View Blog


There’s something incredibly precious about our city centres in the UK. Centuries of history meet 21st century living head on, creating a tense balance between beauty and heritage on the one hand and social and economic necessity on the other. At York Handmade, we are privileged to be part of this cultural melting pot, helping to create buildings which both honour the past and serve the present.

The Shard LondonFrom London to Edinburgh, from Belfast to Manchester and from Oxford to Cambridge and to York, we have won and fulfilled prestigious contracts that we believe have enhanced the city centres of which they are now an integral part. Buoyed by the vision of architects and the support of planners and conservationists, we are honoured to have made a lasting impression in some of the most beautiful and iconic cities in Britain.

This blog is too short to list every city centre project we have undertaken during our 31-year history, so we have selected four which illustrate the challenges of creating 21st century buildings in highly-sensitive environments. They are The Shard in London, De Grey Court in York, the Westgate Centre in Oxford and Magdalene College Library in Cambridge.

First, the Shard, which needs no introduction. Obviously it’s mainly glass, but we provided the bricks at its base, together with the bricks for the adjacent and magnificently restored and enhanced London Bridge Station and London Bridge Place. The £2bn regeneration of the area immediately around London Bridge Station, which has created superb work and leisure space on the south bank of the Thames, is a graphic symbol of the thriving capital in the 21st century.

The award-winning De Grey Court in York, part of the College of York St John, is smaller in scale, but equally crucial in terms of the sensitivity of its surroundings, because it is adjacent to the city’s internationally-renowned medieval Bar Walls. We believe this superb building is a worthy addition to York’s fantastic architectural heritage. It is a flagship building for the university – and for York itself. It is a great example of how good modern architecture can fit in seamlessly with historic surroundings. It holds its own with the Bar Walls.

The Westgate Centre in Oxford, also an award-winner, was a very different project in that it replaced a brutalist building which was completely at odds with Oxford’s historic core. This development highlights the new fashion for replacing concrete with brick, which creates a softer, more attractive appearance. In a historic city like Oxford, this is much more appropriate. In this way, the new Westgate Centre is a bold statement of intent, with our bricks playing an integral part.  Our long thin Maxima bricks, which are becoming increasingly popular, have provided a distinctive and sensitive look.

Westgate Shopping Centre Oxford Finally we are currently providing bricks for Magdalene College New Library in Cambridge, which is an amazing challenge. Opposite the Samuel Pepys Library, the immediate area is steeped in history. We have created some specially-sized bricks (60x225x97mm) to match the original Magdalene bricks, which date back to the 15th century. We are also working on dozens of permutations of bespoke-shaped specials for the library’s traditional bond patterns.

These are but four of the prestigious city centre projects in which we have been involved. We are proud of our role in these developments and honoured to have been asked to be part of them. We are acutely aware of how important it is to preserve the historic identity of the UK’s cities, whilst ensuring they don’t become obsolete museums, detached from the reality of 21st century living.