York Liberal Jewish Community: Exploring the Castle and Eye of York Public Spaces

Some of the issues riased at the first meeting with York Liberal Jewish Community on 21st September that were explored in more depth at the 18th October meeting.

12.30-2.30, 18th October 2019

The main focus of the discussion was the implication for the new public spaces that will be created when the Castle Car Park is removed.

There will be another meeting on 25th October 10-12noon that will focus on how to contextualise 1190 within wider and longer histories of the Jewish community in York.

  • Part 1: Gives an overview of the discussion
  • Part 2: Formulates wording – based on that discussion – that can be used to inform the My Castle Gateway Open Brief for the new public spaces.

Part 1: The discussion

There was significant discussion about creating a place to remember. While it was recognised that this could include temporarily taking over public space in the area when large events were called for, a permanent place for reflection and remembrance in the area was also needed.

At the event on 21st September we had explored the concept of holiness.

We returned to this idea and there was a lot of discussion prompted by the implications of ideas of holiness for how separate or integrated the space for remembrance should be.

This led to an exploration of the type of activities that were appropriate to the motte and how they related to other activities that will be happening within the area. With a sense that as you moved closed the motte, the activities were more delineated but became more fun, loud and lively as you moved away. Although others were less concerned with everyday activity going on next to or on the motte as long as people understand what they were standing on or near.

There was considerable discussion about the plaque, and it was impossible to separate this from discussion and consideration of the space it occupied, and its function in respect of the approach to the motte and the entrance.

The current plaque was felt to attempt too many functions, and it was felt that what was needed was some combination of objects and places which split these functions:-

  • One was as a prompt – “it should signify that there is a story, but it is not the story”. The location for this was discussed and it was felt important that it was on the most usual approach so it was seen when approaching the entrance.
  • One was as a focus for contemplation – which could be prayer or could be an introduction to the deeper history. It was felt that this should be close to the motte, and probably also close to the entrance to the Tower. There should be places to sit.

This discussion linked with one about the nature of approach, and a wish that the approach was so designed as to physically slow people, to encourage time to notice and take in messages and meaning. (The physical nature of the site and the climb from Tower Street – which also highlights the castle’s location above the river – was noted).

There was discussion about the likely changes to the car park area – the notion of a route between Castlegate and the new Museum building, and this dividing more active area towards the river from perhaps more peaceful area between the through route and “where the Motte bleeds into the ground”. One suggestion for a space for contemplation was between this and the Tower entrance, although there was disagreement over whether background noise (from Tower Street traffic, for example) was problematic in any case.

Other approaches to remembrance were explored, including meditative walking around the motte. Although others were less sure that this was the right response. In any case the idea of remembering as an active and visible part of the development of the new public spaces was clear.

The importance of there being space around the mound that that it was not overshadowed by other new building was noted.

Part 2: Possible wording for the My Castle Gateway Open Brief

The clusters of sentences are seeking to capture the briefing ideas that came out of the discussion. These won’t be the precise wording but give a set of ideas, activities and vocabularies we can draft on in drafting the Open Brief.

A place for contemplation. A place where you can sit. Think. Pray. Remember. Feel. A place where you can face history.

A place that takes 1190 and the massacre of York’s Jewish community as a focus acts a place for remembering and reflecting on human rights issues of all kinds.

A place which is visually Jewish but also visually and tangibly part of York and clearly part of English history and heritage.

A place which is next to and orientated toward the motte. A place which is quieter than then area around but still visually and physically connected.

For all visitors to understand the significance of 1190. To understand that this place is a special and significant place. A place to slow down and a place to understand.

For 1190 to be situated in a wider context of York the and Jewish life in York and England since then.

For the other buildings – especially the new buildings at the back of Coppergate and the new museum building – to respect and respond to Clifford’s Tower, physically and conceptually. For views, proximity and activities to be developed in ways which recognises the significance of Clifford’s Tower.

Spaces for reflection and learning and for laughter and for fun to be both demarcated and connected. For activities in the area to move from being quieter, more reflective and more focused on understanding near the motte and become less reserved, more playful, louder and more fun as you move further away. To actively design the landscape and space to communicate this shift spatially and physically.


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