YOU'LL probably remember last year's balloon fiesta in York. For a couple of days the sight of the huge, inflated envelopes of reinforced nylon drifting over the city - boosted upwards occasionally by an audible blast of heated air - was commonplace.

Intrepid photographers - The Press's own Frank Dwyer among them - took the opportunity to get some great aerial views of the city.

Someone had a similar idea way back in 1920, at that year's York Gala (which would almost certainly have been held in the grounds of Bootham Park Hospital). Balloon flights were clearly one of the key attractions. And an unnamed photographer obviously went for a ride, and brought back with him a series of aerial views of the York of his day.

The photographs made their way into the collection of the Yorkshire Architectural and York Archaeological Society (YAYAS). And YAYAS's Ivan Martin has duly passed copies of them to us, for reproduction in The Press. Many thanks, Ivan.

There's a lovely shot from ground level, showing a tethered balloon straining at the leash amidst crowds of elegantly-dressed gala-goers.

York Press:

The York Gala, c 1920. Photo: YAYAS

The aerial shots (see gallery) show York Minster, of course, plus the streets and terraces surrounding it, as well as the River Ouse. In one photograph you can clearly make out, running parallel to the straight line of Bootham, a large building that looks oddly like a railway station or a hangar. That, we believe, must be the old exhibition hall which once stood behind York Art Gallery.

According to the History of York website, the art gallery was originally built in 1879 to house the Second Yorkshire Fine Art and Industrial Exhibition. It was about twice the size it is today, having a 'Great Exhibition Hall' (the building visible in the photograph) extending from the back. This was an all-purpose space, used for exhibitions but also, according to the History of York site, as a 'venue for boxing matches and cock fighting'. Quite a combination.

The building was hit by bombs during the Second World War and was demolished in 1942. But Ivan has kindly supplied a photograph of the interior of the building taken in 1881. And quite a lavish interior it was too...

York Press:

Interior of the Great Hall behind the art gallery, c 1881

  • The Yorkshire Architectural and York Archaeological Society (YAYAS) has been promoting and protecting the history, heritage and architecture of York and Yorkshire since 1842. You can find out more about the organisation by visiting