The Ark: An historic overview
really is a uniquely built building and importantly one of the oldest buildings
in Tadcaster. The earliest records
suggest The Ark was possibly built in the late 15th Century, although it may
have been earlier. Over the following
centuries it was changed by various additions to the original structure.
The name, “The Ark” is thought to have derived from the two carved heads on the corbels on the front of the building. These are said to represent Noah and his wife. In 1672 The Ark was known as Morley Hall and was licensed to hold Dissenters’ meetings. The owner, Robert Morley, was the first Tadcaster Post Master, and is recorded as such in the Parish Register in 1653.
It is said that the building was used about sixty years earlier by some of the Pilgrim Fathers. This is probably a myth as there is no supporting evidence and none of the Pilgrim Fathers came from the area. Certainly the people of Tadcaster throughout the centuries were not without strong views on religious matters and it is not unlikely that those who later sought freedom in the New World would have found many sympathisers in the town.
During the eighteenth Century the building was divided into two. The solar end became a cottage and shop, and remained a dwelling house until 1959. In the nineteenth Century it was the premises of Messrs. England, butchers, and was also at one time a joiners shop. The other part became 'The Old Falcon Inn', one of Tadcaster's many coaching inns.
The building became vacant in 1959 but was in poor condition. The adjacent “Falcon Inn” was demolished and The Ark was extensively restored over the next two years, the work being funded by John Smith’s Brewery. The first part was restored in 1960-61 and the second part in 1966-67, the whole being opened as a Museum in September 1967. The Museum closed in 1984 but was reopened by volunteers in 1987, but had to finally close in 1989.
In 1992, Tadcaster Town Council purchased the premises to use as its Council Offices and Council Chamber. The building is now a Grade II* listed building and “and as such a unique piece of architecture” and should be preserved “not only as a beautiful relic of the past, but also as a source of interest and instruction”.
Its construction has two main features. It retains the large stones at the base of the medieval posts. The method of construction of the two open trusses is also found in a roof at St Anthony’s Hall in York dating from around 1490.