The proposed demolition of the surviving part of the Bishop's Palace triggered the formation of the Civic Society in the mid-seventies. A nucleus of shocked townsfolk were stirred into action and began a door to door leafleting campaign to save the building. To everyone's surprise and pleasure the cause was won and the energy released was channelled into a more permanent watchdog. The Civic Society was formed in 1979. With the help of the Civic Trust and the local authority a Conservation Area was identified, a Town Scheme launched and the resultant grant aid helped many to carry out important improvements to their property.
The principle roles of the Civic Society are to:
Over the years the Civic Society has been in the forefront of activities to recognise the unique historical and architectural heritage of this town. Two major restorations were carried out by the newly-formed Society: a building in the former gardens of the Bishops Palace was reconstructed and became known as the Fruit House; while on the northern outskirts of the town at the old Howden Brickyard a windpump was restored with the help of a grant from a charitable trust.
The first ten years of the Civic Society saw a programme of publications produced and a monthly newsletter. In 1983 a Buildings Award Scheme was inaugurated and a handsome plaque was awarded each year to the householder or retail premises whose property had been restored to an outstandingly high standard.
In the late 1980s the Civic Society was led largely by one man, Tom Asquith, a retired school teacher who called upon his energies, his imagination and time in an extraordinarily generous way to lead the Society to considerable success. His generosity extended even beyond his death in 1995 when, with the winding up of his widow's estate, it became the beneficiary of a substantial legacy, which was subsequently used to create a Heritage Centre. The history of the town was researched and written up in the Newsletter, largely through the efforts of a local historian, Ken Powls.
An enormous effort was made by a few relatively new members toward the end of the decade to prepare a Village Design Statement described as "an attempt by ordinary people to present a view of Howden as it is now and how we hope it will be". The final document, produced despite the apparent indifference of the authorities, provides valuable supplementary planning advice to guide the development of the town, although it currently needs to be revitalised.
A project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, placed 25 plaques on significant buildings in the town. The purpose of the project was designed to help residents and visitors recognise how history has shaped the architecture of the town.
The most serious challenge facing the Society in 2006 was the proposed development of a former haulage site just off the town centre when a suggestion was made to build the access road though the allotments from the by-pass, but this was turned down.
In the recent past the Society installed a town trail showing the length of the R100 airship, built nearby, with a series of plaques set into the pavement along the Market Place.
For a short while the Civic Society maintained a Heritage Centre in the Market Place encouraging a greater interest in the town's past. This later closed to be replaced by short pop-up exhibitions and events. An excavation project was started in the garden of the Heritage Centre with the aim of discovering the extent of the East wing of the Bishops Place.
Howden Civic Society continues to watch over planning and development, wanting the unique medieval town to prosper, but also to remain a special place. The Society tries by its projects to improve the existing environment and increase knowledge about the town and its area. Monthly meetings, and other events are open to all members, and visitors are welcome. The Society is part of a group of Yorkshire and Humber Civic Societies, and is also affiliated to the national organization, Civic Voice.