A GIANT “gold box” is to house 800 years of York’s history as part of a £1.6 million scheme to open up priceless documents.

The state-of-the-art vault, which was being craned into place at the York Explore centre on Museum Street this week, will be an extension to the Grade II-listed building and is designed to preserve and display the city’s internationally-renowned archives, so they can be viewed by residents and visitors.

Thousands of books, manuscripts and maps - covering everything from complaints about medieval prostitutes and the death of Richard III to the Second World War and more recent material - will be stored on almost a mile of shelves in the climate-controlled box.

It will stand above the children’s section and cafe of the library and has been designed with gold and copper-coloured panels in a way which distinguishes it from the building’s 1920s design, on the advice of English Heritage.

The new addition, part of City of York Council’s Heritage Lottery-funded Gateway to History project, was designed by Bisset Adams Architects and the work is being carried out by York-based William Birch and Sons Ltd.

Coun Sonja Crisp, the council’s cabinet member for leisure, culture and tourism, said: “The design also reflects the pattern of the city walls directly behind the building.

“The construction method makes the box watertight and lightweight, which is crucial because the archives are extremely heavy so, when the vault is filled, it will weigh the equivalent of five extra storeys.”

Over the next few weeks, the box will be roofed and clad in its gold and bronze casing. Once it has been secured, the first floor of York Explore will be renovated to create access to the documents, with the new archive set to open at the end of this year and the library closing for five months from the start of June.

The oldest document in the archives – Henry II’s charter, dating back to about 1155 – is older than York Minster and the Bar Walls, and the 300 cubic metres of documents which will be stored would circle the city if they were laid end to end.

The Heritage Lottery Fund grant for Gateway to History totals £1.574 million. When York Explore closes, opening hours at other libraries will increase. The council will give more details as work continues.