A history of the ‘hutments’

August 2011

Note: These buildings were demolished in 2011-12.

WW2 'hutments' behind York Art Gallery

These buildings are hidden away behind York Art Gallery. Most people who have seen them think that they’re just a load of scruffy asbestos-ridden sheds. But they’re more interesting than that.

I went searching for accurate facts after noticing a lot of contradictory information on the web and elsewhere. The info below was compiled from dusty old volumes of council minutes, and various other sources (full list at foot of page).

“Your Committee have agreed to raise no objection to the requisitioning by the Ministry of Works of a site at the rear of the Art Gallery for use as a Leave Club for members of the Royal Canadian Air Force, subject to certain details which they have authorised the Town Clerk, City Engineer and Curator to settle.”
Art Gallery Committee, February 1944 (York City Council minutes)

  • These ‘hutments’ (as such military-related encampments are called) were constructed at some point between May 1942 (after the ‘Baedeker raid‘) and 1944 (when they’re referred to in council minutes – see above)
  • They were constructed as a service hostel or leave club by the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force).
  • Soon after the war the buildings were adapted for educational use by the local authority. From 1946 until the end of January 1949 they were used as an Emergency Teacher Training College (in connection with the raising of the school leaving age)
  • In 1949 they became the Marygate Centre of Further Education, with an emphasis on providing courses for women and girls, and continued as the Marygate Centre until the 1970s
  • During the same period (late 1940s to 1970s) one of the former dormitories was allocated for use by the York School of Art, based in the adjacent Art Gallery building
  • From 1981 the nearby Yorkshire Museum used the buildings for storage and workroom space.
  • The buildings are ‘of prefab concrete frame construction with clay brick infill panels and asbestos sheet roofing’. This is similar to buildings of the period in use at Eden Camp and the Yorkshire Air Museum. However the current planning application states that demolition is ‘required for health and safety reasons’.
  • During 2011 they have been emptied in preparation for demolition. Despite the fact that so few people understand the significance of what’s about to be demolished – even the journalists from our local Press.

It’s probably not feasible to keep the entire ‘hutments’ complex, but part of the structure should be retained on site.

Photos & more info

Interior view, 1940s. See more >

Photos (interior and exterior) of the buildings in the 1940s, as the RCAF service hostel

More detail on the years of educational use

Plan and links: York School of Art

General background and opinion on the proposed demolition

For more info and interior photos of the buildings in recent months, search for hutments York on Google.


Map showing an aerial view of the ‘hutments’ site
Enlarge the map


York City Council minutes; Annual Reports of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society; 17 Feb report prepared for CoYC meeting (PDF); documents submitted with the ‘big wheel’ planning application, eg this one and this one (PDF files); The history of the Yorkshire Museum and its geological collections, B J Pyrah (York, 1988); letter from Mr MacPherson of Ontario (held by the Yorkshire Air Museum) … and recent web-based photo galleries by urban explorers and ‘guerilla historians’ – thank you chaps, for showing us what we couldn’t get to see for ourselves.

. . . . . .

This page was last updated on 19 November 2013.


  1. David Bower

    I can confirm that the first hut reached when walking from Exhibition Square down the side of the Art Gallery was in fact used by York School of Art. I was a Graphic Design Student between 1971 – 1974 and used ‘The Hut’ (as it was always called) for both Printmaking, and Photography lessons. On entering the Hut the first section was for printmaking and contained Litho presses and Screen Printing beds. There was then a partition wall dividing this section from a small Photography studio. Beyond this was a very small Darkroom. As an aside, I am still in contact with two of the lecturers that taught in the Hut, Roger Hallam and Chris Brace, both now retired.

    • Thank you David, it’s good to have this record of the interior of the buildings at that time. There’s also a plan of the buildings sent to me by John C, another former student, on this page: http://yorkstories.co.uk/histories/york-school-of-art/

    • Paula Rodwell

      I still have many of the pictures I printed in that very dark room. Poor Roger, what a thankless task teaching us (me) that must have been! There was a canteen at the back too, wasn’t there?

      • Wendy Taggart

        Hi, Paula I was there with you. I have a photo of myself stood alongside “The Hut” as I think we called it. Marygate college canteen was further back and Art School students were allowed to use it. At the moment there is an exhibition in the Art Gallery with former students’ and lecturers’ work.
        I got a massive hit of nostalgia stood in that room.

    • Graham Lunn

      Hi David. I was at the Art school a little before you, leaving in 1971, I remember the hut very well and the studio at the bag, even earned some pocket money as a model for the camera club with Yvonne Kalicinski.

      These were happy days, and please pass on my regards to Roger and Chris if you are still in contact – from Arthur.

      And very sad news about Sally Arnup, there are not many people for whom you can say that the World is a better place as a result of their work, Sally is one of the few.

    • Peter Gibbard

      David, during your time at the school did you know of Dennis Donn? I believe that he was on the staff.

      • Graham Lunn

        Dennis Donn was the Principal when I was there, his wife was also a teacher, doing calligraphy from memory.

      • david Bower

        Yes I do remember Dennis Donn, he was principal during my time at York School of art. It was Mr Donn who interviewed me for a place on the Graphic Design Course in 1971. I believe that such was his control over the Art School that he initially interviewed everyone regardless of the course or pathway they required.
        Over my 3 years at Exhibition Square I had several meetings with Mr Donn who was a formidable but approachable figure who seemed to be held in high esteem by Staff and Students alike. He was very much of the ‘old school’ with high principals and would always back up a point or advice with an anecdote from his own vast experience.
        His physical appearance was also worthy of note. He had a long goatee beard, and regularly wore a black beret and army combat jacket. He reminded me very much of photographs of the artist Augustus John in later life. He could regularly be seen working on a large portrait painting of Mrs Donn in his office / studio, the door of which was always open at the top of the narrow wooden staircase. Every student, and the staff would have to pass this door to enter the studios, so he knew exactly what was going on and who was doing what at all times.
        I am myself now a lecturer in Graphic Design, and look back at my time at York School of Art in the early seventies with fond memories. These were the days when the only paperwork a lecturer had to do was a register and some marking, staff and students would regularly go to the pub and the many party’s together, and a full time course was 5 days a week and staff were able to spend their whole day teaching and discussing Art with the students!
        A very different (And better) world and education than today.

        • Peter Gibbard

          Thank you for your information. I am contributing to a research project about a small team including Mr Donn in Greece (’43-’45)with Royal Engineers in WW2. He was part of a team concerned with protecting and recovering monuments, antiquities etc. Do you remember his wife’s name and if they had children? The Art School archive is with the York Library, but not accessible so far, but I am persisting. We want detail about him before and after war to create a balanced picture. I think he lived on Mount – found a 1970 tel. directory entry. Peter

          • Peter and David, I hope you’ve been able to make contact and discuss this further, following the exchange of email addresses.

          • Wendy Taggart

            Mr Donn’s wife was called Winifred. She taught Graphic Design students Heraldry and Lettering. I studied graphics, advertising and design from 1974 to 1978.
            Hope this information isn’t coming too late.

        • Stephen Bottrill

          It certainly was Dave, Stephen Bottrill

        • Don Stubbs


          I enjoyed reading this….brought back memories similar to my own. I studied foundation at the school from I think 73-74 just before the school moved to the Tadcaster Road. I remember well Mr Donn’s ever open door at the top of the stairs and his still unfinished portrait of his wife ( with collapsing classical columns in the background) who taught us technical perspective. I was interviewed by Mr Donn who’s appearance was exactly as you describe it…he asked me if i was only there for the girls….but then was very encouraging when looking at the drawings I had brought with me. I remember well his teaching life drawing in one of the big upstairs studios and the public ‘crits’ where everyone had to pin their work on one wall while he commented on them while pointing to each one with a stick ! The tutors that taught me were Reg, Bruce Russell and Martin Sheehan amongst others. I also remember fondly the old guy who used to make tea for us in a giant metal teapot just inside the front door….and of course the camaraderie, the parties in King’s Manor cellars and the nearby pubs….happy days indeed ! I would be happy to hear from others that have similar reminiscences….I have many more….

  2. Caroline Gregg

    My grandmother worked at the hutments during World War II. She was head cook. The Canadians called her ‘Cookie’. We have a YMCA (Canada) brooch, white enamel on silver, in the shape of a maple leaf which we assume came from this time.

    • So nice to read this Caroline, thank you. I’m going to email you. Would love to see a photo of the brooch you mention.

    • Jenny holmes

      My grandmother also worked there cooking for the Canadians. She remembered them being very kind and telling her to take any surplus food home for her 3 young boys

  3. Stephen Bottrill

    Could somebody start a website for ‘York School of Art’…………

    • There was a website on York School of Art, I linked to it on another page, compiled around the same time: http://yorkstories.co.uk/histories/york-school-of-art/. But at some point in the intervening five years that website has disappeared from the web – the domain name yorkartschool.co.uk leads to an online clothing store instead. Which is a bit strange.

      This seemed a shame so I’ve tried to follow it up, and found that the Internet Archive (marvellous resource that it is) has some record of the site, parts of it anyway – see this link for example, and this link. Those old pages do also contain a couple of contact email addresses, if anyone wants to follow it up and try to make contact with the person who compiled that site. If you do, I’d appreciate it if you could report back, so if there’s a new site or any further information I can update links etc.

  4. John Treacy

    My mother, Margaret Werge, taught for some time at York. She also did a day a week at Scarborough teaching there too. This was back in the mid to late 1950’s. The name of Mr Donn was one she mentioned and many year later on a family visit to York, was I was a small kid, we bumped into him. That will have been the 1970’s.

  5. Did she teach etching and printing by any chance John, and lived in Leeds?

  6. John Treacy

    She might have done, sorry i can’t be any better than that, she was a good all rounder. She did textiles at Leicester and i think that is/ may have been her first string but she was also a really good at drawing. I have a photo of her going to an “Elizabethan” night out walking into the Punch Bowl on Stone Gate in a period dress she made. She lived in York (recall her saying about having lunch/ dinner in the De Grey rooms ??). As for Leeds, she had a couple of cousins over there who were students at Leeds C of A

  7. Andrew Hepworth

    My name is Andrew Hepworth. I originally did a diploma in art and design at Harrogate art college and then moved to York Art college in the late 70s/early 80s to do a higher diploma in Graphic Design as well as a CSD course in graphic design. I remember Roger Hallam (with beard and black jacket). Do you have any pics or contacts from that time? I remember some one or two students – Gillian Wheelwright, Sally Breaks, a guy who used to drive an old MG and a great typography teacher but can’t remember his name…would be greatfull for any feedback. I ended up working in advertising in Singapore and still living here – great to hear from anyone.

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  9. Gary Steele

    WE are trying to recreate a hutment in a local park and was wondering where we might be able to see or get one. We live in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.

  10. Sheila Smith

    Would love to hear anyone that went to Marygate Centre for Girls in 1960s

  11. Ellen Hoyle

    Hi,my mother in law has picked up a fantastic piece of artwork from a car boot. It is a drawing by Dennis Donn, titled ‘Mrs Fox for Mrs Fox’ and is mounted on a piece of fabric apparently from Mrs Fox’s smock that she can be seen wearing in the drawing. Does anyone remember Mrs Fox and know anything about her please?

  12. Peter Collis

    Interesting read. Not sure if there were two Hutments, one certainly dates back to WW1 and on Wiggington Road, the census records for 1921 show my wife’s grandfather working in the Regimental Pay Office there. How much has the road system changed I wonder?

    • Julie Thompson

      My grandfather is also listed on the 1921 census as working at the Hutments on Wigginton Road in the Army Pay Office. I haven’t been able to find any more information about it so far though.

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