Fairfax House

1128 Reviews

Star Travel Rating


Review type

Things to do


Date of travel

July, 2016

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Travelled with

On your own

Reasons for trip

From the outside, Fairfax House is a very understated Georgian brick building on Castlegate, near Cliffords Tower.

The inside is magnificent with superb plaster ceilings, described as the best in York, as well as one of the best collections of furniture. It justly deserves the description of the finest Georgian townhouse in Britain.

The house was built around 1740 and had several owners before being bought by George Gregory, ninth Viscount Fairfax for his daughter Anne in 1760. This was intended as her dowry if she had married. John Carr was employed to renovated the interior to create a sumptuous residence. It took two years for the plaster ceilings to be done. The house was only used in the winter months for York’s social season. It was situated at the centre of Georgian society. During the summer, they lived in lived at Gilling Castle. After the Viscount’s death, Anne moved permanently to Gilling Castle and sold the house. It passed through a series of owners but hasn’t been lived in since the 1850s. It was a Gentleman’s club and the Pentecostal Church held services here until their church built. From 1920-60 was a cinema. When that closed the building was bought by the council. By then, the house was in a very poor state and in danger of collapse.

Interest in the house revived in 1980. Noel Terry, the chairman of Terry’s of York and great grandson of the founder died in 1980. He had assembled an outstanding collection of Georgian furniture and clocks which he left for the benefit of the City of York. There were two conditions – the collection must not be split up and it must remain in York. Fairfax House was the answer. It was bought by York Civic Trust who restored it to house the furniture. It has been carefully preserved to retain as many of the original features as possible using traditional techniques and to what it might have been when the Fairfaxes lived here.

The furniture really does complement the house which has a wonderful feel to it. You can wander freely but are asked not to take pictures. There were guides in all rooms except the kitchen who were knowledgable and keen to talk. On the top floor is room holding temporary exhibition – Georgian shoes when I visited.

The LIBRARY is the first room to be visited and has a wonderful plaster ceiling with images of Milton, Pope, Addison and Locke. Not only does it identify the purpose of the room, it also flags up Viscount Fairfax’s literary interests and learning to visitors. One of the two large bookcases was made by Chippendale. It is a cosy room with several desks and two easy chairs by a small table. There is a marble fireplace, long clock and a lovely marquetry cupboard by door.

Across hallway is the DINING ROOM, with another splendid plaster ceiling, this time illustrating abundance with a cornucopia overflowing with fruits. The large table was laid with silver gilt and glassware. The walls are painted a dark duck egg blue and have a lot of pictures. China is displayed above the fireplace.

At the end of the hall is the KITCHEN with high ceiling. This has a large open fire with spits. On either side are cast iron ovens. Hams, hares and pheasants hang from ceiling. Pewter is displayed on open shelves. and there is a copper bedpan on the wall.

The tour continues up the back stairs to first floor and ANNE’S BEDROOM. This has a huge bed with a set of stairs next to it, which would be needed to climb into bed. The second step is hinged and contains a chamber pot – the Georgian’s answer to en suite facilities. The family were Catholics and there is a massive crucifix lying on the bed and a small cross on the bed head. There are pale bed hangings and the wallpaper is described as mock Chinese. A small dressing table has two cupboards on either side of the mirror to hold wigs. The huge mahogany tallboy also has writing desk and there is a smaller secretaire in the corner with lots of small compartments and shelves. The lid also has handles so when shut it looks just like a drawer.

On the corridor outside is the splendid main STAIRCASE with black and gilt banisters. The gilded rosebuds are a secret Jacobite symbol. The walls are painted powder blue and have plaster motifs. On one wall is William Shakespeare representing the arts. Opposite in Isaac Newton representing the sciences. The plaster ceiling has a military theme with weapons and banners. At the centre is a lady holding a plan of a fort.

Across the landing is what is described as the OTHER BEDROOM. This has been furnished as the Viscount’s bedroom although it isn’t known if he slept in here. It has another massive bed with chintz style hangings and curtains. On the bed is a hand embroidered silk garment decorated with flowers. This was bought in Paris around 1820, probably by a wealthy young man doing the grand tour. It was given to the house by a descendent who used to work here.

The bedside cabinet contains a chamber pot. On top is holder with four small decanters containing what was described as ‘cordials’. These were kept by the bed in case a tonic was needed during the night. In fact they contained very strong fruit brandies. Above is glass containing lumps of sugar that could be dissolved in the ‘cordial’.

There is a large mahogany clothes press with sliding drawers to store clothes. This has what is described as a pullout ‘brushing slide’. Clothes could be laid out on this to be brushed to remove mud and dirt before being put away. In a corner is the most valuable piece in the house, a delightful secretaire made by William Vile, who was the cabinet maker for George III and Queen Charlotte. Most of his work is in the Royal Collection and this seems to be an escapee from that.

The tapestry on the 1700 chairs in the bedroom and drawing room next door are covered with C18th tapestry panels which were discovered unused in the 1950s. They tell a love story of a young man wooing a young girl and end with his proposal.

Beyond is the DRAWING ROOM with dark olive wall coverings and was probably used for private entertaining. This is echoed in the plaster ceiling which has the figure of Friendship holding a heart in one hand and grasping a flourishing elm tree in the other. There is a small table set out with a china tea service, samovar and a small wooden tea chest. There are displays of China.

Across the hall is the SALOON which is the largest room and was used for dancing and entertainment. Viscount Fairfax entertained 200 people in here to mark the completion of the house. There is a card table and a spinet. It has a very welcoming feel with with red wall hangings, carpets and upholstery. Mirrors on the walls reflect the light making the room seem larger. Hanging from the ceiling is a brass chandelier.

I think this is one of he nicest stately homes I have visited. In some ways there isn’t a lot to see and it is a manageable size. There is so much to take in and admire and the room guides really add to the experience. I am glad I visited. Keep hold of your ticket as it is valid for a full year.

The Castle Car Park is directly opposite the house while Fenwick’s car park is also less than two minutes away. The post code of the house is YO1 9RN and the grid reference is SE 604516.

ACCESS The house is not geared up for disabled access. Entry is up a small flight of steps. The ground floor is accessible but the first floor can only be reached up the staircase.


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