53-55 M i c k l e g a t e, Y o r k | ziggy’s bar & nightclub

Every city should have one. A dingy basement nightclub, licensed to stay open until the early hours so you can party throughout the night. But originally, what were these buildings?

Listed Grade II in 1954, this imposing and once distinguished townhouse, 53-55 Micklegate, was built shortly before 29th May 1755, thought to have been by York born Peter Harrison. It was then that the City Corporation required that ‘the wall lately built before the house and steps’ should be removed as an encroachment.

The cellars are extensive, barrel-vaulted or groined, running beneath the whole house. Above stairs, the building has two doorways, the left being the original, the right added in c.1813 due to subdivisions and alterations within the building – originally the doorway to the right was a window opening. Entrance hallways of Georgian houses were not simply blank impersonal passageways that provided the visitor with views as to what lay behind their doorways, but something to be seen. The original central entrance hall of this building lead to the main staircase at the back of the house and to the former servants’ staircase to the west and reached by a passage taken out of the west front room. The term ‘servants’ staircase can be misleading…for a while the family could use the main grand staircase to reach the formal rooms on the first floor, but they would have to had used the servants’ staircase to access the bedrooms on the second floor. This places the family and servants within the same space and indeed within the same group, a group that can be contrasted with that of outside visitors who would only have used the grand staircase.

So was this house as grand as it leads us to believe? The east front room was decorated to the highest quality with moulded and enriched woodwork, with panelled walls and elaborate cornice with imposing fireplace. History believes the entire house would have been grand, with a sumptuous main staircase with enriched panelled walls and windows adorned with floral swags and pendants. The first floor landing gave a guest the choice of five doorways, yet the design also allowed the choice to be informed. Although each of the doors had enriched pediments, three of the doors were further nested in an inner lobby provided a more intimate space. The central door of the lobby had a broken pediment, further guiding the visitor to their probable destination, the front drawing room.

During the 1700’s the house was owned by Lady Sarah Darcy Dawes (widow of Sir Arthur Dawes, 4th baronet) and her second husband, Paul Beilby-Thompson. In 1806 the house ‘the late residence of the Countess of Conyngham’ (widow of the first Earl) was advertised to be sold or let, with stabling for 18 horses in the Yorkshire Gazette.

After division c.1813 into two properties, No.53 on the left was occupied by a wine merchant whose business operated in the adjacent property from the mid-19th century. No.55 was occupied as offices by the Inland Revenue and other government bodies from 1853 onwards. In 1912, St Margaret’s Independent Grammar School for Girls moved into No.54 Micklegate. In 1944, extra accommodation was needed, so the school expanded into our building, No.55, and the school closed in 1968.

Neville England was a photographer at the Assembly Room in York during the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. He owned a photography studio in Low Ousegate and amongst other ventures in York, opened the first nightclub in York – ‘The 55 Club’ in this building, now known as Ziggy’s. The Staircase Restaurant was on the upper floors, the middle floors were a pub run by a lady called Rusty. The 55 Club was situated in the basement. It returned to single occupancy c.20 and the building is now Ziggy’s nightclub, first opened in 1982.

What would Lady Dawes have thought of her home now being a nightclub? Maybe she would be happy it is still standing and serving the young folk of York!

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