University of York Campus West designed landscape


Heritage Category:
Park and Garden
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
University Of York, Heslington, York, YO10 5DD


Ordnance survey map of University of York Campus West designed landscape
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Statutory Address:
University Of York, Heslington, York, YO10 5DD

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

York (Unitary Authority)
York (Unitary Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


University campus landscape of 1963-1980 incorporating a late-C17/early-C18 formal landscape and an early-C19 fishpond belonging to Heslington Hall, by Andrew Derbyshire and Maurice Lee of Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall & Partners (RMJM), assisted by David Rendle and Alfred Hoffman, with Herbert Francis (Frank) Clark as landscape consultant

Reasons for Designation

The University of York Campus West designed landscape, laid out from 1963-1980 to designs by Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall & Partners (RMJM), is registered at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Historic interest:

* it is a physical manifestation of the University of York Development Plan, which was heralded as the beginning of contemporary university planning in Britain;

Design interest:

* its refined design successfully integrates a series of status buildings within a carefully designed landscape, and was praised by the contemporary architectural press;


* the RMJM landscape complements and enhances the C17/C18 designed landscape of Heslington Hall, and combines both hard and soft landscaping to striking effect with formal and informal spaces, water courts, lawned areas, paths with contrasting straight edges and winding lines, and covered walkways, all drawn together by a large sinuous lake that acts as a key focal point within the campus site;


* the landscape was designed by the distinguished mid-C20 architects Andrew Derbyshire and Maurice Lee of RMJM, with Frank Clark, co-founder of the Garden History Society (now The Gardens Trust), as consultant;

Degree of survival:

* despite some later alteration and the introduction of new buildings the landscape survives well overall and retains its character and key features;

Group value:

* it has strong group value with listed features on the campus, including Heslington Hall (Grade II*), the numerous Grade II structures in the hall's formal gardens, Central Hall (Grade II), Derwent College (Grade II), former Langwith College (Grade II), the covered walkway linking the former Langwith College to Central Hall and Vanbrugh College (Grade II), and Grade II listed sculptures.


After several previous attempts at establishing a university in York had failed, in 1953 York Civic Trust and the Rowntree Trust launched the Institute of Archives and the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies (IAAS), which became key components of the York Academic Trust founded in 1958 in King’s Manor in the city centre. The administrator appointed to run both courses was John West-Taylor, who saw them as a stepping stone to the founding of a new university.

In April 1959 the University Grants Committee (UGC) set up a Sub-Committee on New Universities and invited applications from cities or groups of authorities wanting to promote new universities. York’s application was approved in April 1960, along with that of Norwich, with further approvals in the following year. The seven new universities in England (Sussex, York, East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Warwick and Lancaster) differed from older institutions in that they were full universities supported by the UGC and setting their own degrees from the outset. All appointed well-respected architects to prepare detailed masterplans and to design the most important buildings, giving each a sense of unity and a distinctive identity.

In York the C16 Heslington Hall about 1.5 miles south-east of the city centre, which had been secured in 1958 by local benefactor John Bowes Morrell, was chosen as the site for the university and Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall and Partners (RMJM) were appointed in 1961-1962 as masterplanners with Stirrat Johnson-Marshall and Andrew Derbyshire as partners in charge, working alongside the vice chancellor, West-Taylor and incoming professors to produce a detailed development plan. The hall was adapted as the administrative centre of the university in the first phase of building work in 1963-1965, with the hall's parkland intended for the campus. More grounds were then acquired to the west and it was agreed on the need for a lake as a balancing reservoir to lower the dangerously high water table on the site. A younger RMJM partner, Maurice Lee, specialised in landscape design, which he produced here in conjunction with Herbert Francis (Frank) Clark, previously landscape architect to the Festival of Britain, and a co-founder of the Garden History Society.

All the new universities experimented with new course structures, particularly in the growth area of social sciences, and this shaped the movement seen at Sussex, UEA and Essex towards pushing the teaching buildings together as megastructures. By contrast, York’s course structure was relatively traditional and collegiate, but enabled daytime teaching facilities and residential accommodation to be combined together so that they could share catering, common rooms and bars, encouraging a 24/7 atmosphere and maximising their usage and the available UGC grant. Buildings were to be of no more than four storeys so that the landscape remained dominant and the overall sense of place palpable.

The masterplan included groups of loose-knit college ranges, with the science laboratories behind them and landmark buildings, such as the library and Central Hall set within a careful pattern of circulation. The university was built in phases that progressed westwards from Heslington Hall, with development becoming more piecemeal as funding became more restricted.

A shortage of building labour, expensive materials, and waterlogged ground required a lightweight construction solution in order to avoid expensive piling. In 1946-1947 Johnson-Marshall had devised a prefabricated system using steel frames and concrete panels used by Hertfordshire County Council for building schools, a critically acclaimed programme from which six surviving examples are listed. Its ideals informed the CLASP (Consortium of Local Authorities Special Programme) system developed by Nottinghamshire County Council in 1954-1956. CLASP was designed as a lightweight and flexible structure that could ‘ride’ the mining of coal seams below them; the first CLASP building, Intake Farm School, Mansfield (Grade II) of 1955-1957 was called the ‘rock and roll school’. When York was designed CLASP was at the peak of its success and it was used for fire stations, health centres, libraries and offices. It is used in the design of many of the university’s buildings at York.

RMJM was the only architectural practice to design four universities: York, Bath, Stirling, and the University of Ulster at Coleraine, and it specialised in public sector work throughout the 1960s. It began to work outside Britain in the late 1960s and today is a massive international practice with offices in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and the Americas, as well as Europe.

The landscape element of the campus was designed by Andrew Derbyshire and Maurice Lee, assisted by David Rendle and Alfred Hoffman, with Herbert Francis (Frank) Clark as landscape consultant. The waterlogged ground conditions of the proposed campus site coupled with the construction of buildings that would increase the impermeable surface area meant that the threat of flooding had to be addressed. The 1962 masterplan proposed to improve the site's drainage by creating a balancing reservoir (lake) to contain the increased flow of rainwater run-off and release it slowly; the lake was one of the first elements in the plan. Andrew Derbyshire stressed the importance of a lake as a central focus and of the bridges across it as touch of folly, fighting criticisms from the UGC as to the cost – the landscaping, bridges and walkways cost about ten per cent of the budget in the 1960s. H F (Frank) Clark provided advice, but to meet the tight deadlines and tighter budgets Derbyshire and Maurice Lee wrote the final landscape brief. They proposed three tiers of planting with shelter belts to shield the exposed site, small-scale planting to give interest to the clusters of low-rise college buildings scattered around the lake, and a middle range to provide visual links between them. Lee also designed the landscape for the Commonwealth Institute, Kensington, Greater London. The landscaping at York was largely completed by 1980, but some additional buildings and sculptural work have been added later, and tutors' houses on the south side of the lake near to Heslington Hall have been demolished.

A management plan was put in place by Hal Moggeridge in 1993 in consultation with Andrew Derbyshire. The paved area in front of Vanbrugh College was partly remodelled between 2015 and 2016 as Greg’s Place by TGP Landscape Architects at the behest of the outgoing chancellor, Greg Dyke.


University campus landscape of 1963-1980 incorporating a late-C17/early-C18 formal landscape and an early-C19 fishpond belonging to Heslington Hall, by Andrew Derbyshire and Maurice Lee of Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall & Partners (RMJM), assisted by David Rendle and Alfred Hoffman, with Herbert Francis (Frank) Clark as landscape consultant

LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING The University of York Campus West designed landscape is situated approximately 1.5 miles south-east of York city centre immediately to the north-west of the village of Heslington. Although the campus is approximately 185 acres/0.75 sq km in total the registered designed landscape is concentrated on an area of mainly flat and undulating land with an irregular triangular shape, which is approximately 69 acres/0.28 sq km. The landscape is bounded to the north and east by University Road, to the north-west by Wentworth Way, to the west by the altered Biology Building and Wentworth College, to the south by James College, the sports and fitness centre, Newton Way car park and private housing of Heslington village, and to the south-east by Main Street. The site comprises the landscaped grounds to a series of college buildings and structures linked by a network of paths, covered walkways and bridges, with a large sinuous lake forming the main focal point of the landscape. The remainder of the campus, including the library, is set on higher ground to the north of University Road and is excluded from the Register entry.

ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES The main approaches to the site are via the main campus access routes, which are from York to the north-west, via University Road (the former Heslington Road, which was widened and sunk into the side of the hill as part of the 1962 masterplan), and from the A64 to the south via the A19 and Heslington Lane. Entrances to the colleges on the northern shore of the lake, as well as Heslington Hall, lie off University Road, with Newton Way and Spring Lane on the south side of the site providing access off Heslington Lane and Main Street to the southern colleges, from which there is direct access into the designed landscape. The area of the designed landscape around the lake is largely pedestrianised, apart from access for maintenance vehicles.

HISTORIC BUILDING Heslington Hall (listed at Grade II*), which is located at the eastern end of the landscape, was constructed by Sir Thomas Eynns, secretary and keeper of the seal to the Council of the North between 1565-1568. It passed by sale and marriage to the Yarburgh family in 1708, and in 1852 to Yarburgh Graeme Yarburgh, who commissioned P C Hardwick to remodel, rebuild and extend the building between 1852-1856. Further alterations were made in 1876 by David Brandon. The interior was remodelled in 1903 by Walter Brierley (who also lowered the roofline) and in 1939 the Yarburgh family (Barons Deramore from 1890) vacated the house. In 1958 the hall was sold to John Bowes Morrell for academic purposes, and between 1961-1963 the interior was converted for university use by Bernard Feilden for RMJM and a modern stair installed. The hall is constructed of red brick with sandstone ashlar dressings and a plain tile roofs, and has a U-shaped plan with a courtyard and two projecting wings on the north-east front elevation. The centre bays of the south-west facing garden elevation is Victorian, but two flanking staircase towers are original. The original gardens of Heslington Hall extended west to Spring Lane, which was moved further westwards in 1865, and to the north-west was parkland.

OTHER HISTORIC STRUCTURES Located approximately 100 metres south-west of Heslington Hall is an early-mid-C18 walled kitchen garden (walls, gate piers and gates listed at Grade II) that contains modern greenhouses as well as a mid-C18 single-storey orangery (listed at Grade II). Incorporated into the south-west wall of the walled garden is the hall's original C16 pedimented entrance porch (listed at Grade II), which is constructed of sandstone ashlar and has paired Corinthian columns and a frieze. Forming the north corner of the walled garden is an early-C18 square gazebo (listed at Grade II, also known as the Quiet Place and used for contemplation and private study), which faces north-west to the site of the hall's former parkland (now the university campus) and a former formal canal. The gazebo is of two storeys and is constructed of mellow red brick with ashlar dressings and a tiled pyramidal roof. An external balustraded stair on the north-east side accesses the first-floor room. A small single-storey extension attached to the north-west side has a large arched opening and contains a garden seat.


MAIN BUILDINGS RMJM's 1962 masterplan for the University of York proposed a sequence of new low-rise buildings to be constructed in three main phases leading westwards and north from Heslington Hall, and clustered around a lake. Service yards and car parks, which are not of special interest, exist to the rears of all the college buildings away from the lake and are accessed from the approach roads.

Construction began between 1963 and 1965 with two college buildings - Derwent and Langwith (both listed at Grade II and now collectively known as Derwent College) - adjoining Heslington Hall at the eastern end of the site and containing residential accommodation and teaching facilities for the arts and social sciences. These buildings are of CLASP (Consortium of Local Authorities Special Programme) construction, which consists of a steel frame clad in concrete panels with beige aggregate of Trent gravel, and were planned picturesquely as a series of open courtyards linked by covered walkways.

From 1965 to 1968 further colleges were built using CLASP construction, including Vanbrugh and Goodricke, which lie opposite each other on the north and south shores of the lake respectively, and the Biology Department, which is located to the north-west corner of the site and is outside of the area here registered. The Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, which lies to the north-east of Biology, was constructed in 1968 and extended between 1999 and 2004 by van Heyningen and Haward.

A multi-purpose assembly hall known as Central Hall (listed at Grade II) forms the centrepiece of the campus landscape and was constructed between 1966 and 1968 on the lake’s north shore. The hall projects out into the lake and provides key views to, and from, the lake and grounds. A covered walkway (listed at Grade II) links Central Hall with Derwent College and Vanbrugh College.

The Physics Department of 1965-1967 is located on the south side of the lake opposite Central Hall and to the east of this is the Vice-Chancellor's House, which was one of the first buildings on the campus to be built between 1963 and 1965.

Other later buildings have been added on both sides of the lake and include a health centre and nursery (1980s), Berrick Saul Building (2009), and Spring Lane Building (2016). Wentworth College (1972 with later additions and alterations, including a 2002 curving accommodation block) and James College (1990s) are located towards the western end of the lake and are outside the area here registered.

THE LAKE & ITS ENVIRONS The lake, which feeds into Germany Beck, forms the main focal point of the Campus West designed landscape. Key views are provided from the lakeside edge and paths to the surrounding areas of the designed landscape and buildings, including Heslington Hall, the colleges, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, and most notably to Central Hall. Key views are also returned from the buildings to the lake and grounds.

The lake's origins date back to the early C19 when an informal small lake or fish pond was created to the north-west of Heslington Hall. This small lake still survives as part of the later lake created in 1963 by RMJM, but it remains separate at the eastern end of the site with its own dam and has two small islands. Most of the university is on very flat land, and as part of the 1962 masterplan the existing early-C19 lake/fish pond was extended by nearly a mile to drain the site and form a balancing reservoir, as well as to provide a central focus for the new buildings. The lake covers approximately 15 acres in total, is three to four feet deep, and was one of the first, and largest, lakes in the country to be lined in butyl/polythene sheeting; by the time the sheet began to rupture, the ground had compacted and was largely impervious. Reed beds and lily pads have been introduced into the lake to improve water purity, and a dam provides the lake's south-west termination point.

Some of the colleges are built right on the lake edge, particularly the southern wing of the former Langwith College, which appears to rise straight out of the easternmost C19 section of the lake. Neighbouring Derwent College to the south-east adjacent to Heslington Hall also incorporates a formal ‘water court’ with a courtyard pool with low-spraying fountains surrounded by a covered walk that offers views in to the pool and buildings and out to the lake into which the pool's overflow cascades.

RMJM's extended lake twists and winds westwards from the early-C19 section through the flat land of the site like a river and the spoil from its construction was used to create undulations and contours in the landscape. The lake's eastern section, adjacent to the original early-C19 part of the lake, is considerably narrower than the rest of the lake with an island, and is the part that most resembles a river with grassy banks on each side. The lake then broadens out around Central Hall to form a harbour-like basin with Vanbrugh College to the north shore, the Physics Department to the south, and a single-jet fountain to the centre of the basin that is practical as well as aesthetic in helping to aerate the water.

Originally there were separate areas reserved for fishing (in the narrow section to the east of Central Hall) and swimming, and the widest area in front of Central Hall was for boating and sailing. Wide flights of steps originally led down into the water to provide access for watersports, but the lake is no longer used for watersports and the steps in front of Vanbrugh College have been removed and replaced by tiered planting, although steps remain around the terrace surrounding Central Hall. Large square stepping stones in the water in front of the Physics Department are designed like pontoons.

A large paved area in front of Vanbrugh College was partly remodelled between 2015 and 2016. Originally the design was composed of a series of squares on level ground with planting, gravel, paving and trees, but the land has been slightly re-graded and gently sloped for better disabled access, areas of lawn and seating introduced, and an area of decking created immediately in front of the lake, upon which is a large sculptural window in which people can sit and admire the views, including a framed view of the fountain. Low concrete lights shaped like boat moorings, which used to pool light from underneath but are no longer operational, survive on the western side of the paved area and are also present on sections of paving on the south side of the lake opposite, which is adjacent to the former Goodricke College, which occupies a headland spur and includes two detached stepped buildings at the fore that follow the line of the lake. Behind the two detached Goodricke blocks is a gently undulating landscape with another water court and fountain by the college's nucleus that are linked to the lake by a leat running westwards and another running eastwards, both planted with reeds.

To the west of the central basin the lake narrows again and continues meandering westwards and then south-westwards where it widens slightly again next to Wentworth College and James College and contains a large island designed as a wild fowl sanctuary and nesting site. A section of early-C21 pressed-red brick flood defence walling has been constructed on the lake edge immediately to the south of the 1972 Wentworth College. The western edge of the lake by the early-C21 buildings of Wentworth College also has later timber cladding, which is disintegrating and is due to be removed. The banks of the lake at the south-western tip, and also to the north and west of James College, are planted with trees.

The lake is spanned by a series of six bridges, all of differing design, which are lit at night. Two eastern bridges have lattice balustrades, including one over the dam by the former Langwith College, which has replaced a set of stepping stones. A bridge with a covered roof spans the lake between Central Hall and the Physics Department, and Goodricke Bridge spans the lake between Vanbrugh College and the former Goodricke College; at the time of writing (2018), Goodricke Bridge, which has lost its original glass canopy and has replaced handrails, has been classed as structurally unsafe and has been closed in advance of repairs. A steel-girder bridge spans the lake between Biology and the former Goodricke College, and a suspension bridge, added in 1993, spans the lake between Wentworth College and James College.

RMJM LANDSCAPING The landscape employs both hard and soft landscaping. A mixture of straight and sinuous paths, which comprise in-situ and pre-cast concrete slabs, tarmac and resin bound paths, access the various elements of the landscape, although there is not a path encircling the entire lake. Covered walkways (some of which are listed at Grade II), comprising slender steel columns with flat roofs of timber and aluminium concealing service ducts and covered in asphalt, also link some of the buildings and form integral features of the landscape.

Trees are used to define the contours of the land, with smaller trees used as specimens in areas of lawn, such as to the east of Central Hall and to the west of the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, that provide visual links between the buildings. The range of trees and plants was kept deliberately narrow, with willow trees and silver birch dominant around the lake edge, with alders, poplars, and cherries elsewhere. The planting programme was completed in 1980 and the accent is on foliage rather than flowers; thus flowers are largely confined to tubs for ease of maintenance, apart from in spring when daffodils and other spring bulbs appear in parts of the lawned areas, which are mainly in the eastern half of the landscape and the northern area by the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall.

Small-scale planting gives interest to the clusters of low-rise college buildings, courtyards and pedestrian ways scattered around the lake, and a shelter belt exists to the south-west corner of the lake. Further shelter belts exist to the far northern areas of the campus, but are outside of the area here registered.

The land form of the designed landscape is predominantly flat, although to the east of Central Hall is a naturalistic looking mound surmounted by fir trees and a 2006 sculpture entitled 'Meditation on Exhaustion' by Thomas Taylor; the mound was created to conceal a sewage tank underneath. To the south-west of the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall and Music Research Centre the land gently undulates and in front of the building's south elevation is a naturalistic open-air amphitheatre with sloping rather than tiered sides.

HESLINGTON HALL GARDENS At the eastern end of the site is Heslington Hall, with Derwent College and the start of the sinuous lake just to the north-west. In front of the hall's south-west garden elevation is a grassed terrace used as a croquet lawn, which terminates in a long canal pool installed by RMJM in around 1965 with a line of low-spraying fountains. The pool is aligned at a right angle (north-west - south-east) towards the lake and 1960s university buildings, and both the terrace and pool are enclosed by stone-flagged paths. In front of the terrace and pond, approximately 43 metres south-west of the hall, is an avenue of paired overgrown clipped yews planted by James Yarborough in the late C17/early C18 who created a modest Dutch-style garden, with two further lines of yews to each flanking side. From the 1960s the pool and yews were the setting for a sculpture by Henry Moore entitled 'Family Group', on loan from the Moore Foundation. However, when the loan had to be returned the university commissioned an abstract sculpture by Austin Wright entitled 'Dryad' (listed at Grade II) in 1983; the largely abstract figure was erected on the plinth of the Moore sculpture in 1984. To the south-west of the yews is the C18 walled kitchen garden of the hall with the two-storey gazebo (listed at Grade II) forming its north corner. Extending north-west from the gazebo at a right angle to the hall's terrace and yew avenue is a straight-sided hollow in the lawn that was originally a short formal canal approximately 35 metres long that overlooked the hall's parkland and is depicted in a painting of 1760, but was in-filled in the C19. To the east and west of the former canal are areas of lawn running down to the lake edge, bisected by a meandering path that heads eastwards towards the hall and Derwent College, and westwards and then north following the line of the lake. Alongside the path are globe lighting columns and bench seating, a C19 sandstone-ashlar gate pier believed to have been moved from elsewhere on the site, and a 2006 totem pole-like sculpture by Bill Hodgson entitled 'Aspiration'. To the west is the former site of tutor's houses, which were demolished in around 2014. The site has been grassed over and spring bulbs planted; a solitary palm tree is a survivor from one of the houses' former gardens.


Books and journals
Pevsner, N, Neave, D, Neave, S, Hutchinson, J, The Buildings of England. Yorkshire: York and the East Riding, (2005), 476-466
Hellyer, A G L, 'Landscape for a University. Heslington Hall, York' in Country Life, , Vol. 150, (2 September 1971), 532-534
'Water Gardens. The University of York' in Concrete Quarterly, , Vol. 10, (July September 1979), 2-5
University of York Art on campus, accessed 18/4/18 from
University of York Development Plan 1962 - 1972


This garden or other land is registered under the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953 within the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens by Historic England for its special historic interest.

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