Eighteenth-century York

Georgian York, ‘the capital of the North’, was at the centre of fashionable entertainment.

By the early years of the eighteenth century, York was fast shedding its medieval appearance to become a burgeoning centre for ‘Polite Society’. The exquisite new Assembly Rooms designed by Lord Burlington, the excitement of the races and attending the Theatre Royal, as well as opportunities to promenade along the ‘New Walk’ and through the city’s lively public spaces, combined to make it the place to see and be seen.

With London 200 miles away, over treacherous roads, York became the natural centre for Yorkshire gentry to congregate, seeing a series of fine Georgian town houses built in which to entertain and enjoy the cultural life of the city. The Fairfaxes followed this trend with the purchase and radical redesign of Fairfax House. Viscount Fairfax ceased his previous habits of travelling the dangerous roads to the metropolis and wintering in London, instead spending the ‘Season’ with his daughter Anne in the comfort of their new and fashionable townhouse on Castlegate.

Life in York brought the Viscount and his daughter, Anne, into contact with all of Yorkshire society, enabling them to enjoy the many pleasures of the city as well as entertain. From surviving records it is known that the family regularly hosted dinners and had guests to stay at the townhouse. Amongst their most extravagant parties was a combined house-warming and birthday party for Lord Fairfax which took place in April 1763, just after the house was completed. The Fairfaxes invited over 200 guests to the party who, according to local papers, enjoyed an evening of ‘elegant entertainment and a ball’.