York Castle Museum

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York Castle Museum
York Castle Museum.jpg
York Castle Museum is located in North Yorkshire
York Castle Museum
Location within North Yorkshire
Established1938; 84 years ago (1938)
LocationYork, England
Coordinates53°57′20″N 1°04′42″W / 53.95559°N 1.07827°W / 53.95559; -1.07827Coordinates: 53°57′20″N 1°04′42″W / 53.95559°N 1.07827°W / 53.95559; -1.07827
TypeSocial history museum
Visitors246,973 (2016)[1]
DirectorReyahn King, York Museums Trust

York Castle Museum is a museum located in York, North Yorkshire, England, on the site of York Castle, which was originally built by William the Conqueror in 1068. The museum itself was founded by John L. Kirk in 1938, and is housed in prison buildings which were built on the site of the castle in the 18th century, the debtors' prison (built in 1701–05 using stone from the ruins of the castle) and the female prison (built 1780–85).

Museum and history[edit]


In 1931 John Lamplugh Kirk, a physician and amateur archaeologist based in Pickering, North Yorkshire advertised for expressions of interest from sites who wished to house his large collection of objects relating to the study of Social History. Although he received responses from sites in Middlesbrough, Wakefield, Batley, Doncaster and York, it was the latter which was ultimately successful.[2] The Female Prison was bought by the York Corporation in 1934 and modified to house the Kirk Collection of "bygones", opening as the Castle Museum on 23 April 1938.[3][4][5] A major attraction of this new museum was the recreation of a late Victorian street, named 'Kirkgate'; this was the first of its kind in Britain.[5]

Second World War[edit]

Violet Rodgers started as the Deputy Curator in 1938. Kirk died in 1940 and Rodgers ran the museum, which remained open, during the Second World War. During this time she expanded the education offer and developed an interactive approach to the collections by allowing visitors to handle objects.[6] She left the museum in 1947 when she emigrated to Poland.[7]

Post-war and 20th century[edit]

The debtor's Prison was added to the castle display spaces in 1952. The Edwardian 'Half Moon Court' (an annexe to the eastern edge of the Debtor's Prison) was added in 1963. The Raindale Mill was opened at the back of the site in 1966.[8]

21st century[edit]

A new £18 million redevelopment of the site was announced in 2017 as part of the 'Castle Gateway Project'.[9] A redevelopment team was announced in February 2019.[10]

During the COVID-19 pandemic the museum, along with the other York Museums Trust sites, closed to the public on 23 March 2020.[11] It was announced in July that the museum would reopen on 1 August (Yorkshire Day) 2020.[12] The museum was forced to close a second time from 5 November 2020 as part of new national restrictions in England.[13] It reopened on 2 December 2020 with a temporary 'Christmas on Kirkgate' experience featuring decorations, nutcracker dolls, snow, and music.[14] York was moved into Tier 3 Restrictions on 31 December 2020, forcing the museum to again close.[15] It reopened, on 19 May 2021.[16]


York Castle Museum consists of several individual structures located to the immediate south of Clifford's Tower, within the former castle bailey. It is surrounded by part of the York Castle wall on its southern side, and beyond that the River Foss. In 1969 a gallery was built to link the museum in the Female Prison with the Debtors' Prison.[17]

Debtor's Prison[edit]

The Debtor's Prison was originally built as the County Gaol in 1701–1705.[17] It is a three-storey building with a central range and clock turret flanked by projecting wings built with Tadcaster limestone and brick walls, and a lead and slate roof.[18] The prison's most notable inhabitant was Dick Turpin, who was incarcerated in the 1730s before his trial at the York assizes. His cell forms part of the exhibition in the current museum.[19]

Female Prison[edit]

The Female Prison and yard were built in 1780–83 at a cost of £1,540 and to a design by Thomas Wilkinson and John Prince. The frontage of this building matches that of the Court building on the opposite side of the bailey.[17] The prison was altered and wings added in 1802 with a podium and steps added in 1820–50. The front of the building is constructed from sandstone ashlar with the inside of the portico rendered. The prison was bought by York Corporation in 1934 opening as the Castle Museum in 1938.[3]

Raindale Mill[edit]

Raindale Mill is a reconstructed early-19th-century flour mill which was moved from the North York Moors to the grounds of York Castle Museum in the 1960s.[20] It was opened to the public in 1966.[8]


Curators of the York Castle Museum
Name Title Dates in Post Image
John Kirk Curator and founder 1934–1940 John-kirk-hi-res.jpg
L.R.A.Grove Curator 1936–1939
Violet Rodgers[21] Deputy Curator 1938–1947 Violet Wloch.jpg
John H. Scholes[22] Curator 1949–?
Robert Patterson[23] Curator 1950s
Florence Wright[24] Education Officer 1950–?
C. Mitchell Curator? 1950s
Peter Brears[25] 1975–1978
Graham Nicholson[8] Curator c.1981
Mark Suggitt[26] Curator 1980s
Clare Rose Keeper of Textiles 1983–1988
Josie Sheppard[27] Curator of Costume and textiles 1988–c.2010
Gwendolen Whittaker[28] Curator of Social History ?–c.2013
Alison Bodley[29] Curator of History 2013–2016
Janet Barnes CEO of York Museums Trust 2002–2015
Reyahn King CEO of York Museums Trust 2015–


Current exhibitions[edit]

  • Kirkgate – a recreated Victorian Street, named after the museum's founder, was redeveloped and expanded in 2012.[30]
  • Toy Stories – a history of children's toys.[31][32]
  • The Sixties.[33]
  • Recreated period rooms including a Victorian parlour and a 17th-century dining room.
  • The Cells – a display about life in the prison – was opened in 2009 in the cells of the old Debtors Prison. The former Condemned Cell, possibly once occupied by Dick Turpin, can also be visited.
  • 1914: When the World Changed Forever – opened in 2014 to commemorate the centenary of the First World War.[34]
  • Shaping the Body: Food, Fashion & Life – an exhibition about changes in fashion, opened on 26 March 2016.[35]

Past exhibitions[edit]

  • 1993–1994: 'Stop the Rot'. A special exhibition about museum conservation.[36]
  • pre-2004 to 2004: 'Spotless'. An exhibition about cleaning.[37]
  • April 2000 to April 2016: 'From Cradle to Grave'. An exhibition about birth, marriage, and death.[38]
  • 1 April 2017 to 1 April 2018: 'Chocolate: York's Sweet Past'.[39]
  • 13 July 2018 to 28 April 2019: 'A Personal Collections of Vivien Westwood's Shoes'.[40]
  • 22 March 2019 to 22 March 2020: 'The Museum of Broken Relationships', an exhibition about the stories and objects relating to broken relationships.[41]


  • Visit York Awards 2015 - Visitor Experience of the Year (Finalist).[42]
  • Little Vikings Awards 2017 - Best Attraction (Winner).[43]
  • Little Vikings Awards 2019 - Best Attraction (Highly Commended).[44]
  • Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence.[45]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Trustees Reports and Financial Statements, Year Ended 31 March 2016 (PDF) (Report). York Museums Trust. 2016. Retrieved 15 February 2018.
  2. ^ Srisinurai, S. (2013). Exhibiting the countryside: A post-colonial study of museums in North Yorkshire (PDF) (Thesis). University of York. pp. 47–49. Retrieved 16 July 2019.
  3. ^ a b Historic England. "Female Prison (536712)". Research records (formerly PastScape). Retrieved 16 July 2019.
  4. ^ "Dr John Kirk – founder of York Castle Museum". York Castle Museum. Retrieved 16 July 2019.
  5. ^ a b "Inside the Yorkshire museum founded on one man's obsessive collecting". Yorkshire Post. 21 April 2018. Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  6. ^ Lewis, S. (14 December 2018). "100 years after votes for women, these are the women who have helped change York..." York Press. Retrieved 8 October 2019.
  7. ^ "Inside the Yorkshire museum founded on one man's obsessive collecting". Yorkshire Post. 21 April 2018. Retrieved 8 October 2019.
  8. ^ a b c Graham Nicholson (1981). The Castle Museum York. York Castle Museum. p. 1. ISBN 0900264136.
  9. ^ "Multi-million pound vision for York Castle Museum expansion". York Press. 18 January 2017. Retrieved 9 November 2020.
  10. ^ "Team appointed to restore and redevelop York's Castle Museum". York Press. 19 February 2019. Retrieved 9 November 2020.
  12. ^ "Date announced when York Castle Museum and Art Gallery will reopen". YorkMix. 7 July 2020. Retrieved 9 November 2020.
  13. ^ "'We intend to keep York Museum Gardens open': Museums bosses". York Press. 2 November 2020. Retrieved 9 November 2020.
  14. ^ "PICTURES: New 'magical' festive display to open at York Castle Museum". Northern Echo. 29 November 2020. Retrieved 1 December 2020.
  15. ^ "Guidance: Full list of local restriction tiers by area". gov.uk. 31 December 2020. Retrieved 5 January 2021.
  16. ^ "Castle Museum needs your help: what memorable Covid objects should it keep?". York Press. 13 May 2021. Retrieved 16 June 2021.
  17. ^ a b c RCHME (1972). "THE DEFENCES OF THE CITY OF YORK: AN INVENTORY". An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in City of York, Volume 2, the Defences. pp. 57–86.
  18. ^ Historic England. "Castle Museum (Debtor's Prison) (536704)". Research records (formerly PastScape). Retrieved 16 July 2019.
  19. ^ "Dick Turpin's old haunt in York in line for a makeover". York Press. 18 January 2017. Retrieved 16 July 2019.
  20. ^ "York Museums Trust inviting volunteers to help restore Raindale Mill". York Press. 1 July 2009. Retrieved 15 May 2011.
  22. ^ "THE DEMISE OF CLAPHAM" (PDF). The Journal of the London Underground Railway Society. 12 (138): 86. 6 June 1973.
  23. ^ "Animal, Vegetable, Mineral?". BBC Genome (Radio Times 1923–2009). Retrieved 8 October 2019.
  24. ^ "Florence Wright". HerStory.York). Retrieved 9 March 2022.
  25. ^ "The historian with a taste for the flavour of times past". Yorkshire Post. 3 September 2007.
  26. ^ "Suggitt, Mark 1956 – 2019". Science Museums Group. Retrieved 8 October 2019.
  27. ^ Sonia A. O'Connor; Mary M. Brooks (2007). X-radiography of Textiles, Dress and Related Objects. Routledge.
  28. ^ Lewis, Stephen (12 May 2012). "Kirkgate at York's Castle Museum is expanded". York Press. Retrieved 8 October 2019.
  29. ^ "1914: When the World Changed Forever at York Castle Museum". Museums and Heritage. 4 August 2014. Retrieved 8 October 2019.
  30. ^ "Kirkgate Victorian Street". York Museums Trust. 11 June 2013. Retrieved 11 June 2013.
  31. ^ "Toy Stories". York Museums Trust. Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  32. ^ "Playing with toys from the past at York's Castle Museum". York Press. 16 February 2013. Retrieved 11 June 2013.
  33. ^ "The Sixties". York Castle Museum. Retrieved 8 October 2019.
  34. ^ "York Castle Museum to mark World War I in 1914: When the World Changed Forever". Culture 24. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  35. ^ "Killer fashion: Lethal dress laced with arsenic to be unveiled at York Castle Museum". Culture24. 3 March 2016. Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  36. ^ Brooks M.; Cane S. (1994). "'Stop the rot', York Castle Museum: creating an exhibition on museum conservation.". In Sage, J. (ed.). Exhibitions and Conservation. Edinburgh: SSCR. pp. 35–44.
  37. ^ "Previous Exhibition: Spotless". York Museums Trust. Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  38. ^ "Previous Exhibition: From Cradle to Grave". York Museums Trust. Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  39. ^ "CHOCOLATE: YORK'S SWEET PAST". York Museums Trust. Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  40. ^ "A PERSONAL COLLECTION OF VIVIENNE WESTWOOD SHOES". York Museums Trust. Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  41. ^ Yvette Huddlestone (22 March 2019). "Brexit parallels abound as Museum of Broken Relationships opens in York". Yorkshire Post. Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  42. ^ "York's best pubs, restaurants and attractions win 2015 tourism awards". YorkMix. 4 June 2015.
  43. ^ "2017 WINNERS!". Little Vikings: York for Kids. Retrieved 8 January 2019.
  44. ^ "LITTLE VIKINGS AWARDS 2019: THE WINNERS". Little Vikings: York for Kids. Retrieved 8 January 2019.
  45. ^ "York Castle Museum". Visit York. Retrieved 8 January 2019.

External links[edit]