Clements Hall
Nunnery Lane book cover

Clements Hall Local History Group

Exploring the Scarcroft, Clementhorpe, South Bank and Bishophill areas of York

Clements Hall Local History Group

Exploring the Scarcroft, Clementhorpe, South Bank and Bishophill areas of York

View navigation

Bishophill and local industry

For many years industry in Bishophill was dominated by the firm Thomas Cooke Instruments. This firm had a worldwide reputation for his large telescopes and founded the Buckingham Works in Bishophill in 1855. This became several three-storey buildings, stretching up as far as Albion St by the 20c, with a huge demand for rangefinders and gunsights for the Boer War. They tried a number of new inventions, such as a steam carriage in 1868 which they entered for the Yorkshire Show, and a pneumatic despatch tube, installed in telegraph offices throughout the country. The company also trialled car production.

During WW1, the company expanded to the corner of Trinity Lane and later to the site of the York Female Penitentiary in Bishophill Senior, moving their foundry to Kyme St. Vickers then acquired a majority holding and they bought the assets of Troughton & Simms in 1922, centralising the production of optical instruments on York, but the company failed.

As WW2 neared, the company re-equipped Cooke’s no 2 factory, which had been built in 1915. Work at no 1 factory ceased in 1939 and the site was sold to the Electricity Board in 1948. A new factory was built in Haxby Road.

There was a press report of attempts to poison the Cooke family in 1861, by a daughter-in-law, but she was acquitted due to lack of evidence. Thomas Cooke, a self-made man, died at 61, in 1868. Some of his world-leading telescopes can be seen at the Museum Gardens observatory, Bootham School Observatory and Greenwich Observatory. He also made the clock in Coney St, on St Martin’s Church.

See Borthwick Archive. T. Cooke and Sons Archive 1783-1929 and related archive collections.

There were also many other local industrial concerns, such as:

  • Tuke cocoa and chocolate works was in Tanner's Moat. Taken over by Rowntree in 1862, moved to Haxby Rd around turn of century

  • Towers' Folly. b 1639 by Nicholas Towers soap boiling factory

  • This area was the centre of the Yorkshire butter trade in the 18c - see York Historian 1990 Vol 9 article by W B Taylor The rise and decline of the wholesale butter trade of York in the 18th century

  • Capaldi’s Ice Cream in Fetter Lane. Started in the 1930s. This factory was then built at the back of their Micklegate restaurant. Now residential.

  • Sawmill now part of Middleton’s Hotel

  • Organ Factory now part of Middleton’s Hotel, originally the workshop of York’s master organ builder Walter Hopkins, who retired in 1921, but many of his masterpieces are still in use in York and beyond.

  • Many of the York comb manufacturers were based around the Micklegate area in the 19c, i.e. Rougier, Pole, Thompson, Steward, Nutt and Lund. These were in Tanner Row, Micklegate, Trinity Lane, Micklegate Bar, Blossom Street and Low Ousegate/Fetter Lane. (See Comb making industry in York during the 19th century: An Insight Report, by Zoe Durrant-Walker, YAT)

  • Concentration of tanneries and dung-heaps and in Tanner Row