Bar Convent and Fairfax House, York: Two historic Yorkshire houses to unite to tell forgotten women’s tales

Bar Convent and Fairfax House share a city and a history. And now they are working together on a special project.

These landmark historic houses in York are joining forces for a special exhibition.

With a history of strong Catholic women in common, Fairfax House and the Bar Convent have announced the collaborative project: ‘Two Houses, One Story: York’s Forgotten Women’.

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It has opened and will run until April 27. Organisers say it marked International Women’s Day this week and Women’s History Month.

Dr Hannah Thomas with a reproduction of Lady Hungate's unofficial will with items left to the Bar Convent.Dr Hannah Thomas with a reproduction of Lady Hungate's unofficial will with items left to the Bar Convent.
Dr Hannah Thomas with a reproduction of Lady Hungate's unofficial will with items left to the Bar Convent.

An exhibition at each house is enhanced by the other and will explore the intertwining story of the two illegal Catholic houses; one a secret convent operating a pioneering school for girls, the other belonging to a prominent local Catholic family.

Dr Hannah Thomas, Special Collections Manager at the Bar Convent, said “The histories of the Bar Convent and Fairfax House are so closely intertwined that a joint exhibition such as this makes perfect sense.

“Not many people are aware of the links between the houses but both Anne and Mary Fairfax attended the school here and Lady Hungate lived here with the sisters for 29 years!

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“This exhibition gives us a fantastic opportunity to explore and share this exciting little-known narrative with the public and to work with the incredible team at Fairfax House.”

Sarah Burnage, Curator at Fairfax House, said it was a pleasure to join together.

She said: “We are delighted to be working with our friends at the Bar Convent on this joint venture.

"The exhibition tells the story of women living in York in the 18th-century and offers a fascinating glimpse into the little known world of Catholicism in York.”

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The exhibitions will include recently discovered documents, beautiful portraits and intriguing artefacts that give new insight into the day to day lives of these exceptional local women.

It will explore how they navigated their faith during an era of persecution and suspicion, and how some were linked to dangerous underground activity which ultimately aided the survival of the Catholic faith in York and beyond.

At the Bar Convent, discover the early years of the Fairfax daughters who attended the school, how and why their grandmother Lady Hungate lived at the house for 29 years and the significance and legacy of this alliance.

At Fairfax House learn more about the limited life choices woman, like Ann Fairfax, faced in the eighteenth century. Also discover more about the Catholic networks in the city and how this clandestine community supported each other.

Each exhibition is enhanced by the other and visitors to one house receive a 30 per cent discount on admission to the other with proof of receipt.

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