A major exhibition at the NRM is giving a glimpse of how the huge York Central site behind the railway station could be developed.

Over the next few weeks, the people of York are being asked to contribute their own thoughts as part of the ongoing My York Central consultation.

But it is worth remembering why that huge site is there in the first place.

Older readers will know perfectly well - generations of York people were employed there, after all.

But for younger readers, or those who arrived more recently in the city, here's a quick recap of the history of carriage building in York - illustrated with a selection of photographs dug out of our archives...

For well over 100 years, carriage building was a major industry in York. The first small repair shop opened on Queen Street in 1839, according to the History of York website. Engine repair was carried on there until about 1905.

More important to the city's economy, however, was the actual building of wagons and carriages. By 1864 a wagon and carriageworks also based at Queen Street could produce a 100 wagons a week. In the 1880s, the North Eastern Railway decided to concentrate more on carriage building. A new works was in Holgate constructed in 1880-1. This rapidly expanded until by 1910 it covered an area of 45 acres.

By the end of the 19th century, York had about 5,500 railway employees, half of whom were employed in the wagon and carriage works.

The site passed to the ownership of the London and North Eastern Railway, British Rail, and then British Rail Engineering Ltd (BREL). By the 1950s the sprawling works still employed more than 3,000 workers, and down the years hundreds of apprentices from all over Yorkshire came to gain skills and expertise at the plant.

But dark clouds were gathering, even as BREL was privatised in 1987 and site was bought by ABB in 1989. British Rail contracts started being put out to public tender in the 1980s. The failure to gain specific orders led to job losses at York, culminating in eventual closure in 1996.

There were desperate efforts to save the ABB Carriageworks, and the 750 workers still employed there.

York’s then Labour MP Hugh Bayley and his Conservative counterpart in Ryedale, John Greenway, sought a meeting with Transport Minister John Watts, while The Press launched a petition against the closure.

But though the MPs, union representatives and the paper’s then editor, David Nicholson, did get to meet Mr Watts, their efforts were to no avail.

The works closed at the end of July, 1996, marking the end of more than 100 years of carriage and coach-building in York.

Notoriously, the carriageworks are associated with what has come to be known as the York 'asbestos timebomb'.

Scores of people are known to have died of mesothelioma and other lung conditions such as asbestosis caused by breathing in asbestos dust.

But the works also provided gainful employment for many generations of York people and by the time they closed, the risk of asbestosis had been greatly reduced.

Closure of the works came as a huge blow to the hundreds of skilled workers employed there, not to mention to the economy of York as a whole.

If the city can get the development of the huge railway site right, however, it could provide more than 2,000 desperately-needed homes, as well as a new public square, a new 'Great Park' - and even a new, western entrance to the railway station itself.

Stephen Lewis