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Hugh Broughton’s contentious Clifford’s Tower scheme scrapped


English Heritage has dropped controversial designs by Hugh Broughton Architects to build a visitor centre at the base of the keep of Clifford’s Tower in York

The practice won permission for the proposals in 2016 in the face of heavy criticism and a petition by disgruntled locals against the scheme which attracted more than 3,700 signatures (Stop English Heritage Making Clifford’s Tower Look Like Disneyland!

The approval and application process was subsequently challenged in the High Court by local councillor Johnny Hayes and, although an initial judicial review found in favour of York City Council, an appeal was lodged which was due to be heard next month.

Explaining its decision to pull the plug on the scheme, English Heritage said it had listened to local people who ‘loved the shape of the mound and disliked the thought of its circumference being broken’.

The organisation also said it was swayed by the progress of the £30 million Castle Gateway redevelopment – an emerging council-led masterplan which includes the areas around the Grade I-listed 13th-century keep.

Andrea Selley, English Heritage’s recently appointed director for the north of England, said: ‘There are a number of things which influenced this decision. The momentum behind transforming the Castle Gateway area is genuinely exciting and it may open up opportunities for Clifford’s Tower that previously did not exist.

Changing the mound – even slightly and even with the very best intentions – was too much for many

‘We also became increasingly conscious that many people have a deep emotional attachment towards the mound. Yes, the base of the mound is a 20th-century construction and no, the visitor building would not have touched any of the medieval remains, but like the wallpaper in our homes, that small mound is a deeply familiar backdrop and the thought of changing it – even slightly and even with the very best intentions – was too much for many.’

The charity announced it would now rework its proposals drawn up, the AJ understands, by the existing design team. 

Selley added: ‘But the fact remains that although people love the tower, a visit is far from ideal; there is an ugly shop in the centre of the tower and little interpretation to tell its fascinating story. We therefore remain committed to doing justice to Clifford’s Tower and we will work with our partners and the public to get it right.’

Hugh Broughton Architects worked with conservation specialist Martin Ashley Architects on the job, which it landed following a competition in January 2015.

Under the original plans, a single-storey visitor centre was to be built at ground level, housing an orientation area, shop, kiosk and staff offices. A substantial section of the tower’s wall, buried since 1935, would have been uncovered as part of the scheme.

The designs also featured a timber structure which would have been installed to partially cover the ruin and provide a viewing platform at roof level, while suspended metal walkways will give access to the first-floor level.

The new additions would have rested on pad foundations designed to spread the loads without impacting on the archaeology of the tower.

Clifford’s Tower is the largest surviving structure from the medieval royal castle of York, which was an important seat of government of the North of England in the Middle Ages.

It was built atop a tall earthen mound in the mid-13th century, was ruined by fire in 1684 and has stood roofless since. The castle mound is thought to have been raised during the reign of William the Conqueror.

Hugh Broughton Architecs was not available for comment.

Project data

Area Visitor Centre 230m²; tower 410m²
Client English Heritage
Conservation architect Martin Ashley Architects
Structural engineer Ramboll
Services engineer BDP
Quantity surveyor RNJ Partnership
Interpretation designer Simon Leach Design

Hugh Broughton Architects' Clifford's Tower

Hugh Broughton Architects’ Clifford’s Tower


Readers' comments (3)

  • The base of the mound might be 'a 20th century construction' - and, as such, concealing the remains of the tower's wall since 1935 - but the proposed structure was so obviously disruptive to the setting of the tower that it's really surprising (or should be) that English Heritage took so long to get the message.

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  • MacKenzie Architects

    I have no opinion on the merits of the design, but boy, are we useless at making decisions in this country.
    Three years from a completed report on Heathrow for the Government to present 3rd runway to HOC for a vote; something like 8 years to get these horrible nuclear power stations 'started'.

    Why has this taken at least two years and some court time; this kind of thing proves the system is broken and some people (or organisations) have either too many rights, too much time to enforce them, or access to too much (of other people's) money to be able to spin things out.

    I'm sure a few objective people in English Heritage could have weighed this up at the start and made a simple decision with the conviction -either way- to stick with.

    -ahh, who cares anyway.

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  • I was half of the My Future York team which carried out the My Castle Gateway community engagement process, and have to say that, alongside Johnny Hayes' persistence and patience, the completely altered context for the setting of Clifford's Tower has had a major impact, as Andrea Selley comments.
    I agree we're useless at making decisions in the UK but fundamentally I think we're bad at asking the right questions at the right time. Once local people said what they wanted (as opposed to just what they *didn't* want) it was much easier to see a clear way forward.

    Us architects really should be using our skills more to engage the public in envisioning the future they want, forging links and challenging boundaries.

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