Where Do You Think You Are? A Community Collections Tour of York Part 1

Hello, I’m Georgie. I’m a Reading and Learning Advisor, usually based at York Explore Library. Since August, I’ve been seconded to our Archives & Local History department working on the Community Collections Project, alongside Sarah Tester and Francesca Taylor.

Community collections consist of non-civic records belonging to individuals, families, businesses and community groups. I was assigned 40 collections of Family and Personal Papers to research and begin to list on CALM, which is the archives management system we use.

I’ve come across some really fascinating stories in the past three months. I was familiar with some of the names – such as the Morrell family and William Etty, but others were new to me. Many of the people who created these collections (which include letters, personal financial records, and diaries) were not particularly famous, but the papers they left behind offer a fascinating insight into not only their personal, family, and professional lives, but also into life in York and Yorkshire from the sixteenth to the twentieth century.

While walking in York one day, I spotted a plaque near Treasurer’s House, commemorating York astronomer, John Goodricke.

Plaque commemorating John Goodricke, near Treasurer's House
Plaque commemorating John Goodricke, near Treasurer’s House

This spawned the idea to look around York for other plaques, statues, and buildings connected with the people behind the collections I’m working on. I did a little research online, and then spent the afternoon of Tuesday 7th October walking around the city, locating sites connected with the people behind some of our Community Collections.

I have divided my tour into three segments which I will share on this blog over the next few weeks.

This week’s post focuses on two York families whose legacy can still be seen around the city today.

The Morrell Family:

One of the collections I’m working on  consists of the personal and household accounts of the Morrell family of York. These papers mostly relate to Robert Morrell and his wife Anna Morrell (nee Wilson). Robert and Anna had a son, William Wilberforce Morrell, who married Lydia Hutchinson in 1869 and had two sons – Cuthbert, born in 1872 and John Bowes, born in 1873.

Cuthbert and John were co-founders of the York Conservation Trust which still cares for several of York’s oldest buildings. John played a key role in the movement to establish a university in York, and the ‘JBM’ Library at York University is named after him. He also served as Lord Mayor of York. He became Director of Rowntrees when he was only 25 years old.

Apart from the JBM Library, there are two other locations in York commemorating the Morrell brothers and their importance to the city.

One is this beautiful timber-framed 14th century house located at the bottom of Walmgate, the Bowes Morrell House.

Plaque from Bowes Morrell House
Plaque from Bowes Morrell House
 Bowes Morrell House, 111 Walmgate
Bowes Morrell House, 111 Walmgate


There is also the Cuthbert Morrell House, at 47 Aldwark, which was formerly part of the Blue Coat School

Plaque outside Cuthbert Morrell House, 47 Aldwark.
Plaque outside Cuthbert Morrell House, 47 Aldwark.

The Gray Family:

Another family whose name is still recognized in York today is the Gray family, who were solicitors in York from at least 1695. Several of the collections I’m working on relate to either Gray’s Solicitors or to the family’s personal life. William Gray was born in Hull in 1751. In 1777 he married Faith Hopwood. In 1788, he bought the property that became known as ‘Gray’s Court’, near Treasurer’s House. The Gray family lived there until 1945. Today, it is a luxury hotel, located between Chapter House Street and Ogleforth:

Gray;s Court Hotel, formerly the residence of the Gray family (1788-1945)
Gray’s Court Hotel, formerly the residence of the Gray family (1788-1945)
Gray's Court
Gray’s Court

William became a solicitor, and was a partner in the firm of Graves & Gray. By 1843, the firm had become simply ‘Gray’s Solicitors’ and successive generations of the family were partners. The firm was later joined by partners William Henry Cobb and Ernest Ralph Dodsworth.

In 1897, Gray’s  moved  from their offices at 75 Low Petergate to Duncombe Place.

Gray's Solicitors. The firm moved to this premises on Duncombe Place in 1897.
Gray’s Solicitors. The firm moved to this premises on Duncombe Place in 1897.

These collections won’t be available when we open in January as there is  still need to do some processing work we need to do. We can’t get started on this until we have the new archive open, but we’ll be gradually making collections available throughout 2015 and will let you all know as soon as they are ready.

Next week, I’ll share some images relating to another well-established York legal firm, and to one of York’s most influential businessmen and politicians.

7 thoughts on “Where Do You Think You Are? A Community Collections Tour of York Part 1

  1. Hello Georgie,
    My name is Ken Haywood. My wife and I have been in discussion with Sarah Tester and Laura Yeoman regarding our City of York WW1 Index.
    I am interested in both the Morrell and Gray families. Please drop me a personal e-mail to avoid boring everybody else.
    Ken Haywood

  2. Fascinating detail Georgie and like the added value of the photos of places in York. It would be a great idea to develop an archives walking ‘treasure hunt’ around York; showing the interesting sites and their connections with people & events contaIned in records of the archives….buildings, bridges, street clearance, ring road plans, etc

  3. look back at Walmgate area, as it was in the 18 -1900s it was a thriving busy street. my grandparents had tenancy of pubs there, at different times in the 1800 and 1900s Joseph and Jessica Bagnall. Granddad saw the ghost of Green Jenny in one of them. it was noted by my mother
    in a letter to the press. She was Jeissica Lilley as a child and lived in Lawrence street in a shop there I believe.

  4. Goodricke College at the University of York is named after John Goodricke, and Gray’s Court is where I worked in the early 70’s, when it housed the English, History and Theology departments of St. John’s College, now York St.John’s College.

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