On the 2 Jun 1937 the Georgian Society for East Yorkshire (GSEY) held its inaugural executive committee meeting at the Royal Institution on Albion Street (now demolished). This meeting was the result of the efforts of 23 year old Rupert Alec-Smith to establish a society whose purpose would be to compile a list of Georgian buildings in the area and to work to preserve them. Alec-Smith's own personal interest in the cause was fuelled when Winestead Hall (formerly owned by his family) was demolished in 1936. He was also aided in his efforts through the advice and support of Sir Thomas Sheppard curator of Hull Municipal Museums and Lord Derwent of Hackness who had spoken in the House of Lords on this subject and was the first chairman of the national Georgian Group. Lord Derwent would become the society's first president and Sheppard the first chairman. Alec-Smith took the role of first joint secretary with L.M. Stanewell, Hull Corporation Record Clerk.
Held two days before the inaugural meeting of the national Georgian Group of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, the GSEY lays claim to being the first such group of its kind in the country, although the establishment of both groups was achieved side-by-side with mutual support.
Other early members included the young Bridlington architect Francis Johnson who was personally sought out by Alec-Smith to help him with the society in 1938. Johnson's developing architectural style was classical in nature and he took many of his influences from Georgian architectural details, he was keen to preserve buildings of this style and the character of the areas in which they stood. Also Basil Reckitt of Reckitt and Colman, Lord Middleton (who served as the society's first patron), A.S. Harvey, Joseph Hirst, Lt Col John Dunnington-Jefferson, Sir Servington Savery, and James Downs. Later instrumental members included Angus Hildyard who took over the secretaryship from Alec-Smith in 1972 before becoming chairman in 1986 and patron in 1993.
In the 1930s, due to the great costs of running and maintaining them, country houses and large suburban villas were starting to be left empty or to be converted to flats, and large Georgian town houses were becoming offices or being neglected whilst waiting for redevelopment. Of the many such buildings, to name a few Maister House, Willerby Hall, Haworth Hall, Trinity House Almshouses were all properties that the society focused its attention on in the pre-war years.
World War II largely put a halt on the activities of the society whilst its members were in service but work still continued where possible, for example with attempts to preserve railings of special interest from requisition by the war office. As we might expect, war damaged Hull became the focus of the society after World War II. Campaigns were undertaken to save the Masters House at the Charterhouse and Georgian townhouses on High street ajoining and opposite Wilberforce House. Compilation of lists of buildings of special and historic interest were compiled for areas not covered by the Historic Buildings Record lists taken in 1943. From the 1950s these lists and the society's members were consulted by town planners before any decisions to alter or demolish these 'listed buildings' were made.
In the 1950s, once restoration of war damaged properties that could be saved had been either achieved or frustrated, the attention of the society turned to the issue of the preservation of country houses. Many such houses had been damaged in the war years, either through enemy action or through use as billets, hospitals etc after requisitioning by the War Office. The cost of these estates added to the cost of repairing the damage was proving too great for many landed families and many of these properties had fallen into decay. The society was instrumental in saving Maister House and Blaydes House, both on High Street in Hull, and also played a part in the rescuing of Howsham Hall
The 1960s and 1970s saw more battles with the town planners over demolition of buildings and road widening and building schemes. Many battles were fought, most were lost, but awareness of the issues was raised and contributed greatly to the drive to create conservation areas. It was also in this period that membership of the society increased as people wanted to take advantage of the society's lecture series and popular 'Visits' schedule to country and town houses. These had been a long standing feature of the society's work alongside its preservation campaigns, with the 'Visits' scheme being initiated in 1946.
In 1975 the society published the first issue of its newsletter and this contained articles written by Francis Johnson and another local architect of note Alan K. Bray. The issue was largely dedicated to the society's work in saving Maister House and Blaydes House, and began a publication that is still in circulation to date. In 2014 the society celebrated its 75th anniversary through the publication of a book written by Austen Redman and David Neave titled 'Georgian Architecture & The Georgian Society for East Yorkshire'. It continues to campaign and remains true to its original aims.