Keeping Up with the Wilkinsons

Every year we award two dissertation prizes to students of the University of York Department of Archaeology for submissions connected with historic buildings. Judged by the Department of Archaeology faculty, one prize goes to an undergraduate in support of their course fees for continued study; the other is awarded to a student who has completed their MA in Historic Building Conservation.

This month, York Conservation Trust’s Architect Guy Bowyer had the pleasure of presenting the York Conservation Trust MA Dissertation Prize to Allyson Butler, for her winning dissertation Keeping Up with the Wilkinsons: public and domestic spaces in the 18th century.

Allyson’s work gives us a fascinating insight into 18th century ‘polite society’, theatre life and the power shifts between public and private spaces.

“The Tate Wilkinson House (TWH) is a Grade II listed building located on Duncombe Place, York. In the 18th century, the building was the home of theatre manager Tate  Indistinguishable from the street, the TWH is directly connected to the adjacent Theatre Royal (TRY). As such, the connection between the public theatre building and domestic house provides new insights into the social performance and material culture of different building types. Through a building biography approach, a survey of the extant building and analysis of documentary and illustrative evidence revealed that the connection between the buildings was even more apparent in the 18th century. Analysis of movement within and between the 18th century buildings therefore  lluminated the complexity of interaction between the TWH and TRY, showcasing tensions between public and domestic buildings in this period…

“… It becomes evident that control over movement was crucial for maintaining power, with the subversion and restriction of expected movement patterns ultimately undermining social relations. Therefore, the link between domestic and public buildings allows for new insights into how public and private spaces were understood within the 18th century.”

Keeping Up with the Wilkinsons: public and domestic spaces in the 18th century. Abstract, A. Butler 2022

We asked Allyson about her work:

What first attracted you to Tate Wilkinson House?

"I am really interested in the ways that buildings tell a story - in particular, unpacking how ideological, cultural and social norms are expressed through the construction and manipulation of space. With the advent of polite society in the 18th century, I am fascinated with how public spaces were constructed to enact the display of polite society and the ideological nuances surrounding contemporaneous understanding of public and private during this period. This led me down a path of exploration into 18th century public buildings in York. After initial discussions with Matt Jenkins and Dav Smith at the University of York regarding the Theatre Royal York, it became apparent that the Tate Wilkinson House was intrinsically linked to the theatre; yet, the connection between the buildings in the 18th century had not yet been researched in great depth. This sparked my interest as I was able to develop my research around the complexity between public and private spaces, allowing me to, ultimately, disseminate a new understanding of the Tate Wilkinson House in the 18th century."

Ultimately, what would you like to be doing in the historic buildings sector?

"I strongly believe that buildings are a valuable piece of material culture in the archaeological record. Not only do they provide us with new insights into the past, but understanding them allows us to make informed decisions about their future. I am extremely fortunate to have found a job with Historic England after the completion of my degree, where I get to help contribute to new research into the built environment and help protect England’s heritage for future generations."

Is York a good place to be based?

"York is a fantastic place to be based if you’re interested in historic buildings. Firstly, the city itself is so rich with history and provides an excellent platform to learn about historic buildings and gain hands on experience. Secondly, the Department of Archaeology at the University of York is phenomenal. In particular, Kate Giles, Dav Smith and Matt Jenkins who run the MA Historic Buildings program are amazing at what they do and leaders in their field. I am so grateful for the opportunities they afforded to me and their expertise throughout my time at the university."

Having already secured a role with York based Historic England, Allyson may return to the University for a PhD related to York Theatre Royal and the role of women in the development and management of Georgian theatres. It will focus on two women central to the early evolution of York Theatre Royal: Mrs Keregan, patron of the first permanent theatre building, and Jane Wilkinson, wife of York Theatre Royal’s influential 18th century manager Tate Wilkinson.

Read Allyson’s dissertation in full and learn more about Tate Wilkinson House on our Theatre Royal page.

Listed and listing ...

Plans are afoot to repair aspects of Grade ll listed Tate Wilkinson House.

Did you spot the ‘leaning’ telephone box in the photograph? Yes, this too is ours. Completely safe and currently home to a defibrillator, we are working on how we can give it a more upright demeanour.

More as it happens.

Allyson receives her award from Guy, watched over by one of our founders Dr John Bowes Morrell.

Tate Wilkinson House, Duncombe Place.

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