A Day in Life on York Central: Sharing York’s Gypsy Traveller Heritage

When we started My Future York one of the first things we did was to ask people to imagine two Days in their Lives, one that year and the second in ten year’s time. Every one contributed was rich, memorable and gave very specific ‘briefing’ pointers for lots of different parts of the city, not least York Central. When we went visit York Travellers Trust (YTT) to discuss York Central, we mentioned this technique and Violet Cannon, Director of YTT said she’d give it a go. in 2028 there is a vision – as is included in the York Central Big Ideas – of sharing and exchange.

Violet Cannon, Director, York Travellers Trust


I love York, I want to live here. Its one of the places my family call home. I say one! As a Romany Gypsy who lived roadside for most of my childhood, home was a lot of places within Yorkshire. Mainly it was split between Bradford, Harrogate and York. I settle for living in Selby and making the commute into my office in Falsgrave Crescent. I love my office. It’s not as majestic as some of York’s other buildings. But the old Girl stands proud in the middle of the other building around her.

I’m the Director of York Travellers Trust, the Trust is the longest running Gypsy Traveller Charity within the UK. (as far as my research as shown) and apparently the first Gypsy Traveller organisation to appoint a Gypsy or Traveller to the most senior paid role. I digress, but feel you need to know where I am. I am a Yorkshire lass, who happens to have been born Gypsy. Its my ethnicity not my lifestyle. York doesn’t have many options for me to live within its boundaries right now. I currently live just across the way, On a family development. York itself doesn’t seem to welcome private developments. Having only 3 sites and they are all Local Authority, and to be honest I don’t fancy paying nearly £100 a week for a slab of concrete and no rights as a tenant. The site residents are given licences not tenancies. I want a forever home. I’m thinking about getting married starting a family, somewhere kids can have safety and security. Yet still be connected to our rich heritage. I want a home I own or at least have some legal right to.

So, as I sit here in my little office space reviewing the York Local Plan and our objections, I dream of the day I can cycle back home, past York’s stunning architecture on a warm summers evening. Where 10 minutes is enough time for any journey. Suddenly I realise I have an appointment with the Housing Department and then at the York CVS I jump in my car to make the 1.5-mile journey to tanner row carpark. The meetings not for another 30 minutes, just hope I’ve allowed enough travel time!


I wake up to the alarm, alerting me its time to ensure the children have their breakfast! They are already up. The kids from the house opposite my chalet are helping mine feed the horse, as the little girl brushes down the side of old Peggy, the little boy helps my Tom struggle with a bucket of water.

I pull on a robe and wander to the door way to tell them breakfast will be 20 minutes, I catch the old man from in the assisted living struggling by with some bags. My little Tom drops his side of the bucket and goes to help him. Tom is thanking him and coming back with the bags.

“Apples from the communal garden mam, he said you wanted some for an apple pie and we could have the rest for the horses!”

I wave to the old man and ask if he’s coming into The Shared Heritage centre later for the skills sharing café. He nods and waves.

I walk back in and get dressed, no rush for me. The kids school is just down the road, I don’t need battle with rush hour traffic. They go with the other neighbour’s kids on the walking bus, thankfully we are only go on the supervision rota once every 2 weeks. I do love to hear my kids having fun and talking to the Gorja Children. None of them see difference. Gypsy isn’t a negative in York Central. They think my kids are cool, they have a horse, their mam runs the heritage centre and their dad tells stories and plays music around the community camp fire! The neighbours loved when we had the Vardo and horse and took them all around the York Central green. I start making the breakfast as I think of my day ahead. I need to follow up on some emails and make sure we have lunch for the skills sharing, today one of the older Gypsy men is teaching how to make wooden pegs and one of the ladies is explaining how the new virtual pcs work! All very confusing to me, but she’s a retired I.T expert and apparently, they are like second nature once you get used to them! Give me the good old days of touch screen and siri!

York Central Community Heritage Group: first meeting and some plans

York Central Community Heritage Group
2nd June 2018

Follow a series of fascinating heritage events during the Festival of York Central we’ve set up the York Central Community Heritage Group to develop discussions and events linked to the archaeology, history and heritage of the site. We had our first meeting on 2nd June 2018 at Friargate Meeting House and asked ourselves ‘What can we learn by looking at old maps and old photographs?’

Here is a brief summary of the discussions, the questions generated and the next things we’re planning to do. Let us know if you’d like to join the group: myyorkcentral@gmail.com

The Romans!
We had a map of Roman York to look at which shows the roman cemetery that John Oxley referred to in the Festival of York Central event. This raised a few questions for everyone.

Questions about the Romans on York Central.

It also prompted some discussion about the sense of ownership over the Roman history, that it always seems not to be ‘local history’ as such but as history very much stewarded by institutions.

‘Everyday Romans’


Most of the maps and images related to the changes in the area that came with the railways. There was a sense that the signifiance of the loss of the carriageworks had not been acknowledged properly.

‘The closure of the Carriageworks – we’ve not taked about the loss’
Because York Central is available to be developed because of the loss of railway work over the lst 30 years it was said ‘there needs to be jobs, it’s a legacy thing’.

There were some ideas to take here for thinking about future employment and the danger of reliance on big employers.


And ideas about how to reclaim cycling as part of York’s living heritage with a re-enactment.

Bikes use to pour out of the factories and Carriageworks – can we do a re-enactment?

What to do next?

What other York Central-related archives to York Explore and NRM have?
Can we orgainise a re-enactment of shifts ending and cycles pouring out of Holgate works?

York Central: Archaeology below and above ground

Post it notes contributed during the York Centra: Archeaology Above and Below Ground event.

Thursday 12th April 2018
What possibilities for understanding York’s history are offered by York Central? John Oxley, City Archaeologist for the City of York Council explored the ‘Archaeological Possibilities’, what evidence for prehistoric, Roman, medieval, Civil War, and railway deposits might be present under the ground of the railway siding and buildings might there be? Architectural Historian Alison Sinclair, outlined the Legacy of Railway Buildings on the site, what were they used for, their importance in the industrial history of the City, and suggests how might they be repurposed in the new development.

John Oxley, ‘Archaeological Possibilities’

Alison Sinclair, ‘York Central: The Legacy of Railway Buildings’

We then opened up for discussion:

Leeman Road / Thief Lane: the historic route into town
‘I am worried about cutting of Leeman Road; what is the relationship of Leeman Road today with Thief Lane?’
‘Thief Lane was diverted when new railway station built to line of current road’.
‘The new NRM link building will destroy the historic route into town’.

Pride in Industry: Social History
‘The cultural connection is important, there is a sense of pride in industry, we need to maintain this for future generations. I want my children to know they are living in a railway area’
‘Yes, it is about social history as well as bricks and mortar’.
‘York’s industry and working class social history is hidden – there is pride in it but it’s not valued; there should be pride in that industry. “We don’t want York to be an expensive tourist trap”.
“Council seemed desperate to get rid of blue collar jobs”.
‘rail industry has relocated to places with engineering history but not railway engineering’.
We have to remember the scale of employment – the cyclists at closing time. How can we capture that – WW silhouettes?
Is there any other housing which has links with the railways? Dave – yes, all around this part of the city.

Reuse of buildings
‘Can these buildings can be reused? Can we create a “sticky” site?’
‘Autohorn leaving foundry building. Can we find meanwhile uses which keep buildings in use?’
‘There can be nervousness about occupancy tying up futures of buildings’.

Queen Street Bridge
‘Queen Street Bridge overlooks and marginalises the Railway Institute. The bar in the RI has just closed. So there is choice to be made between RI and the bridge and I choose the RI”.

Sense of Place
‘Can we retain the small detailed stuff, which give sense of place?’
‘the landscape architects are “hooked on the place”’
‘But is this subject to costs’. The example of rebuilding of great hall was given where there was ‘a complete loss of railway engineering history’.
‘How far back into deep time do you go? “Without the glaciers, this wouldn’t be here at all”. The value of the kettle holes etc’.
‘Can we document the small stuff collectively? What public benefit can there be?’

John commented that in other recent excavations they have been professionally-led, community-staffed exercise in surveying/recording. There are people out there at different levels of engagement. How is it all brought together and made public?

How can we reuse the rails that are on the site?
Can we park cars at the edge of the site and use the tracks to move people across it?

Shaping the future?
We ended by asking our speakers to reflect on how the histories and hertiage we discussed should this shape the future.

Alison: Continuity is really important.
John:- There is a professional process underway, but another question is intangible heritage – sounds and smells, the stories of people which resonate among communities. How do we capture these and use them to inform development?

A community heritage group?
We ended by exploring whether we should we form a huge community heritage group to do the public documentation, research, events and archaeology. More on this soon!