The Great Hall
The width of the Great Hall is ambitious, and the method of spanning the space can be readily seen as the roof timbers are all exposed. The construction was determined by the availability of materials - in this case, of large oak timbers - and the technical knowledge of how to use the materials so that the structure was stable (those that fell down can no longer be seen!). The roof is an unusual combination of two systems - a triangular truss consisting of a bottom tie with a central post and braces and two big curved arches both of which are capable of supporting the pitched rafters and roof covering.
At the west end of the Great Hall lies the Entrance Hall which forms the original screen's passage - one of the very few that exists in the country today - on the further side of which would have been kitchens and service rooms (now the cloakrooms). At the other end of the Hall, under the great window would have originally been a dais where the Master and Officers of the Company would sit.
The width and height of the Great Hall are similar and with a length that is twice that dimension it forms two cubes side by side. The arms over the fireplace are the London Drapers Company Armorial Bearings, painted on wood before 1668, at a time long before the Merchant Taylors of York had its own arms.
The Waits or Minstrels Gallery is one of the real curiousity of the Hall. There are references to its erection in 1649 and it is believed on stylistic evidence that it was replaced with present Gallery around 1725.
In 2014 a major dendrochronological investigation of the roof timbers of their Great Hall established its build date as 1415 and inspired the Company to commemorate the imminent 600th anniversary. Stained glass artists and designers Helen Whittaker MA AMGP and Keith Barley MBE were commissioned to incorporate the Company's coat of arms into the three windows in the east end of the Great Hall in stained glass.
In the new central window, the arms creates the focal point, depicted as if sewn onto silk. The surrounding fabric flows across the remaining glazing and into the flanking windows. The anniversary dates, 1415 – 2015, are shown embroidered in gold thread below the coat of arms, with a silver needle finishing the stitching. Lines of gold stitching running across the fabric hint at the skill of Taylors through the ages, working with the fabric to create a garment. The new windows follow the style of the Henry Gyles windows in the Small Hall with their glazing pattern of rectangular squares, and no coloured glass is used.
Grounds & Gardens
Until the 1960s the Hall was hidden from public view by a terrace of buildings, including an entrance archway, fronting onto Aldwark. A large part of the forecourt was also occupied by terrace dwellings. When the 1887 archway was demolished the stone coat of arms from above the archway depicting the untinctured Arms of the London Company of Merchant Taylors was saved and built into the new boundary wall to the left of the Hall porch.
The Hall now has a splendid forecourt and garden, providing a serene setting to the Hall and a place to be enjoyed by Members and visitors alike.
The Small Hall
In the late 15th century a new wing to the Hall was constructed - in the minutes of 13 June 1539, it was referred to as the 'Counsell howse' of the 'Tailors Hall' and later was called the Counting House, or it could have been built or used as a Chapel. Today it is used for receptions and small meetings.
The two stained glass windows in the Small Hall are rare and interesting, as they are both by the York glass painter Henry Gyles, to whom a total of fifty-eight glass paintings can be attributed.
The Side Window
This is Gyles' earliest known work (1662) and depicts the armorial bearings of the London Company of Merchant Taylors. It is initialled HG on the left beneath the motto. It is known as the ‘Buckton’ window as it was the Gift of Simon Buckton, a Merchant Taylor, as the dedication shows. The window’s restoration in 1862 is recorded by one panel and a second panel, by the local glass painter Helen Whittaker, records the windows conservation in 2008 by Keith Barley, of Barley Studios, the award winning local conservator and restorer of historic stained glass.
The End Window
Gyles' full signature is shown at the bottom of this window in four parts. At the top it depicts the crowned bust of Queen Anne with two supporting angels, with the armorial bearings of the London Company of Merchant Taylors below. Above the angel at the foot of the window is the extraordinary descriptive panel claiming that 'This Company has beene dignified in the yeare 1679 by having in their Fraternity, eight Kings, eleven Dukes, thirty Earles and fortyfour Lords'. This refers to the London Company, who actually did have such a membership (but presumably the inscription should read ‘…by having had in their fraternity…’).
The date of 1679 refers to the completion of the restoration of their London Hall following the Great Fire of 1666; the mystery is why the glass is in York and not in London! The national importance of these two windows enhances the link between the Company of Merchant Taylors of York and the Worshipful Company of Glaziers and Painters of Glass in London which continues today.
Plan of the Site
To one side of the Hall is the Hospital built in 1730 to house four elderly Tailors - who from the start of the Guild could be men or women. The almshouse was built on the original site of the Maison Dieu which was demolished in 1702.
Today the Almshouse forms a single tenanted dwelling.