ Company some years ago, Mr. Herbert presented the company with a framed photographic copy of the Persian portrait.
Thomas Herbert at first supported the Parliamentary cause and accompanied Lord Herbert, who had been commissioned to receive the King’s person from the Scots at Newcastle. In 1647 he became an avowed Royalist and for the next two years was a constant personal attendant on the king. Though he remained in London until after the restoration of Charles II, he spent his last years in York, having left the capital at the onset of the plague in 1665. Back in his native city, he bought No. 9 High Petergate where he wrote his memoirs. Charles I gave him a silver watch with a face engraved with a rustic scene. Other gifts included the cloak that Charles removed from his shoulders on the scaffold in Whitehall in 1649 and a collection of books, among them a Shakespeare folio. Thomas died in 1681 and joined his ancestors in St. Crux churchyard.
An examination of the entire property in Pavement and Lady Peckitt’s Yard reveals that the block consists of three buildings, originally separate, but now connected. The main Herbert House is an early to mid-seventeenth century timber and brick building fronting Pavement. Under the south-west end runs an alleyway, Lady Peckitt’s Yard, and fronting this is the second house, of mid-sixteenth century date. Shortly after the building of the Herbert House the north-west end of the second house was destroyed and the gap filled by a shallow staircase block which was enlarged in the last quarter of the nineteenth century by a single-storey insertion. At the end of the lane where it joins the original road leading from Fossgate to the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, is the third house, also of mid-sixteenth century date. This was joined to the second house in 1660-70 by a linking range. At about this time the ground floor of the main Herbert House was altered to give access to Pavement to Lady Peckitt’s Yard. in 1869 a small house was added to the third house, replacing an older building.
Though the main house has twin gables, a drawing of 1827 by George Nicholson shows three gables, so it is possible that it originally included the block to the east now occupied by the Golden Fleece Inn.
The house at the bottom of Lady Peckitt’s Yard, which is brick with some timber-framing, was originally entirely timber-framed. Drawings by E. Rids dale Tote in 1917 show the first and second floors lined with seventeenth century panelling and each with a seventeenth century over mantel to the fireplace.
The metal plate reading “Sir Thomas Herbert, Bar., born in this house in 1606” which is now fixed at the west end of the main building, over the entrance to Lady Peckitt’s Yard, is a cast of a “rather incised wooden tablet”, which, in 1925, was fixed to the east end of the front elevation.
Some idea of the staircase block linking the first two houses may be had from H. Cave’s engraving of 1810 in the second edition of Picturesque Buildings in York, entitled Excise Office In The Pavement. Cave has shown a flight of eleven stone steps and a fascia board with arabesques. The doorway has a square wooden canopy over an angular head, the spandrels decorated with a coarse foliate design. Along the top is a frieze divided into equal parts, each part carved with a serpent emerging or being eaten by a monster’s head. Two pairs of numbers flanking the panels give the date 1648, and it is generally assumed that the whole block belongs to the same date.
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