Plan to turn York ruins into a hi-tech visitor attraction – where you could walk with Romans

Overlooked ruins in York could be turned into an exciting new visitor attraction, where people can walk around and meet Roman centurions using virtual reality technology.

The ruins of St Leonards Hospital and Library Lawn in Museum Gardens will be leased by City of York Council to York Explore – the organisation that runs the libraries.

The site will be used for activities while Explore fundraises and works on plans to turn the area into a “new flagship attraction”.

This could feature technology that would enable visitors to walk with Roman centurions.

Iconic heritage

Fiona Williams of York Explore. Photograph: YorkMix

Fiona Williams, chief executive of Explore, said: “Our project in the long term focuses on a significant cluster of scheduled ancient monuments – the ruins of St Leonard’s Hospital, an overlooked section of the walls Multangular Tower, the Anglian tower.

“Together these represent some of York’s most iconic but overlooked heritage – telling a story of the city from the first century when it was part of the Roman fortress to the present day.

“The whole area is called Mint Yard because there used to be a mint operating from it.

St Leonard’s Hospital

“It’s really sad to see some of the really important heritage of the city just not being used.

“I think people don’t know it’s there.”

She said students from Sheffield University undertook a project exploring digital technology possibilities for the site – “very exciting use of virtual reality allowing people to step back in time and walk through the area seeing either Roman centurions or indeed monks.

“It would possibly allow people from around the world to walk through the area from the safety of their sitting rooms.

“The outcome of all this consultation would be a master plan for the preservation and interpretation of the area, and also a new flagship visitor attraction for the city.

“Obviously a project of this scale cannot be done overnight and we believe it would take some years before we’re in a position to go ahead with what the project would be – funding being one of those things that will take a bit of time.”

Peppercorn rent

Library lawn

The sites will be leased to Explore for 14 years at a low ‘peppercorn’ rent.

In the short term the site will be used for events – and could be leased to other organisations for activities.

Cllr Darryl Smalley said: “It’s fitting that Explore, with their long-term vision, are given use of this space to ensure our important heritage is brought to life once more.”

“The success of our Explore centres and reading cafes is a testament to the hard work of the staff and the volunteers at who make places such a great place to spend time and I’m sure that’ll be true with the Library Lawn as well.”