A York pub that has been boarded up for several years is set to be turned into 17 student flats.
Alfa Homes, a Wetherby-based developer, wants to convert The Castle Howard Ox in Townend Street in the Groves, and has submitted a planning application to the city council.
The pub dates back to the 1830s, but has been closed for around four years.
The Groves once boasted four pubs and a club, but The Magpie was demolished in 2005, The Groves Working Men’s Club closed in 2007, and The Reindeer was turned into a Londis shop in 2009.
The Punch Bowl at the top of Lowther Street was also threatened with closure in 2014, when Tesco wanted to turn it into a shop, but it was saved after a concerted local campaign and will now be the neighbourhood’s only pub.
Under the plans, the main pub building would be redeveloped and a small extension added alongside, following demolition of an existing extension.
The developer had originally looked at flattening the pub and building flats for 27 people, but City of York Council had indicated it would likely oppose demolition, due to the building’s heritage interest.
The pub was one of 1,500 that Star Pubs & Bars, a subsidiary of Heineken UK, bought from Punch Taverns in 2017.
Star then sold it on in 2019, having never opened it. Property company CBRE, which handled the sale, said it received 80 enquiries in seven months and 12 final offers, but none of the bidders intended to run it as a pub.
Alfa’s planning agents said in a letter that the pub had had a high turnover of tenants and had not traded well, and said the difficulties would be even worse after the pandemic, given the pressures on the whole pub industry.
The firm said the number of students coming to York was rising, and purpose-built student accommodation could ease the demand on other local housing.
A heritage statement for Alfa Homes said: “Careful design has ensured that almost all the historic fabric of the public house will be retained and the new fabric will be harmonious with the host building.”
It said the new extension would be an improvement on the one it would replace, and said: “The historic public house will retain all elements that contribute to its heritage significance.”
The planning application paperwork can be seen here on the City of York Council website. The application number is 21/00537/FULM.
Castle Howard Ox: History
Hugh Murray’s Directory of York Pubs, says the Castle Howard Ox becamelicensed in 1836, when the address was listed as Bootham Stray. Several stories of The Castle Howard Ox are included in another York pub book Public Houses, Private Lives, published in conjunction with York Oral History Society in 1999.
In the book, Sheila White, who was landlady until 1980, recalled how the pub had been when she took over.
She said: “It was like a little Victorian pub, and we had velvet seats and red carpets and décor done in a Victorian manner, because it was a coaching inn and it should never, ever have been modernised inside….
“We had oil lamps put round the windows, and we had coach lamps put in the recesses, and we brought it back as far as we could to what it should have been.
“It was a quaint little place was the Ox. It isn’t now, ‘cause they’ve pulled all the stables and farrier’s cottage down.”
She and another former landlord, Don Nixon, also told of renowned former landlord Bill Fairless, who ran the pub from 1915 until his death in 1946. He weighed 25 stone and wore “the biggest waistcoat in York”, said Mrs White.
They said the pub was often simply known as “Bill Fairless’s pub” and said he would walk round the pub with six pint glasses in his waistcoat pockets for fun.