The My Castle Gateway project is about shaping the future but this raises questions about the area’s past: What do we need to understand about the histories of Castle Gateway to make decisions about its future? We caught up with John Oxley, City of York Council City Archaeologist to ask him the big stories of the area – and whether the Romans or Normans thought about ‘planning’ in the way we do.
John suggests that we need to understand the Castle Gateway area – and the history of York generally – through a series of transformational episodes (Romans, Vikings, Normans, Dissolution of the Monasteries, Prison, mass transportation, railways and cars). In each of these transformational episodes, ‘there was a concept behind what they wanted to achieve’. However, these concepts for the most part were ‘autocratic, elite interventions […] there was no concept of consultation or democratic debate’. Yet today ‘we have a framework where people can have a say and decision-makers need to reflect and incorporate what people want from a place. This marks out this transformation episode as fundamentally different from anything that’s happened before.’
• The Castle Gateway area’s history includes the Romans, the Vikings, the Normans, the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the 19th century prison and the 20th Century car park, museum, court, shopping areas we can see today: the area has a ‘little bit of everything of York’s archaeology and urban history’.
• The area – and York generally – developed through significant periods of transformation. This included the Romans and the beginnings of York as an urban centre, the Vikings who lay out streets (still visible in Fossgate and Walmgate) in tenement plots, the Norman sweeping away of much of the Viking streetscape to create the Castle, the 19th century imposition of a prison and its walls and the 20th century adaption to cars: ‘York has developed through these periods of intense activity’. [1.00]
• At each point in these transformational episodes (Romans, Vikings, Normans) ‘there was a concept behind what they wanted to achieve’. They were ‘Autocratic, elite intervention, no concept of consultation or democratic debate’. [6.53]
• ‘These transformation episodes have created the city today, York is the accumulation of all of these decisions that were taken by powerful elites that have then been lived in and developed organics in the period in between by the people who live here. York is the expression of lots of decisions that have been taken in the past. We stand in the point of time where you have significant change going to happen again’. The Local Plan projects 30-40,000 more people in York over the next 25 years ‘York’s success has come from assimilating ‘these changes have happen the city’ and ‘these elements have become part of what makes York special. The people make a place’. [9.26]
• ‘Now we have a framework where people can have a say and decision makers need to reflect and incorporate and what people want from a place. This marks out this transformation episode as fundamentally different from anything that has happened before.’
• Heritage is often seen as ‘a constraint, this negative’, John takes ‘the opposite view’. Conservation is not about preservation, stopping change, rather it can be the ‘positive management of change’. Heritage is about ‘managing change, making sure that change happens (’we’ve got to put what we want in this place, our page in the book’). But it is a form of ‘carried out in such a way you don’t throw away all of the things you value away as you move forward’. [12.39]