Building record MYO1616 - The Guildhall


The monument includes the medieval Guildhall, the Old Council Chamber and the room beneath, the Water Gate, the vaulted passage leading to it and the adjacent river walls. The guildhall was built 1449-59 and restored in 1960. It is a two storey building, of limestone ashlar with a 6 bay aisled hall. The Council Chamber was added to the west end in 1808-09. It is brick-built, with the river front faced in limestone.


Grid reference Centred SE 6010 5189 (49m by 49m)
Map sheet SE65SW
Unitary Authority City of York, North Yorkshire


Type and Period (7)

Full Description

Guildhall, Common Hall Lane and Council Hall: boundary wall with The Lendal Cellars Public House, Lendal (qv) containing entrance to Common Hall Lane. Guildhall 1449- 59, restored in 1960 following extensive damage in air raid of 1942; Council Hall of 1808-09. Wall various dates incorporating medieval work on Lendal Cellars side. For the Mayor and Commonalty of York and the Guilds of St Christopher and St George: Robert Couper and John Barton, masons. Council Hall by Peter Atkinson, jnr.: glass by HW Harvey.

MATERIALS: Guildhall of magnesian limestone ashlar, river front on gritstone wall. Common Hall Lane walled in magnesian limestone, ceiled with stone flags on timber joists. Council Hall of buff-brown brick in Flemish bond, river front faced in magnesian limestone. Roofs not visible. Boundary wall of ashlar and coursed and squared magnesian limestone, partly rendered on Guildhall side; Lendal Cellars side partly plastered and white-washed, partly backed in plum brick in random bond and orange brick in stretcher bond. PLAN: 6-bay aisled hall with chamber range and Council Hall extension at west (river) end; Common Hall Lane runs beneath the Guildhall.

EXTERIOR: east end: 2-storey, 3-bay gabled front. Moulded plinth stepped-up at right end over Common Hall Lane arch, now below ground level. Central door in continuously moulded 4-centred arch with defaced demi-angel bearing blank shield at apex, beneath hoodmould on headstops. Replacement double doors with tracery panels. To left, restored 2-light window in hollow chamfered elliptical arched opening. Above door is 5-light window with two tiers of panel tracery in 2-centred head, and hoodmould; moulded sillstring beneath window, stepped up on each side. Moulded string beneath embattled parapet.

West end: 2-storey, 3-bay gabled front to hall rises behind 1- and 2-storey, 7-bay chamber range and 2-storey, 4-bay extension to right: chamber range and extension on basement formed by river wall. Watergate arch to Common Hall Lane in river wall, beneath 2-storeyed chamber range: chamfered unglazed window to left. Hall window is of 5 cinquefoiled lights with panel tracery in 2-centred arch. Ground floor windows to chamber range and extension are 4-pane sashes with 4-centred heads: first floor windows are square-headed, of 2 trefoiled lights in chamber range, and cinquefoiled, panel traceried heads in extension: all have moulded reveals and hoods. Moulded basement string stepped up over Watergate arch. Moulded eaves strings beneath embattled parapets to chamber range and extension: plain parapet to hall gable. North and south sides: bays separated by offset buttresses. Bays contain 2-centred windows of 3 cinquefoiled lights with foiled panel traceried heads, hoodmoulds and moulded sillstrings. On north side, easternmost bay has blocked doorway with 4-centred head beside 2-light window: above is shortened 3-light window. Both sides have plain parapets over moulded eaves strings. Boundary wall varies in height from approximately 1.50 to 7 metres, extends approximately 30 metres south west of The Mansion House (qv). Entrance to Common Hall Lane has nail studded panelled door in restored segment-arched hollow chamfered surround. Medieval masonry on Lendal Cellars side has offsets at two levels.

INTERIOR: hall has north and south arcades of octagonal timber columns with carved capitals, on moulded stone bases: arches formed by spandrel braces to moulded arcade plates, cambered tie beams and aisle ties. Roof is panelled with bosses, mostly renewed, at intersections. Braces at east and west ends spring from massive corbels carved with grotesques in foliage, and aisle braces from corbels carved with heraldic shields carried by grotesques. At west end, doorways in 4-centred moulded arches, that to right blocked, flank reconstructed dais: left doorway leading to Inner Chamber has blank cartouche incorporating grotesque masks and door of 6 fielded panels. At west end of south wall, inserted doorway in elliptical moulded arch with C20 door leads to Council Hall extension. In north wall, two doorways lead to Municipal Offices (qv): one is original, with 4-centred chamfered arch: second is inserted, with chamfer-stopped moulded arch, traceried panelling to reveals and soffit, and traceried double doors. West window glass depicts incidents in York's history.

Inner Chamber: panelled in two heights on each side of dado rail, with sunk panel pilasters carrying frieze of acanthus leaves and moulded cornice. Marble fireplace has fluted surround with angle rosettes, and enriched cornice shelf over frieze with moulded City Arms set in foliage fronds: overmantel panel enclosed in enriched raised surround contains inscription framed in foliate scrolls and grotesque masks. Above overmantel is a cartouche of Sir John Hewley's arms. At north end, door of 3 fielded panels in panelled 2-centred arch leads to adjacent room. To left, hatchment of the Stuart Arms. Original panelled ceiling with moulded beams on corbelheads and bosses at intersections. Council Hall extension refitted, now Committee Rooms. Original open string staircase survives, with turned balusters and newels and moulded ramped-up handrail, wreathed at foot. Some doors of 6 fielded panels, and door of traceried panelling at foot of stairs, in segment-arched panelled opening.

In Common Hall Lane, 2-centred arches of 2 chamfered orders carry hall and chamber walls. Other, similar, arches on each side, now blocked, formerly lead to cellars beneath Guildhall and ancillary buildings. One cellar remains open at Watergate end.

(City of York: RCHME: The Central Area: HMSO: 1981-: 76-81).
Listing NGR: SE6009251894

Derived from English Heritage LB download dated: 22/08/2005

Guildhall (Plates 68, 69; Figs. 46–48) stands on the E. bank of the River Ouse behind the Mansion House. The main hall, begun in 1449, was reduced to a shell in an air raid in April 1942, but was faithfully restored to its original form and was reopened in June 1960.

A guildhall in York is mentioned in 1256 in a charter of Henry III. The court of the mayor and bailiffs was held there in 1330 and 1368. There was an inner chamber called in 1416 the 'council chamber within the Common Hall' (SS, CXXV (1915), 52). A lane under the 'Common Hall' was in existence in the 14th century (SS, CXX (1914), 30–1). It survives under the N. aisle of the present Guildhall but appears to have been substantially reconstructed in the 15th century with the rebuilding of the Guildhall above. Civic administration was divided between the Guildhall and the Council Chamber on the N. side of Ouse Bridge near St. William's Chapel (York III, 48–50). This council chamber, first mentioned in 1376, accommodated the main civic officers and the records.

The decision to rebuild the Guildhall may have been taken as early as 1433/4 when the Dean and Chapter sold the mayor 24 'doleis' of ashlar blocks. Mayoral elections in 1445 and 1448 at the Franciscan Friary (YCA, C2: 2; C1A cited by Raine, 206) suggest that the Guildhall was not then usable, and in his will dated 1444 Thomas Carr left five marks towards the fabric of the new hall. More funds became available when it was agreed to share the costs of building with the Guild of St. Christopher, to which the Guild of St. George was subsequently united. The Mayor and Commonalty of York and the Guild of St. Christopher agreed in November 1445 to build a new guildhall in 'Conyngstrete' with a chamber at the W. end, a cellar under the E. end, and other buildings including a pantry and buttery. The hall was to be at least 42 royal ells (157 ft. 6 in.) long and to be built on land belonging to the Corporation. The Guild should have the right to use the hall, buttery and pantry on the feast day of St. James, when the feast of St. Christopher was also celebrated in York, and five days before and after, to keep wine in the cellar, and share the rents of the cellar if it were let. The Guild also received a grant from the Corporation of land E. of the Guildhall on which its chapel and a maison dieu were later built; this site is now occupied by the Mansion House.

The Corporation reserved the right of access to the Guildhall and work began in 1446 with the building of an arched gateway to Coney Street with a small room over it, for which stone was brought from Tadcaster and Cawood. This building, known as the Common Hall Gates, was demolished in 1726. The Guildhall itself was started in 1449. Extensive accounts survive for that year, with further incomplete accounts to 1454 (YCA, C1A, ff. 4–10). Robert Couper, mason, was in charge, assisted by John Barton, master mason of York Minster. In February 1449 3d. was spent on food and drink for workmen driving in piles for the foundations and 1d. for cords for marking out the dimensions. Worked stone from the old Guildhall for re-use cost 66s. 8d. Twenty trusses of straw were needed to thatch the mason's lodge. Large quantities of stone arrived from Newton quarry near Tadcaster, some by road and some by water. The Chamberlains' Rolls suggest that the masons' work was completed in 1453/4 when building material was being removed from the Guildhall site for repairs at King's Staith and Layerthorpe Bridge, and Couper was by then working near Walmgate Bar (YCA, C1A, f. 135v). Work must have continued for some years, since Richard Wartere left £20 in 1458 for the making and upkeep of the hall if building work was not completed before his death; a further 20s. was left by Thomas Barton in 1461 (Wills, IV, ff. 115v–117; ii, f. 451v). The building was sufficiently complete by May 1459 for use for a public meeting (SS, cxxv (1915), 203).

Few Chamberlains' Rolls survive from the second half of the 15th century and the work of carpenters and joiners at the Guildhall is undocumented. John Harvey ('Some Notes from the York Guildhall' in The Builder, clxix (1945), 165–6) suggests that the roof was designed by John Foulford, who was working for the Corporation in 1448. He may also have been known as John Wright, freeman in 1444/5, died 1466. His assistants may have been two Flemings, James Dam, freeman 1456/7, and David Dam, alias Carver, who appears in the Minster Fabric Rolls. Of the shields on roof bosses which survived until 1942, two which have been tentatively identified suggest that the roof was completed in 1458. One shield may have borne the arms of Richard Wartere, whose will of 1458 was mentioned above; the second bore a merchant's mark and initials WH, perhaps for William Holbeck, mayor for the second time in 1458.

Canvas used in the Creed Play performed before Richard III in 1483 was stained and painted at the expense of Thomas Gray, Master of St. Christopher's Guild, and used as wall hangings in the hall. Between 1496 and 1503 gifts of wainscot for 'selyng' the walls of the hall are recorded (YCA, B8, ff. 5–5v, 32v–33; YCR 2, 190). Cooper in 1909 (Guildhall, 14) stated that wainscotting to a height of 5 or 6 ft. had been removed in recent years.

The hall followed the usual mediaeval pattern in having a screens passage across the E. end and a dais at the W. end with an open fireplace in the middle. Nycholes Norres, joiner, was paid 5s. in 1554 for 'the trellys aboute the louer' (YCR 5, 109), and a new louvre was made at a cost of £4. 3s. 4d. in 1594/5 (YCA, C8, f. 61v) in the course of general repairs to the lead roof. The louvre was surmounted by a cupola which was removed in 1772 (Davies, 52), when the louvre itself was also presumably removed. Over the screens passage was a gallery which was removed c. 1724. The dais was enclosed by a wooden screen with doors which needed mending in 1554 (YCR 5, 109) and in 1605 the King's arms were put up over the Lord Mayor's seat. Sir Robert Watter, who died in 1612, spent £200 on repairs to the hall and in 1724 a committee was appointed for repairing and beautifying the hall; window mullions were to be repaired, the floor repaved and pillars, heads, knotts and coats-of-arms and the 'sealing' round the hall painted (YCA, B42, ff. 52–7).

The hall was used for a variety of purposes. Plays may have been performed here before the visits of travelling players in 1581 and 1592 but were forbidden following disturbances in the latter year, when much damage was caused. During the Assizes the Crown Court sat at the W. end of the hall and the Court of Nisi Prius at the E. end. Jury boxes made by Miles Close were paid for in January 1765 (YCA, C45, f. 17V).

The windows of the hall were partly glazed and partly shuttered. On 14 August 1566 it was agreed that the glass windows be mended and Richard Aynly, Keeper of the Common Hall, was charged with keeping the wooden shutters closed to keep birds out (YCR 5, 148). Henry Gyles painted an armorial W. window in 1682. William Peckitt contributed a stained glass 'Emblem of this Corporation . . .' for which he was made a freeman in January 1754. A decision to complete the glazing of all the windows was taken in 1760 (YCA, M17). Glass illustrating the city's history, by various 19th-century designers, has not survived. The W. window now contains glass of 1960 by H. W. Harvey. Repairs and improvements in the 19th century included the installation of gas lighting in 1840 and major repairs to the roof and stonework after a survey by G. T. Andrews in 1846.

Grouped round the E. end of the Guildhall were service buildings including a kitchen, buttery and pantry. They were put to a variety of uses other than their primary purposes, being let as stores and used for the custody of prisoners at the assizes and for keeping ammunition. All have now been removed. Underneath the hall were cellars with access from the Common Hall Lane and by a staircase in the thickness of the E. wall of the hall; the cellars were filled with earth in 1649.

At the W. end of the hall is the Inner Chamber, with further rooms to the N. and on the first floor above, but some rooms N. of the hall have been demolished. The Inner Chamber itself was damaged during the Civil War when stores and arms were kept there, and in September 1644 it was not possible to enter the Inner Chamber 'by reason it was broken down' (YCA, B36, f. 105V). Repairs were ordered in December and completed the following month (YCA, B36, ff. 105V, 163V). The overmantel has an inscription recording the decoration of the room in 1679 at the charge of Sir John Hewley. In February 1730 the floor of the Inner Chamber was to be raised and the cellar below underdrawn. In 1762 Christopher Perett carved an oak frieze for the chimney board.

There seems to have been a separate room for each of the wards of the city, which were reduced in number from six to four in 1530. In 1738 it was decided to move the city records from Ouse Bridge to a room over the Micklegate ward room. In 1808 plans were prepared for the construction of a new council chamber to replace that at Ouse Bridge which was to be pulled down when the bridge was rebuilt (YCA, B47, 253). This chamber was probably completed before the old Council Chamber was demolished in 1810, and was incorporated in a new two-storey block erected S. of the old Inner Chamber. Peter Atkinson the younger, the City Steward, was the architect and was paid fifty guineas in January 1811 for designing it and superintending its erection. A new and larger council chamber with municipal offices, designed by E. G. Mawbey, City Surveyor, were built N. of the Guildhall in 1889–91 (VCH, York, 543).

Architectural Description. The Guildhall itself takes the form of an aisled hall of six bays with walls of magnesian limestone and timber columns supporting the roof. The elevation of the E. end is shown in Fig. 46 where the renewed upper part of the stonework is approximately indicated. The moulded plinth steps up near the N. end over the arched entrance to Common Hall Lane, of which only the top is now visible. The central arched doorway has moulded jambs (Fig. 47b), moulded label with head-stops and, at the apex, a demi-angel holding a shield (Plate 158). To the S. is a small two-light window and between it and the doorway a blocked opening marks the position of the head of the cellar stairs. The main window has five lights with vertical tracery.

The N. and S. elevations are both divided by buttresses into six bays with moulded string-courses below the windows and at the base of the parapet. On the N. side the E. bay contains a blocked doorway with four-centred head which originally gave access to the screens passage. On the S. side the E. bay retains only slight traces of the blocking of a corresponding doorway. In each bay on each side is a three-light window with vertical tracery. A view of the hall in 1807, by Halfpenny, shows that the W. window on the S. side formerly came down to a lower level, giving extra light to the dais end. The W. end of the hall rises above the adjacent rooms with a five-light window under the gable (Plate 68).

Internally the E. wall has been heavily restored. The apex of the arched entrance to the Common Hall Lane is visible above floor level, cut into the lower ashlar courses which are deeper than elsewhere. An offset in the masonry, at the level of the sill of the main window for most of its length but higher to the N., marks the position of a gallery. To S. of the entrance doorway, the wall is thickened to contain a staircase from the former cellar. The head of the stairs is lit by a two-light arched opening with cinquefoil cusping. The top of the thickening is marked by a splayed offset.

A moulded string-course runs the length of both N. and S. walls, at sill level. In the W. bay of the N. wall is a doorway of c. 1890, and in the adjacent bay a narrower doorway leading to the 19th-century additions is much damaged but appears to be mediaeval. In the S. wall a doorway was formed in the W. bay in c. 1810 to give access to the new building. In the W. wall the doorways at the N. and S. ends are generally similar to each other, with four-centred arched heads and labels, but the S. doorway (Plate 162; Fig. 47a) has flatter mouldings and incorporates a 17th-century cartouche containing grotesque masks (Plate 182). The N. doorway is now blocked. One coneshaped stone bracket in the N.W. corner, and a worn fragment to left of the W. window, survived the fire of 1942. Brackets flanking the W. window, and one window on each long side, appear in Halfpenny's view of 1807.

The roof is supported by new octagonal oak columns standing on moulded stone bases. The columns have moulded capitals from which spring arched spandrel braces to the arcade plates, cambered tie-beams and aisle ties. Opposite the ends of the lines of columns are grotesque carved stone corbels carrying the end braces, replacing corbels carved with the symbols of the Evangelists. Against the aisle walls are posts standing on stone corbels; at the foot of each post is a half-figure bearing a shield.

The main timbers of the new roof are moulded, and the wall-plates are embattled. The tie-beams, arcade plates, purlins and ridge-purlins, together with heavy rafters in the middle of each bay, divide the roof into a series of rectangular compartments, with carved bosses at the intersections of the main members. The bosses include grotesque heads, angels, most of which carry shields, half-figures playing musical instruments, half-figures of gymnasts, foliage and woodwozes. These modern bosses are based on drawings of those destroyed made by E. Ridsdale Tate during restoration in 1937 (Guildhall, 17; see also Morrell, Woodwork, 93, Fig. 93).

John Harvey (op. cit.) recorded all the shields which bore arms or merchants' marks in 1942. The present replicas appear in slightly different positions from those shown on his plan. The modern royal arms replace a shield supported by two angels, with England and France quarterly, but reversed, sinister for dexter throughout. Apart from the arms of the City of York, only one other heraldic shield represents an original: argent a chevron engrailed azure impaling azure a bend argent, possibly for Richard Wartere and the Guild of St. Christopher. The original colours are uncertain. Five shields with merchants' marks, one bearing the initials W H, were recorded in the hall. Two were similar to a merchant's mark which occurs twice in Committee Room 1.

Three glass panels, formerly believed to come from the W. window of the Guildhall, are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. They include the Stuart royal arms (Plate 187) and are by Henry Gyles, with one restored pane inscribed 'Repaired April 1825 by J. Barnett, College St., York' (York Educational Settlement, York History No. 3 (n.d.), 109–117).

The Committee Rooms, to W. of the hall, form three distinct groups (Plate 68). At the N. end is a two-storey block of 15th-century date, built above the entrance to the Common Hall Lane and a compartment opening off it. The central portion, of similar date, contains the Inner Chamber, now Committee Room 1, built above a basement, now filled in. At the S. end is a two-storey block above a basement, of c. 1810 but largely rebuilt. The main river frontage, the W. elevation, is of magnesian limestone ashlar apart from the basement of the S. block, which is of brown gritstone. There is a plinth to either side of the Common Hall Lane archway which is of two chamfered orders. A rectangular opening with chamfered reveals, splayed internally, lights the compartment to N. of the lane entrance. All the ground-floor windows, and the first window around the corner on the S. elevation, have four-centred arched heads, moulded reveals and hood moulds. First-floor windows are square-headed, of two lights, with moulded reveals and hood moulds. In the N. block the lights have trefoiled heads, in the S. block cinque-foiled heads with vertical tracery. All three blocks have slightly oversailing embattled parapets carried on moulded string-courses. A worn spout, to the left and below the northernmost ground-floor window, does not correspond to any surviving internal feature. In the angle between the main hall and the S. block is an octagonal stair-turret with a conical roof, containing a newel staircase. The S. block is of brick except for the stone parapet and stone W. end. The E. elevation is modern.

Inside, on the ground floor the only original features are found in Committee Room 1, in the central block, the old Inner Chamber. The subdivision of the room to the N., in the N. block, may date from 1789. No original features survive in the room above, except for the head of the mural staircase from the Inner Chamber, and the S. block has been largely rebuilt and refitted internally. Committee Room 1 is approximately rectangular, with projections in the N.E. corner for a straight staircase and in the S.E. corner for a spiral staircase. The staircase doorways have chamfered reveals marked with masons' marks. The 15th-century masonry is visible above the panelling, which is in two heights, divided by a dado rail (Fig. 10a) and surmounted by a cornice incorporating a band of foliage. The door from the hall, under a four-centred arched head, is of six fielded panels (Plate 162). The fireplace in the E. wall has an early 19th-century white marble surround. Above the surround is a rococo foliage spray enclosing the arms of York below a moulded and enriched cornice, probably by Christopher Perett 1762, and above again is a panel with a moulded and enriched surround, within which scrolls and grotesque faces frame an inscription 'Cameratum et ornatum Fuit conclave hoc sumptibus Johannis Hewley Militis 1679 Ricardo Shaw Maiore' (Plate 197). Above the cornice is a cartouche with Hewley's shield-of-arms. The glass panel of Justice in a Triumphal Car by William Peckitt, formerly in Committee Room 1 and now in the City Art Gallery (York IV, 46a and Plate facing p. xlix), is probably not the original of 1754 but a replacement by Peckitt of 1765 (J. T. Brighton, 'York's Car of Justice Pursued', J.Br.Soc.M.G-P., XV (1974–5), No. 3, 17–22). At the N. end of the room is a panel with the Stuart royal arms (Plate 182). Two window openings in the S. wall have been blocked. The low-pitched roof of moulded longitudinal and transverse members (Fig. 47c) has carved bosses at the intersections (Plate 199). These include foliage, animal and human heads, royal arms, arms of the City of York, merchant's mark, Virgin and Child, and Cross of St. George.

The Common Hall Lane (Fig. 48) opens to the staith at the W. end of the Guildhall, runs under the N. aisle of the hall, and continues underground E. of the Guildhall to steps up to the yard behind the Mansion House.

The lane is enclosed by walls of magnesian limestone on the N. and S. Two-centred arches carry the E. and W. end walls of the hall and the W. wall of the two-storey 15th-century block (Plates 68, 69). A two-centred arch in the N. wall gives access to a compartment beneath the N. portion of this block. In the S. wall opposite is the blocked entrance to a former cellar under the Inner Chamber, with an inserted unglazed window in the blocking. E. of the arch, beneath the W. wall of the hall, the N. wall of the passage has at the W. end three blocked arches which gave access to cellars under buildings abutting the Guildhall and, towards the E. end, three narrow rectangular window openings, also blocked. In the S. wall a chamfered two-centred arch at the E. end, now blocked, led to the cellar under the Guildhall. The lane is ceiled with stone flags carried on timber joists.

Monument 36; City of York: RCHME: The Central Area: HMSO: 1981-: 76-8

NMR Information

Full description

SE 6010 5190] GUILD HALL. [G.T.](1)

The Guildhall was rebuilt in the mid-15th century. It was reduced to a shell during an air raid in 1942, but restoration work started in 1958 (2). Parts of the building are scheduled. (3)

The Hall was re-opened for normal use on June 21st 1960.

See G.Ps AO 63/115/3 & 8. (3

Scheduled Monument Notification. English Heritage Schedule Entry 20/01/1997
1 Ordnance Survey Map. OS 1:1250 1962.
2 A history of Yorkshire: the city of York 1961 edited by P M Tillott 542-543 Victoria County History: City of York, 1961, pp542-3 (Allison)
3 Ancient monuments in England and Wales : list prepared by the Ministry of Works, corrected to 31st December 1960 1961 Ministry of Works 106 List Anc. Mons., 1961, p. 106. (M.O.W.)
4 Field Investigators Comments F1 RWE 05-JUN-63

1625039 Management Survey CITY OF YORK STREETSCAPE

BF060272 THE GUILDHALL File of material relating to a site or building. This material has not yet been fully catalogued.

People and Organisations

Compiler D SMITH 1962-12-27 1962-12-27 Ordnance Survey Archaeology Officer 08-FEB-1960-31-MAY-1961 and 01-NOV-1966-26-JUL-1974
Compiler RICHARD W EMSLEY 1963-06-05 1963-06-05 OS AO 22-JUN-1959 to 1973 (613)

NMR, NMR data (Unassigned). SYO2214.

RCHME, 1981, City of York Volume V: The Central Area (Monograph). SYO65.

Sources/Archives (2)

  • --- Unassigned: NMR. NMR data.
  • --- Monograph: RCHME. 1981. City of York Volume V: The Central Area.

Protected Status/Designation

Related Monuments/Buildings (1)

Related Events/Activities (3)

Record last edited

Feb 10 2021 10:17AM


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