York’s only Regency crescent lost its appeal when the council turned it into offices. Now it is one of York’s most “des res” addresses. Sharon Dale reports.
The restoration of St Leonard’s Place in York has attracted a phenomenal amount of interest from would-be buyers from all over Britain and even overseas
“It’s been incredible. It has appealed to the local, national and international market. We have had people buying before they’re even ready to make a move from their existing home because they really want to live here. Even on the morning we heard about Brexit when we were losing sales left, right and centre, we were still taking calls about St Leonard’s,” says estate agent Tanya Coffey, of Savills, who has just launched the final phase of properties in the development: a five-bedroom townhouse for £1.58m, a mews house and three duplex apartments starting at £600,000.
There are now 40 homes at St Leonard’s Place, including five large townhouses, six mews properties and 29 apartments, and the project to turn the grade II* listed Regency crescent from council offices to dwellings is almost complete.
The scaffolding and hoardings have just been removed to reveal one of the most handsome and sought-after addresses in the city. The location is outstanding. The building is in the centre of York with views of the Minster. The Museum Gardens are directly behind it, to the side is York Art Gallery and to the front is the Theatre Royal. Parking provision is another big tick in the box for buyers, who each have at least one space, a rarity in YO1. The row’s illustrious past and character are also part of the appeal. It was built in the early 1800s by the city corporation to emulate the grand crescents in London. Apart from number five, which was The Yorkshire Club, and number one, which was York’s first subscription library, the individual properties were leased as shells, leaving the owners to fit them out as they pleased. According to architectural historian Ingrid Brown, St Leonard’s soon became the hub of elite social life in 19th century York.
When the leases expired in the early 1900s, the council took the building back and turned it into local authority offices before putting it on the market in 2007. Leeds-based developer Rushbond, experts in historic restorations and conversions, won the bidding and originally planned to turn the crescent into a luxury hotel.
“When we got in there it was clear that there were too many constraints. Trying to split the building into bedrooms and bathrooms would’ve ruined its character,” says Mark Finch, Rushbond’s Director of Real Estate. “After discussions with the conservation officers, we decided it would be a pity not to turn it back into residential.”
The plan to recreate townhouses at either end with apartments in the middle won approval from the local authority.“We toyed with the idea of making basement flats, which are common in London, but decided they might not work for the York market so we integrated the basement with the ground floor to create duplexes,” says Mark.
Maximising the potential of the site has also seen Rushbond demolish a modern building at the rear and convert the historic stables and billiard rooms into mews-style houses. The garages belonging to the townhouses now have separate apartments above them.
The project carried out by Hall Construction has gone smoothly and most of the period features have been retained.
The crescent is still rich in decorative plasterwork, original shutters and period fireplaces. The wrought iron staircases also remain although a couple of them are now “stairs to nowhere”.
One of the biggest jobs was replacing the single glazed windows with Pilkington’s acoustic glazing, designed to cut down on road noise and draughts.
All the interiors are white, though a collection of contemporary art in the apartments’ communal areas, which includes work by York printmaker Mark Hearld, Antony Gormley, Sol LeWitt and Anthony Tapies, offers some relief.
The high-end originals reflect the asking price of the properties, which are aimed at owner occupiers. “Most people have bought them as main or second homes and 20 per cent of the buyers are from London with a small per cent from overseas,” says Tanya.
For more information about St Leonard’s Place, call Savills in York on 01904 617820 or visit www.stleonardsplace.co.uk
*While St Leonard’s Place is undoubtedly special, its appeal has been boosted by the city’s ability to attract wealthy and discerning buyers.
Its historic beauty, proximity to countryside, good schools and its rail links to Leeds and London have made it one of Yorkshire’s premier property hotspots. Tanya Coffey, of Savills, says: “In general, a lot of our buyers work in Leeds or London. A quarter of them are moving up from London and the south east and there is an overseas market here too with people buying property as a long-term investment, a second home or for their children who are studying at the university.”