York’s Treasurers’ House

Last updated on July 2nd, 2024 at 04:17 pm

The Treasurers' House, York, Places to visit

There are so many things to see and do in York and I’d never felt a burning desire to visit the Treasurers’ House.  Big mistake – put it on your list immediately.  For one thing, it is an outstanding house; for another, it is the location for one of Britain’s most intriguing ghost stories.  Plus it has a small, but very pleasant, garden.

The Treasurers’ House was the historic home of the treasurers of York Minster until 1547.  There has probably been a house on the site since Norman times – the first Treasurer was appointed in 1091 – and medieval masonry, possibly from the Bishops’ Palace that once stood to the north of the Minster, has been incorporated into the much altered building and gardens that you now see.  One of the external walls is largely 12th century – thought to be part of the original structure.  In fact, the site is even older than that; a colonnaded building stood there in Roman times and the house sits over one of the main Roman roads, the Via Decumana, which also runs underneath the neighbouring Minster.

The house was remodelled in the early 17th century, which resulted in the symmetry and shape of today’s building.  It subsequently passed through various hands, was extended, altered, split into different houses and by the end of the 19th century it was in a bit of a mess.  Then, in 1897, along came Frank Green.   What! – you’ve never heard of him?  Well, I hadn’t either.

Frank Green (1861-1954), educated at Eton and Oxford, was the son of a wealthy industrialist and an avid collector.  He purchased the three properties that together formed the Treasurers’ House (though part of the original building is now a hotel) and ‘restored’ them to what he felt was a more fitting state.  And the result is a real peach – 13 wonderful period rooms (and servants’ quarters in the attic).  This also provided a home for Frank’s large and eclectic collection of furniture, artwork, clocks – and so on and so forth.

By all accounts, Frank was a bit of a chap; an impeccably dressed dandy and socialite, he entertained the ‘A list’ celebs of the day – including the future King Edward VII – at his Treasurers’ House.  Some feel in retrospect that he was a little eccentric, mentioning as examples his insistence that workmen wear slippers in the house and his habit of sending his laundry to London each week – although that all seems very reasonable, don’t you think?  In 1930, Frank retired to Somerset (as you do) and donated the entire house and its contents to the National Trust.  Yes, the boy had money.  There was a condition, though, and it was that everything should be left exactly as it was.  You can still see the studs in the floor that mark the precise spots where particular items of furniture should be located.  And Frank, who was 93 when he died, threatened to come back and haunt the place if his condition was not met.

Ah, so you’re thinking that Frank is the ghost?  Well, apparently, spirits of the departed would often bump into each other at the Treasurers’ House, if only they could – especially on the stairs, where bloodstains mysteriously appear and visitors have claimed to smell a ghostly cigar.  But the story you’re about to read pre-dates the arrival of tobacco in Britain, and even the Treasurers’ House itself.  Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

In 1953 a young apprentice plumber, Harry Martindale, was working in the cellar of the Treasurers’ House trying to make a hole in the brick ceiling for a pipe.  He placed his ladder, unwittingly, on a section of Roman road that had recently been excavated 18” (46cm) below the floor.  At around about lunchtime, he heard some kind of blaring musical note – a horn, or trumpet, maybe.  It seemed to be coming from the wall, and got louder and louder.  Then, looking down from his ladder, Harry saw a figure of a man wearing a plumed helmet come through the wall.  Understandably, Harry fell off his ladder and landed on his backside.  Huddled in the corner of the cellar, he then clearly saw a Roman soldier on horseback follow the first man, and after that 20 or so more soldiers marching two abreast.  They didn’t look in Harry’s direction, but seemed to pass through the opposite wall.  When they had all gone, Harry dashed out of the room and met the curator of the house, whose first words were, “By the look of you, you’ve seen the Roman soldiers?”  One of the extraordinary things about this incident is the detailed descriptions Harry was able to provide of the men, which included things that were not known at the time.  The soldiers wore green tunics, short red skirts and carried large round shields, spears and wore short swords.  Incredibly, Harry described them as being unshaven and looking very weary – even dejected.  They were dark and short – appearing to walk on their knees; clearly, they were following the level of the original road that they had marched on sometime during the 4th century – which is the period Harry’s soldiers have been dated to.

Roman, ghosts, York

18 thoughts on “York’s Treasurers’ House”

  1. I have heard that story about the Roman soldiers before, and not just in York. In fact, we have a few resident ghosts of our own here in Roman Middlewich… Still, makes me want to visit the Treasurers’ House all the more! 🙂

  2. Did you feel the presence of a ghost in the house?

    In one of the rooms when I visited, I experienced a strange feeling and the guide proceeded to tell us a story about the room.

    A child sitting on the lap of and talking to an invisible person.

  3. I’m so glad you posted this. We will be visiting York relatively soon and I want to see those Roman soldiers! Anyway, I’ve put the house on our itinerary and hope we can squeeze it in. Thanks, Mike.

  4. I have never visited York, perhaps I will one day. And if I do, I shall be sure to visit this Treasurer’s House in the hope of seeing the Roman soldiers. Frank was definitely a bit of a lad, and I think sending his laundry to London is a great idea….. if you can afford it, why not?

  5. Thank you for recommending this place – it is on my list now, as it won’t be long before my annual holiday in Ripon, and a day out in York is very likely to happen.
    I’ve heard that ghost story about the Roman soldiers before. Intriguing, but not my motivation for wanting to see this beautiful house.

  6. Hi Mike – what an extraordinary house – no wonder you were enamoured – love the photos. Then the Frank Green story … how interesting to learn about another well to do family and their influence on Britain in the 1800-1900s. The ghost story is fascinating … Roman soldiers and in such detail … especially about the floor (Roman Road) level … I will definitely keep this in mind when I get to visit York … cheers Hilary

  7. Oh I love this house, Mike!! It’s so stately and elegant! Love those teal blue walls, the gold-framed mirrors, and the carpet runner on the stairs. The large portraits aren’t bad, either. 😉 The ghost story adds much interest to the history of the house, doesn’t it?

    Thanks for sharing this — I enjoyed the post. Hope you have a great weekend!



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