Fairfax House, Castlegate

Fairfax House

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York resident and regular contributor. Fascinated by this historic city and always keen to promote local, independent businesses. The man taking the photographs and tweeting from @Jorvik

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Built in the first half of the 18th century, probably before 1735, Fairfax House was acquired by Charles Gregory the Ninth Viscount Fairfax, from whom its name derives, in 1759. This most splendid example of Georgian architecture stands proudly on Castlegate in the centre of York; its interior houses the Noel Terry Collection, a magnificent collection of Georgian furniture and other Georgian pieces.

Viscount Fairfax bought the house as a proposed dowry for his only daughter, Anne, and as the winter home for the Fairfax family over York’s winter social season with its events, balls and assemblies. The completion of the house in 1763 was celebrated by a gathering and ball for 200 guests; 6,700 bottles of beer and 480 bottles of wine were supplied for the event with 63 courses on offer.

Together with the renowned Yorkshire architect, John Carr, and his outstanding team of craftsmen, he went on to complete the transformation of the interior – still in existence today – totally encapsulating the Georgian era with its decorative embellishments, stucco reliefs and ceilings, elaborate wrought ironwork and wood carvings, the superb Great Staircase and flawless Venetian Window.

Fairfax House, recognised as one of the finest Georgian town houses in England, is a testament to the combined talents of John Carr and the local craftsmen who implemented his designs. Viscount Fairfax lived there until his death in 1772. The title then became defunct as he had no sons and over the ensuing two centuries Fairfax House had many different owners.

The house ceased to be a private residence in 1865 becoming a Gentlemen’s Club, a Friendly Society and was requisitioned for military use in World War I. In 1919, it was converted, along with the adjoining house, into a cinema with a 1000-seat capacity and a first floor dance hall known as St George’s Hall. The city council bought the cinema in the 1960s while the dance hall remained until 1980.

In 1981, shortly after the death of Noel Terry, chairman of Terry’s of York chocolate firm, the Noel Terry trustees offered York Civic Trust his private collection of 18th century furniture deemed to be one of the finest of its kind in the country and which Noel Terry had collected for over 55 years. From 1982 to 1984 the York Civic Trust went ahead with a meticulous restoration, overseen by Yorkshire architect Francis Johnson, returning the house to its original splendour comparable with Carr’s day.

Fairfax House opened to the public in 1984, continuing as an accredited museum and historic house presenting its domestic interiors, compatible with the styles of the day for architecture, interior design and furnishings, and the practices of York’s genteel society. York Conservation Trust purchased the house from York Civic Trust in 2008 leasing it back to them at a nominal rent allowing them to run the Fairfax House Museum minus the worry of the upkeep of a Grade 1 Listed building thus securing its future preservation and guaranteeing its ownership remained within York.

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