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

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Building Industry

Clementhorpe was the base for a number of construction companies, and many construction workers and tradesmen lived in the local streets. One such person was John Keswick, who had a yard near Fenwick Street, adjoining the works of the York Confectionery Company. Keswick was a successful businessman who had a considerable impact on the built environment of York.

I am indebted to John Shaw (YAYAS[1]) for much of the following story:

John Keswick, born in Knaresborough in 1821, spent the first years of his working life as a bricklayer. Shortly after 1851, he set up in business in what is now Nunnery Lane. His first significant contract was for rebuilding the stonework of the church of St Mary, Bishophill Senior. Following successful completion of this contract new work flowed in. This included work on the rebuilding of  St. Mary, Bishophill Junior, an extension to the Union Workhouse and the offices for the Poor Law Guardians (now the Tourist Information Centre).

As Keswick’s prosperity increased, he moved to 56 Micklegate, which remained his home for the next thirty-four years. In 1867, John’s son Robert Fenwick Keswick joined the family firm and, by 1875, they had acquired a yard at the end of Fenwick Street.

The Company won major contracts including the Valley Bridge in Scarborough and the new Lendal Bridge in York, Work on Holy Trinity Heworth, a new shop for Leak & Thorp in Coney Street and a drill hall for the York Rifle Volunteers in St. Andrewgate, followed. In 1874 came the biggest contract of Keswick’s career; the new station at York, with its hotel. Unfortunately, a labour dispute led to the loss of this contract.

On Tuesday 6 June 1876 a serious fire occurred at the yard at the end of Fenwick Street. In spite of the fire the Company carried on. A short item The York Herald of October 1879 provides evidence of his continuing presence when it describes how an Italian organ grinder called Berterelli, had been bitten by Keswick’s dog and that Keswick had been ordered to pay the costs.

In 1883, when John Keswick was 62 a meeting of creditors was called for the 2 March at the Friends’ Meeting House. On 9 June 1883 the sale involved: Lot 1, the workshop between Fenwick Street and William Street, 140ft long by 20 feet wide and a large yard. Lots 2 and 3 were parcels of land fronting Fenwick Street and William Street. Other lots included land facing Anne Street and several properties in Drake Street and Spencer Street.

Keswick carried on regardless until 24 December 1885, when the partnership with his sons was dissolved.  In 1887, at 66 years of age, he built the new chancel of Holy Trinity Micklegate.  He was still busy in 1889, paving and laying drains in the streets on the south side of Scarcroft Road and Nunthorpe Avenue. 

In 1893 his sons Edward and Frank took on the business and in 1896 they operated solely from 32 Blossom Street. John Keswick died on the 28 January 1909 at Blossom Street, he was 88: his obituary was titled “a builder of N.E.R. stations”.

The Clementhorpe yard was turned into housing in the late 1970s and now forms an extension to Fenwick Street.

Timber Yards

There were timber businesses in Clementhorpe at various times in its history, varying from rather insubstantial and ephemeral enterprises into quite large scale sawing and cutting activities involving saw-pits and other machinery.

The Morning Post of 12 July 1854, for example, referred to a company called G. Horner and J. M. Horner of Clementhorpe, wood merchants and timber valuers. In the Shipping and Mercantile Gazette of the same day the wood merchants are named as Horner and Son. On 15 July 1884 the Herts Guardian, Agricultural Journal and General Advertiser referred to Horner and Son of Clementhorpe, wood merchants – suggesting that the company was still operating some 30 years later.

The York Herald of 23 December 1893 described how the old-established firm of Messrs. Gray had opened a new steam-powered sawmill at their woodyard in Clementhorpe. They planned to erect new workshops the next year.

Some of the timber was undoubtedly used at the local ship-building yards, and probably also in construction and the manufacture of carts and wagons.

[1] YAYAS = Yorkshire Architectural and Archaeological Society.