An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in City of York, Volume 5, Central. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1981.
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Merchant Taylor's Hall
(38) Merchant Taylors' Hall (Plate 74; Fig. 51) stands on the N.E. side of Aldwark on a large site extending from the street to the city wall. The hall is placed on the edge of the site, against and partly cutting into the bank of the wall. It was built c. 1400 as a large timber-framed hall and subsequently received further timber-framed additions. In the 18th century the external walls were mostly rebuilt and the appearance is now predominantly of a brick building with tiled roofs.
The historical account which follows is largely based on B. Johnson, The Acts and Ordinances of the Company of Merchant Taylors in the City of York (1949). The Taylors' Guild is first mentioned in the Ordinance of Taillours of 1386–7 and obtained a royal charter in 1663. In the York House Books of 1497–8 there is a reference to the Taillour Hall but it is not mentioned in the company archives until 1560. It has, however, been identified with the hall of the Fraternity of St. John the Baptist with which the guild was connected, and the terms Tailers' Hall and St. John's Hall were used interchangeably in the 16th century. The Fraternity was mentioned in 1388 and received a new licence in 1453; the hall was referred to in 1415 in a lease (YCA, Memo. Book B/Y, f. 39) which described the site, and the dimensions given in the lease appear to locate the hall where the present one is. There is no other dating evidence for the building apart from the fabric itself, which can be assigned to the late 14th or early 15th century. Unlike the Merchant Adventurers' Hall and St. Anthony's Hall, the Taylors' Hall is a more conventional single-storey unaisled open hall, five bays in length. A further bay at the N.W. end is two-storeyed and contains a screens passage and service accommodation. Projecting to the S.W. from the upper end of the hall is a wing containing a room now known as the Little Hall but also formerly called the Counting House or Counsel House, being referred to by the latter name in 1589. It was originally of timber-framed construction, standing on brick walls 5–6 ft. high, and may have been built in the later 15th century. Illustrations of the hall on early printed maps of York (Horsley 1697, Cossins c. 1727, Drake 1736) show two gabled crosswings, and though these simple perspectives cannot be regarded as entirely reliable, it is quite probable that there was a wing at the N.W. end which contained further service accommodation. This could also explain why the N.W. end wall of the hall range itself was not refaced in brick in the 18th century when most of the rest of the building was so treated.
The great arch-braced roof of the hall evidently had to be rebuilt to incorporate tie-beams, the omission of which from the original design must have led to the roof thrust tending to force the side walls outwards. The rebuilding may have been done in or soon after 1567, when Alderman Thomas Hughes gave 40s. and four trees to the Company. In the early 17th century new windows with ovolo-moulded mullions and transoms were inserted in the N.E. wall of the hall; the large chimney-breast in this wall may be of the same date. Contemporary with this work but now entirely renewed was the panelling in the hall on the lower parts of the walls.
From the mid 17th century onwards there are more detailed accounts of work done on the building. In 1663 it was reported that repairs were needed to the Great Chamber (i.e. the Hall) and the Counting House, and in 1667 John Whithill was paid £3. 1s. for repairing the N. end of the hall. In February 1673 the Counting House was 'verye much out of repair by wanting of Lead, Glass and other Materials'; £7. 1s. 6d. was spent on a new lead roof and 600 bricks were bought at 1s. per 100, though these cannot have been used for the whole refacing, which is of later date. In 1694 a 'gallery for the Waits' was added and in the early 18th century new glass was inserted, Henry Gyles being paid £4 in 1700–1 for 'ye Armes drawing in glass' and 10s. in 1701–2 for Queen Anne's portrait. There is a reference in 1705 to sealing of the upper end of the hall by Lancelott Denking and John Gilbertson, and the fireplace with bolection-moulded surround and painted arms above is probably of about the same time. In 1714–15 two rooms were added on the S.E. side of the Little Hall at a cost of £145 and the gable-end wall of the Great Hall was rebuilt; the S.W. wall of the service end of the hall range is of similar brick and is probably contemporary. The brighter red brick facing of the S.W. wall of the Great Hall, encasing the original posts, and of the N.W. and S.W. walls of the Little Hall is apparently a little later, probably after 1724–5 when William Etty gave advice concerning repairs; the Little Hall roof was tiled in 1732–3. In the 18th century the Great Hall was occasionally used as a theatre, and between 1813 and 1823 it was occupied as a National School for Girls (VCH, York, 441) while the Tailors continued to meet in the Little Hall. In the 20th century the whole building has been extensively restored, and the plaster ceiling which had been inserted into the main hall has been removed.
To the S. of the hall is a hospital, built in 1730 for four poor persons at a cost of £200. 2s. No earlier building is apparent, but there are references to the Maison Dieu of St. John Baptist in several wills from 1446 onwards (Raine, 55) and in the company's minutes in 1626. It is said to have stood very close to the hall, near the Church of St. Helen, and was pulled down in 1702–3. A chapel is recorded in 1446, and in 1503 3s. 4d. was left for work on a new chapel (Raine, 54) but nothing of it survives. A chamber over the 'Gayte House' was referred to in 1589 but of this again nothing survives. The land between the Hall and Aldwark was cleared of houses after the Second World War and a new approach from the street made.
Architectural Description. The Great Hall (Plate 74), of timber-framed basic structure, is of five unequal bays. The S.E. bay may have been lengthened when the end wall was rebuilt in 1715. The bays are divided by posts supporting roof trusses. In the N.E. wall the posts stand on a wall 5 ft. high which acts as a retaining wall to the bank of the city wall. They are visible externally but, inside, panelling obscures the lower parts. In the second and fourth bays are large early 17th-century windows, six and five lights wide respectively, with ovolo-moulded mullions and transoms. Below the window in the fourth bay are the only surviving fragments of original framing between the posts, consisting of two substantial downward braces and subsidiary vertical studs. All the posts have triple peg-holes for similar downward bracing, and near the head of each post, on the outer face, is a notch about 6 in. square for housing temporary struts during erection. The brick infilling is of various dates, the earliest possibly of the 17th century. There is a straight joint 3 ft. 10 in. from the E. corner which may mark the original end of the wall. In the middle bay is a large brick chimney with battered faces to each side; it is probably of the early 17th century though the upper part is modern. The S.E. wall of 1715 is built of 2¼ in. bricks, mostly in stretcher bond, but below the three windows the exterior is rendered and the gable has been entirely rebuilt in modern brick. The central window is round-arched, has a plain stone architrave with imposts and key-block and is surmounted by a segmental pediment. The flanking windows are smaller and have segmental brick relieving arches and modern wood frames. The posts of the S.W. wall can only be seen inside the hall, rising above the panelling, but it is said that complete posts were seen when the panelling was resstored c. 1940 and one, at least, was photographed then. The red brick facing of c. 1730 terminates at a straight joint just to the right of the porch. There are two modern casement windows at high level and between them a projection like a large buttress or small chimney-breast. The framing of the N.W. wall is visible at the upper level where it has fairly widely-spaced studs and down-bracing from the posts and from a central thicker stud. The roof truss in this end wall has a tie-beam with slight camber on the upper edge and crown post supporting a collar and collar-purlin; the crown-post has two pairs of downward braces, one of which is crossed by bracing from the tie-beam to the principal rafters.
The four open roof trusses have inserted tie-beams of rougher quality than the other members. The trusses consist of principal rafters linked by high collars, with moulded archbraces rising from the wall-plate and interrupted by the tie-beams. Between each arch-brace and principal is a single short strut, but originally there were three, indicated by peg-holes and mortices. The principals support a single through-purlin on each side, with short curved wind-braces above and below. The collar-purlin is tenoned into deep collars, also with small horizontal wind-braces. The fireplace on the N.E. wall has a bolection-moulded surround surmounted by the arms of the Drapers' Company, painted on vertical boarding, and with a moulded segmental pediment. In the S.W. and N.W. walls are early 18th-century round-arched doorways, fitted with panelled doors of two leaves. Against the S.W. wall is a gallery with turned balusters of the second quarter of the 18th century, presumably a successor to that put up in 1694.
The two-storey service bay on the N.W. contains on the ground floor a screens passage (Plate 188) which diminishes in width from 5 ft. 10 in. to 4 ft. 2 in. and has been destroyed at the N.E. end. It opens to the hall through a single 18th-century arched doorway. Opposite are two original framed openings, each with a four-centred arched head; they have ½ in. chamfers on the side towards the passage but no rebates or other evidence for hanging doors. There may have been a third opening in the destroyed N.E. end, but apart from a short length of wall there are no partitions in this end bay to divide it into the normal arrangement of buttery, pantry and kitchen passage. The N.W. end wall is timber-framed but mostly modern restoration. The side walls are of early 18th-century brick, but in the S.W. wall the doorway to the screens passage has a 15th-century chamfered frame with four-centred arched head. The door (Plate 158) is panelled and in the centre is an arched wicket, with a circular iron backplate for a ring-handle, probably contemporary with the door. Before it is a restored 18th-century pedimented timber porch, with round-arched openings to S.E. and S.W. but closed with brickwork on the N.W. side. To the left of the porch is a modern casement window with an 18th-century relieving arch over. On the first floor a three-light casement window with leaded glazing is probably contemporary with the brick walling. The staircase inside leading to the first floor has an early 18th-century handrail and square newels but restored splat balusters. On the first floor the ceiling, an insertion probably of the 17th century, has a spine-beam with joists pegged to it. The partitions are modern.
The Little Hall and the two rooms to the S.E. of it have brick outer walls of two periods. The earlier, dating from 1715, are the S.E. wall and the part of the S.W. wall corresponding to the addition. The S.E. wall, continuous with the wall of the Great Hall, has a brick plinth, six courses high, except where it is obscured by a modern block connecting it to the hospital. There is a three-panel door in a moulded frame, and two windows with wood mullions and transoms and leaded glazing. The plinth continues on the S.W. wall to the extent of the 1715 work and there is a band of two courses below the half-gable end. The slightly later brickwork of the main part of the S.W. wall and the N.W. wall is a brighter red and has no plinth or bands. The straight joint between it and the 1715 work is not continuous down to ground level, but offset a little to the N.W. for the lowest 5½ ft., obviously related to the brick lower part of the framed wall inside. In the S.W. wall is a round-arched window with leaded glazing, and in the N.W. wall one square-headed, wood-framed, mullioned and transomed window. To each side of the latter, high up in the wall, are remains of two posts of the main framing; both are composed of two separate pieces, evidence of a heightening of the building, probably in the late 16th or 17th century. The original S.E. wall of the Little Hall, now internal, is of framing consisting of two posts with downward bracing, and intermediate studs, all tenoned into a sill which is laid on top of a brick wall 5½ ft. high. The framing is only visible on the S.E. side, and has been partly destroyed in two places, for a chimney-breast and a modern opening. The ceiling of the Little Hall has two transverse beams supported at each end on brackets; they are pegged for joists and are at the same level as the heightening of the framed structure noted on the exterior, no doubt being part of the same alterations. The Little Hall is lined with modern panelling.
Fittings—Glass: in Little Hall, (1) in S.W. window, tall narrow panel (Plate 186), at the top a portrait of Queen Anne within a border supported by three cherubs and surmounted by a crown and the letters A R, below an achievement-of-arms of the Company and, beneath that, an inscription and at the foot a cherub's head and the signature 'H. Gyles pinxit', 1700–2; (2) in N.W. window, a smaller panel (Plate 187), signed 'HG' (Henry Gyles), with inscription below recording the gift of Samuel Buckton, 1662, probably c. 1700. (3) In window in S.E. addition, fragments with six names in black-letter, late mediaeval. Plate: The Connoisseur (December 1967) lists a cup and two tankards of the 17th century and a salver of 1814/15.
The Hospital, 8 ft. S.E. of the hall, is a single-storey range with brick walls and hipped tiled roof. It was originally four small dwellings, but has been converted into an annexe to the hall. The N.W. front elevation has door and window openings with segmental relieving arches in brick, though three doorways have been blocked lower down to form windows; one surviving door is of three panels; all the windows have modern sashes. A stone tablet (Plate 182) with arched head is inscribed 'This Hospital Built by the Merchant Taylors Company, for the use of four poor Brothers or Sisters. in the year 1730 Mr. Thomas Spooner Master Mr. John Napier Mr. John Etherington Thomas Ellis Sen: and John Dunning Wardens'.