The Castle and Eye of York: Key questions the past poses for the area’s future

Illustrations suggesting how the Eye of York and the York Castle Museum might be opened up by John Christophers, Associated Architects who responded to idea at one of the My Castle Gateway Movement and Meaning workshops in October 2018.

This blog was first published as part of the launch the Gathering Place summer programme builds. It has been updated in May 2020 in order to act as a reference point within the Open Brief for the heritage challenges.

Navigating layers of history
A repeated comment in all of the My Castle Gateway discuss has been that there are many layers of history in this part of the city. These layers are to various degrees hidden and visible in the area surrounding the museum. There was much discussion about how the new public area, the new museum buildings, movement through the museum and the wider Castle and Eye of York area could make these layers easier to see and interpret.

Yet these ‘layers’ are also transformations – how might we keep a sense of dynamism and of an area which has changed, has been regularly contested and will continue to change?

Connecting with the Rivers
York would not be here without the confluence of the Foss and the Ouse. We should:-
• Create opportunities to use the Foss as a route into and out of the city, as it would historically have been a route for movement
• Create places to stop and spend time in order to appreciate the setting of the castle and how it was protected
• Recognise the rivers in York have acted as both a route to the world and as a barriers or enclosures (e.g. as part of the Castle’s defences)

Specific issues to be considered in design development:-
• Where are routes going to and from, and how do they connect to the broader city-wide network? (Continuity is important, especially with cycling routes).
• How do we deal with level differences (river level / existing riverbank level / bridge level / museum floor levels) and resolve them to allow accessibility?
• Can we create views to and from the Foss – for example by stepped access from the new public realm to create seating and visual connection?
• Can the histories of the rivers inspire the landscaping of the new public space?

Enclosed in the Norman Castle
Many people in the My Castle Gateway discussions have commented that there is no visual link between Clifford’s Tower (the Motte) and the surviving (if much repaired) part of the Bailey wall which is currently behind the link building. This connection is key to interpretation of the overall scale of the original castle and clarifying visually that the castle was much more than Clifford’s Tower. The remaining line of the Bailey wall (between the Eye of York and Clifford’s Tower is currently not very visible.

Specific issues to be considered in design development:-
• Can the approach to the museum, or any other aspect of the development proposals reflect or reference in any way the original form of the castle?
• Can the visual link between the Bailey wall and Clifford’s Tower be strengthened?
• Can the walls be walked?
• Can any new approach route enhance the city walls walk?

Entering from the South
There has been, throughout the My Castle Gateway discussions, widespread support for the idea of opening up a route from the riverside near Raindale Mill into the Eye of York by creating one or more openings in the Bailey wall. This could become an important link, providing a connection between:-
• Approach from the south along the riverside (New Walk) past the Foss Basin
• Approach from the coach park and new car park on St.George’s Field
• Approach from Piccadilly via the new foot/cycle bridge across the Foss
• A public route from all of the above to the Eye of York and onwards to the city centre
• An approach from all of the above to the museum entrances

Specific issues to be considered in design development:-
• How can the southern gateway – the still existing draw bridge pit – be better interpreted?
• Where should this new route go for best connectivity?
• How should age of the various sections of wall and history or repair influence the location of the opening or openings)?

Walking with the Georgians
The Eye of York was once part of a promenade, making an easy to follow route between Coney Street, Castlegate, the Georgian buildings surrounding the Eye of York and New Walk.

Specific issues to be considered in design development:-
• How can the connection to and from New Walk be made?
• How can the route along Castlegate be reinforced so as to start at the end of Coney Street, and clearly lead to the museum?

In the shadow of the Prison walls
People noted the drama of the scale of the Female Prison set close to the Foss. This is one of the visible legacies of the judicial authority of the area.

Specific issues to be considered in design development:-
• How can design of a new route between the Female Prison and the Foss heighten the drama of this setting, without feeling oppressive and while remaining safe to use?
• How can we tell personal and specific stories of people imprisoned here within the landscape?

Gathered into the Eye of York
Once a place to elect and assemble, the significance of the Eye of York should be made visible. The Crown Court remains a tangible and ongoing connection to the judicial authority of the area.

Specific issues to be considered in design development:-
• People commented that as a specifically public place it should feel like a place to gather and spend time without needing to spend money.
• How might acts of public address and debate be encouraged?
• How might the significance of this place in democratic history be interpreted?

A feeling of space with a story of enclosure
Can the outlines of the County Gaol and Military Prison panopticon be used to create differentiated spaces, seating and playful areas as well as preserve the sense of open space that came when the Prison walls were taken down. Are there lessons which can be learned from a place which combined (an extreme form of) enclosure with clear lines of sight and visibility?

Specific issues to be considered in design development:-
• How can a feeling of open space be created while making clear the routes through it?
• How can this space (and others) become playful spaces?
• How we create spaces that can be used for events and work when there are no events on? How might playing with the histories of enclosure and openness enable this?

Quieter places of commemoration
The area needs places of quite reflection and commemoration. The commemoration of the massacre of York’s Jewish community in 1190 and the ongoing Holocaust Memorial Day events are crucial aspects of the area. In the 18th and 19th century, many people came through this area to be prosecuted, judged, transported or executed.

Specific issues to be considered in design development:-
• Some of parts of the area will be busy and noisy, how can we ensure there are other areas for reflection and remembrance?
• How can people and their stories be evoked as people move to and through the area?

The Setting of the York Castle Museum
The consideration of the setting of the York Castle Museum gives an opportunity for the structure and history of the museum itself to be interpreted. The transformation of the two prisons into a museum is the most recent part of the story of this area. The development of the existing buildings and of any new buildings created to serve and link them give an opportunity to spell out these layers of history.

Specific issues to be considered in design development:-
• How can the development of the museum more clearly reference its history and the role of its buildings in shaping this place?
• How can the design of access to and between the buildings contribute positively to the active and public nature of the outdoor spaces?

Leave a comment