A PREVIOUSLY-HIDDEN corner of York city-centre is being opened to the public for the first time in 100 years.

Work has begun on creating an artists' garden and edible wood behind York Art Gallery, linking to the Museum Gardens, Marygate and Exhibition Square.

York Museums Trust says the two-acre site was last used by the public when much of it was the Great Hall, a huge exhibition space attached to the gallery when it was built in 1879. The hall closed in 1909 after it was deemed unsafe and it was then destroyed in a German bombing raid in 1942. It had earlier been enclosed by the monks of St Mary's in 1266. More recently, the site was home to Canadian Airforce huts, then educational arts spaces.

York Press:

Alison Pringle on the site

The garden will open to the public on Yorkshire Day, August 1.

Alison Pringle, gardens manager for the Trust, said: “This site is truly a hidden corner of York’s city centre which we can’t wait to reveal to the public. It was first enclosed by the monks of St Mary’s Abbey in 1266 and for the majority of the 700 years that followed it has been off limits and hidden behind the high abbey walls. 

“For a long time it was orchards and pasture owned by the abbey, so in a way the creation of an edible wood will hark back to the area’s past, while the new Artists’ Garden will give the city a versatile space for a wide range of arts events.”

York Press:

Contractor Simpson, which has carried out work on the gallery's £8 million redevelopment, has begun work on the garden site. The design work is by landscape architects Erika Diaz Peterson and JCLA. 

A trust spokesperson said: "Much of the Artists’ Garden will be turfed, with York stone used to create a terrace and pathways from Exhibition Square to the rear of the gallery leading to the Edible Wood. Work has also started on this area which was once a private bowling green."

Paths will link the space to Exhibition Square, Museum Gardens and from there  on to the River Ouse. 


History of the site (courtesy of York Museums Trust)

1070s - Benedictine Abbey established at St Olave’s Church and nearby land

1089 - King William II laid the foundation stone for St Mary’s Church

1266 - Abbey walls are begun

c.1324 - St Mary’s Tower built at the northwest corner of the site

1539 - Dissolution of the Monasteries and surrender of St Mary’s Abbey to the commissioners of King Henry VIII

1644 - Great Siege of York, when St Mary’s tower is damaged in one of the skirmishes. .

1685 - Map shows site as open pasture with a wall between Queen Margaret’s Arch and the King’s Manor. This site covers part of the King’s Manor Kitchen Garden and an Orchard at this time.

1736 - Site shown on map as cultivated gardens

1874-79 - Buildings on Exhibition Square are demolished.

1879 - 7th May, the Yorkshire Fine Art and Industrial Exhibition building is opened. Complex included permanent front building and the Great Hall which occupied a large area at the rear of the gallery.

1909 - The Great Hall is declared unsafe and closed for use.

1911 - Installation of the Etty statue and remodelling of Exhibition Square

c.1912 - Bowling green at the rear of the Gallery is created

1914 - Main Gallery space (former Lecture Hall) is used as a post office.

1942 - 29th April, bombing raid over York causes damage to the Gallery, St Mary’s Abbey and the Yorkshire Museum, as well as numerous other buildings in the vicinity. The damaged Great Hall is dismantled.

1944 - The Great Hall site is rented by the Canadian Royal Air Force and huts for accommodation are constructed on the site.

1946 - The Canadian RAF vacate the huts at the rear of the site and the buildings are taken over by the York Corporation for educational purposes.

c.1972 - Civic Trust constructs the fountain and pool in front of the Etty statue in exhibition Square.

2002 - York Museums Trust takes over York Art Gallery and undertakes several gallery refurbishments between 2005-2012

2013 - York Art Gallery closes for £8million project

2015 - York Art Gallery reopens and occupies the spaces once occupied by the archives.