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Merchant Adventurers map out future

Posted on 8 May 2002

Britain’s oldest medieval guildhall sets out its blueprint for conservation

One of York’s most beautiful and historically important buildings now has a blueprint for its future development and conservation.

The Company of Merchant Adventurers has approved a comprehensive Conservation Plan for their guildhall, one of the oldest surviving complete medieval guildhalls in Britain.

The Plan was written by academics in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York.

The Merchant Adventurers’ Hall has survived largely intact, and with some additions from each century, for almost 650 years. The only medieval guildhall with its original chapel, the site also includes a number of smaller medieval and 17th century buildings.

The Hall is located in Fossgate, which was one of medieval York’s leading commercial quarters and home to many of the city’s prosperous merchant, mercers and drapers. Much of its medieval plan and original structure, fittings and fixtures remain.

The Conservation Plan is an important development for the Hall. It assesses the significance of the site and provides crucial guidelines in how the site can be maintained and enhanced for future generations. The Plan is a comprehensive one, designed to prevent piecemeal alteration to the site, and to demonstrate the national significance of the site.

Included in the Plan, which was written by Dr Kate Giles and Holly Gourlay, is a ‘Gazetteer’ a practical guide which can be used by staff on site. It includes architectural descriptions of all parts of the Hall and its satellite buildings, the statutory status of each, a statement about their significance and relevant policies for future management.

“The future development of the Hall and its surroundings has to be based on thorough understanding of its archaeological and historical significance,” said Kate Giles. The impact of management strategies and development proposals can be assessed against these.

“Given the Hall’s popularity for functions, the Company also needs a clearer understanding of the intensity of use and the impact of different types of event at different times of year.”

One of the key activities resulting from the Plan, will be the gathering of data about the environmental impact of visitors. The Company will also assess the impact of proposed developments in the nearby Coppergate, Fossgate and Hungate areas of the city on the environment and physical condition of the site.

“The Plan is immensely useful to the Company of Merchant Adventurers,” said James Finlay, Clerk to the Company. “We are guided not only by legislation governing listed buildings, but also by restrictions on use of the Hall through our charitable status, by the Conservation Area rules, the local biodiversity action plan, and by local environmental area policies. The Conservation Plan brings all these issues together and enables us to set out our blueprint.”

The Hall’s potential as a museum is also to be explored. The Company has an extensive, unusual and well-preserved archive of documents and other materials relating to its history, including the building of the Hall between 1357 and 1361.

“We need to develop a management policy for these collections and also improve access to the buildings for visitors,” said James Finlay. “The building has an important educational role and the collections should be more widely accessible. After all, the history of this site and the Company tells the story of medieval guilds and of medieval merchants in one of the most important cities in medieval Europe.”

Notes to editors:

  • Heritage Management is one of the specialisms of the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. Staff of the department have undertaken excavations, reconstructions and conservation consultancies at sites including Sutton Hoo, and the award-winning Castell Henllys iron age settlement. The department is well-known for its research and courses in heritage management and conservation studies.
  • The Department of Archaeology at York has produced some of the earliest conservation plans in the country, including plans for Chesters Roman Fort, Richmond Castle, Clifford’s Tower in York, and Scarborough Castle. The Conservation Plan for the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall is the latest in a series of plans commissioned from the Department by English Heritage and private clients.
  • The site of the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall includes numbers 36 to 43 Fossgate, a series of Grade 2 and 2* listed buildings. The Hall itself is listed Grade I.

Contact details

David Garner
Senior Press Officer

Tel: +44 (0)1904 322153