Cuthbert Morrell House

Victorian extension to York's influential Blue Coat School

This complex of red brick buildings on Aldwark forms the 19th century extensions to York’s Blue Coat School, established in St. Anthony’s Hall in 1705. It is named in honour of Cuthbert, one of the Morrell brothers who established Ings Property Company in the mid 1940s, a forerunner to York Conservation Trust.

Educational provision for less privileged children took a major step forward through this initiative, when the City Corporation established the Blue Coat School for Boys in the St. Anthony’s Hall in 1705. This was supported by many benefactors, not least the Archbishop of York John Sharpe, his wife Elizabeth Palmer, the lord Mayor of York Charles Redman and the Dean of York Henry Finch, brother of the hugely influential Secretary of State, Daniel Finch, 2nd Earl of Nottingham. The main sponsors agreed a subscription of around £200 per annum and land was given to start an endowment.

The aim was to take in orphans and impoverished children of the Freemen of York. Only boys, each child was registered as a child of a Freeman irrespective of their background and this gave them, when adult, the chance to become a Freeman of York themselves by right of patrimony. A similar institution, the Grey Coat School for Girls was established around the same time, firstly in Marygate and then in Monkgate, just outside of the Bar.

The initial intake was 40 boys, enrolled from the age of eight and taught to read and write, to “caste up accounts” and sometimes tutored in the art of seamanship (especially during the war of the Spanish Succession and at other times of conflict). At the age of 13 or 14 the boys were bound for seven years to a suitable trade or sent to serve in the navy where initiative and courage was rewarded with promotion. The distinctive uniform of blue coat, yellow stockings and round hat was based on the uniform of Christ’s Hospital School in Greyfriars, London. Seen about the town, the boys were a visible reminder of how a charitable educational initiative could benefit the population of York and several other endowed schools followed.

In 1780 a new wing was added on the east elevation, designed by the architects, JB & W Atkinson, probably best known for their design of the County Hospital, off Monkgate. The wing created a new boundary for the playground, with a single storey section to the north for privies or toilets. The school bell still survives in the yard, but sadly no longer used for its original purpose.

By the 1818 the number of pupils had risen to around 70 and were fast outgrowing the confines of St. Anthonys Hall. Fortunately, in 1850 the school received a bequest of £2,000 from York philanthropist, Dr. Stephen Beckwith, and this allowed the school to expand.

A second building was added, along Aldwark from the corner of St. Anthonys Hall, designed by another York architect, Walter Brierley in 1887, successor to the John Carr practice. It incorporated elements of an earlier eighteenth house and contained a drying room, a larder and dormitories above.

On the outside of the Aldwark elevation, Brierley, perhaps best noted for his design of Scarcroft School, used glazed terracotta bricks to articulate the window openings, introducing arched pediments on the upper floors and simple skirtings at ground floor level.

The 20th century saw many changes, not least the inclusion of education for the Grey Coat girls on the site, plus an isolation hospital and gymnasiums. After World War II, however, the school was closed, as an endowed school it failed to qualify for inclusion in the 1944 Education Act and the pupils were dispersed to York’s state run schools.

In 1952 York Civic Trust, keen to prove to the Secretary of State for Education that York was a worthy candidate for a new University, established the Borthwick Institute for Historical Research in the complex. This and other initiatives proved successful, but the Institute eventually moved to a purpose-built archive on the York University campus at Heslington.

York Conservation Trust acquired the whole site from the City in 2006 and the York Archaeological Trust moved in. St Anthony’s Hall is now currently leased to Trinity Church and its delightful gardens are open to the public in daylight hours.

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47 Aldwark

Historic England Grade ll listed building