Stables and coach house with attached mortuary, in the grounds of The Retreat


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Location Description:
Statutory Address:
The Retreat, Heslington Road, York, YO10 5BN


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Statutory Address:
The Retreat, Heslington Road, York, YO10 5BN

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

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


Stables and coach house with attached mortuary. Stables and coach house of mid-C19 date, the mortuary is early C20.

Reasons for Designation

The mid-C19 stables and coach house and attached early-C20 mortuary are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* the stables and coach house is likely to be architect-designed, demonstrated in its architectural quality through the use of unusual and decorative full-height, blind arcading to all the exterior walls; * the stables and coach house retains the original layout and features, including a boarded tack room with cast-iron range, tack pegs in the coach house and hay drops for the stables; * despite its discreet location and small size, the mortuary has been carefully designed in a Domestic Revival style with a front elevation of paired batten doors and timber-framed windows beneath a half-timbered gable with deep bargeboards; * the interior of the mortuary remains intact with original fixtures and fittings relating to its use.

Historic interest:

* the survival of ancillary buildings such as mortuaries is becoming increasingly rare within large hospital complexes and this mortuary remains as a good example of a small, purpose-built mortuary serving the asylum and the Quaker burial ground in the south-east corner of the grounds.

Group value:

* the stables and coach house and the attached mortuary, which stand in the grounds, both have a functional group value with The Retreat (Grade II*).


The Retreat was established at the end of the C18 by the Society of Friends (Quakers) for fellow Friends. William Tuke, the founding member, was a Quaker tea-merchant and philanthropist. He initiated its construction after becoming concerned about the death in 1791 of a Quaker, Hannah Mills, in the York Lunatic Asylum (now Bootham Park Hospital) without access to her relations. His Quaker beliefs led him to suggest ‘a milder and more appropriate system of treatment, than that usually practised, might be adopted’, thus providing a more humane and enlightened environment. The name proposed for the new institution, ‘The Retreat’ was intended to convey the idea of a quiet haven where a refuge or place of safety might be sought.

Tuke with the assistance of his son Henry and his friend Lindley Murray raised money for the purchase of the site, which was acquired in 1793 with building work proceeding in 1794. Part of Tuke's humane approach was to enable patients to both see the surrounding countryside and to provide therapeutic grounds where trusted patients might walk or undertake more physical exercise assisting in the running the small farm or growing produce for the asylum. This was a marked contrast to the restrictive and detaining practices usual in contemporary asylums. A small linear range of cow house and pig sties was built, which is likely to date from the original construction phase.

During the 1840s the farm buildings expanded with a wood store and sheds built on the opposite side of the track to the cow houses and pigsties.

In the early 1850s the Trustees agreed to rebuild the east and west wings of the main asylum building. The south-east men's wing was rebuilt in 1852 to 1854 and the south-west women’s wing was replaced in 1858 and 1860. As part of this rebuilding, the coach house and stables and the carpenter’s shop, gardener’s cottage and cart shed to the immediate south of the airing courts appear to have been demolished. It is likely that the stable and coach house building in the farm complex was then built, being shown on a rough plan of the farm buildings from this time.

A 1922 plan shows the small mortuary to the rear of the stables and coach house. Although no longer in use it retains its original fittings including the mortuary table.


Stables and coach house with an attached mortuary. Stables and coach house of mid-C19 date, the mortuary is early C20.

MATERIALS: stables and coach house: orange-cream brick with orange brick dressings and a slate roof.

Mortuary: orange brick with a slate and part-glazed roof.

PLAN: the stables and coach house face south with the former stables on the west side separated from the tack room by a cross-flight of steps to a first floor, with the coach house on the east side.

The mortuary has two mirrored outer rooms with external doors in the east elevation and doors through to a larger inner, mortuary room with an external door in the north elevation.

EXTERIOR: a drive runs north-south through the grounds on the south side of the Retreat to the burial ground in the south-east corner of the site. Part way down the drive is a small farm. On the east side of the drive is a rectangular, two-storey stables and coach house building aligned east-west at the north end of the complex. It is built of brick with full-height blind arcading to the walls with brick pilasters, capitals and round arches, and a slate roof with two brick ridge stacks towards the centre and an east gable stack. The south, front, elevation has a five-bay blind arcade. On the ground floor the first bay has a vertical rectangular window with a gauged brick lintel and stone sill and a small-pane glazed timber frame. The second bay has timber double doors with a timber lintel. The third bay has a panelled door with a plain overlight and a gauged brick lintel. The fourth and fifth bays have full-width timber double doors. At first-floor level the first, third and fifth bays have square windows with gauged brick lintels and stone sills and small-pane timber frames. The west end gable overlooks the drive. It has a two-bay blind arcade with an oculus in the gable apex. The north elevation has a five-bay arcade with similar first-floor level, square windows in the first, third and fifth bays. The east end gable has similar arcading and oculus, partly obscured by the later mortuary building.

The mortuary is a small, single-storey building built of orange brick with a slate and glazed roof. The front gable elevation faces east. It has timber bargeboards and timber half-framing to the gable apex incorporating a ventilation louvre. There are central paired timber doors with segmental-arched heads, each with a two-light timber window to the outer side, beneath a single, narrow timber lintel. The north side elevation has a single doorway with a timber door and an adjacent three-light timber window.

INTERIOR: the stables and coach house building has a cross-flight of stone steps separating the former stables from the tack room and the coach house. The stable retains three square drops for hay to the rear. The tack room and coach house have vertical timber boarding to the walls, with tack pegs to the boarding on the west side of the coach house. The tack room retains a decorative cast-iron range. The first floor has machine-sawn king post trusses with raking struts. The mortuary has two mirrored outer rooms and an inner room where the body was placed which is lit by a large roof light. The rooms have square terrazzo floor tiles, a brown tile skirting and hexagonal glazed tiles with a moulded, timber band to the lower half of the walls, moulded timber cornices and plastered ceilings. The inner room retains all its original mortuary fixtures and fittings, including a fixed shallow, ceramic sink and wooden drainer, water cistern, and incinerator.

Pursuant to s1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 ('the Act') it is declared that the smaller coach house with a room over attached to the south-east corner of the stables and coach house building is not of special architectural or historic interest, however any works which have the potential to affect the character of the listed building as a building of special architectural or historic interest may still require Listed Building Consent (LBC) and this is a matter for the Local Planning Authority (LPA) to determine.


Rebecca Burrows, The Retreat Heritage and Landscape Appraisal, volumes 1, 2 and 3, July 2018, Purcell.


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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