Mansion House, St Helen’s Square

Mansion House

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The Mansion House, in St Helen’s Square, York, is an architectural masterpiece housing an extensive collection of civic regalia and artefacts. Its exceptional and unique collection of silver, works of art and furniture is unmatched by any other regional city.  The Mansion House remains the official residence of the Lord Mayor of York.

The council felt the Guildhall was not fashionable as a civic centre and successive Lord Mayors were not keen on opening their own houses on a regular basis ‘for the entertainment of the citizens’ as tradition dictated. In their bid to find a new venue the council attempted to secure control of Sir William Robinson’s Duncombe Place property, but failed.

In 1722 York Councillors made a decision to erect a purpose-built dwelling for the Lord Mayor in which he could entertain and carry out their public offices. It was to be on Coney Street and a budget of £1,000 was drawn up. This building would be the first of its kind in the country – it would be 1752 before London achieved their own.

Plaque on the front of Mansion House

Plaque on the front of Mansion House

Three years later work began, requiring the demolition of two old buildings on the site.  One of these was the Cross Keys Inn, originally the medieval guild chapel of St Christopher and St George and later a ‘City House’ from where the Lord Mayor watched certain events.

Within one year the whole of the £1,000 was spent and another £1,000 was granted. Some local craftsmen offered their services receiving the freedom of the city in return. Among them were J. B. Smith for his ironwork; others presented an eight-day clock, furniture items, silver-shafted knives and forks and a ‘Turkey’ carpet.

In 1730 the building was occupied by its first Lord Mayor. By 1732 the final work was undertaken on the Great Room. Working on this was the master-carpenter and joiner John Terry who received payment of £239 for his woodwork and panelling.

The Mansion House was built in the new Palladian style; it enabled the city to showcase its height of achievement in being both a fashionable and lavish entertainer to society.  On the house’s northwest corner, at ground level, a gated passage leads under the house to the Guildhall.

Mansion House looking along Lendal

Mansion House looking along Lendal

Unfortunately the architect of this important building is not known and the records of the building committee have not survived. Some have suggested the artist William Etty was responsible but frequently mentioned as a contender is the Assembly Rooms’ designer Lord Burlington who had a close association with Yorkshire and, moreover, in September 1732 he was offered the freedom of the city.

The stateroom, situated on the first floor, has a Palladian interior and features exquisite carvings and gilding. The stateroom can seat sixty guests. Its walls are hung with impressive portraits of former Lord Mayors and royalty. On display here is a set of Gold Chains bequeathed to the city in 1612 by a former Lord Mayor Sir Robert Watter. This set is the second oldest in the country after London, and every Mayor of York since 1612 has had the honour to wear them. A flawlessly panelled ground floor room displays the precious civic plate.

The house has seen no major alteration since it was built.

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