AFTER years of discussion and debate, work is finally beginning on the transformation of York Central – the huge, 178-acre brownfield site behind York Railway Station.

True, all that is happening so far is some work to improve the Millennium Green on Leeman Road. But that is, actually, a part of the York Central scheme: in 2018, the Millennium Green Trust agreed to allow some land at the Green to be used during construction work on the huge site.

So what has been happening this week really is the first step towards a huge multi-million redevelopment process that will take years, and will ultimately see hundreds of new homes, as well as offices, and new streets, shops and public spaces.

The site has often been described as ‘one of the largest brownfield sites in Europe’. The reason it is brownfield is because this, historically, is where York’s major carriage- and coach-building industry grew and developed over a period of a century or more.

The remnants of that once great industry are still to be found on the site, in the form of rusting railway sidings and, more importantly, old railway buildings that tell the story of coach and carriage building in York.

The industrial heritage of York Central was carefully inventoried a few years ago by railway historian Dr Bill Fawcett. Alison Sinclair, a retired English Heritage historic buildings expert, then gave a presentation to the 2016 York Archaeology Conference based on Dr Fawcett's work.

Here are some of the important buildings and structures on York Central that they drew attention to...

York Railway Station

York Press:

Built in 1877 for the North Eastern Railway Company, the Grade II* listed station includes the original taxi kiosk from about 1900 and the art nouveau-style Station Tearoom of 1906. The main station concourse itself, with its curving plan and wrought iron and glass roof, was the largest station of its kind when built and remains today the 'most architectural of surviving contemporary railway stations in the UK,' Alison sSinclair said. The front of the station is now being refurbished, but the fabric of the greaty building will reman unchanged.

North Eastern Railway Company goods station and weighbridge (now the National Railway Museum admin building)

York Press:

Built in 1877 and Grade II listed, the building is an 'almost intact example of an early industrial goods distribution system' complete with a weighbridge that 'probably most people don't notice', Alison said.

Freightliner depot

York Press:

This was built in 1867 by the North Eastern Railway company to provide new shops for wagon-building and repair on what was at the time virtually a green field site. It is not listed, but the spread of railway infrastructure such as this across what is now known as York Central maps the development of the railway industry in York, Alison said. The North Eastern Railway Company was formed in 1854 from the amalgamation of the York and North Midland with the York, Newcastle and Berwick railway. The new company's headquarters were in York, but it began to rationalise its workshop provision. Construction and maintenance work moved to Darlington and Shildon, while carriage-building and major repairs remained at York.

The 1867 wagon-building workshop is dilapidated and so at risk of demolition. "But consideration should be given to its retention and re-use for some kind of commercial or workshop purposes," Alison said.

Network Rail's Holgate Depot

York Press:

Built in 1884 and 1886 as the North Eastern Railway Company's new carriage-building workshops and stores, these buildings continued to be used for this purpose until they were closed in 1995, Alison said. They're now used by Network Rail, and are important as examples of York's heavy industrial past. "They also have high social significance for the many people in York whose families' livelihoods depended on the construction and maintenance of locomotives, wagons and passenger carriages," Alison said.


The back of the Railway Institute gym and rifle range, with water tower

York Press:

The gym incorporates some of the original 1844 York & North Midland Railway wagon repair shop, which in 1884 became part of the Locomotion Erecting Shop no2.

The Grade II listed water tower and coke store beside the gym was built by the York & North Midland in 1839. It is the oldest surviving railway structure on the York Central site, and served as the prototype for later York and North Midland railway company water tanks. 

Autohorn Fleet services

York Press:

This was built in about 1874 as the Albion Foundry Casting Shop, together with the next-door Phoenix Foundry which was demolished in 2012. The Albion Foundry had moved to Leeman Road in the 1870s to support the expansion of the railway network, Alison said. The former casting shop has "some architectural merit and was designed by a York architect, Charles Toft Newstead. It is of pier and panel construction, punctuated by elegant round-arched windows (now blocked)."


Original Albion Foundry office building and smiths' shop

York Press:

This was built in 1874 and is now disused. All the foundry buildings will be at risk, Alison warned, and their survival is questionable because of their derelict condition. "The gable end of the smiths' shop was originally open-fronted because it housed seven hearths. The buildings, together with others relating to the foundry...comprise a highly significant example of York's industrial history."

National Railway Museum's Bullnose building

York Press:

Built in 1876, this was originally the North Eastern Railway coal manager's office, and later the locomotive superintendent's office. "A notable and conspicuous building...but seemingly disused," Alison said.

National Railway Museum: original goods station stables

York Press:

Built in 1900. "Both the stables and the Bullnose building are of high historical significance as part of an important and almost intact example of an early industrial goods distribution system," Alison said. "The stables are a reminder of the long-lasting role of horses in the carriage of goods - and people - associated with the railway."

Queen Street Bridge

York Press:

Built in 1878 to replace an original level crossing on the approach to the old station, this has 'high historical significance as an early example of reinforced concrete construction, and some significance as evidence of the approach through an arch in the city walls to the first railway station," Alison said in 2016. It is, however, to be demolished as part of the project to revamp the front of the railway station.