The Treasurer's House and Gray's Court

Pages 69-76

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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The Treasurer's House and Gray's Court

(35) The Treasurer's House and Gray's Court (Plates 81–88; Figs. 42–45), situated to the N.E. of the Minster within the Liberty of St. Peter, partly enclose a courtyard which is approached from Chapter House Street. At least part of the site was built on in Roman times: the base of a Roman column remains in situ in a cellar passage adjoining Chapter House Street, some 12 ft. below the present ground level. It was discovered in 1898 in the course of alterations. More recently a second column was uncovered by workmen in Chapter House Street, and it seems probable that these bases belong to a colonnaded building that flanked the Via Decumana (York 1, 43, 112). In 1898 part of a Roman cobble pavement was also found (York 1, 37).

The office of Treasurer was established by Thomas of Bayeux, appointed archbishop by William the Conqueror. The office was more richly endowed than the offices of Dean, Chancellor and Precentor, and the first four Treasurers, up to 1162, appear to have been resident in York. At least one Romanesque wall remains, in Gray's Court, which is presumably part of a substantial Treasurer's residence. The lower parts of the present Treasurer's House contain much 12th-century masonry but whether any is in situ or all is reused is uncertain.

York Minster Fabric Rolls for 1544/5 record that the house belonging to the Treasurer was in a poor condition (YFR, 273–4), and on 26 May 1547 it was surrendered by the last Treasurer to the Crown. Edward VI granted the house to the Protector Somerset, who sold it for 200 marks to Archbishop Robert Holgate, who had previously acquired the church of St. John del Pyke which stood nearby to the E. These properties later passed to Archbishop Young (1561–8), who began the destruction of the Archbishop's Palace, to the N. of the Minster, by removing the lead from the great hall to buy an estate for his son George (VCH, Yorks. III, 52), and it is probable that stone from these buildings was used by George to build a new mansion. That part of the back elevation faced with stone and incorporating a gable is probably part of this building, built in the second half of the 16th century (Plate 83). A major reconstruction appears to have been undertaken by Thomas, the grandson of George Young, who owned and occupied the property in the period 1628–48. He probably widened the central hall range by some 6 ft. and, within the confines of the existing cross-walls to the N.W. and S.E., built a new two-storeyed symmetrical elevation with central frontispiece entrance, raised upon steps to reach the new floor level which had been formed to allow cellarage in the basements beneath. The previous S.E. wing was doubled in width by the addition of a new range on its S.E. side, projecting boldly to the N.E. The S.W. elevation of the older wing was remodelled to form part of a wider elevation with pedimented windows and Dutch gables. The N.W. wing was also remodelled or rebuilt, with its ground floor at the new hall level, with windows and gables forming a balanced composition with the S.E. wing, as indicated in the reconstruction drawing (Fig. 42).

Fig. 42. (35) The Treasurer's House. Reconstruction of S.W. elevation as in c. 1700.

The last work that can be attributed to Thomas Young was the construction of a first-floor gallery, standing over an open colonnade, built against the 12th-century wall running N.E. from the N.W. end of the house. This wall had survived from a building which lay on its N.W. side, so that the new gallery was built against the outside face of the wall. The colonnade was formed with six reused 12th-century columns; one column stands on a late 12th-century base, two others have bases of inverted 12th-century capitals, a fourth base is modern, and the remaining two columns have no bases. This was the beginning of the building now called Gray's Court.

In 1648 the property was acquired by William Belt, Recorder of York, whose heir sold it to Lord Fairfax, who had played a prominent part in the siege of York in 1644. In 1663 Fairfax moved to a new house he had built across the river in Bishophill and sold the Treasurer's House to George Aislabie, Registrar of the Ecclesiastical Court in York. The latter died following a duel in 1674 and was succeeded by his son John, who was M.P. for Ripon for twenty-five years and, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, was implicated in the affairs of the South Sea Bubble. After his enforced retirement from affairs of state, he created the superb landscape garden at Studley Royal of which Fountains Abbey forms the climax. Aislabie sold the Treasurer's House in 1698 to Robert Squire, who died in 1709. According to Francis Drake, the 18th-century York historian, 'it (the house) was rebuilt in the manner it stands at present, about 40 years ago by Robert Squire Esq. ...' but it does not appear that Squire's work can have been more than refenestration and redecoration.

In 1711 Jane Squire inherited the property from her mother, Priscilla, and she divided the house between two tenants; the N.W. cross-wing and the gallery behind formed one part and the central hall block and the S.E. cross-wing the other. A new entrance to the gallery wing must have been put up at this time against the N.W. end of the present Treasurer's House, together with the room N.W. of it; and it was perhaps at the same time that the colonnade of the back wing was closed in. In 1721 the property was acquired by Matthew Robinson. The S.E. part he sold in 1725 to Bacon Morritt and the remainder in 1728 to the Rev. Edward Finch, Canon Residentiary of the Minster. The Morritt family kept their part until 1813 and refitted many of the rooms, including the Dining Room and the West Sitting Room, most of the work being of mid 18th-century date.

In his part Canon Finch also made considerable alterations. He fitted with bolection-moulded panelling the two rooms which have since been united to form the Drawing Room, but were the Dining Room and Library; he built the grand staircase behind and introduced Venetian windows in the N.E. wall to light it. He also introduced two Venetian-type windows into the first floor of the S.W. front. The reused 17th-century panelling in the gallery behind was probably refixed there by Canon Finch to make way for new panelling in the rooms on the S.W. front.

In 1742 Daniel, Earl of Winchelsea and Nottingham, inherited from Canon Finch and immediately sold his part of the property to Dr. Jaques Sterne, Precentor, uncle of the more famous Laurence Sterne. Sterne, who died in 1757, presumably built the so-called Sterne Room which projects S.E. from the N.E. end of the gallery and over a ground floor which is in part, at least, of the 14th century. Sterne also sub-divided his part of the property, selling off the N.W. wing of the present Treasurer's House to Francis Topham. The back wing he retained, and after his death it was bought by Henry Willoughby of Birdsall, who later became the fifth Baron Middleton. It was then bought by the Grays in 1788 and they occupied part of it until 1945. The gallery was 80 ft. long when the Grays purchased it but was later sub-divided (A. Gray, Papers and Diaries of a York Family 1764–1839 (1927), 6). It was probably William Gray who added a top storey over the gallery and a small structure, presumably for a staircase, in the W. corner of the courtyard. This, together with an associated chimney, has since been removed, but the curved 'half-gable' against which its roof abutted remains. Major alterations were designed for Gray in 1846 by the architects J. B. and W. Atkinson; the building now known as Gray's Court was completed in its present size, new rooms being built on the N.W. side of the 12th-century wall which had formed the back wall of the gallery. At the N.E. end a large bowfronted structure was added; the first floor of this new part was reached by a new staircase in the middle of the gallery, as shown in the plan by the Atkinsons illustrated on Plate 1. As mentioned, the structure in the W. corner of the courtyard was removed, leaving exposed the half-gable which had been erected to form the back of it, and the small wing containing the Sterne room was partly remodelled.

The early 19th century brought considerable changes to the Treasurer's House. New buildings, which have since been cleared away, were added against the S.W. ends of the cross-wings and against the N.E. side of the hall. After the Morritts left in 1813 their part of the house was divided into two. The additions are shown on the OS map of 1852; the subdivision of the house as in 1868 is shown by Mrs. E. Gray in The Mansion House of the Treasurer's House and Gray's Court (1933).

The three separate tenements into which the Treasurer's House was divided were bought in 1897–8 by Mr. Frank Green of Nunthorpe Hall, York. He appointed Mr. Temple Moore as his architect to undertake a major alteration and restoration, bringing the house to its present state. Temple Moore took out the first floor of the central block to create the present Great Hall; the pillars at the S.E. end of the hall were erected on the foundations of previous ones when the later wall encasing them was removed. He modelled the staircase leading up from the hall on that at Knole Park, Kent. A number of rooms were refitted with materials brought from elsewhere, and a new entrance from Chapter House Street was constructed. On the S.W. front, sash windows in the centre block and the S.E. cross-wing were replaced with transomed and mullioned windows. In 1930 Mr. Green presented the house to the National Trust.

Green's restoration of the Treasurer's House was mostly completed in 1900 and in the same year Edwin Gray commissioned Temple Moore to improve Gray's Court and to recombine the latter as a single residence after a century of subdivision. Moore took the Atkinson staircase out of the gallery wing and replaced it by a new stair N.W. of the spine wall and formed the present two-storey porch opposite. Partition walls were removed from the gallery and additional new oak panelling was introduced. New fireplaces, doors and windows designed by Moore were generally skilful copies of earlier styles. Here, as in the Treasurer's House, Temple Moore's extensive restoration has done much to obscure the earlier history of the building. Gray's Court is now owned by the Dean and Chapter and leased to St. John's College of Education.

The Treasurer's House. Architectural Description. The main South-West Front (Plate 82) has a recessed centre of five unequal bays, two storeys high. The central entrance (Plate 83), approached by a flight of steps, is flanked by paired Roman Doric columns supporting plain stone blocks carrying an entablature, and the window above is flanked by Ionic pilasters with small panelled blocks in the shafts, the whole forming a two-storey centre-piece with a crowning cornice continued across the side bays. An engraving of 1811 by J. Greig shows the entablature also carried across the side bays, but here the fascia mouldings have been trimmed back. The windows are of two transomed lights with continuous hood moulds over.

The projecting wing to the N.W. is of two storeys with basement and attics, rising to two Dutch gables. The ground floor has three large hung-sash windows set in original moulded openings from which mullions and transoms have been trimmed away; above them runs a continuous hood mould. The first floor has been largely refaced with 18th-century ashlar and has two plain windows of Venetian type, each with a central round-headed opening between smaller rectangular lights. In the gables are hung-sash windows under pediments.

The projecting wing to the S.E. is of three storeys, also surmounted by two Dutch gables forming a symmetrical composition combining the ends of the earlier cross-wing and the later addition on its S.E. side. The storeys are divided by moulded string-courses; the upper string rises under the middle of each gable to form a segmental pediment, which was formerly over a window. The fenestration of the two lower storeys has been completely altered. In the 17th century there were three windows to each storey; each of the outer windows was then replaced by two hung-sash windows, which have themselves been replaced by mullioned and transomed windows of c. 1900. Only on the second floor has the earlier arrangement been preserved, with one mullioned and transomed window with a pedimented head under each gable and a smaller, single-light window under a segmental pediment in the middle. A small window in each gable lights the roof space.

The South-East Elevation, towards Chapter House Street, is of brick, with a moulded stone band at first-floor level. Most of the windows appear to have been remodelled at the end of the 19th century. A lead rainwater head with fluted bowl is dated 1795. The entrance porch was built c. 1898 and bears the Green coat-of-arms.

The North-East Elevation (Plate 83), towards the rear courtyard, has a recessed centre, stone-faced and partly of two storeys and partly of three storeys, all above a basement. To each side are brick-faced wings under shaped gables; the S.E. wing projects boldly; the N.W. wing is of only slight projection. The whole elevation has been very much altered. The recessed centre rises to a plain gable towards the S.E. end and is crossed by moulded string-courses of varying section, partly removed. Below the gable are 18th-century hung-sash windows with moulded string-courses at the floor levels between. Further to N.W. a projecting chimney-stack, now without its upper part, is flanked by stone mullioned and transomed windows of uncertain dates, all much restored. The basement windows cut in the plinth below are modern; original basement windows remain towards the N.W. end above the plinth. A doorway has no stonework older than the 19th century.

Fig. 43. (35) The Treasurer's House and Gray's Court.

Fig. 44. (35) The Treasurer's House and Gray's Court.

The end of the N.W. wing is of brick above a stone plinth and finished with two shaped gables. Small 17th-century basement windows remain above the plinth, and over the second-floor and attic windows are 17th-century stone pediments and labels respectively (Plate 185). Lighting the staircase hall are plain Venetian-type windows, which are brick counterparts of the stone windows on the S.W. front, and to the N.W. are 19th-century wooden-framed windows, each of three mullioned lights; pairs of 19th-century windows light the attics above. The S.E. wing now has plain windows with timber mullions and transoms; a sketch of c. 1790 by Henry Cave shows it with pediments over windows of varying sizes.

Interior. The house is now entered from Chapter House Street. A passage built c. 1900 leads to the Entrance Hall, in which is a 17th-century fireplace with four-centred head; the hearth has been raised. To the N.E. the accommodation has been drastically remodelled to provide a modern flat. There remains an 18th-century staircase with close string, square newels and turned balusters. The Kitchen retains the original 17th-century fireplace (Plate 174), though a bake oven to the right-hand side of it has been replaced by a modern window. Various alterations and additions have been made to the remainder of this part of the house. The West Sitting Room has been reduced in size by the formation of a passageway from the entrance hall to the great hall; in it the walls are lined with mid 18th-century panelling (Fig. 10d) surmounted by a cornice which is returned on the 17th-century beams dividing the ceiling into six compartments. The mid 18th-century fireplace (Plate 86) has flanking Ionic columns and a scrolled overmantel with a figure of Leda in a niche; it was moved here from a room which formed part of the present great hall. The Dining Room was refitted in the mid 18th century with a plain dado and moulded plaster panels (Fig. 10e) and has a richly-decorated ceiling (Plate 84), the design of which is dictated by the incorporation of the intersecting ceiling beams of the earlier construction. The fireplace (Plate 87), with side pilasters, contains a late 18th-century grate by Carron and is surmounted by an overmantel added c. 1900 framing a landscape painting signed 'Rysdael 1652'. The Great Hall (Plate 81) rises through two storeys and is open to the roof; it was created c. 1900 by the removal of the upper floor and of partitions. The stonework of the lower part of the walls is exposed and that in the N.W. wall shows extensive 12th-century tooling, but whether the stones are in situ or reused is uncertain. At the S. end modern columns support a timber-framed gallery; the present columns, the gallery and the staircase up to it are all of c. 1900, but the columns replace a partition in which there was evidence of an earlier colonnade. In the N.W. wall are fragments of a 17th-century stone frieze. The fireplace, with four-centred head, has been restored and the level of the hearth raised. The roof trusses rise from moulded 17th-century tie-beams, reset upside down, which originally carried three moulded longitudinal beams.

Fig. 45. (35) The Treasurer's House.

North-west of the great hall, the Drawing Room (Plate 81) was formed c. 1900 by the removal of the partition between the former dining room and library; the fireplace was moved to its present central position, and the door surround from the partition was reused at the entrance to the Court Room to balance the doorway to the stair hall. The whole room is lined with bolection-moulded panelling of c. 1730 (Fig. 10c) below a decorated cornice; above the latter a second cornice is returned around the intersecting beams which carry the first floor. The fireplace (Plate 87) has an enriched eared surround and an overmantel framing a portrait of Lady Compton; the design is similar to one published by Batty Langley in The Builder's Complete Assistant, 1748. The Court Room is lined with reused 18th-century panelling but retains a plaster ceiling cornice and a fireplace with four-centred head within a pilastered surround and with a pilastered overmantel, all of the 17th century. The overmantel encloses a landscape by Charles Towne (?) 1763–1840.

The Staircase Hall is lit on the N.E. by a Venetian window inserted c. 1730 and later converted to a rear entrance, but restored in c. 1900. The walls have fielded panels to the dado and a plaster modillioned cornice above. The entrance to the Great Hall is part of the restoration work of c. 1900. The Staircase (Plate 86; Fig. 11q), of c. 1725, rises in three flights, with quarter-landings between; the balustrade has swept handrails terminating in volutes over turned and swirl-fluted newels. The balusters, with reverse-tapered shafts, resemble those in the Mansion House (44) (1726–32), and the concavesided knops are similar to those on the fine staircase at Beningbrough Hall. The first floor is lit by a Venetian window with unorthodox features and perhaps part of the restoration work of c. 1900.

The Queen's Room, now furnished as a bedroom but used as a drawing room in the mid 18th century, has a rather simple Venetian window in the S.W. wall and a sash window in the S.E. wall. The entablatures of doorcases (Plate 85) in the N.E. and N.W. side walls are carved with rococo enrichments with bird-head terminals. It can be presumed that the room was fitted out in the mid 18th century. The adjacent room to N.W. is known as Princess Victoria's Room (Princess Victoria of Wales, daughter of Edward VII, occupied the room in June 1900). It is lined throughout with panelling which may well have been placed there c. 1900, when Mr. Frank Green bought the fireplace overmantel and other fittings from the owners of Micklegate House (1752). The doorcases in the S.E. and N.E. walls have eared architraves, pulvinated friezes and triangular pediments, and may have come from the first-floor drawing room of Micklegate House. It is known that Mr. Green acquired two elaborate doorcases with carved pulvinated friezes which faced the head of the staircase at Micklegate House. The doorcases in the entrance hall of the Treasurer's House are probably the reverse sides of these doorcases and are without doubt those illustrated in an article on Micklegate House and annotated 'Bought by Mr. Green' (YCL, YL/D Acc. 4 Misc. 1). The room is lit by a plain Venetian window in the S.W. wall and a mullioned window in the N.W. wall. In the adjacent room to N.E., known as the Tapestry Room, the oak panelling, discovered under wallpaper in 1897, dates from the first half of the 17th century; the fireplace in the S.W. wall is of the same period, having a simple four-centred arch with chamfer carried down the jambs and terminating in run-out stops. With its plaster ceiling and cornice this room is the one compartment remaining very much as built in the 17th century.

In the S.E. cross-wing, the first-floor Gallery is reached by the reproduction staircase from the Great Hall. This narrow compartment may well represent the original arrangement over the screens passage, though the timber-framed stud wall towards the hall has been greatly altered. Originally there would have been doors from this passage into the rooms of the first floor formerly over the Hall. From this passage entrances lead off to the rooms of the S.E. cross-wing. At the S.W. is the King's Room which has a 17th-century fireplace in the S.E. wall, of which the hearth has been raised. Since 1901 the walls have been decorated in imitation of the painted chamber in St. William's College (34) nearby. S.E. again is a dressing room, described as the South Bedroom, which is wainscotted throughout in fielded panelling. Its main feature is the fine rococo fireplace of c. 1750 in the N.W. wall (Plate 85).

The Sitting Room, over the Dining Room, has a mid 18th-century fireplace with enriched console supports to the mantelpiece and a shell in the centre of the frieze. It may be the 'shell mantelpiece' from Micklegate House bought in December 1897 for £7. 10s. (YCL, YL/D ACC. 4 Misc. 1). The Carron grate is decorated with female figures and Prince of Wales feathers.

The Staircase in the S.E. wing, giving access to the basement and all floors, was constructed about the middle of the 18th century, when most of the refitting of this cross-wing occurred. In a bedroom to the N.E. is an original fireplace of brick which formerly heated a large room now sub-divided; the opening has a three-centred brick arch with a chamfer continued from the jambs.

Gray's Court. Architectural Description. The South-East Elevation of the N.W. range (Plate 83) is of three storeys and of six bays. The walling is of brick; that of the bottom storey is interrupted by stone columns, of 12th-century origin but reused, from which spring low four-centred brick arches with long flat sub-arches. The openings have been bricked up to give the appearance of a blind arcade. Small windows with Yorkshire sliding sashes may be of early 19th-century origin but have been much restored. The brickwork of the first floor is much disturbed and the form of the original fenestration is not apparent. The present windows are the work of Temple Moore. At the second-floor level is a string-course above which all the walling is of the late 18th or early 19th century. At the end adjoining the Treasurer's House the wall rises to a shaped half-gable (Plate 88); this was built to receive the lean-to roof of a small projection in the corner of the courtyard probably contemporaneously with the addition of the top storey of the range, and since removed.

At the N.E. end of the foregoing range a Wing projects S.E. along the N.E. side of the courtyard. The front to the courtyard has mediaeval stonework, perhaps 14th-century, to the ground floor and mid 18th-century brickwork above, with a bay window added c. 1900. The last bay to the S.E. is of three storeys, all of the 19th century; the ground floor appears to have been a coach-house. The S.E. end gable is masked by modern brickwork. The North-East Elevation (Plate 148) has the lower storey of coursed rubble, perhaps of the 14th century, which continues across the end of the main N.W. range of Gray's Court. This stone wall has two simple buttresses and is pierced by small loop-lights and a window made up with raised moulded stones. The upper part is of brick, that is, to the one upper floor only in the wing and the two upper floors in the end of the main range. The first floor of the main range has an entrance doorway reached by a flight of external stone steps. Further N.W. is a three-storeyed brick structure with bowed front, designed by J. B. and W. Atkinson in 1846.

The North-West Elevation of the main range of Gray's Court continues the work of the Atkinsons (1846) but at the S.W. end includes some mediaeval masonry with the moulded stone base of a newel stair. The mediaeval stonework continues into a wing projecting at the S.W. end. The significance of these mediaeval fragments is not known; they may represent a part of the mediaeval Treasurer's House. The South-West Elevation, facing the Minster, is of three storeys, all stucco-rendered, partly setting forward. To the S.E. is an early 18th-century entrance framed between Corinthian columns supporting an entablature with a broken pediment enclosing a bust.

The Interior was drastically altered by Temple Moore c. 1900. The ground floor, some 3 ft. below the present level of the courtyard, is at about the same level as the basement of the Treasurer's House and is shown on the same plan as that basement (Fig. 43). The entrance from the courtyard leads into a long hall, formed by Temple Moore, who removed the central staircase built by J. B. and W. Atkinson and the partitions which in the 19th century divided kitchen, pantry, scullery and store-rooms. The S.E. wall is divided into bays by reset 12th-century columns (Plate 88), as previously described. The N.W. wall is of 12th-century masonry, the original external face being towards the entrance hall. In it are a small round-headed window with renewed jambs and head (Plate 183) and two bands of stones decorated with chip-carved paterae and uniform with others in the upper part of the wall, now covered by panelling. The S.E. end wall is the wall of the Treasurer's House, complete with stone plinth against which the Gray's Court range is built, thus demonstrating that the latter is of a later date than the Treasurer's House. The entrance hall is lined with panelling, partly of the 17th century, reused, and partly modern imitation of 17th-century work.

On the N.W. the building was entirely remodelled by Temple Moore. In c. 1900 he formed a long gallery over the entrance hall where, during the latter part of the 19th century, the Atkinsons' staircase had certainly formed a division, but what other subdivisions there may have been is not now clear. The gallery is lined with panelling, some early 17th-century and some modern, set under a cornice mostly of the early 18th century. Two fireplaces with plaster overmantels and two doorcases (Plate 85) are of the mid 18th century. The 12th-century walling on the N.W. side of the gallery is partly visible behind the panelling; it has a string-course of carved rectangular paterae and a corbel-table, of which one beast-head corbel can be seen. In this same wall is a small blocked round-headed window, with its internal splays visible from the N.W. side.

N.W. of the long gallery is the bow-fronted room of 1846 with contemporary fittings including a fireplace (Plate 179), and at the S.W. end is a room lined with reset 17th-century panelling and with a fireplace with a four-centred head.

The S.E. wing contains, on the first floor, the Sterne Room, said to have been built in the second quarter of the 18th century for Dr. Jaques Sterne; it has a later bay window added to the S.W. The door-case (Plate 163), skirting and window architraves are all richly carved. The fireplace surround (Plate 85) of marble and wood has a central marble portrait medallion of Augusta, Princess of Wales, surrounded by scrolls and acanthus foliage. Festoons of fruit and flowers, looped behind shells, and foliage decoration are similar in style to contemporary work in the long gallery, but do not accord with the marble medallion, which may be a London-made piece set in a surround of York craftsmanship. The coved plaster ceiling (Plate 84) is divided into circular and rectangular compartments, with decoration of foliage, shells and scrolls, partly repeating the motifs of the carved woodwork in the room. This wing also contains a late 18th-century staircase with slender turned balusters and close string. The second floor, added in the late 18th or early 19th century, contains no noteworthy features.

Stained Glass, inserted by Temple Moore, includes: in the window to the main staircase, heraldry and monograms associated with the Hitch family; in the long gallery, representations of Virtues and other subjects; late 17th and early 18th-century, most probably by Henry Gyles (J. T. Brighton in YAJ, xli (1966)). There is also late 19th-century stained glass by J. W. Knowles.