Hungate Histories: lots of paperwork…and people’s lives glimpsing through

The Hungate Histories team match up the archive records with a map of the area.
The Hungate Histories team match up the archive records with a map of the area.

The last two Friday mornings have seen a group of us, all members of York Past and Present facebook group – Lianne Brigham, Richard Brigham, Helen Graham (also University of Leeds), Sue Hogarth, Victoria Hoyle (also City Archivist and University of York), Catherine Sotheran, Dave Ruddock with support from Justine Winstanley-Brown, Archivist (Civic and Public Records) – meeting up at the city archives to explore the histories of Hungate.

As with the My Future York project more generally our aims are to see how collaboratively producing histories of urgent issues facing York can enrich public debate so that more of us can be actively involved in shaping the future of the city.

The idea for focusing on Hungate came from the pilot project we did in November 2015, York and Housing: Histories Behind the Headlines. In November we took our first look at the archives to see what was there – what type of records, what types of ways of knowing – and then ran two public events to explore what we found with a wider group.

Having realized how big the task could be, we decided at the end of our first session to focus on two streets in Hungate – Hungate itself and Garden Place – and have started to use a wide variety of records to gather everything that we can find out about these streets, the forces that shaped them and which ultimately led to them being demolished.

To make the project managable, the team has decided to focus on two streets, Hungate and Garden Place. Image credit: York Explore
To make the project managable, the team has decided to focus on two streets, Hungate and Garden Place. Image credit: York Explore

The type of records available are: Maps, which show in detail specific properties and businesses; Health Department, we’ve so far found Health Inspections from the 1910s and Compulsory Purchases Orders from the 1930s. One of the team was working with a box of the personal correspondence with people who were being affected by the compulsory purchase orders – and there’s so much more to come out of look through these more personal stories. We’ve also started cross-referencing with electoral registers and register of business and pubs. There is also very clear legislative contexts to the different phases of work (as you can see on the House Inspection Record below)– and we’ll get started on the council minutes in the coming weeks. So on one hand we’re doing really focused history work, but with a much wider-angle lens on policy and decisions making.

An example of a housing inspection sheet. Image: York Explore
An example of a housing inspection sheet from 1936 used as part of the compulsory purchase of properties in the area. Image: York Explore

Sue Glenton has been researching the compulsory purchase orders: In the last two sessions I have discovered an enormous amount, about the way archiving can be used as a tool for research and lots of local info from the other members of the group. It is really absorbing and is very easy to get distracted as one bit links up with somebody else’s discovery. After looking at the 1936 reports on the square footage of dwellings in Hungate prior to the Compulsory Purchase Orders being issued, I have a mental picture of an official from the Health Committee almost stepping over the wasted bodies of TB sufferers to accurately measure the rooms. Then returning to the  office to record this info in copperplate writing while people lived in squalor. It was a different world and comes home to me vividly after looking at these records. Fascinating!

Richard Brigham has been looking specifically at the maps: I think what has surprised me so far is the dis-organisation of things that should have been known, housing was not only in poor condition but also lived in by a wide variety of numbered people, (as little as 2 in one house and as much as 5-7 in others). The variety of places co-existing in one place was profound, Gas works, mills, brick works and homes all in one section of the City and ALL working within feet of each other, It’s clear to say that Health and Health and Safety clearly did not have any place in this time frame of life living in Hungate! Yet as bad as things were there was clearly a camaraderie within the community.’

Lianne Brigham, who has been looking at a mixture of health reports, environmental health inspections and compulsory purchase orders: ‘What has surprised me with working with the archives is not only the abundance of paper work there is but the amount of houses there were in Hungate. Ok we have had to narrow our research down… but in no way does this mean that task is going to be any easier. Really enjoying it so far.’

Helen Graham has been taking responsibility for scanning, so has seen lots of different things that the group have dug up: ‘I think what stunned me from reading the variety of materials in the archive is both how weak and how powerful government was – and how it was changing in the early 20th Century. It is clear, in the days before the land registry, the Health Department simply didn’t know who owned properties and were seeking this knowledge so they could start to regulate quality of house and ultimately, three decades later, buy the housing stock up to demolish it. It raises questions about what government does and can do – clearly massive leaps were being made in public health and working ‘on behalf of’ and ‘for the good of’ a wider population but the archives also indicate how hard bureaucracies find to deal with specific people and their specific needs’.

If you got any memories of Hungate or Garden Place – or what to hear more about the project – contact the group.

The Hungate Histories team will be running an event to share their work on 21st June, 3.30-5pm. You can book a free place via eventbright.

My Future York: Call for volunteer archive researchers

St Sampson's Square before pedestrianisation - what are the histories of travel in and around York and what might be future solutions?
St Sampson’s Square before pedestrianisation – what are the histories of travel in and around York and how might we imagine future solutions?


We are calling for volunteer researchers who are interested in the urgent issues facing York today – and who have the skills to develop compelling research and digital content to illuminate and share the histories of these issues.

  • You would join the My Future York research team.
  • You would pick an urgent issue facing the city.
  • You would use the city archives and other sources to build complex and evocative histories of these urgent issues. (This would be more akin to developing quality journalistic approaches to history than writing a PhD. Good skills for people wanting to work in museums or public history roles!)
  • You would develop digital content (social media and interpretive blogs) to communicate these issues with local people and to enrich and open up debate.
  • You would work with the My Future York research team to develop and feed into our public events.

Examples of issues might include – but you can suggest your own:

  • green belt and green spaces
  • homelessness
  • drinking / night life
  • housing
  • traffic and public transport

We would help you to develop:

  • archive-based research skills
  • interpretive and digital content skills

Travel expenses within York and refreshments will be provided.

To volunteer or find out more, contact the My Future York team via researcher Helen Graham, Director, Centre for Critical Studies in Museums, Galleries and Heritage, University of Leeds

Artists Commissions for My Future York project

York Past and Present - how can we visually connect York's past, presents and futures. Image: Richard Brigham
York Past and Present – how can we visually connect York’s past, presents and futures. Image: Richard Brigham


As part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities Festival 2016, My Future York is looking to commission artists / designers / film makers to work with us.

There are two commissions – the first to work with us to develop a stall top display for the Somerset House, Utopia 2016 Festival and the second to help us develop either a short film or set of images connecting pasts, present and futures and drawing on work with York Explore’s archives and York Past and Present facebook group.

Commission 1: stall top display

Commission 2: film or images


Deadline for Submissions: 10am 5th May, 2016

Proposed Interview Date(s): 10th May, 2016

Initial Workshop / Brainstorming session with appointed artist: 16th May, 2016 (can be flexible)

Project Launch and Presentation at Somerset House: 24th-26th June 2016

Submit applications to Helen Graham, on

Forthcoming events

My Future York Planning Meeting

30th April, 2-4pm, Garden Room, York Explore

My Future York is an open and collaborative inquiry. We are working anyone who wants to get involved to develop richer understandings of the city’s pasts and to inspire new alternative visions for York’s future.

The aim of the planning meeting is to reflect on the emerging ideas that came from a stall we ran on Good Friday in Parliament Street. To see an Instagram gallery of the contributions see: What are the key themes or questions the postcards raise?

We will then identify some useful ways forward, from public events or pieces of research to commission short blog pieces from experts, politicians or people with something to say.

If you’d like to come, email Helen on

To find out more about the project or the Good Friday stall see our temporary website.