Building record MYO4207 - Fire Station


York’s Clifford Street Fire Station opened in 1938 in the much-adapted premises of the Trinity Methodist Chapel. Although the new fire station was a simple, neat functional design, clearly of its period, it retained the Peckitt Street façade of the chapel, which is a striking polychromatic brick essay in the Romanesque manner.


Grid reference Centred SE 6035 5148 (32m by 37m)
Map sheet SE65SW
Unitary Authority City of York, North Yorkshire


Type and Period (3)

Full Description

York Archaeological Trust, 2015, Former Fire Station, Clifford Street HBA (Unpublished document). SYO1832.

Bill Fawcett, 2015, York Fire Station and Trinity Methodist Chapel (Unpublished document). SYO1765.

Established in 1797, the New Connexion branck of Methodists had maintained a branch in York which fizzled out around 1804 but, rejuvenated by the events of 1855, they sought a city-centre site for a new chapel and Sunday school. A new chapel was built in the newly created Peckitt Street. Foundation stones for the chapel and school were formally laid by the Sheriff of York on 19 September 1855, with the chapel opening on 27 June 1856, the school having already done so.

The architects for Trinity Chapel were the brothers John Bownas and William Atkinson, whose grandfather had succeeded to the practice of John Carr. Theirs was one of the busiest practices in
nineteenth-century York and their successors continue today under the name BrierleyGroom. Religious buildings were not a major part of their work but they remodelled a number of York’s medieval churches.
In considering the building one must note that Clifford Street did not exist in 1855. Instead, the main southern outlet from the city centre was by Castlegate, with a right-angled bend into Tower Street and a further sharp curve opposite Peckitt Street. Two prominent Georgian houses stood on the site now occupied by the entry into Clifford Street, with gardens sweeping down from one of these, Clifford House, towards the river. The new chapel was built on the Clifford House gardens and the side elevation adjacent to that house was never intended to be seen.

The chapel was a gabled building, end on to the street, with triplets of round-arched windows in the upper side walls providing clerestorey lighting. Lower, two-storey blocks flanked the main hall giving the impression of a classic basilican ‘nave and aisles’ layout appropriate to the Byzantine style. In customary Methodist fashion, twin entrances were provided from Peckitt Street, one into each of the flanking ranges.
The carcase was built of common brick but the façade displayed a richly-red brick with contrasting features in yellow/buff brick and a sparing use of sandstone. The ‘nave’ was given a two-tier elevation with a line of narrow round-arched windows at the lower level and, probably, some form of circular (e.g. wheel) window above; the latter was replaced by rather domestic windows in the nineteen-thirties reconstruction. The flanking ‘aisles’ each had a boldly-framed entrance with a pair of round-arched window above; the right-hand aisle frontage was removed in the 1930s.

Adjoining the chapel as one heads towards the river is a substantial hip-roofed building which housed the Sunday school. This naturally adopts the basic style of the chapel but utilises windows with shallow, segmental arched heads which would provide more light than the round-arched chapel openings. The main upstairs schoolroom was signalled by a string of six windows with a continuous stone cill and tile band below, echoing the treatment already seen at the chapel. The ground floor has a central doorway flanked by windows – the left-hand one being a late 20th century reconstruction carried out in strict accordance with the original style. The schools are crowned by a
less assertive and more convincingly Romanesque cornice than that of the chapel. The school was planned to accommodate 400 pupils and included two further classrooms and a vestry on the ground floor.
After eight decades in service, the old Trinity Chapel was closed in 1935.

In the nineteen-thirties, the more far-sighted members of York City Council, such as J.B. Morrell, were examining the needs of the civic administration in an era where it was taking on an expanding role, particularly in areas such as health and housing. Trinity Chapel, with the Magistrates’ Courts just next door, formed an obvious addition to the footprint of the civic enclave. In those days, it was thought essential that a city fire station should be located in the city centre. In fact, York’s fire station already lay just round the corner in Friargate (the building survives to this day in other use) but its three docks were already too limited in size and number. So the chapel site, with the courts and police already nearby, seemed eminently suitable.

Despite outward appearances, much of the chapel building was evidently retained along with the whole of the Sunday school block. As well as the chapel’s Peckitt Street façade, the gable at the opposite end was retained while the roof between them conforms externally to the original form, though it may have been reframed internally. The main external changes were the demolition of the right-hand ‘aisle’ of the chapel and the remainder of the wall on that Clifford Street side along with the raising of the left-hand ‘aisle’ by one floor. This corresponded to massive internal changes to provide a home for the fire engines on the ground floor with a mess room for the firemen above. These were expressed externally by the new Clifford Street frontage, with six engine bays on the ground floor and a thoughtfully articulated sequence of rather nondescript windows above. To provide adequate lighting three such windows replaced the original upper feature within the gable of the Peckitt Street façade.

Care was taken to avoid needless damage to the original Peckitt Street design. Thus the new upper windows in the gable sit beneath an unaltered parapet, while the raised left-hand ‘aisle’ incorporates a new window at the new upper level but retains below all the original façade save for its crowning balustrade. The school block, though altered internally, seems to have retained most of its original fabric, while its Peckitt Street façade survives in its entirety.

From Clifford Street you saw a well-laid-out modern building; turn the corner and you had a Victorian frontage of some gusto. Obviously York had limited resources and the main requirement was to get an efficient modern building at minimal cost; that the new fire station subsequently functioned for three-quarters of a century suggests that this aim was fully met. Given that the chapel was in essence a big hall, its partial reconstruction was a very cost-effective way of achieving this.

Sources/Archives (2)

  • --- Unpublished document: Bill Fawcett. 2015. York Fire Station and Trinity Methodist Chapel.
  • --- Unpublished document: York Archaeological Trust. 2015. Former Fire Station, Clifford Street HBA.

Protected Status/Designation

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Events/Activities (2)

Record last edited

Aug 1 2020 4:25PM


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