The Treasurers House, York – Frank Green’s palace of entertainment
This historic town house with award winning garden in the centre of York has many tales to tell….
But before we start the tale of the history of The Treasurers House, it’s worth mentioning the ghosts of Roman legionaries spotted by workmen whilst they were excavating the cellars! A group of workmen all claim to have seen the ghostly apparition of soldiers in full Roman armour marching through the cellar but only visible to their knees. After the initial shock, they dug down further revealing an earlier Roman road beneath the house!
The Treasurers House sits next to York Minster and is adjoined by what is now the luxury boutique hotel Gray’s Court.
The first Treasurer was appointed in 1091 by Archbishop Thomas of Bayeux to manage York Minster’s money and a house was built on the site to accommodate him. Sadly there is nothing left of this iteration of the house
This first treasurer would not only manage the costs of building a new stone Minster in Romanesque style after the Norman conquest but also process donations from landowners and wealthy Lords hoping to speed their path through purgatory with gifts to the church.
The oldest remains of a Treasurers House still in existence is an external wall which forms part of Gray’s Court Hotel and is believed to date to the 12th Century. But we know a new building was functioning as the Treasurers House by 1419.
In 1547 due to changes which occurred during Henry VIII’s break from the Catholic Church, the post of Treasurer was made redundant and the house firstly was given to the Crown and eventually came back under the control of the then Archbishop of York, but under private ownership.
Archbishop Thomas Young (1562-1568) had the house remodelled into the present style, before in the early 1600’s one of his descendants had the front façade rebuilt so it was symmetrical. Soon after Sir George Young a relative of Thomas Young entertained King James I at the house whilst he was staying at Kings Manor in York.
Another famous resident of the house was Thomas Fairfax, a Yorkshireman who led Cromwell’s New Model Army during the English Civil War.
Gray’s Court Hotel was once an integral part of The Treasurers House, but in 1720, the building was divided off into 5 separate residences and where Gray’s Court Hotel is now, is where 2 of these units were.
Over the next century and a half, the house had been tinkered with architecturally before falling into disrepair. 3 of the 5 residences were bought by wealthy industrialist Frank Green in 1897 and he ripped out some of the early Victorian changes and created a number of new rooms.
But who was Frank Green?
Frank Green was the second son of Sir Edward Green, an industrialist who had been made Baronet for his services to politics after representing Wakefield as their MP for a number of years. He had made his money from manufacturing a Fuel Economiser which his father (Frank’s grandfather) had invented and patented.
Frank Green went into the family business eventually taking over from his father. Frank Green travelled widely for business and wrote a travelogue of his trips which was published in the Wakefield press. He collected widely on his travels and was an avid antiquarian.
In 1888, the Green family moved to York and lived by the racecourse, before Frank bought what is the Treasurers House we know now in 1897.
Green had a huge collection of art and furniture which he wanted to showcase in the best way possible. He brought in architect Temple Moore to oversee alterations and restorations to fulfil his brief. He themed each of the 13 main rooms based on a different time period and then filled them with art and collectibles from that specific era.
He even created a medieval hall with exposed timber on the walls.
Frank Green never married but he loved to entertain, enjoying the company of actors and musicians. He loved organising society events at The Treasurers house such as gala balls and was known as a fastidious dresser – changing his clothes at least 3 times a day. It is reported that - His trademark outfit was a bowler hat and a hand-tied bow tie but he also favoured frilled shirts and capes!
He regularly hosted the great and good of Yorkshire showing off his collections and even hosted the future King Edward VII in 1900.
But Green had a darker side and his temper was famous. He also was very fastidious and a stickler for tidiness and cleanliness. His staff had to meet ridiculously high standards and Green would regularly conduct personal inspections where he was known to explode if things were not “just right”.
As he got older his obsessions worsened including destroying all the food in his kitchen when he saw a fly, insisting each piece of coal was individually wrapped before being put on the fire, sending his laundry to London and having metal studs fitted on the floors to show exactly where table and chair legs should sit.
There are still signs in the house insisting that any workmen wear slippers in the house to avoid treading dirt around the building!
Green lived in the house until 1930 and when he retired and moved down South, he donated the house and his collections to The National Trust. But the donation was based on one condition – that the rooms remained exactly as he intended. He threatened that he would come back and haunt the building if his request was not met – so the Roman legionaries would not be the only ghostly presence at The Treasurers House!
The 13 period rooms house furniture, ceramics, antiques, textiles and paintings. The National Trust recently listed some of the top treasures to see in the Treasurers House – in no particular order here are my favourite 3:
1. Model of a Napoleonic Gunship displayed in the Court Room – it was made by French prisoners during the Napoleonic War out of whalebone
2. Queen Anne Period Bedspread – a quilted piece with multi-coloured crewelwork embroidery with borders of flowers, insects and butterflies
3. French Louis XIV Style Bracket Clock showing tide times and the phases of the moon