University of York to move out of King’s Manor


Exclusive Nouse investigation reveals a dissatisfied postgraduate community

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Image by Joshua Haining

By Tom Layton

The University of York is set to move the Archaeology Department, Centre for Medieval Studies (CMS), and the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies (CECS) out of King’s Manor and onto campus. This decision has prompted significant backlash from York’s postgraduate community.

Nouse has gained access to University internal communications announcing the move to staff and postgraduate students of the afore-mentioned departments. Emails from Duncan Petrie, Dean of Arts & Humanities, state that the University plans to move these departments into the Berrick Saul and Heslington Hall buildings. This comes as part of a larger plan to consolidate University activity into the campus, share space between apartments, and renovate “unsuitable” locations. It is unclear what the University’s plans are for the popular King’s Manor library.

The move was announced to staff and postgraduate students working within the archaeology department, CMS and CECS at an emergency meeting on the morning of June 19th, following a decision by the University Executive Board. The York Open Day team were informed later that evening, just two days before the York 2024 open days began.

Postgraduate students who attended the emergency meeting reported further details of plans to sub-let King’s Manor to “heritage tenants”. Petrie explains in his email that they are aiming to complete the process by 2025, and blames “substantial running costs, conservation costs and accessibility difficulties” for the move.

A spokesperson for the University clarified that “no decisions have been made yet about space on campus”, and that “we particularly want to explore the opportunities this change presents", such as "building a strong interdisciplinary home for the Arts and Humanities on campus”. Regarding next steps, they explained that “we’re scoping out what’s possible on campus and we’ll be coming to talk to staff, PGRs and students to share and get feedback on potential options. We felt it was inappropriate to press ahead with this scoping exercise without first sharing the news about King’s Manor.” The University did not comment on their future plans for the site.

In an email responding to a postgraduate’s complaint at the University’s sudden announcement, YUSU Academic Officer Meely Doherty acknowledged that the move was difficult for postgraduate students, that the union had no plans to oppose any part of the decision, and had expected it for some time. Speaking to Nouse, Doherty highlighted how none of King’s Manor’s lecture halls are accessible for students using a wheelchair. She clarified that YUSU are going to “look to the future and lobby for the students to be moved to Heslington Hall to ensure the same level of historicity, while improving the accessibility of the space.”

In response to a question about postgraduate concerns, Doherty emphasised that half of the students that use King’s Manor are undergraduates and that “the change is taking place over a year from now, when the current PGTs will have already left campus”, with current postgraduates able to access dedicated spaces and resources on Campus West.

Several past postgraduate students contacted by Nouse acknowledged the unique historical appeal of King’s Manor, and how it was central to attracting them to postgraduate study at York. One current PhD candidate remarked that “it seems like a decision which has been sprung on staff and students alike with little to no consultation on how it will impact the communities who use the space”, and that “the CMS PhD cohort as a whole is deeply concerned and confused by the complete lack of logic and transparency with all of this”.

One PhD candidate explained how “announcing a meeting a day in advance at the end of the marking period when many members of the King’s Manor community were not able to attend, alongside the lack of consultation and transparency that has been offered to staff and students alike, has been particularly frustrating.”

In an email to postgraduate students at CMS, Director of CMS, Professor Elizabeth Tyler and Dr Kenneth Clarke highlighted the extremely short notice of the meeting, and labelled the news as “sad and unsettling” for postgraduates. They blamed the “current financial climate”, and stated that King’s Manor was no longer a sustainable option for the University. They also emphasised the potential of the move to “expand our networks, diversify our intellectual conversations, to the benefit of PhDs, MAs and staff”.

However, a current PhD candidate came forward to Nouse to voice their concerns about the University’s communications to postgraduates, and what they saw as a “lack of clear planning around some of its [the move onto campus] fundamental aspects.” They explained that communications from the University had “shut down” any criticism, and that they felt pressure to get on board with the University’s plans.

They also remarked that “sinking funds into hiring architects seems to be the only part of this plan that is, at this current stage, fully realised.” This refers to the University’s alleged plans to renovate Heslington Hall and the Berrick Saul building to accommodate the move.

Indeed, Tyler and Clarke’s email also expressed concern over the impacts of the move, as the email ended by stating that “PhD student needs [...] will continue to be a priority”, and that they intend “to represent the interests of the CMS in the strongest possible terms in ongoing discussions, of which we are a valued part.”

There are no planning applications or listed building consent applications currently registered for the Berrick Saul Building or Heslington Hall. The Berrick Saul building, constructed in August 2009 at a cost of £11 million, is unlisted and, like much of York, lies within the York City Boundary planning constraint. The only planning application in the building’s history, for a single storey extension to the Berrick Saul cycle store in order to house a plant room and electrical generator, was lodged in December 2015, and approved in February 2016.

However, Heslington Hall is Grade II* listed and lies within the Heslington conservation area. According to architecture firm Scroxton & Scroxton, buildings that are listed or within a conservation area “may showcase extraordinary craftsmanship, distinctive design elements, or exceptional cultural associations that warrant their elevated status”, and come with “legal protections and restrictions”, such as requirements for planning permission and listed building consent. Planning applications for Heslington Hall go back decades, but aside from recent applications for tree pruning, the most recent approved application was lodged in September 2015 for the  installation of an “external lightning protection system”.

King’s Manor has been leased to the University since 1964 by City of York Council, and has a range of planning constraints, including a Grade I listing and its position within the City Centre Area of Archaeological Interest, and York’s Central Historic Core conservation area. According to Historic England, such legislation is designed to maintain the “significance” of historic sites. Aside from the occasional tree pruning and chimney repair, King’s Manor has received no major renovations since 2020, when the old refectory and student common room were converted into a teaching and research facility for the Archaeology Data Service. Planning permission for a cafe intended to replace the old Refectory cafe were approved in February 2020, but this never opened, and, as of 2023, YUSU stated that a King’s Manor cafe was “not viable for either YUSU or the University at this time”, mainly due to competition from other cafes in the York City Centre.