The ‘Stonebow is a listed building’ myth

It’s a couple of years since I first saw it stated that Stonebow House (plain ‘Stonebow’ to locals) is a listed (ie protected) building.

It isn’t.

At least, it wasn’t a few weeks back. If it is by the time you read this, do let me know.

Many people think that it’s a Poulson building. Also not true. (See update, below)

Having heard it confidently stated so many times that it is a listed building, and being unable to find any record of this anywhere, I thought it was time to check. I asked on Twitter, where I know there are experts on such matters. John Oxley, City of York council archaeologist, helpfully replied:

To repeat:

I’m hoping that anyone else searching for reliable information on this oft-stated ‘fact’ will find this page.

The myth seems to be spreading, so please tackle it if you see further evidence.

Stonebow is of course generally thought of as York’s ugliest building.

All it is is York’s most obviously ugly building. It is iconic in its ugliness. I quite like it for that. As previously discussed. Which is why I’m not going to go on about it now.

Here’s what the Esher report of the late 1960s said of it, when it was fairly new:

‘the effect … on St Saviourgate and Pavement may be cruel but there is no doubt that seen from Stonebow, without the contrast of older, gentler buildings, the effect of this deliberately brutal piece of multi-storey concrete-built development is impressive.’

The 1980 Hutchinson and Palliser guide to York calls it

‘a concrete horror’

Since then we’ve been calling it a monstrosity, an eyesore, etc. It normally comes top of the list when residents are asked ‘What is York’s worst eyesore‘.


It certainly has impact. And atmosphere, if you go along that grubby bit of lane alongside it and up those concrete steps, in the evening, when no one’s around. I did so the other evening, to take some photos, but it was so horribly grim I couldn’t wait to leave. These photos are therefore a bit rubbish. There follow some links to better photos taken by other people. I’m off to look at something less grey and concretey.

Elsewhere on the web

A photo on which manages to make it look quite attractive

More impressive photos — gallery on

Update: and not Poulson either

The myth is being tackled, and it was nice to see a comment on a recent Press story linking to this information above. However the comments also include another widely circulated myth that the architect Poulson designed Stonebow House. He didn’t. It was Wells, Hickman and Partners. Here’s the page from the ‘Pevsner guide’ (this book) to prove it:

Scan of book extract

Poulson was responsible for the nearby Hilary House.

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  1. The Stonebow is not such a dreadful building. It is small in scale, with some good detailing, and is of considerably higher quality than, for example, most of the 1960s buildings of the University of York. It’s the siting of the building that makes it a calamity, and (despite its good intentions) the ghastly mess it makes at street level.

  2. How it ever got built is baffling

  3. I believe you once praised this building Lisa as an ugly yet winning,example of its times in the 1960’s,and I agreed.My sister in law loved it as her work place as an operator,at the manual telephone switch board,quite a step up from her previous incarnation as a ‘Cocoa Covered Rowntree Sweetheart’.( Has any one else read
    this evocative booklet?)At least it served its purpose in those times,and believe me ,the Hungate sight was a MESS then,like a WW2 bomb site.

  4. It’s kind of spectacular in its ugliness compared to what surrounds it but completely of a piece with what was going on elsewhere at the time.

    I had heard the ‘listed building’ urban myth before but always had my doubts.

    The other thing I heard was that’s it meant to look a bit like a prow of a ship. Another myth ?!

    It is a part of local folklore, helped no doubt by the fact it contains both Fibbers and The Duchess. I think I’d be sad to see it go.

  5. Pingback: Breaking the Fundamental Rules | The Heritage York Project

  6. Pingback: Stonebow House’s architects (it isn’t listed by English Heritage) | York: Living with History

  7. For what it is worth, when I served as a York Councillor (former Monk Ward, 2000-03) then some students came to a planning committee (of which I was a member) meeting …obviously thinking (?) ‘it would be a fine wheeze’ to propose that Stonebow House be listed.

    Said verbal petition was listened to, courteously …and promptly ignored, with no Planning Member speaking to support the suggestion! After the clowns left there was much shaking of heads by both Labour & Lib Dem Members (there was no Tory, or other, Cllr involvement!)

    Separately, I took a very active interest in the refenestration of the (then still predominantly Council-owned) Navigation Rd/Rosemary Court/Rosemary Place flats.

    Oh how York’s precious planning officers (clutching Pevsner’s Guide to their breasts as if it were Chairman Mao’s ‘little red book!) clung to Pevsner’s apparent admiration (expressed in said guide) of this conventional enough 1930s Local Authority development – essentially a barrack-block on Navigation Road.
    Pevsner commented on the (fine) detailing of the openings (doors and/or windows) …which led to an architectural liaison officer to describe it, in writing, (meaninglessly!) as ‘Neo-Georgian.

    I phoned this woman and asked if CYC pressurised the owners to punch a 6 x 4 hole, then inserting a window to fit, in the Peasholme Green end of Stonebow House …would that make IT also ‘Neo-Georgian’?

    Sadly, brain in retrograde direction, said Council Officer (= ‘official’) responded that in her opinion …it WOULD.

    To which my response was (and remains!) …’I rest my case!’

    Am STILL unsure which is the sadder tale!

  8. A W Brooks

    Forget the Stonebow building, the new Herbert Todd building on Monks Cross Way is much, much uglier. It is a black corrugated metal barn. It would look at home on a Soviet submarine base – but never on a street in York. What on earth could it have been that induced York’s planning committee to allow it to be built? It’s a real mystery.

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