In the early 1940s, during the second world war, and before the importance of building conservation became as well understood as it is today, Dr John Bowes Morrell and his brother Cuthbert began conserving medieval properties in York. Many at risk of neglect and disuse, the brothers believed the buildings were an essential part of York’s heritage and should be saved.
Bringing buildings back to life
Such was the brother’s sense of civic duty and pride, they wanted, not simply to conserve bricks and mortar, but to bring the buildings back to life, as family homes and business premises.
John was a prominent businessman in the newspaper industry, a Director of Rowntree & Sons and twice Mayor of York. In 1945, together with Cuthbert, he established Ings Property Company with seven properties. Profit, however, was never a motive. From the beginning, the brothers wanted to conserve buildings of “historic and cultural significance”, a sentiment that led to Ings Property Company becoming York Conservation Trust (YCT) in 1976 - the charitable organisation we operate today.
Over the years, we have added to our portfolio of buildings and, currently, York Conservation Trust has 76 properties, or groups of buildings.
Custodian and landlord
All of our buildings are acquired as freehold properties. We have also taken on particular buildings for a nominal sum, including York Theatre Royal from City of York Council. Because we are only focused on the long-term conservation interests of the theatre, it was felt that we were in a better position to be its custodian than the local authority, which has so many calls on its resources.
Today, the family of John and Cuthbert still form part of the YCT Board of Trustees and continue to support the ideals of the brothers. As a charity, conservation organisation and landlord, we play a crucial role in the life of York, its community and built heritage, working alongside our tenants and planning for the future of our vibrant city.