(36) 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
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),
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
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).
Fig. 46. (36) Guildhall. E. elevation.
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.
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.
Fig. 47. (36) Guildhall. Mouldings.
a. S. doorway in W. wall (stone).
b. Main doorway (stone).
c. Committee Room 1. Roof rib (timber).