Castle Gateway: Pasts and Futures Event, 7th December 2019

7th December 10am-4pm

On 7th December we delved into the histories of the Castle and Eye of York as part of developing the conversation about the area’s future.

The draft Open Brief for the new Castle Gateway public spaces was published shortly before the event and was open for discussion all day. The Open Brief has been shaped by many different people, of all ages and from across York all responding to two questions: What matters to you about the Castle and the Eye of York? What would you like to be able to do in the area in the future?

On 7th December we explore the area through the eyes of the different people and groups that care for the area. There was mix of talks, walks, slideshows and conversations which opened up the area in different ways and create different ways of exploring and commenting on the draft Open Brief.

Below we give an overview of each of the elements of the day with links to other materials if you are interested in following up.

The Green Howards and South African War Memorial

Cards contributed during the Green Howards session at the Castle Gateway: Pasts and Futures event.

Hosted by York Army Museum, Major Roger Chapman MBE and Major David Nicholson spoke to the history of the South African War Memorial – sited between Skeldergate Bridge and the back of the court building – and their hopes for its future.

Major Chapman introduced the nature of the South African War and the particular challenges faced by the Green Howards during the campaign. Major Nicholson introduced the war memorial itself. Crucially the land was donated by the corporation (the equivalent of the council), it was paid for by public subscription and was one of the first war memorials to name every lost solider rather that be a statue of famous general. It was in York for the following reasons, as cited in the 1904 edition of the Green Howards Gazette:

York is not the territorial headquarters of the Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards), and not a few people have been curious as to why the city was chosen for the memorial, which was yesterday unveiled with brief but fitting solemnity. The answer is that York is the capital of Yorkshire, a fact sometimes overlooked in these later years of commercial expansion on the part of at least two West Riding cities.

Colonel Egerton, who commanded the Yorkshire Regiment ……………………… in deciding on York as the site for the memorial, emphasised the city’s position in the county, and at the same time reared a monument where military life is strong and vigorous. The Minster is rich in mural tablets, which tell of glorious military exploits but up to now the city has lacked those outdoor symbols of soldierly achievement, which one would naturally expect in the headquarters of a great military district.

The Green Howards are keen to see the memorial re-sited as there is no easy way of gaining access to the memorial at the moment. As Major Nicholson says, when they inaugurated the memorial there were very few in the way of cars, unlike now. We explored the question of where the memorial should be re-sited. Tower Gardens, the Leeman Road memorial garden, near the city’s South African War Memorial near the Minister and the Eye of York were all discussed, with a preference expressed for the Eye of York.

You can read more about the war memorial in a blog on the My Castle Gateway site by Major Nicholson.

Clifford’s Tower with York Liberal Jewish Community

Contributions made following Shannon Kirshner’s walk

Shannon Kirshner York Liberal Jewish Community led us on a walk around Clifford’s Tower. Shannon introduced what happened in 1190 when York’s Jewish community sought protection from the crown at York Castle, where then where then trapped. With the militia about to force them out, the Jews who were trapped either committed suicide or, if they did decide to go out, were killed by the mob.  You can read more about the events of 1190 on the English Heritage Clifford’s Tower website.

Shannon introduced how significant 1190 remains to Jewish people worldwide. There is a kinah or lament recounting the events of 1190 which is recited on Tisha B’Av.  A plaque was installed and unveiled in 1972 and the desire for ongoing commemoration led to the planting of daffodils, with six petals which represent the Star of David.

Crucially Shannon set out the wider context of Jewish community and faith in York in the people of 1190, including a hymn of Rabbi Yom Tov which are still recited on the evening of Yom Kippur.

Shannon also spoke about the thriving York Jewish community today who meet at Friends Meeting House. My Castle Gateway has been meeting with the YLJC to explore the meanings of the Castle Gateway and what they’d like to be able to see there in the future. Shannon shared some of the key principles of the conversations we’d been having.

These figure in the Open Brief in the following way:

Thinking, praying, saying the Mourner’s Kaddish and ‘facing the history of 1190’ in a place which this spatially connected to Clifford’s Towers and – like the plaque that is currently at the base of the motte – visually references Jewish history and faith. #GatheringPlace #GatheringHeritage

Visitors to the Castle and Eye of York area understand the significance of Clifford’s Tower – including the significance of the daffodils. The main message visitors leave with is that 1190 was not the end of York’s Jewish Community and that it continues to thrive to this day. #GatheringPlace #GatheringHeritage

People read an information board which interprets the histories of English Heritage so as many people as possible understand the significance of Clifford’s Tower – including the significance of the daffodils.  #GatheringPlace #GatheringHeritage

The experience of walking up into the area is one of a slowing of pace as the impact of traffic is lessened and of entering a new space where histories can be explored. #GatheringPlace

In the early morning, when the area is quiet, people run through the area and walk past Clifford’s Tower on their way to work and appreciate its form and what it represents.#GatheringPlace

Read more about the discussions with York Liberal Jewish Community.


 So, what exactly is the Eye of York/shire

Responses to the So. what exactly is the Eye of York/shire session.

It’s called more than one thing, there is disagreement over where it is and it means different things to different people! It is time for a proper discussion over the Eye of York / Yorkshire… We invited three panellists to contribute some thoughts to get us started and then we had small group discussion to explore the issues further.

Neil Redfern – Historic England

Historic England looked at the significance of the place – the various aspects of this. The evidential (archaeology), the historic, the aesthetic and the communal (what does it mean to people?). This latter – “The gradual recovery of the space for public use has introduced greater opportunity for celebration and commemoration but its function as a place of protest continues”. The Eye of York can be whatever we make it – “Eye, Aye or I” – but to should be considered to be the whole of this area – the shield-shaped space formed by the extent of the castle and the prisons.

Ralph Harrington – York Georgian Society

What was the Eye of York like in the Georgian period? It was much more enclosed in some ways: the castle was more complete and dominant. It was more open in others: there was not the same barrier between the Eye and the river to the south or the city to the west that now exists because of roads and car parking. It was greener, with more trees especially around Clifford’s Tower which for much of the century was located in a private garden; and it was rather grimmer, with a functioning prison taking up much of the area inside the castle walls.

…and what is the York Georgian Society’s attitude to ‘The Eye of York/Yorkshire/The Ridings’? The Eye of York is a key site in York’s eighteenth-century heritage. Indeed it can be argued that it was the eighteenth century that created the Eye of York as we see it today: the buildings that surround it were built in the eighteenth century. It has always been a site of authority, since the castle itself was built by the Normans, in course of which an entire shire of the city was ‘destroyed for the castles’. York Georgian Society would like an approach to this site which reflects this many-faceted history while providing an accessible, attractive and informal space as an amenity for both local people and visitors. We would like the site to reflect its position as a key element of York’s Georgian geography.

Hannah Davies – Common Group Theatre Company

The making of conflux – an audio tour and creative response to the area. The need to spend time in the area, get to really know it. It’s a place that feels controlling – you’re there but with permission, with conditions. A place of many histories but also of many people’s individual takes on it – conversations with people for whom it has different meanings. Spending time in the area simply talking to passers-by, getting their response. The Foss and its place there throughout this all – what has the Foss seen, what has it rolled past.


Important not to lose sight of “oppression” as a theme, but you need to bring people in and show them the wider Eye of York. Make the place feel inclusive – especially to all faiths.

It could be a place that is made by activity, where local people animate it, perhaps theatre groups? There is an outdoor theatre space near County Hall by the Thames as an example.

There’s an argument that authoritarian buildings use Greek architecture to echo the protective nature of authority. But the authority in this place wasn’t benign – it was often harsh. Taking down the walls can lead to greater democracy – the simple process of discussion and conversation between people.

The use of “York” or “Yorkshire” fluctuates depending on how confident York is feeling.

How does the Eye respond to intention to be sustainable?

The place comprises..

Maybe the place will be defined by how we choose to use it.

The South African war memorial – people have talked about this area being made by personal histories – the memorial is about people; those who died in the wars. It is a significant thing – not a statue of a general (unusual at the time) but naming all who died, it was built by public subscription on land given by the council. Its location was originally tranquil and accessible – now it is neither. It should be relocated to somewhere which brings back these qualities.

The York Walls Walk

Martin Hetherington from Friends of York Walls with Paul Lambert from York Castle Museum led a walk exploring the current route of the walls walk and what new possibilities are opened up by the York Castle Museums ideas and plans, including to have a wall walk along the walls of the Castle.

Currently the walls walk between Fishergate Postern Tower and Baile Hill goes over Castle Mills Bridge and around to the pedestrian crossing on Tower Street. Once across Tower Street, some walkers take in the short section of wall down to the River Ouse and then climb the steps onto Skeldergate Bridge, but many simply walk around the pavement, over the bridge and pick up the walls at Baile Hill. The fact that there were two castles in York could be made much clearer than it is now.  The current walk does give a sense of the nature of the city defences and the role of the Castle in that, however the road is not pleasant to be on, and is particularly dangerous to cross near Wetherspoons.

The proposed new for a route through the castle walls – where the York Castle Museum entrance is now – and through the Eye of York and towards Tower Gardens opens up exciting possibilities as does the opening up the new part of the castle walls, hopefully with a lift to enable people who use wheelchairs or have buggies to experience the views.

Future Storytelling – Flash Talks

John Chapman

  • Making a computer game around medieval York – exploring the city to find what’s needed for an event.
  • Building the cityscape “in house” so feedback can be used to make it more accurate.
  • But there are challenges – “how do you recreate the 1190 massacre – giving it due gravitas – without traumatising six-year-olds?”

Richard Brigham

  • Creating 360o images – but different to usual technique, by using multiple viewpoints. So, you can do a virtual tour of a building – the Mansion House has been created.
  • There are educational uses – schools can make “virtual” visits. Limitations with VR – use of headset is tiring.

Bethany Watrous

  • Creating AR apps for places – examples the Tang Hall Heritage Trail app, and current working on apps to inform visitors to unstaffed English Heritage sites.
  • Producing an app for Fairfax House to enable “furnishing” of unfurnished rooms.

Joe Emsall

  • Developing tools to help the community in Park Hill, Sheffield, think about redesign of the place. Phase I now completed.
  • Focused on thinking how communal space and social facilities can be re-integrated into the design proposals, and how tools can be developed to help visualise spaces and their use.

Katrina Garrett

  • Work on apps which work alongside human guides for a space;
  • Working with York Minster to develop an app which contributes to a collective experience.

Claire Boardman

Three strands of forward thinking:-

  • Chatbots – simulated conversational behaviour; previously quite limited to responses, but now moving on due to conversational AI and more able to foster interaction.
  • Pervasive media – software which is aware of, and can respond to, its surroundings and context. Can be linked to object-based media – clips or other small chunks of media which can then be triggered by place or other factors.
  • Machine narrative – the ability of an app to generate narrative – now quite complex and subtle including poetry, screenplay etc. For example could now take Facebook group information from a neighbourhood and create a story around it to explore possible futures.

Overarching themes:-

Some technologies – those based simply on reconstruction of real-world as simulation – tend to shut down possibilities into a single interpretation.

How do you make the process inclusive and democratic – plenty of people can’t afford smartphones / tablets.

What does “good” look like – how do we judge success and evaluate it during projects, especially with community-led projects?

Tech still has its limits – sometimes pen and paper is still the best tool for shaping ideas.

A couple of items for further thought/work:-

  • How do the processes of working with these technologies enhance deliberative conversations?
  • How might the upcoming 2022 “anniversaries” programme incorporate these future possibilities?

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