Work begins on the White Swan

Mock tudor frontage

In August 2004. Decorated windows from the ‘Rainbow Peace Hotel’ occupation in 2003

Wow. Fantastic. I feel like the heading to this page should be in big shouty capital letters and perhaps accompanied by a trumpet fanfare.

York’s most famous and long-standing eyesore is being redeveloped. No, really. It really is this time. There’s a door open, and workmen inside, and they’re not just there to repair a floorboard and go away again.

A skip on the pavement outside is filling with 1980s hotel decor.

View into gloomy interior

Glimpse inside the White Swan, as redevelopment work begins

A door opens on the White Swan

When I passed the street was busy with shoppers and men in high-vis jackets and I knew I couldn’t loiter with a camera without getting in everyone’s way. I just took this one photo. We’re so used to this place being boarded up, it really was a startling sight. An open door onto Piccadilly, showing a glimpse of graffiti and a generally gloomy interior.

The most startling thing was the smell. Fusty doesn’t quite capture it. Not sure I can do it justice in words. Think old village church, overlaid with damp cellar, compost heap, and a hint of wet rot.

Graffiti - painted flower

Graffiti inside the White Swan

Along with the smell I noticed this flower painted on a pillar. A flower isn’t the kind of graffiti you normally find in abandoned buildings so I’m guessing this dates from the Rainbow Peace Hotel occupation of the building, ten years ago.

Apart from that brief occupation the hotel part has been empty for decades.

An earlier page on the White Swan Hotel (2011), is one of the most visited pages on this website. There’s always been a lot of interest in the building.

Have a look at the links towards the end of that older page, to the many stories in The Press. It becomes clear from that how many false starts there have been, how many times the local paper said redevelopment might be imminent.

Fifteen years ago it really looked like something might be happening. But it didn’t. And over and over and over.

Now it is happening. Hurrah.

So please can we be pleased?

When I wrote that page I wondered, if people were wealthy enough to have a spare building they couldn’t find a use for, might they not have some kind of social conscience about it, when so many people are homeless?

It appears the owners have since done their best to do the right thing, and it’s been quite cheering to see how it’s all turned out. I went to the display about plans for the building last summer. Not many people did, which seems a shame considering the efforts made to make it all clear and have people on hand to welcome and explain.

Originally the owners were going to demolish and rebuild, but the people of York objected. So they’re refurbishing instead, having taken notice of public opinion.

So what is there left to moan about. Oh yes, there’s going to be a Sainsbury’s on the ground floor. So people have objected to that.

What do we want, the moon on a stick?

I welcome this building’s reuse, and if it needs a big name on the ground floor to make the scheme viable then so be it. It’s a hundred years since it was built here. I bet it looked handsome when new, and it’s good to know its handsomeness will be restored.

About Lisa @YorkStories

Lisa @YorkStories is the creator, administrator, and writer of content on She can be contacted on this link or via Twitter, @YorkStories
To link to this page's proper location please use the > permalink

One comment

  1. Jane Lund

    Thank you for this update on the White Swan! I agree it’s great to see it brought back into use again, after so many years of being empty and puzzling natives and visitors alike.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Thank you for adding a comment. Please note that comments are moderated, but should appear within 24 hours.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.