62 Low Petergate

62 Low Petergate 2008

This house was originally built in the early years of the eighteenth century for John Shaw, who worked for the Court at York, on the site of the Talbot Inn.  After Shaw’s death it was rented by Henry Hindley (c.1700-1771), the famous clock and watch maker, who supplied clocks both to the Mansion House and York Minster.

After Hindley, the house became the home of Dr Alexander Hunter (c.1729-1809), the founding physician of the infamous York Lunatic Asylum

It was almost certainly Dr. Hunter who added the fashionable neo-classical details to the house.  The Doric columns support a small pediment over the front door, the dormer windows have little pediments, and the cornice of the roof has a frieze of decorative triglyphs.  Inside the hall has a screen of Corinthian columns and ornamental plasterwork. The ceiling over the upper hall has a relief of Aesculapius, the Greek demi-god of medicine, with his rod entwined with a serpent, (the international symbol for doctors), and his daughter Hygieia, with a child.  Very appropriate, of course, for the home of a physician.

Dr Hunter’s time at the Lunatic Asylum was clouded by controversy concerning both the treatment of the patients and the financial management of the hospital.  It started with local complaints and escalated to a national investigation in 1813-14.  Despite this, Hunter was very much the eighteenth-century gentleman doctor who found time to publish both on medical matters and on wider interests.  He republished an illustrated edition of John Evelyn’s Sylva (1776) and even wrote a musical farce called No Cure, No Pay! (1797).

From the late nineteenth century the house was the home of the York College for Girls and has recently become a restaurant La Vecchia Scuola which displays some of the memorabilia from that time.

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