Duty, people and place

Dr John Bowes Morrell takes his place in De Grey House

Here at our York offices, we’ve taken delivery of a special painting. In our largest meeting room, a portrait of one of York Conservation Trust's founder brothers Dr John Bowes Morrell now presides over activity.

Kindly on loan from York City Council, our founder was painted by Henry Marvell Carr in 1951 following the last of his two tenures as Lord Mayor of York. Now displayed in the Bowes Room of De Grey House, his gaze out towards York Art Gallery and King's Manor opposite is a reminder of his immense contribution to the early days of conservation, the cultural life of the City, The University of York and the Trust’s continued connection to and support of academic excellence. An unwavering supporter of York and its citizens, JB Morrell's goal was always to improve and better the City, its future and the lives of the people who live here. Patient, and modest, declining a knighthood, he was made an Honorary Freeman of the City of York in 1950 shortly before this painting was produced.

“We have a wonderful heritage, a unique City - a beautiful City, combining as it does so much of the old with an active and progressive business life. The citizens of york have a double duty: to preserve the old that is worth keeping, whilst adding the developments required by modern civilisation … I am not concerned with a bigger City, I want a better one. Lovely as York is, it can be made still more beautiful with the growing years.”

JB Morrell, City of Our Dreams (1940)

King’s Manor

Looking across St Leonard’s Place from De Grey House, King’s Manor sits amongst the trees. Originally the Abbot’s House of St Mary’s Abbey built in 1270, with the exception of the small window near the entrance, much of what you can see today is a rebuilding from the late 15th century. After the dissolution of the monasteries this Historic England Grade I listed building became the home of the Council of the North and their President’s residence in 1561. Serving as a seat of government during the Tudor and Stuart periods, it was enlarged and extended. The Council was abolished in 1641 and the building's subsequent decline was due, in part, to Civil War damage. Owners sought to invest and support the building, in 1804, serving as the Manor School, Anne Lister attended as a boarding pupil and it was there she and friend Eliza Raine created the secret code that Anne would use in her diaries throughout her life. The building was also shared with the Yorkshire School for the Blind, which helped ensure its survival.

Acquired by York City Council in 1958, King’s Manor was then leased to the emerging University of York in 1963, housing the combined Borthwick Institute of Historical Research and Institute for Advanced Architectural Studies (IAAS). The IAAS and Borthwick Institute had previously been housed at St Anthony’s Hall, another of the Trust’s buildings, JB Morrell also played a fundamental role in the campaign to establish a university in York and position York as a centre for academic excellence. Currently, King’s Manor is the site of the University's Department of Archaeology with its renowned MA programmes in Historic Buildings and Conservation Studies. We actively retain strong links with the department, arranging hands-on skills training and awarding two academic prizes each year for outstanding work by students.

Henry Marvell Carr (1894 - 1970)

Henry Marvell Carr was born in Leeds and studied at Leeds College of Art and the Royal College of Art in London. A landscape and portrait painter he was elected to the Royal Academy and was also a prominent war artist for some years during World War ll with the First Army in North Africa and Italy. Winner of a gold medal in 1956 at the Paris Salon, he was a teacher at the Beckenham School of Art and his paintings were widely reproduced. The Imperial War Museum is home to several of his works. His book, Portrait Painting was published in 1952.

The campaign for The University of York

JB Morrell’s links to the University of York date from its inception, not least in his ability to provide a home for the campus at Heslington. Owned since 1708 by the same family, lastly Nicholas de Yarburgh-Bateson the 4th Baron Deramore, Heslington Hall became the HQ for RAF 4 Group Bomber Command during World War ll and the hall and land was bought by JB Morrell in the 1950s. Today, the JB Morrell library commemorates his immense contribution to the University and wider City of York. Sadly, he died in April 1963, a few months before students arrived on the new campus to take up their studies.

“ … a guardian of its treasures and an architect of what it might become.”

Oliver Sheldon on JB Morrell.

Inspired by JB's influential book The City of our Dreams, Oliver Sheldon, the Dean of York Eric Milner-White and Noel Terry joined JB Morrell in founding the York Civic Trust in 1946 in order to care for and curate York’s historic treasures and promote good design. The influential group were also the key movers in the campaign to establish The University of York.

Son of the City

Greatly enriched by his legacy and despite the its international reputation, quiet and unassuming, Dr John Bowes Morrell is little known outside York. Financially astute, diplomatic and dedicated, a son of the City, Katherine A Webb in her book, City of Our Dreams J. B. Morrell and the shaping of modern York (2019) writes about his unwavering commitment to the betterment of York and the life of its citizens:

“York was greatly enriched by Morrell’s legacy of achievements: many tangible cultural assets of modern York derive from his work. He contributed not only to the city of his day, but also to its future development - as a thriving university city, a flourishing and vibrant community, a desirable place to live, and a world class tourist resort, with a consciousness of itself as a ’special place’, and a recognition that its heritage is a precious asset.”

A direct result of the foresight and influence of his forty years' work on York City Council, York also benefits from: York Art Gallery, the Castle Museum, the conservation of the Shambles and creation of Shambles Marketplace, amongst other achievements.

Dr John Bowes Morrell, one of the founders of York Conservation Trust and Lord Mayor of York, 1914 - 1915 and 1949 - 1950. Portrait by Henry Marvell Carr, 1951.

The Bowes Room at De Grey House with views across St Leonard's Place out to the York Art Gallery and King's Manor.

King's Manor today.

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