A New Phase for Herbert House

York Festival of Ideas

During the 2024 York Festival of Ideas, led by CEO Guy Bowyer and supported by Lizzie Taylor, Richard Fearnley and our wonderful student volunteers Jack Pearce, Miriam Samuels and Genevieve Rainey, a series of sell-out tours got underway in Herbert House, marking a new phase in the life of this extraordinary building.

York's most fascinating surviving Tudor building

An icon of York’s built heritage, Herbert House is in fact a complex of three post-medieval timber framed houses. One of York’s most fascinating and elaborate surviving Tudor buildings, home to four Lord Mayors and playing host to King Charles I on his 1638 northern tour, Herbert House and adjacent Lady Peckett’s Yard are an important part of York’s rich history. One of the earliest properties to be bought by founders JB Morrell and his brother Cuthbert in 1946, the building has been used as a radio and cycle shop, Clarke’s Shoes, Jones the Bootmakers, counselling services Relate and is currently home to York Gin.

The building underwent extensive repair in the 1920s under the direction of renowned architect FRS Yorke, which included an imagined remodelling the facade. Yorke was an early adopter of the modernist style and founder member of the Modern Architectural Research Group. This perhaps might explain his (then) innovative use of cement in his work on Herbert House, together with faux additions and the removal of several timber brace beams to create a more open space on the upper floor.

The sagging main crossbeam that you’ll see from the street is a result of several changes in the early to mid-20th century; the added weight of Yorke’s cement panels replacing disintegrating original wattle and daub sections; changes to the shop frontage and increasingly heavy passing traffic. The result of which meant that the building began to move forwards and downwards, sinking into the soft ground by at least 450mm at the front, giving rise to some seriously sloping interior floors. Underpinning in the 1980s has prevented further movement.

A focus for public engagement

After many years of consistent commercial use, Herbert House is now in need of complete and comprehensive repair and refurbishment. Ultimately, heralding a new phase for the building and a focus for public engagement and best practice in current conservation standards. The project will also bring the two-thirds of the building not currently occupied back into full use.

Over the course of the tours, we welcomed over 140 visitors, many of whom had waited years for an opportunity to explore previously unseen spaces and learn about the building’s heritage. Several shared their memories of the building; some had attended performances in the rear hall, others had worked in the building, and many had bought their children’s first pair of shoes from Clarke's.

As well as sharing the history of Herbert House, the team also welcomed ideas from attendees for the building’s future use. Suggestions included mixed use of retail and residential, educational, exhibition, museum, built heritage reference library, holiday apartments and event space. What became increasingly evident was the continuing fascination and curiosity around the building and an appetite for retaining public access. We hope that the forgotten spaces will no longer be used simply as ancillary spaces and stockrooms, leading to further potential dilapidation.

Education, conservation crafts and access are top of the agenda

We will be exploring all ideas and uses, and offering a means for public engagement and education is top of our agenda, before, during and after the forthcoming conservation work. Activities will be planned around the encouragement of conservation crafts involving local trades, apprenticeships and mentoring. We are currently planning a programme of engagement activity that will span 18 months and help shape the future use of the building.

The challenges of conserving what we have and addressing the need to provide efficient heating, light, insulation and noise control to make the building fully habitable will be considerable. As we have trialled in other buildings, we hope to monitor the thermal efficiency of Herbert House to assess and inform the need for any sustainability improvements.

Commencing in 2026, and with over £2 million required to cover the cost of repairs to fabric and services, this will be the largest project the Trust has undertaken for many years. We look forward to updating you as our plans progress.

Guy Bowyer conducts a tour to the top floor of Herbert House - the roof windows were added in the 1920s by architect Francis Yorke.

Guy and our team of volunteers from the The University of York welcome visitors and explain the history of the building.

Considerable repair and conservation is now required to bring Herbert House back into full use for the future.

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