From the Archives 2015
From the Archives
by Bob Hale
“A nice bit of Victorian nonsense”: the Lodge, YPS headquarters
The year 2015 marked the 50th anniversary of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society’s occupation of the Lodge as its headquarters. Part of the legal agreement between us and York City Council when we handed over the Yorkshire Museum and Gardens in January 1961 was that accommodation should be found for the Society to continue to run its affairs. For the first few years we shared office space within the museum. By the summer of 1962, however, with the impending retirement of two stalwarts, the museum assistant Miss Edith Holmes and our clerk Arthur Colley, employed by the YPS since 1916 and 1921 respectively, it was becoming clear that our Honorary Secretary and Honorary Treasurer, not to mention the new clerk, needed a place to work that would not interfere with the museum professionals who had been or soon would be appointed.1
It took until October 1963 for the Yorkshire Museum Committee to recommend the Lodge just inside the main entrance to the gardens as a suitable location. Built in the 1870s to designs by the architect George Fowler Jones (1818-1905), who had joined the Society when he settled in York thirty years before, it was now the ill-maintained home of Mrs Olive Gatenby, who at the time was unwell and living away with her daughter. The committee felt that “having regard to Mrs Gatenby’s age and illness, and the damp and unsatisfactory condition of the Lodge, the tenancy should be terminated”.2 Work would then be done to bring the building up to standard for office use and storage.
The Annual report for 1960 stated that Mrs Gatenby had been Lodge-keeper since 1940. The position was no longer required once the gates were thrown open to the public from 1961, and the report paid tribute to her: “Members will recall her helpfulness over this long period, and will wish her many years of happy retirement”. The city council, responsible for the premises after handover, had allowed her to carry on living there “rent- and rates-free for the time being”.3 Now she was given notice to vacate, and she finally moved out in April 1964. After some equivocation, the council voted £500 to refurbish the Lodge, and agreed a further £200 at our request to turn an upstairs room into a members’ reading room. The building was eventually leased to us, specifically excluding the porch which contains meters and switches for the lights in the grounds and provides a base for security staff, “at the annual rent of one peppercorn payable (if demanded) on the first day of February in each year”.4 (So far it never has been demanded).
Victorian architecture was little prized in the 1960s and early 70s. Nikolaus Pevsner, describing York in his Buildings of England series, dealt with 19th century churches and public buildings, including the Yorkshire Museum, but not much else. The Lodge escaped his notice. The publishers did however insert additional notes in parentheses from the local expert John Hutchinson, who mentioned it only very succinctly: “The Lodge is a nice bit of Victorian nonsense”.5
Twenty years later attitudes had changed. David Neave’s extended revision of Pevsner, with infinitely more detailed research, noted that George Fowler Jones “specialized in Gothic, designing a number of competent churches and schools in the city and county”.6 These included St Thomas’s, Lowther Street, built in the 1850s, and the churches of Clifton, Heworth and Stamford Bridge in the 1860s. He also worked on the restoration of several others, and had built 78 Bootham for himself in 1862.7 Neave wrote: “The delightful Museum Lodge, with corner turret, [designed] 1874 by G Fowler Jones, is far superior to the same architect’s Club Chambers opposite, built c.1873, a rather dull polychrome brick building in a mildly French renaissance style”.8 (Hutchinson acerbically agreed. In the guide to York that he co-authored, he said that on Museum Street “G F Jones’s Club Chambers is better not noticed”.9)
The Lodge was built in 1875-6. Let us hope that Fowler Jones met the expectations of York Corporation in this enterprise. It had supported the Society in its decision to build a lodge that would replace the old gate-keeper’s house, acquired in 1848, with something “more in harmony with the existing Walls of the City and with the other erections of olden times within the grounds … in such a position as to leave an unobstructed view of the grounds along the street of Lendal and … add to the beauty and attractiveness of that part of the City in which so many improvements both public and private have of late years been made”.10 Lendal Bridge had, of course, been completed just twelve years earlier to provide a direct link from the railway station to Museum Street, which became a thoroughfare past the Museum Gardens, up to the grandeur of St Leonard’s Place, and straight on via the newly laid out Duncombe Place to the Minster.
Fowler Jones, who had studied under William Wilkins, architect of the Museum,11 had been selected on the basis that his plans, as laid before the Society, “combine the best improvement with the least cost”: he had advised them that it “will not exceed £500 exclusive of the Lodge gates”.12 The building funds were to be raised by members’ subscription, whilst the money for new gates was donated by Mr Thomas Ellis, former Medical Officer of the County Asylum. Tenders, however, came in at almost £980, and although they were brought down by £120 before contracts were signed, the final bill to the Society was £1160 15s 5d, including extra money spent on the gates to make them “worthy of the entrance to one of the principal places of public resort in the City of York”.13
Council of the Society did not quibble, and almost 140 years on, and 50 years since taking up occupation, we are happy to be there still.
1 Yorkshire Museum Committee minutes, 11 Sep 1962, YPS Archives, Box 4b: York, Borthwick Institute.
2 Yorks Museum C minutes, 15 Oct 1963.
3 Yorks Museum C minutes, 13 June 1961.
4 Copy lease, YPS Archives, Box 13: York, Borthwick Institute.
5 Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Yorkshire: York and the East Riding, (1972, reprinted 1974), 137.
6 Nikolaus Pevsner and David Neave, The Buildings of England. Yorkshire: York and the East Riding, (2nd edition, 1995), 90.
7 Pevsner and Neave, 241.
8 Pevsner and Neave, 226.
9 John Hutchinson and D M Palliser, Bartholomew City Guides. York (1980), 160.
10 Copy report of York Corporation Finance Committee, YPS Archives, Box 9, bundle 5/5: York, Borthwick Institute.
11 Wikipedia article, ‘George Fowler Jones’, seen 16/12/2015.
12 YPS Council minutes, 6 Oct 1873, YPS Archives, Box 1c: York, Borthwick Institute.
13 YPS Council minutes, 3 Apr 1876, YPS Archives, Box 1c: York, Borthwick Institute.