The history of the Mansion House goes back to 1725, when work started on the building. The house was completed in 1732 and has been the official residence of the Lord Mayor of York ever since. The origins of the building can be traced through the city records and some highlights are set out in the timeline below.
York Councillors discussed the need for a residence for the Lord Mayor to entertain guests. After an official complaint by the Common Council about Lord Mayor Agar's absences and neglect of 'Public Entertainment', the corporation ruled that all future Lord Mayors should promise to 'Keep up the grandeur and dignity of the City' by holding 'two public dining days in every week at the least'.
The corporation decided to construct this residence on Coney Street, with a budget of £1,000. They expected it to be used for the Lord Mayor to entertain and to carry out his public business.
At Easter, work began on the first purpose-built house for a Lord Mayor in the country. To make way for the new building, two existing buildings on the site had to be demolished. One of them, the Cross Keys Inn, had originally been the medieval guild chapel of St Christopher and St George, later used as a 'City House' from whose windows the Lord Mayor watched plays and shows.
Like many another building project, the slowly-rising Mansion House soon proved much more expensive than predicted. In March, with the first £1,000 already spent, the Building Committee was granted another £300. By October they needed an extra £700. Some craftsmen gave their services in return for the freedom of the city. J. B Smith obtained citizenship for carrying out ironwork, and other incoming freemen later presented 'a very good and handsome eight days clock', 'Chairs and Chests of Drawers', 'A dozen of Silver-hafted knives and forks' and 'a Turkey Carpet'.
In February, work began on the last outstanding task, the completion of the Great Room (later called the State Room). Here, the principle craftsman was the master-carpenter and joiner John Terry, perhaps an ancestor of the famous York Sweet-manufacturing family. He was paid £239 for woodwork and panelling.
By the mid 19th century, the Lord Mayors were clearly entertaining in style. During the Mayoral year of 1832-3, the Mansion House got through 1,717 bottles of port, sherry, claret and champagne, at a total cost of £420 2s 9d.
On a more sober note, the invasion of Belgium on 7th September brought the first world war closer to home. The Lord Mayor, on behalf of the city, was asked to receive some of the 60,000 Belgian refugees expected to arrive in Hull from Antwerp. The Lord Mayor formed a Belgian Refugees' Reception committee, and called for donations of clothing and French books. The first refugees arrived at York station on 6th October to 'ringing cheers' and were conveyed to the Mansion House by a fleet of motor cars for an official welcome and refreshments before going on to their new homes.
As York's Military and County hospitals received more and more wounded soldiers from the Front, the Lord Mayor and his Sheriff hit upon an idea that brought everyone a great deal of pleasure and a new role for the Mansion House. On 5th January, they invited 140 wounded men to an 'entertainment' when, as well as tea being served, local artistes gave their services free and a VIP made a speech. It was such a success that another was held a fortnight later and the Lord Mayor announced that he and the Sheriff had decided to hold no more civic receptions or entertainments for the duration of the War, except for wounded men. These continued on average twice a month, and, it was believed, were unique in the country.