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A brief history and vision for the future
Some readers of this website will have heard about York Conservation Trust but there will be those who may not know us and probably most will not be aware of our aims, objects and history.
York Conservation Trust Limited (initially Ings Property Company Limited) was formed in 1945 by Dr John Bowes Morrell and his brother Mr Cuthbert Morrell, both of whom had been buying medieval properties in York for many years, which they restored and rehabilitated, together with Dr Morrell’s son, Mr William Bowes Morrell. Their properties were combined under one company – Ings Property Company Limited – without expectation of profit until 1976, when all the properties in the company were bequeathed to the current registered charity, York Conservation Trust Limited.
In order to understand the workings of the Trust, it is probably easiest to review its main objects viz; “to preserve for the benefit of the towns people of the City of York in the County of North Yorkshire together with the extended area of the County of North Yorkshire but more particularly those areas with a YO postcode, and of the nation at large, whatever of the English historical, architectural and constructional heritage may exist in and around the City of York together with the extended area of the County of North Yorkshire but more particularly those areas with a YO postcode aforesaid in the form of buildings of particular beauty or historical, architectural or constructional interest”.
From its beginnings with 7 properties, the Trust now owns and runs 91 buildings, consisting of 79 residential and 63 commercial lets and a Mausoleum. Many of the buildings will be well known to residents of and visitors to York, including Fairfax House, The Red House, Sir Thomas Herbert’s House, Gert and Henry’s at 4 Jubbergate, Wealden Hall at 49 Goodramgate, the Almshouses at Ingram House, the Assembly Rooms, the De Grey Rooms and De Grey House and St. Anthony’s Hall and Garden.
Restoration and conservation has to be balanced with the need to put the building to its best use, both from the point of view of its tenants and in the life of the City. The Trust does not, to borrow the commercial jargon, have a mission statement.
The current Directors and Trustees (all related to the Founders) are keen to ensure that any property for sale, covered by the above objects, should be acquired by the Trust and, where necessary, returned to its former glory rather than be left to fall into disrepair. We also endeavour, where possible, to ensure that such properties do not leave the ownership of York people who have grown up with those buildings and respect their heritage. All our buildings are maintained to a very high standard and all the work is carried out by local businesses, thereby generating further wealth for the City.
With the economy booming and commercial firms expanding, a charity such as ours can offer a more measured and less profit-driven approach. When times are hard, commercial firms are less likely to give the upkeep of ancient buildings high priority but, so long as our rental income covers costs, we need not do the same. An increasing number of buildings in the City, which are unattractive to commercial developers or offer low returns, come on the market. We hope that our established reputation will ensure that we can fill that gap as a safe pair of hands, both for the quality of restoration and for the performance of our stewardship.
Finally a brief mention of another question, which we have often asked ourselves: To what extent should the Trust, by its choice of commercial tenants, seek to influence the direction of life and shopping in the City Centre, albeit in a small way? Where all other factors are equal, we probably tend to favour smaller local businesses and shops, especially if they give diversity to the area. Too many city centres have become boring clones of undistinguished (and undistinguishable) shopping malls or high streets. We believe that York should remain different.
This may all sound very general and obvious but old buildings are by their very nature individuals and the Trust will face future challenges with each new acquisition. Together with the City Fathers, we are determined that no further buildings of architectural or historical importance will be destroyed and lost for the enjoyment of our future generations.
Prior to the production of this website, the Trust commissioned two books of the properties held at those times; one in 1981 and an updated version in 1995. Part of the preface of the original book written by Mr William Bowes Morrell, the father of the current Chairman, is reproduced here.