ACCORDING to Jefferson Airplane's Paul Kantner, if you can remember the sixties, you weren't there. Well Paul Chrystal clearly does and his latest book York in the 1960s is packed with interesting accounts of a defining age in the city's history.

Chrystal takes the ground breaking Esher Report as his central theme, calling it of 'prodigious importance', literally paving the way for the preservation and conservation of much we can still see and enjoy today.

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St Helen's Square

But Chrystal informs us the real hero of the hour was Alderman Bill Burke, who at a council meeting, and in the face of government building subsidies, declared: 'Over my dead body will we have bloody tower blocks in York." As jealous a preserver of the city's heritage, the author reckons, as Etty.

That said, somethings never change. Even in 1968 Stonebow and Piccadilly were earmarked as 'major culprits in the malaise that has affected York and indeed gave rise for the need for such a report." Almost 50 years on and we're still no further forward.

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Tourism, on the other hand, really has taken off. In a fascinating section on visitor numbers, Chrystal tells us how woefully short of hotel rooms York was, with half the number of Bath or Chester, two of the other cities to benefit from Esher's recommendations. No wonder in the sixties only one in forty visitors came from overseas, or that most stayed for just one night.

The book is full of surprising revelations for those who don't remember anything about the sixties, or who are too young to have been there. St Helen's Square, for example, was apparently a 'busy traffic intersection not improved visually by the frigidly symmetrical islands in the middle'. It's hard to picture such a scene now.

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House prices are even more unimaginable. Chrystal points out that a five bedroom terrace house off Bishopthorpe Road was on the market for £2,800 in 1967. That equates to three times the average salary; today it would be more like 19 times.

Pop music was the hallmark of the 'sixties and York was no exception. There is a great photo of Paul McCartney signing his autograph outside the Rialto in November 1963 and Chrystal has a brilliant piece of Beatles trivia for completists. John Lennon was unable to perform at an earlier concert there so the band played as a three piece. The only time they ever did.

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York's name as a chocolate mecca was still strong in the sixties. Chrystal tells us in 1962 more than half the city's women were employed by Terrys and Rowntree, with 13 special buses laid on for them. Another famous industrial name F W Shepherd developed the Portakabin in 1963, while farmers were still a familiar sight with 6,000 sheep and cattle herded into 44 stalls at the market where now stands the Barbican.

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Chrystal opens by saying the fifties exuded an overriding greyness, while the 'sixties heralded a new optimism, an end to austerity, more disposable income and more time-saving gadgets. In a nutshell that defines the era; polychrome replacing monochrome, both metaphorically and physically.

He closes with a chapter on education and of course the 1960s saw York's long overdue university open.

It would prove to be one of the most important decades in this city's history.