St Anthony’s Hall and Gardens

Cursing friars, wandering pigs, York’s Blue Coat School and a hidden garden

In 1400, a group of mendicant, or “begging”, friars were granted an ‘indulgence’ by Pope Martin V and founded a hospital on the Horsefair north of York’s City Walls. Committed to supporting the poor, this ancient order had discovered a treatment for Ergotism - a fearful skin disease known as St Anthony’s Fire. Allowed to raise funds in the City, it’s reported the good brothers were often to be found wandering the streets threatening to curse anyone refusing to donate to their cause. York’s populace also had to sidestep the filth left behind by their freely wandering herd of pigs.

By 1444 the friars needed larger premises and, probably in partnership with the City Corporation, acquired the site of the present St Anthony’s Hall and Gardens on Peasholme Green - the meadow where the peas grow. Construction of the first phase was complete by 1453 and a second six bay extension with adjoining aisles was begun in the 1490s. This extension included a more sophisticated arch-braced roof and an aisled undercroft, which can still be seen today. 

You’ll find some interesting carved bosses decorating the intersections of the ribbed ceiling. In the aisles and stairwell, an angel bearing the shield of a donor; a green man; a hart or stag; a fat jolly alderman, a woman with medieval headdress and a couple bound together with a wimple. In the main hall the painted and gilded bosses feature armorial crests and a spirited representation of one of those wandering pigs, worn as a badge by the friars. 

By 1554 the hall had come under the complete control of the City Corporation and was being used by many of York’s smaller guilds. In 1623, no less than 53 guilds were contributing to its upkeep. It was also the location for York’s Triennial Feasts that all citizens could attend on payment of a fee. This was widely abused with people hiding away in the smaller rooms days beforehand to avoid payment.

At this time the adjoining field was used for archery practice and cloth-weaving was introduced at one end of the hall, as the Corporation attempted to tackle levels of poverty in the City. By 1627 the St. Anthony’s Guild and Hospital were formally dissolved.

During the English Civil War the building was used as a gaol for Royalist prisoners and then a House of Correction until 1730. The remains of the cell windows can still be seen at ground floor level. In 1705 part of the hall was fitted out for use as the Blue Coat School. A charitable institution for poor boys, it was intended for 40 boys to learn handicrafts, reading, writing and arithmetic. The boys were also expected to undertake a seven year apprenticeship at sea, in husbandry or manufacturing for “the benefit of the public”. Girls had their own similar institution on Monkgate called the Grey Coat School. Remarkably, the Blue Coat school operated on the site until 1946.

Instrumental in establishing the University of York, in 1953 St Anthony’s Hall became home to the Borthwick Institute for Historical Research, now the Borthwick Institute for Archives. In 2004, the Institute moved to a purpose-built building next to the J B Morrell Library on the University’s current campus.

In 2008 the Trust acquired the Hall and extensive restoration work was begun, including underpinning the walls. Officially reopened in 2010 by the then Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu, the Quilters' Guild moved in. Offering a home to their National Collection, the Guild also opened a museum and put on regular exhibitions and workshops for children and adults. With over 800 items in the Collection, it includes the earliest known dated British patchwork – the 1718 Silk Patchwork Coverlet. Sadly, in 2015 the museum was deemed no longer viable; however, the public are welcomed to exhibitions throughout the year and the Collection may be viewed by appointment. The Guild now share the building with Trinity Church York, whose Presbyterian congregation use the upper floor for regular worship and community events.

Discover more about St Anthony's Hall

St Anthony's Hall
Peaseholme Green

Historic England Grade l listed building

St Anthony’s Hall Gardens

A quiet and peaceful idyll in the heart of York

When the Trust acquired St Anthony’s Hall in 2008, it included a small schoolhouse that was part of a Blue Coat School, a disused printing workshop and a large unkempt garden overlooked by the 500,000 or so people that annually walk York’s magnificent city walls.

With wider public benefit in mind, the Trust also decided to reclaim and revamp the garden, choosing a scheme submitted by Annette Parkes and her students from Bishop Burton College. Seeking to highlight the garden’s close links with the medieval Hall, Parkes and her students based their design on heraldic patterns and divided the space into distinct planting areas.

At the entrance is a large sandstone shield providing the symbolic link with the Guild of St. Anthony. Beyond, in the central courtyard, are transparent grasses that shimmer in the light, whilst the scent of thyme and lavender catch the air and tactile plants such Stachys byzantine, or lamb’s ear, encourage visitors to enjoy a sensory experience. The central wavy iron sculpture mimics the grasses and adds height and segregation, whilst allowing glimpses through to the structures beyond.

Several of the seats provided for the public have been dedicated to the memory of the founders and former trustees of York Conservation Trust, as well as one donated by Michael Bell, the last caretaker of St. Anthony’s Hall and The Borthwick Institute. The planting around the charming summerhouse and seating area creates a marginal woodland setting with acanthus, red-berried Skimmia and varieties of Viburnum, plus plants like Astrantia and Astilbe, which add a lighter touch to the backdrop of the woodland and city walls. In the centre of the rising ground is a water rill that runs down to a trough flanked by a mass of white arum lilies all set within a sea of yew mounds and box hedging.

With the aim to create a year-round structure and interest, evergreens such as architectural ferns and specimen trees populate the slope. These are surrounded by a profusion of ground-hugging gentians, Primrose and Epimedium, also known as Bishop’s Hat and Horny Goat Weed, which form a pleasing carpet amongst the dappled shade of the mature trees. Seasonal interest is provided by the beautiful bell-shaped Christmas rose. The result has made St Anthony’s Hall Garden a hidden, peaceful idyll, enjoyed both by many residents and visitors to York.

Today, the Workshop is home to the highly regarded Arras Restaurant. Within the garden, the York Ghost Merchants currently host a pop up Dispensary, which only opens to the public when their shop at no. 6 the Shambles gets too busy. The Old School House is home to University of York social enterprise Thin Ice Press which supports traditional printing methods.

St Anthony’s Hall Gardens is fully accessible and open to the public during daylight hours.

Discover more about St Anthony's Hall Gardens

St Anthony Hall's Gardens
Peaseholme Green

2009 York Design Award for Conservation/Re-use, New Build and Open Space/Public Realm. 

Architect: Richard Parkin
Garden Design: Annette Parkes