Christmas in York

In 2018 and 2019 we spent Christmas away from home, staying in Haarlem where our daughter was living at the time. We’d enjoyed the experience but last year’s lockdown meant that Christmas 2000 was spent at home in the house watching the telly, reading, and eating and drinking. This year, though, we decided to get away. Despite the resurgence of the lurgy with the Omicron variant, we were all fully vaccinated and boosted and decided we’d get away, booking a rather nice apartment in Fossgate in the centre of York. Like Haarlem, it’s an old city with plenty to see (although only a couple of hours drive from home – M62 willing, of course!) while being careful to minimise the risk of picking up the virus.

Our apartment on Fossgate. The top 2 floors of an old Georgian building above a shop

We arrived late afternoon the day before Christmas Eve returning the day after Boxing Day. After a relatively trouble free drive over the Pennines, we unloaded and then set out to explore the streets of York. It was the last day of the Christmas market and we managed to catch the last few hours before it shut down.

Christmas tree on Parliament Street
The Christmas market

After a mooch around the market and town centre we returned to the apartment and settled in, adding a few Christmassy touches (I was surprised that the owners hadn’t put up a few decorations)

After a few hours relaxing we went out again, but not so far. We’d booked a table in a Polish restaurant, the Blue Barbakan, just a few doors down the street.

Afterwards we had a short stroll around the now quiet streets

The Shambles. It’s usually jammed with tourists!
Colliergate
The MInster

On Christmas Eve I was up fairly early before the rest of the family and popped out to stock up with some supplies for our traditional Christmas Eve buffet. Later when everyone one was up we set out to explore the city in the daylight. Son and daughter did there own thing but we all met up later for a coffee.

Low Petergate

West end of the MInster

St William’s College
One of the many Medieval churches
St Crux Parish Room
The Kiosk – an excellent coffee shop just across from our apartment

We returned to the apartment and spent the late afternoon watching the live stream of the service from the Minster while preparing and then eating our meal. Lots to eat and plenty of leftovers for Boxing Day!

Everyone (with one usual exception!) was up bright and early on Christmas morning. When everyone was up it was time to open our presents. A few hours later it was time to prepare our Christmas dinner. No turkey for us – we’re not fans and – but we’d bought some good quality steaks. We hadn’t been sure of what the cooking facilities would be like so had opted for a relatively easy approach. The steaks would only need frying and we’d bought mainly pre-prepared veg that only needed heating in the oven.

My Christmas dinner main course – with a smoked wild salmon starter preceding and followed by Christmas pud

Afterwards we sat and chatted before going out for a short mooch around the quiet streets to walk off some of the carbs! Most of the evening was spent eating, drinking and watching TV. Not much different than at home but the change in surroundings made it a nice change. And later on I went out for a short walk around the quiet streets.

Tree dressed up with lights in York Castle square
The Merchant Adventurer’s Hall at night
Bootham Bar
The Minster central tower
East end of the Minster

Boxing Day was spent on more sightseeing along the walls and around the streets of the small city.

The Merchant Adventurer’s Hall
Monk Bar
On the walls
Looking towards the Minster from the walls
Foundations of the original Roman Walls
The Merchant Taylor’s Hall

A number of the shops were open for the post Christmas sales.

We returned to the apartment and spent the evening finishing off the food and drink left over from the previous two days while watching Christmas films on TV before turning in for our last night of our short Christmas break. We’d enjoyed it – it was good to get away for a change of scenery. All being well we’ll be doing it again in 2022.

York “Treasure Hunt”

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Saturday – the shortest day, the winter solstice. This year it was also our “family day” out, a Christmas tradition ever since the children were small (and they’re not so small now). When the children were small we would take them to a pantomime, Christmas show or a visit to a museum a few days before the “big day” . Like most kids they used to start getting “hyper” during the build up to Christmas and a day out was a good way of diverting them for a while.We’d usually have a meal out as well.

When our daughter turned into  a sulky teenager, the tradition ended but was resurrected a couple of years ago when we battled through the snow to see Jeremy Harding live at the Lowry in Salford the weekend before Christmas day. And last year we went to a concert at the Bridgewater and had a meal out at Wagamamas. This year there were no concerts or shows we fancied, so the plan is to go out for the day and we’ve decided on York.

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The focus of our visit was a "treasure hunt". We’d arranged it over the Internet (http://www.inthehiddencity.com/york/). What happens is that you are given a starting point and they send you a text message with a clue. Using a tourist map (or, in our case, Google maps on our phones) you have to find a location and an "object"  and then text an answer back. If you’re right they send you the next clue.

For the York treasure hunt there were 10 clues in all and the hunt took us to various locations across the city. You’re timed, so can try to beat the record or it can be a team event. But we just worked together and took our time using it as a focus for the visit. It was great fun. We enjoyed solving the clues and it also took us to places in the city we’d never been to before, some a little off the beaten track. The start and finish were pubs so I can see it is aimed at groups of friends and works team building events. But for us it was a bit of fun.

Here’s a few pictures taken along our route – although I’m deliberatley avoiding saying whether any of the places shown are linked to the clues – I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who wants to give it a go!

The starting point was the Kings Arms, down by the Ouse Bridge.

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Looking across the Ouse. It was pretty full – York often suffers from flood when it overflows

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Micklegate Bar – the historic southern entrance into the city:

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On the walls looking towards Micklegate Bar:

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Looking towards the Minster from on the walls:

Lendal Tower:

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Ruins of St Mary’s Abbey

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The Multangular Tower in the Museum Gardens – the lower part is Roman :

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The “banks” from different periods;

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one of the many old Medieval churches (didn’t get the name of this one):

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It worked very well for us. We took about 3 hours to complete it, but that included almost an hour when we stopped for something to eat in a little cafe – Brew and Brownie, on Museum Street – we’d discovered during our break there a few months ago. One of the things they sell are these rather delicious cinnamon and raisin "bagels".

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After we finished the hunt we had a walk around, over a section of the wall before looking round some of the shops and the little Christmas Market (nothing like the one in Manchester, but then, what is)

Some more piccies.

Monk Bar:

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Monk Bar from the walls:

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An interesting old advert:

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Getting close to 5 o’clock we were tired so we got the bus back to the park and ride and headed back home across a wet and very windy M62. We mad it home in one piece and all agreed that it had been a most excellent family day out.

Bruce Nauman at York St Mary’s

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York St. Mary’s is a deconsecrated medieval church in the city centre that’s been transformed into a contemporary arts venue in 2004.

We visited the gallery during our recent short break in York to see the Bruce Nauman exhibition that was on show (part of the Artist Rooms series series of exhibitions produced in conjunction with the Art Fund), but also to have a look round inside the old church. Unfortunately no photography was allowed inside the either of the art works or the building.

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The church was a typical small urban gothic style building. It didn’t have any outstanding features but there was some quite nice stained glass and it does have the tallest steeple in York at 47 metres high.

Bruce Nauman is an American conceptual artist who rose to prominence in the 1960s. The exhibition featured works in various media – sculpture, film and video, neon tubes, and photography.

ARTIST ROOMS: Bruce Nauman - York St Mary's

Jennifer Alexander, assistant curator of fine art, is quoted on the gallery’s website as saying:

Nauman’s diverse art and groundbreaking works have made him one of the most highly respected and influential figures in contemporary art, particularly noted for his video and performance works. For those new to his work, this collection from ARTIST ROOMS and Tate will provide an introduction, and for those more familiar with Nauman, this is a chance to consider his work in the beautiful and unique architectural context of York St Mary’s.

I’m not particularly a great fan of conceptual art. I like some but much of it doesn’t move me. So the exhibition was a bit of a mixed bag for me.

I’d seen one of the video works– Good Boy Bad Boy (1985) – at the Tate in Liverpool and I’m pretty sure I’d seen another one – Violent Incident: Man-Woman Segment (1986). Having seen them more than once they’ve sort of grown on me.

My favourite work in the exhibition was a more “traditional” bronze sculpture – a circle of hands making what could be conceived as an obscene gesture

Bruce Nauman, ‘Untitled (Hand Circle)’ 1996

Untitled (Hand Circle) 1996 (Picture source: Tate website)

And I thought this neon work, which features on the exhibition poster, was quite clever.

Bruce Nauman, ‘VIOLINS VIOLENCE SILENCE’ 1981-2

VIOLINS VIOLENCE SILENCE (1981-2) (Picture source: Tate website)

The individual words flash on and off in different combinations.

The National Railway Museum

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After the Minster, the National Railway Museum in York is probably the second most popular visitor attraction in the city. It’s part of the British National Museum of Science and Industry and, along with the Museum of Science and industry in Manchester and the National Media Museum in Bradford, has been threatened with closure – although I think that’s probably a ploy to introduce entrance charges.

The Museum is housed in two large buildings  a short walk from York Railway Station. One is a disused station and the other a  former locomotive shed with a large turntable.

I’m not exactly a railway fanatic, but am interested in industrial heritage and engineering. I also remember travelling on a steam train to Blackpool when I was a young boy, not long before steam locomotives was phased out by British Rail. I still can recall the image of this big black machine puffing steam drawing into the station.

The main exhibits in the former station were trains used by various monarchs and their hangers on from Queen Victoria onwards. Plush carriages which reflected the standards of luxury of their time.

This engine, which had been used to pull a Royal train

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had been built at Horwich Loco Works (closed in the 1980’s, and not far from where I live)

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The other building, the Great Hall, accessed via a tunnel under the road, is a former engine shed. There was a large collection of engines on display,

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from very early locomotives (pre-Rainhill trials)

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and the exhibits included a life size reconstruction of Stephenson’s Rocket.

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This locomotive, the Evening Star was appropriately named as it was the last steam engine built for British Rail

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This locomotive, built for the LMS railway, looks very much like the engine I can remember seeing as a boy. As it was one of the workhorses of the LMS railway which were used right up to the end of steam, it’s quite possible that was the case.

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They had one of the Japanese Shinkansen “Bullet trains” .

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We were able to go inside and sit down and watch a video about these early high speed trains.

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one of the Museum’s star exhibits is the Mallard a London and North Eastern Railway Class A4 4-6-2 Pacific steam locomotive built at Doncaster in 1938, which still holds the world speed record for steam locomotives. It’s a beautiful piece of machinery, with an elegant streamlined shape very much of the era of Art Deco.

This year is the 75th anniversary of Mallard’s achievement and the museum has celebrated this with a series of commemorative events. Included displaying the Mallard together with the only other 5 remaining Class A4 Engines (in the Great Hall from 26 October until the 8 November and then at the Museum;s other site at Shildon in County Durham from 15-23 February 2014). During our visit the Mallard wasn’t there – it was out on it’s travels and on display somewhere else – but there were three other A4’s, the Bittern the Dwight D. Eisenhower, brought over from America, and the Dominion of Canada from Canada

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Jake Attree at the New School House Gallery

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The New School House Gallery is a private art gallery set in a pleasant garden / courtyard off Peasholme Green in York, just by the Quilt Museum. Passing it on our way to the city walls, we decided to pop in to have a look at the exhibition of paintings by Jake Attree. He’s a local, born in York trained at York Art College, Liverpool College of Art and the Royal Academy and has a studio at Dean Clough in Halifax. .

The exhibition, The City, the Gardens and the People, features works in a number of media – oils, pastels, acrylic, ink and pencil sketches. There’s a catalogue available on-line here, and this tells us that

The majority of the works in The City, the Gardens and the People centre on interpretations of York, the city of Attree’s birth, and the exhibition consists almost entirely of new work created in 2012-3.

The most prominent work in the exhibition was, Extensive View of York (2006) which “does what it says on the tin” – it’s a large scale oil painting, covering two large panels, of a view over the rooftops of York towards the Minster

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Extensive View of York (2006) by Jake Attree. Oil on 2 panels 183x386cm

Like many artists his work straddles abstract and figurative approaches. Leaning towards one or the other depending on the work.

He lays his oil paint on the canvas or board very heavily in thick layers, reminding me of Frank Auerbach. They didn’t all work for me – I found some of his smaller landscapes “muddy”, but I did like his Extensive View of York very much and some of his simpler, more abstract landscapes – Red Tide(2013), Red Tide – Red Accent (2013)  and Jumping Hearts (2013)

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Jumping Hearts (2013) Oil on board 16x20cm

and some of his more figurative street scenes featuring people, Looking up Fossgate and Across Pavement (2013) and Figures Passing St Michael le Belfry (2013).

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Looking up Fossgate and Across Pavement (2013)
Oil on panel 90x40cm

In general, I tended to prefer his pastels, which had a blurred, out of focus quality to them that I liked, and some of his pencil sketches.

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The Minster Seen from the Mansion House Roof (2013) Oil pastel 60x75cm

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Figures on Coney Street, Early Evening (2013) Oil Pastel 55x62cm

The gallery is in a Grade II listed former schoolhouse and located in a landscaped garden, just behind the city walls

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Despite the late time of the year, there were plenty of colourful plants still in bloom.

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York City Walls

One of the things I enjoy doing when visiting York is walking along the walls which encircle the old city. Constructed during medieval times, substantial sections remain to the north, south west and south east of the city centre. They’re punctuated by four main gatehouses, known as ‘bars’, – Bootham Bar, Monk Bar, Walmgate Bar and Micklegate Bar.

During our recent visit to the city we took a walk along the northern section from Peasholme Green, Past Monk Bar, round past the Minster (I think this section of the wall gives visitors the best view of the Gothic cathedral) alighting at Bootham Bar.

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Clifford’s Tower

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Set on a tall mound in the heart of Old York, Clifford’s Tower is almost all that remains of York Castle, which was originally built by William the Conqueror. The mound on which the tower stands was the “motte” of the original motte and bailey castle which had been constructed between 1068 and 1069. The tower itself was built between about 1245 and 1272 to update the defences of the castle.

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Today it’s owned by English Heritage. We meant to have a look when we were in York last year and had picked up a two for one entry voucher , but ran out of time. So we made a point of visiting during our recent short break in York – although had to pay full price!

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It’s quite small and doesn’t take that long to look around. But there are some good views over York from the top of the battlements.

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Goddard’s House and Gardens

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First stop during our recent short break in York was the National Trust property next to York Racecourse and just down the road from the B and B were we were staying.

“Goddard’s” is an Arts and Crafts style house designed by the architect Walter Brierley ("the Yorkshire Lutyens") was originally the family home of Noel Goddard Terry, of the chocolate-making firm, Terry’s of York. Although purchased by the Trust in 1984  it’s been used as their regional offices, but a limited number of rooms were opened to the public earlier this year. The gardens, however, have been open to visitors since 2006.

There’s only a small car park at the property which probably means there could be difficulty parking at weekends and other busy times. Luckily we visited on a rainy day in early October before the half term holidays so there was no problem finding a space.

I think that the V&A website sums up Arts and Crafts architecture pretty well

(a) ……..defining feature of Arts and Crafts architecture was an interest in the vernacular. Architects used local materials and traditional styles to create something that would not jar with its surroundings, but at the same time distinctive and modern. Many hoped to revive traditional building and craft skills, or to design buildings that looked as if they had grown over many years.

That’s certainly true of Goddard’s. The house is constructed in red brick in a sort of “mock Tudor” style, particularly with it’s tall chimneys.

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Hand made bricks were used laid using the traditional “English Bond” , with alternate courses of stretchers and headers.

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The front entrance is in a projecting bay with a Gothic style doorway and first floor bay window. Personally I didn’t think this worked; it jarred with the overall look of the house.

 

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Moving inside, although most of the building is still used as offices for the Trust, a number of the rooms have been opened up and furnished to reflect the 1930s style of the prosperous York family. This isn’t how they would have originally looked. The owner was a fan of Georgian style furniture. Today the original furnishings are owned by York Civic trust and are now used to furnish Fairfax House in the city centre. Other rooms house exhibitions providing context about life in York between the wars.

I particularly liked the carved wood panels and staircase. Alas, I didn’t take any photographs inside (not sure whether they were allowed but the corridors were quite dark and I’m not certain photos taken using my basic compact camera would have come out well). I did take plenty of photos of the outside and the four acres of gardens, designed by George Dillistone.

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The garden was actually broken up into a series of smaller areas, separated by hedges. So it was bigger than it first appeared. Originally there was a bowling green and tennis courts. Today these are lawned areas.

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I guess we wouldn’t have seen the garden at it’s best – our visit took place after the glories of summer but before the colours of autumn appeared. Nevertheless there was still colourful plants in bloom.

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Exploring, we almost stumbled on semi-hidden paths

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one which led to a pleasant water garden with a definite Japanese influence – Japanese gardens were fashionable at the time.

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There was an exhibition of metal animal sculptures by Andrew Kay in the grounds. A couple of the exhibits can be seen in the photos above. But I think they deserve their own post.

Blood and Chocolate

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We had a short break in York a couple of weeks ago while en-route to a family wedding in the North East. Checking out what was on at the local theatre beforehand, we spotted an advert for a production that was due to start on our second, and final, night in the city. Blood and Chocolate was a play set in the city during the First World War, inspired by the true story of how the Lord Mayor of York arranged for a chocolate tin, designed and made at the Rowntree’s factory, to every soldier from York who fought at the front. A little ironic as the city’s chocolate making firms, including the Rowntrees, were established and run by Quakers

A collaboration between the Pilot Theatre, Slung Low and York Theatre Royal companies it was a “a promenade performance around York”. There was a a cast of over 200 involved – mostly local amateurs. Intrigued, we decided we’d go along so bought a ticket for the first night performance on our first afternoon. Just as well we did – by the next afternoon all the tickets for the whole run had sold out.

After a fine morning, in the late afternoon it started to pour down with rain. We thought we were probably going to get drenched, but, luckily, the rain stopped and held off during the performance.

We weren’t sure what to expect when we turned up at 7 o’clock outside the City Art Gallery. We queued up to be presented with a set of headphones, a radio receiver and a small tin, a replica of that sent out to the soldiers, containing a couple of locally made chocolates.

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We hung around for a while then the performance started with a video of a dance projected onto the front of the De Grey Rooms building facade interspersed with speeches by actors playing various characters. We could hear the dialogue through our headphones but other people passing through the streets (they weren’t cordoned off) must have wondered what was going on.

Then a troop of soldiers rushed out of the small park to our right and shortly afterwards we were participants in a jingoistic parade following a brass band and guided by a crowd of locals dressed along the streets all decked out with bunting towards the Minster. Now I’m one of those who believe that the First World War was a senseless imperialist struggle, but parading through the streets it was easy to see how people at the time got all wrapped up in the jingoism and allowed common sense to go out of the window.

Blood and Chocolate

Picture source the Guardian

Arriving at the Minster we watched several more scenes before setting out again. This time we ended up at the Mansion House

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And we gradually worked our way around the city centre

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At one point we were shepherded inside All saints Church on Ousegate where we were given a welcome cup of hot chocolate before sitting down to listen to a choir and then more actors

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Finally we were paraded through the streets down to the green in front of Cliffords Tower for the finale.

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Although everything generally went surprisingly well, there were some problems when scenes played out at ground level were difficult to see due to the mass of bodies, especially as there was a large element of “everyone for themselves” selfish behaviour with tall people forcing their way to the front and people generally pushing and shoving into any gap that appeared during the promenade which meant we kept getting separated. And there was one gentleman who insisted on talking loudly – we moved to get away from him at the beginning of the performance as we couldn’t hear what the actors were saying because of him. He also had to be “shushed” by other participants while in the church. These problems could have been solved to some extent if all the scenes had been performed above ground level and if the many volunteer stewards had been more firm with Mr noisy.

I thought the play itself was rather superficial. Inevitable I guess with a production of this nature. They tried to get across the different aspects of the war – the initial jingoism, the lives of the troops at the front and the women left behind – who had to take on work and roles previously reserved for men. The pacifism of the Quakers and the persecution of conscientious objectors was touched on but I thought this wasn’t portrayed particularly sympathetically. And the aftermath of the war – the grief of those who lost loved ones, how the troops didn’t exactly return to a “land fit for heroes” and how women had to revert to their previous roles – was touched on but like other aspects of the story couldn’t be explored in any depth.

Nevertheless, it was a great experience and I’m glad we decided to attend. I’d recommend it – except you probably won’t be able to get you hands on a ticket!

York – the Treasurer’s House

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The Treasurer’s House is a National Trust property standing almost in the shadow of the Minster. It stands on the site originally occupied the official residence of the Minster’s treasurer, although the current building is quite different to the original. It’s actually three separate houses that were joined together to create a single property when they were bought by Victorian millionaire Frank Green in 1897.

Green inherited his wealth – his grandfather made his fortune when he invented the economiser, which made steam engines operate more efficiently, and established the family firm. It seems that Frank green didn’t have much ability as an engineer or industrialist and  was more interested in collecting antiquities and remodelling the house in styles spanning several centuries.

Externally the building appears Jacobean with Dutch style gables, but there are some inconsistencies – in particular the neo-classical front door. And inside the rooms are arranged and decorated in line with Green’s interpretation of different historical periods. It’s a real mixture and it’s very much how he felt they ought to look rather than a true reflection of the different styles.

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So, in the middle house he created his interpretation of a Tudor great Hall, which reminded me of the one in Rufford Old Hall, one of our local NT properties. But he’s used classical Doric columns to support the gallery which would never have been found in a real Tudor mansion where wooden posts would probably have been used.

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He remodelled the interior, removing a floor to create the great hall and installing and removing partition walls, according to whatever fancy took him.

The ceiling in the dining room is a good example of Georgian stucco work and seems to have been in the house when he bought it. It is thought to have been created by Giuseppe Cortese, who is also believed to be responsible for the stucco work in Fairfax House. Photos aren’t allowed there, but I was able to take one of the ceiling in the Treasurer’s House. Even though it’s not a great picture (taken with my mobile phone) it gives an impression of the grandeur and intricacy of his work.

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There’s a very pleasant, relatively small garden at the front of the house, which overlooks the Minster.

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The Trust recently opened the attics that used to be used as the servant’s quarters, to visitors. Unlike the rest of the house, access is by guided tour only. Unfortunately we’d arrived too late in the day so missed out.

The Treasurer’s House is very much a creation of one of the idle rich from the Victorian period. According to the National Trust

The house was never intended to be a cosy home and was used instead as a canvas for Frank’s creative ambitions.

Green, who inherited his wealth, seemed to have so much money he didn’t know what to do with it. One tale we heard from one of the room guides was that he used to send his washing by train to London every week! He never married and didn’t have any children (that we know of) so gave the house to the National Trust in 1930 when he moved away from York. He made it a condition that the rooms would be kept exactly as he intended.

Following our day out, browsing on the Internet, I discovered that another blogger, Eirene of A Place Called Space, had been in York the same day and had also visited the house. She’s written a post about it here. Her blog is well worth a visit.