GEORGE Hudson has left the building....

Workmen take down the huge portrait of the former Lord Mayor and one-time 'Railway King' that hangs in the stairway at the Mansion House, before carrying it out to a waiting removals van.

The house is being emptied of its contents ahead of a £1.9 million Heritage Lottery Funded restoration that will last 13 months.

This Saturday and Sunday, however, it will be open to the public for the last time before it closes, giving you a chance to see the official residence of the Lord Mayors of York in a completely different light: empty for the first time since 1732.

"We're taking absolutely everything out, from the silver forks to the big painting of George Hudson," says Mansion House manager Richard Pollitt. "It will be an empty shell. You don't get the chance to see a Grade I listed building empty very often!"

York Press:

Mansion House manager Richard Pollitt as the state room is being cleared

There's no need to book. "Just come along," says Mr Pollitt. "It will be completely free."

If you do go along, you’ll certainly get the chance to see the famous building in a completely different light.

The dining room, which was always quite dark because of the thick drapes hanging in the windows, has been completely opened up. "It is so much lighter and brighter," says Mr Pollitt. Not to mention having a spectacular view out over St Helen's Square - you really notice for the first time how much the room is raised up above street level.

York Press:

The dining room, with the table ready to be removed

Up in the state room, the great chandeliers that have hung from the ceiling for so long are gone, giving the room a completely different look. Elsewhere, bare floorboards creak and echo under your feet - and the whole building is taking on a deserted, slightly saddened air.

York Press:

The state room being cleared

"Soon it will be just the ghosts here," Mr Pollitt says.

Except it won't be. The next year will be a busy one for the Mansion House.

Over the course of the next 13 months, largely with the help of a £1.7 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant, the house will be undergoing a complete structural restoration.

The great Georgian mansion is, literally, built on sand. There are no proper foundations to speak of, and the house is, very slowly, beginning to sink. As you walk around the building - particularly noticeable now it has been emptied - you can see the cracks.

A big part of the project, therefore, will be underpinning the house to stop it sinking further.

Other elements of the project will include: - restoration of the Georgian kitchens in the basement

York Press:

All packed up: the Georgian kitchens

- 'refreshing' of other public rooms such as the state room and the dining room

- the conversion of two rooms on the first floor - one of them the 'Blue Room' - into galleries for the house's extensive collection of gold and silver. This collection includes Elizabethan ‘pottage’ spoons dating from the late 1500s; a pair of glorious silver tankards, gifted to the Lord Mayor in 1672 by Thomas Bawtry; and a wealth of other spoons, cutlery, tankards, salvers and other silverware.

- rewiring of the whole building, plus other necessary conservation work.

- repainting of the outside of the building.

When it reopens in October next year after a 13-month restoration, the Mansion House will continue to be the working heart of civic democracy in York and the Lord Mayor's official home: but it will also be much more accessible to the public.

It will effectively have become another - if very special - museum. The house will be open every Wednesday to Sunday from 10.30am to 5pm. And visitors, on payment of a small entrance fee (it will hopefully be free to anyone with a York Card) will be able to roam about the building virtually at will taking in the new gold and silver galleries on the first floor; the great dining room where the Lord Mayor entertains guests; the state room where civic functions were once held; the minstrels’ gallery which looks down into the state room; the robing room; drawing rooms such as the yellow room; and even the kitchens. There will also be audio tours available and - for those who would prefer them - guided tours.

You'll never again, after this weekend, get the opportunity to see the house stripped back to its bare essentials, however - as empty as the day it was finished almost 300 years ago. Don't miss the chance...