Before it was known as Heslington Village the space it occupies would have been land where deer grazed; falcons and other birds circled the skies; black and white badgers dug burrows; squirrels were red; emerald green wild ducks nested on wet grass; foxes were bushy tailed; and there may have been a robin or two in the hedgerows.

Although deer still come up to the edge of undeveloped land and wild ducks still return to their nesting sites, the animals grazing are cattle; badgers are under threat; houses are on the nesting sites of wild ducks; helicopters fly close to the roofs of houses; there are guns for hunting foxes and shooting birds; and an invasion of grey squirrels.

The Village we know as Heslington is now on the perimeter of the walled city of York in North Yorkshire. In 2012 York celebrated 800 years as a city. In December 2014 York’s status was further embellished with an accolade from UNESCO Viz. City for Arts and Culture, while artists wait patiently for Yorkshire Arts to open an office in the City.

York’s age is reflected in its names, structures – walls, bars and towers, and famous landmarks like York Minster and Clifford’s Tower. The size of Heslington Village on the other hand is diminished; its beginning and end unmarked; its history and ancient status for the most part unremarked.

Yet the villagers, local people and local historians have the information that follows in this piece: the knowledge that their Village was once an ancient space and that space is fast disappearing.

It may be, however, that some of the options presented at the end of this piece have not all been considered. In this piece there are no URL links because we are advised not to click on such links. A search though should come up with additional information about Heslington Village. Perhaps some of the options may find acceptance.

In considering this very real threat one has to consider if and how Heslington Village can re-establish itself.

If the threat is likened to an Amoeba true to its nature, extending pseudopodia into the Village, and drawing it into itself, to diminish that threat the Village should attempt to rise above the Amoeba to imitate the Physalia perhaps and lower tentacles to reach out to people and places. If it were able to do that the sense of isolation and of being engulfed may become a thing of the past. (Unfortunately Physalia has a sting that is best disregarded because this isn’t a Biology assignment).

It’s important to recognise that although there are suburbs outside the City walls, Heslington Village isn’t a suburb of York. Its status is wholly independent of the City.

Heslington Village is referenced as an ancient place in the Domesday Book as follows: “Heslington Village was in the East Riding of Yorkshire and was registered as HASLINGTON or ESLINGTON (DOMESDAY BOOK, 1086 AD.) This record a thousand years ago gives Heslington Village status.

Two Imperial Gazetteers also make reference to Heslington. The first is John Marius Wilson. He referred to Heslington as follows:
“St Lawrence parish contiguous with St Paul’s parish consists of 1371 acres, with a population of 307, and 63 houses. With a hospital for 8 aged men and women. The hospital founded in 1608 by Sir Thomas Hesketh, was rebuilt in 1795 and has an unendowed income of £55.”
(John Marius Wilson, Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales 1870-1872).

John Marius Wilson adds: “It (i.e. Heslington Village) belonged formerly to the Eslingtons and Collingwoods”.

The second Gazetteer is John Bartholomew. He referred to Heslington St Paul’s as follows:
“a parish and village in the East Riding of Yorkshire, in the Ouse Valley, 2 miles south East of York. It consists of 1401 acres, with a population of 223, and is called Heslington.” (John Bartholomew, Gazetteer of the British Isles (1887).

There are other references to Heslington Village: “ESLINGTON a seat of Lord Ravenscroft, Northumberland, on the River Alne 7 1/2 miles north of Rothbury.”

St Paul’s Church (designed by John Bownas Atkinson and William Atkinson of York and built (or rebuilt) by George Godwin in 1882), is of special interest for two reasons:

1. The family bearing the Village name.
2. Murano Glass.

St Paul’s church yard (now Heslington Church) has a cemetery where some of the people buried there bear the name of the Village as their surname. Descendants of the people are online and explain who the people buried in the church yard are. The family’s ancestors are said to originate from West Tanfield. A search should provided details for those who wish to make contact.

The ‘Salviatis Venice and Murano Glass and Mosaic Company’ once located at 30 St James St. in London made an enamelled window of nine panels in the east end of St Paul’s church in Heslington. This panel shows the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, four floral motifs, and a Maltese Cross.
A search as follows for: ‘St Paul’s Church, Heslington Murano glass window’ will provide a blogspot with beautiful photos of the panels, the Maltese Cross and the interior of St Paul’s Church in Heslington for those who haven’t seen it.

In addition to its age, the references in the Domesday Book, and by the Gazetteers, Heslington Village is distinct from other villages surrounding York because of the presence and proximity of the University.

York University opened its doors to students in the latter half of the twentieth century. Local people welcomed the event as an opportunity for the creation of jobs. Local farmers and villagers were friendly and welcoming to the student population and there was close interaction between students, staff, farmers and residents in the village. There were harvest festivals, spring festivals with merry go round, street parties, bonfires, May Day celebrations and activities that showed Heslington Village to contain a vibrant community. In the 1960’s plans for the expansion of a very small university may only have been known to a select number of people.

One of the results of the university’s presence was the opening of a number of high street banks in Main Street. The banks attracted small businesses and traffic. The activity resulted in congestion and noise in the Main Street where people still live.

While the university was establishing itself a group of prominent people came together to develop a housing estate called ‘Holmefield’. This was a small estate of two streets – Turners Croft and Peel Close – designed by architects some from King’s Manor. It was intended to house post graduates doing their Masters and Doctorates, and university staff and their families. The development consisted of a variety of houses and flats, a Community Centre containing a laundrette and a custom built nursery school with child sized equipment and rest room facilities. The architects received the Duke of Edinburgh award for their design.

The community centre was a meeting place for people from the surrounding area, and was also used for band practice by a band with some members from an organic vegetable shop, a youth club from Fulford, and other community activities.

After Holmefield was built other housing estates were developed behind Holmefield, sheltered from the Main Street.

In the Community Centre on Holmefield a nursery school was set up for university children on the estate and from the campus. Local children from the Village, Badger Hill, and Fulford also attended the playgroup. The play group provided employment for local women who were not child minders but well trained. The children from the play group went on to Lord Deramore’s Primary school in the Village. This was a significant link between the University, Holmefield, and the village school. The play group was active from the early seventies until the mid 1990’s.


By the 1990’s Holmefield was no longer a community of university staff and researchers.

The interaction between the villagers and residents on the housing estates was no longer as strong as it was in the seventies. Other national issues affected farming in the village. Little by little it seemed that the University was encroaching upon the Village.

Fulford Golf Course had already moved into Heslington while retaining its name. The sense was that one was already in Fulford and that Heslington was yet to begin somewhere on that road. Although the turn off to Heslington from the west end of Fulford Road is into Heslington Lane the transition from Fulford to Heslington has never been demarcated.

Visitors may have observed that roads leading to the village -from Badger Hill, the Hull Road, Fulford Road, and Melrosegate were not marked with a ‘Welcome to Heslington Village’ signpost. This has been amended in 2015.

There were little changes to the Village that were remarked upon but had little impact on the decision makers. For example, a Water Tower built by York Waterworks that stood as a landmark near a huge barrow (described as being ‘ancient’) was demolished.

The playgroup closed down and moved to the primary school in the Village. The result was the connection between the University, Holmefield, the village school and local people was severed. This may have added to the sense of threat to the village.

But it was Dean’s Acre that became the most poignant example of the values of the villagers, how those values are undervalued and the helplessness of a group of people pitted against an establishment as large as a university.

Dean’s Acre was bequeathed to the University by the former Dean of York, Eric Milner White. When bequeathing the land the Dean inserted a condition that the land would not be developed. This condition was intended to protect views of the Village and St Paul’s Church.

But the time approached when the University in extending its size, decided to build a road through Dean’s Acre. The decision to build this road was contrary to the interpretation of the Dean’s condition.

It is important to recognise that local people treat Dean’s Acre as a holy place where they spend time in reflection and contemplation. This concept may seem irrelevant to people constructing buildings and roads. It may be an irrelevance to non-believers, or to people who do not consider a consecrated altar sacrosanct, or that a grave should remain undisturbed. But, within the context of the Christian values of many people of York, however, the concept of a holy place is very relevant.

Within the walled city is a shrine to St Margaret Clitheroe, a Catholic woman, who was put to death for allowing her home to be used to celebrate mass. The Bar Convent contains a ‘priest’s hole’ dating back to the period when Catholic’s were forbidden to celebrate mass, and the priest was forced to hide whenever the mass was interrupted and the convent was searched. There are several churches, including York Minster within the small space that constitutes the city of York. In 2011, York Minster was the place for the celebration of a Roman Catholic mass in Latin.

The consideration that Dean’s Acre is a holy place caused the local people to raise objections to disturbing the ground by the construction of a road. The University did concede and withdraw the plan to construct a road, but the land that makes up Dean’s Acre was nevertheless disturbed to enable underground pipes and cables to be laid. Construe it as you will, the peace of the ground was disturbed.

That isn’t to say the local people weren’t consulted. The steps, procedures, and paperwork, the designs and layouts were meticulously prepared and followed. But the perception remains, no amount of consultation, inquiries, protests, complaints and glossy paged magazines can stop the progress of building plans. The result added to the sense of the village being under threat.

The conclusion may be that from the moment York University was planned Heslington Village was condemned.

The plight for Heslington Village appears to be desperate. Hopefully there are options which require the Village to reach out to people and places and so end its isolation and stabilise it as an ancient Village to be earmarked for preservation. This needs the agreement of the villagers. These are the options that may or may not be worth consideration:

1. The extent of Heslington Village should be demarcated just it was set out in the Domesday Book and by the Gazetteers quoted above: exactly where did Heslington Village begin and where did it end disregarding present day wards etc. This may be with St Lawrence Church extending down to the Hull Road returning to Fulford Road, to Broadway and back to St Lawrence Church. This would illustrate that Heslington Village contains the University, regardless of present day wards.
2. The 63 houses recorded in the documents, if all or some survive, should be identified and marked to confirm the records of the Domesday Book and Gazetteers.
3. The hospital for 8 people should be identified and marked.
4. The Village pub known as ‘The Charles’, the race horse it is named after, and the race the horse won, should link with the race course where the race took place.
5. Heslington Village should, if it has not already done so, make and sustain contact with St Lawrence Church and the church community.
6. Contact with descendants of the family buried in St Paul’s church yard who bear the Village name and who are based in West Tanfield is an important historical link with the past and the present.
7. A link between Heslington Village and villagers and the people in Murano the Glass Island in Venice would provide an international link for the village. The Murano glass factory in Murano might verify the enamelled window. It is reported that individuals from Murano were forbidden under pain of death from producing the glass outside the island. The glass factory might establish if the window is glass or enamel.
8. Linking up with the Salviatis and Murano Glass factory in London, if it still exists, and where it was situated could be another link. Publicising this link would also diminish the isolation of the Village. The company created windows for several churches in England. These churches might network with each other.
9. The Murano window in St Paul’s would be a focus for people who are interested in church buildings.
10. Perhaps the descendants of the Dean (of Dean’s Acre) and other people named in the Domesday Book and by the gazetteers may link up with Heslington.
11. Fulford Golf Club might be approached to request if it would include Heslington Village as part of its address. If there is agreement it would provide the Village with very wide publicity if it finds the concept of such publicity acceptable.
12. Searches could be made for information about the Village using the several spellings of Heslington: e.g.: ESLINGTON; ELSINGTON: HELSINGETUNE; HASLINGTON
13. Heslington Village might establish contact with the Alumni of the University many of whom are unaware of what has transpired since they graduated.
14. The retired headmaster of the primary school in Heslington Village has written a book on Heslington that was available from Heslington Post Office. Perhaps this should be available to conference delegates, visitors, and new students.
15. Perhaps children who attended the Village school might use social media to link up with the Village.

© Agnes Sam 2015