Piccadilly was extended to cut through to Pavement and Parliament Street in around 1911, and this building is one of a few still surviving on Piccadilly dating from those developments in the early part of the 20th century.
When I first noticed it in 2004, and took this photo, I had no thoughts of its date, or its history, I just rather liked it, thought it had character.
I’ve taken other photos over the years, when passing. It was disused and empty in 2004, and still is.
By one of its doors it has faded painted wording, advertising a long-gone business that was once based here. Looking upwards, above its massive doorway, it has a nice detail – noticed in 2004, more focussed on in this photo.
This is one of those buildings that people moan about as an ‘eyesore’ or don’t notice, or think is ugly. Few people care about it, and in 2010 someone set fire to it. But it’s still standing.
Research on the internet has revealed that its history is well-known by some, who want to establish a museum here.
For a while, most recently, it was Megazone, as one small nameplate remaining on the wall records. This was apparently a more hi-tech version of paintballing, popular in the 1990s. Maybe still is. But no longer available in Piccadilly.
As I recall, there were Megazone signs covering the sides of the massive doorway, and this is presumably why the old signage survived for so long on the painted brick walls underneath. In 2006 (pictured above), before it was removed by weathering, and presumably the heat from the recent fire, the lettering was a reminder that Reynards had a garage/car hire business here.
Going right back to its beginnings, it’s perhaps obvious from its vast bulk and large doors that it was a bus depot (other sources say a tram depot). It was built in 1921.
After its initial use for road transport, it had the most glamorous part of its history, as a factory for a company who were building aircraft, in age when flying wasn’t the taken-for-granted experience it is today, but an exciting and innovative thing. For two years, between 1931 and 1933, Airspeed Ltd were based here, before moving on to Portsmouth.
This aviation-related aspect of the building’s history makes it interesting to some, but if that doesn’t ‘float your boat’ (or fly your plane), it also boasts a connection with a famous name. The author Nevil Shute (full name Nevil Shute Norway) was one of the directors of Airspeed when it was based here. He was the author of, among other things, ‘A Town like Alice’.
I didn’t know any of that when I wandered along Piccadilly in 2004 and took a photo of the detail above the door, or when I wandered past it in later years, wondering how it had managed to avoid being replaced with apartments. I guess the people who stuffed burning materials into it in September 2010 didn’t know either, and perhaps wouldn’t have cared anyway.
In this city, with its venerable and much-visited ancient remains, we’re very quick to label a disused 20th century building an ‘eyesore’. But these buildings say as much about their age as medieval houses in the Shambles say about that period. I’m glad that this building has survived as long as it has, housing different modes of transport, mostly four-wheeled, and briefly, winged.
Links & further information
York Press, 20 September 2010 – Arsonists target derelict building in Piccadilly, York (error in report – ‘Laser Quest’ was similar to Megazone, but was based in Fishergate)
Nevil Shute Norway Foundation – photos include the interior (from 2008) and a nice view of the other end of the building taken in the 1960s.
York Press – The Airspeed factory in Piccadilly, York
The engineering of best-seller fiction – profile of Nevil Shute Norway, in New Scientist Magazine, 1958 (wrongly titled as ‘CMJ New Music Report’ in Google Books)
This building is included on York’s ‘Local list‘
Pioneers of aviation – exhibition at the Yorkshire Air Museum, Elvington
Update, 26 October 2013
The Press reported today: Airspeed 1930s Experience planned for Reynard’s Garage building in Piccadilly.
Whether this plan can come to fruition appears to depend on City of York Council accepting the offer. The building was put on the market earlier this year.
Recent pages on this site give more information on Nevil Shute’s time in York, and include extracts from his autobiography Slide Rule: