The Merchant Adventurers’ Hall is of major national importance and is a Grade I Listed building and Scheduled Ancient Monument. It was built between 1357 and 1361, before most of the craft or trade guild halls in Britain, making it one of the largest buildings of its kind and date in Britain. It is very unusual to be able to see in one building the three rooms serving the three functions of a medieval guild; business and social in the Great Hall, charitable in the Undercroft and religious in the Chapel.
The lower part of the Hall is constructed mainly of bricks. They were made at a Carmelite Friary close to the Hall and are the earliest to be made in York since the Romans left England almost 1,000 years before the Hall was constructed.
The late Tudor (1601) decorations on the barge-boards on the front of the Hall are scrolls of vines with bunches of grapes. At the point where the gables meet is a diamond carved with a large Tudor or double rose.
Until granted their own Coat of Arms in 1969 the Company used that of the Merchant Adventurers of England. A fine example of this earlier Coat of Arms can be found above the Fossgate entrance.
The Company’s art collection, most of which is on display in the Hall, is a valuable record of York in the past five centuries. The walls of the Hall are hung with a number of oils, watercolours, prints and drawings depicting Governors of the Company; significant York men and women, royalty and scenes of York and further afield.
The Hall’s collection of oil paintings are available to view on the Art UK website – the online home for every public art collection in the UK.
The Merchant Adventurers own a number of interesting pieces of vernacular furniture and furnishings. The oldest piece in the collection is an oak coffer known as the ‘Evidence Chest’ dating from the 1340’s whilst one of the newest is the Governor’s Chair designed and made by Robert Thompson, ‘The Mouseman of Kilburn’ in 1940.
The Hall is also home to two collections of silver, one is the Company’s antique and modern silver and jewellery. Whilst the other, not currently on display is a rare collection of York Hall-Marked silver.
The gardens, in comparison to the Hall are a fairly new addition. The land around the Hall was for centuries full of houses and shops with a track way or road running down to the River Foss (as can be seen in the image, although we now know that the Hall would not have been rendered as the timber framing would have been left exposed).
In the Victorian period, the land around the Hall was a clutter of ramshackle buildings, stables and outhouses. In 1912, Piccadilly was built and raised substantially above the Hall to accommodate trams and a bridge over the River Foss.
The gardens were formed in 1918 as a Rest Garden for the people of York after the First World War and continue to be open for everyone to enjoy.