The story of York Stories: site history

2004

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I started this website in early 2004 as a photographic project — photo essays titled ‘York Walks’ — images of the buildings, streets and green spaces in York from a resident’s perspective. Back then I found nothing on the web reflecting the city I knew. Websites about York were focused on tourism, and designed for visitors, not residents.

I’d bought my first digital camera just before Christmas in 2003. Having a digital camera made it easier to do what I wish I’d been able to do in the 1980s and had tried to do on film in 1990 — record the changes happening in this familiar place, record the losses of particular details, whole buildings perhaps.

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As a resident, I could see the place was changing fast, that riverside areas I had once found atmospheric had been cleared and redeveloped, that it was all being smartened up. I wasn’t always pleased about this, and went in search of its lesser-known corners.

The liberation that came with being able to take so many photos without having to pay for film processing inspired me to wander for miles up city streets and down riverside paths, taking photos of anything and everything. I took a lot of dull photos, as a result, but also captured details since obliterated, buildings since demolished.

Those 2004 pages are now archived, and not searchable from this page you’re reading. They’re still online and Google picks them up, but at some point I’ll be removing them from the Google index. They can be viewed as they looked back then via the record taken by the Internet Archive’s ‘Wayback Machine’ at the end of 2004, or as they looked in an updated design captured by the British Library’s UK Web Archive in 2013.

2005-2011

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Through the following years I updated the site less often but the area of interest expanded to include photo essays of walks in the Yorkshire countryside and coast. Wanderings in York also continued, and included photos and notes from a spring evening, and a summer morning in York city centre, a wander through the Leeman Road area and a thoughtful saunter around the once very familiar streets of Acomb.

The changes continued, and I carried on documenting them – the loss of industrial buildings like the sugar beet factory, the demolition of Barbican baths, St Barnabas School and Burton Croft.

For all those years York Stories was a personal website, not a blog. It was lovingly hand-coded, didn’t use a blogging engine, didn’t have a comments facility. Which is why many of the older pages have no comments. The comment facility was added in late 2011, when I had to go more blog-like to preserve my online presence …

The other York Stories project

In autumn 2011 City of York Council announced that it would be launching a project called ‘York Stories’ as part of the ‘York800′ festival in 2012. (It had first appeared as a Theatre Royal project, on a small scale, and I’d emailed to suggest that some confusion might result from having two websites/projects called York Stories, but had received no reply.)

Into the blogosphere, somewhat begrudgingly

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In order to maintain my Google rankings against this ‘rival’ site and preserve my carefully created corner of the internet I had to make changes. It needed to be easier for me to update and for other people to contribute comments. So I added a blog, opening the site to comments for the first time.

As the launch of the other York Stories project loomed, in spring 2012, I felt like I was in a rusty old burger van with an articulated lorry behind me about to drive me off the road.

It wasn’t quite like that. But it wasn’t pleasant to deal with.

In the end, after much confusion, and the exchanging of many emails, the other project was renamed York Stories 2012. (Confusion continued. I’ve seen a CV online that claims work done ‘as an intern on York Stories’. I’ve never had any interns. It’s just little old me, struggling on heroically …)

Through 2012 and 2013 I carried on adding new material far more regularly, as befits a ‘blog’.

But not a blog, never really was

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In autumn 2013 I realised I still disliked the word blog. I’d never liked it. (Actually, I’ve been reminded recently that we called them ‘weblogs’ back then, the original term.)

I’d tried the blog format as an option, but found it didn’t do what I wanted for the site, so York Stories went online as a hand-coded thing.

A blog, to me, is something where you grab a template and use it to put online your fresh and passionate thoughts. That doesn’t describe what I do, and it didn’t describe the extent of the work involved, or the coding I had to keep grappling with.

By autumn 2013 the site had become massive and unwieldy and I knew that there were many things I wanted to change.

2013 redesign

I spent a month or two gradually converting the site to WordPress, with the design you’re seeing now, and this new look site replaced the old one in early December 2013.
More on the coding, etc

The lovely people at the British Library Web Archive took a record of the site before the changes.

2017

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