Fairfax House is a Georgian town house in the centre of York, very close to Clifford’s Tower, that has been restored by local craftsmen engaged by the York Civic Trust to show how it would have looked when it was first occupied in the 1700’s by the Catholic aristocrat Charles Fairfax (9th Viscount Fairfax) and his daughter Anne. Their main residence was Gilling Castle, 30km north of York, but they lived in the city during the winter months.
The house was created in 1762 by local architect John Carr, who redesigned a pre-existing building on the site and created a new interior.
Portrait of John Carr by Sir William Beechey Source: Wikipedia
It was principally intended to be a dowry to attract potential suitors for Anne Fairfax. However she never married and she sold the house when her father dies in 1772. It passed through various hands until 1919 when it was turned into a dance hall and the entrance foyer for a cinema. After the cinema finally closed in the 1980’s it fell into disrepair until it was rescued by the York Civic Trust in 1982 who started the process of restoration.
The most notable features of the house are the magnificent stucco work on the ceilings and coving of the main rooms and the ceiling, coving and walls of the main staircase. This is thought to have been created by Giuseppe Cortese, a Swiss stuccoist. He is also thought to have created the stucco ceiling in the dining room in the Treasurer’s House, near the Minster, that we also visited.
Unfortunately it was not permitted to take photographs of the interior, but there are plenty of pictures on the House’s website. Although they don’t do justice to the decoration, they need to be seen “in the flesh” to be fully appreciated.
It was interesting to compare Fairfax House with the restored Georgian Houses we’ve visited in Dublin and Edinburgh. The Dublin House was more modest and far less lavishly decorated, its owners being upper middle class. It was smaller and less grand. The Edinburgh house, having been owned by a member of the Scottish aristocracy John Lamont, 8th Chief of the Clan Lamont, and also used as a town house when he wasn’t residing on his country estate, was similar in style. However the decoration was minimal – the house was much plainer. This was because Lamont didn’t have enough money to pay to have the interior “tarted up”.