Peeling back the layers of York’s Mansion House

The facade of the Mansion House in York. 
Picture: Anna Gowthorpe
The facade of the Mansion House in York. Picture: Anna Gowthorpe
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Have your say

IT was built as a symbol of York’s prosperity, but changing fashions have meant the facade of the city’s historic Mansion House has seen many changes.

Now, for the latest stage of its restoration, the public is being asked to have its say on how exactly it will look in the future.

The City of York coat of arms in the  State Room at York's  Mansion House. 
Picture: Gary Longbottom.

The City of York coat of arms in the State Room at York's Mansion House. Picture: Gary Longbottom.

Opened in 1732 as the official residence of the Lord Mayor of York, the Georgian building is in the midst of a £1.6m restoration project - the biggest investment in the townhouse since it was built.

Ahead of its scheduled re-opening early next year, paint historians have been working to understand more about the building’s history and the colours that the facade has been in the past.

In total, 47 layers of paint were analysed to identify three key themes that influenced the facade from around 1750 onwards - and have come up with three distinct options for the building’s new look.

A two-week public consultation on the colour scheme opens online on Monday, and a gazebo will be set up on St Helen’s Square outside the Mansion House to get people’s views from July 29 to August 3.

Gillian Waters, Education and Learning Officer with the Opening Doors Project, pictured inside the empty State Room at the Mansion House, York, before every room was stripped of furniture ahead of the refurbishment work. Picture: Anna Gowthorpe

Gillian Waters, Education and Learning Officer with the Opening Doors Project, pictured inside the empty State Room at the Mansion House, York, before every room was stripped of furniture ahead of the refurbishment work. Picture: Anna Gowthorpe

The deputy leader of City of York Council, Coun Keith Aspden, said: “The Mansion House is one of York’s famous landmarks and we thought it would be great to get residents involved by commenting on which of the historic designs they prefer.

“It is interesting to hear about the history of the front of the building and the various colours it’s been.”

York Civic Trust, which has been working alongside the council, conservation historians and Historic England to identify the three themes, has a “strong affinity” with the Mansion House.

Almost 70 years ago to the day, it was formed at a meeting inside the building.

Chief executive of York Civic Trust, Dr David Fraser, said: “We admire tremendously that City of York Council have done a comprehensive analysis of the paint, and have dated with a high degree of precision what colour the Mansion House has been over various periods.

“We think it’s absolutely correct that the colour after this restoration should be one of the historic themes.

“There are arguments for and against each, but any would be suitable historically, so it is quite right the public play a part in the decision.”

The three options include washing the brick with a red colour and the stone in a natural stone colour with a monochrome crest, as it was circa 1750 to 1800; using a uniform stone colour across the facade and polychrome crest as seen when fashion changed around 1800 to 1890; and the later design, which saw a move back to the original paint scheme of red brick work and painted stone colour, but with a polychrome crest.

Dr Fraser said the brick building with stone facade was ”very typical” of the Georgian period - and a real status symbol for York when it was built in the late 1720s.

He said: “It is a very elegant, high-status building for the early 18th century. It terms of the architecture of York it is very significant because it was a symbol of the growing prosperity of the city at a time when leaders wanted to make a statement of both their confidence and pride in York. We must continue to restore it and ensure that it will remain for future generations.”

A expensive first for York

The history of the Mansion House goes back to 1720, when councillors first discussed the need for a residence for the Lord Mayor to entertain guests.

A budget of £1,000 was later agreed, and work began on the first purpose-built house for a Lord Mayor in the country in 1725.

The funds soon disappeared as building work proved to be much more expensive than predicted, and despite a further £1,000 being raised, some craftsmen gave their services for free in return for freedom of the city.

The last task, the completion of the Great Room or State Room, began in February 1732, with master-carpenter John Terry paid £239 for woodwork and panelling.