Following the news, reported by The Press,  that the University of York is looking to move on from King's Manor - Dr Duncan Marks of York Civic Trust has shared a potted history of the landmark site.

The recent announcement that the University of York is looking to end teaching at the King’s Manor and give up its lease from the Council has taken many in the city by surprise, with worries for the future use of what is one of York’s finest medieval structures.

The building’s fascinating history shows rich and varied uses over time. It gives hope that the Grade-I listed King’s Manor can find a new, viable purpose, and swiftly. 

The key date for understanding the major change in use of King’s Manor is November 29, 1539. It is when St. Mary’s Abbey was formerly surrendered to Henry VIII as part of the 'Dissolution of the Monasteries' that saw the Crown take possession of vast swathes of Church property.

King's Manor was the home to Manor School from 1813 to 1922 (Image: Newsquest/ York Explore)

Prior to this date, what we now call King’s Manor had been the Abbot's House as part of St. Mary's Abbey. An abbot’s house had stood on the site since c.1270, but much of the building we know today dates from the 1480s and were built using a new, cutting-edge and rather daring material of its day – bricks!

King's Manor, as it quickly became known, was swiftly transformed into the centre of administering royal justice across northern England between 1539 and 1641, when it was the headquarters of the King’s Council of the North.

Along with the castle complex at Clifford's Tower, King's Manor became and remains York's strongest historical connection with the monarchy. It was the residence for kings and queens when visiting the city. This included James VI of Scotland, who stayed at the manor in 1603 when travelling south to become James I of England as part of the 'Union of the Crowns' for the two kingdoms.

James’s son, Charles I, also took up residence in 1633 and 1639. The latter stay was shortly before the Civil War broke out, when the King’s Manor became the Royalist headquarters and northern stronghold for the King’s cause. Charles’ ornate gilded and painted royal coat of arms remains above the entrance.

King's Manor, when it was home to the Blind School (Image: York Explore)

A small battle even took place on a bowling green, of all things, to the rear of the manor in June 1644 as part of the Civil War siege of York. The battle occurred when Parliamentarian forces (the “Roundheads”) used a mine to blow up the corner tower of the abbey precinct wall on Bootham and Marygate. They attacked the manor house and captured a hundred or so Royalists, but were then beaten back with the loss of up to three-hundred men.

Following the Royalist defeat at the Battle of Marston Moor, just outside York, a few weeks later, the King’s Manor was surrendered to Cromwell’s troops. It marked two centuries of decline for King’s Manor, which was leased out and subdivided into apartments, workshops and warehouses.

We may think King's Manor’s use for education is only a recent thing, with the University taking out a lease on the site in 1963 for its pioneering Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies and later for its Archaeology Department, but it's actually been used for teaching for over two hundred years.

Dr Duncan Marks, York Civic Trust (Image: Newsquest)

The Manor National School was opened in part of the Manor in 1813. It's most famous pupil is Anne Lister - aka “Gentleman Jack” - who attended from 1804 and her time there is the basis of award-winner Emma Donoghue's latest novel Learned By Heart. Graffiti etched into one of King’s Manor’s leaded windows is said to have been made by Anne. It certainly has a poetic, Yorkshire ring to it: "With this diamond I cut this glass. With this face I kissed a lass”

King's Manor also became a school for the blind in 1835 - established in the memory of Yorkshire MP and anti-slavery campaigner, William Wilberforce, who had died in 1833. Until 1958, it provided considered training for those with visual impairments, including developing musical and craft-based skills. A few of the school’s organ pipes can still be seen in the library. Alfred Hollins (1865-1942) was one such pupil. An organ recitalist, composer and organ maker, Hollins went on to become world renowned in his day, with tours across the globe.

So then, that’s abbots, kings, justice, battles, graffiti, and world-renowned organists. It’s quite a heady, cultural medley. It sets a high bar and, we hope, helps inspire the next fabulous chapter for the King’s Manor.