Places to Visit in North Yorkshire
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York Museum Gardens in Focus

Visit York and North Yorkshire through Video

York Museum Gardens in Focus. York is the historical focal point of the county of North Yorkshire in the North of England.  It began its journey much earlier than people imagine as archeological evidence suggests a settlement between 7000 and 8000 BC. However, much of what we see in York dates back from Roman, Viking, Norman, Tudor, Georgian and Victorian times. Situated on the confluence of two rivers, the Ouse and the Foss, it has been an important settlement both economically and strategically throughout these era’s. 

Today, York may not have any strategic importance but is the dwelling place of around 200,000 people according to the 2011 census.   And this figure has grown when we consider the population was just 24,000 in 1801. Divided into 21 administrative wards, York has become a highly sought out area in which to live and work, perhaps owing to its historic structures and cobbled streets. In this series of videos, we are going to focus on York’s attractions and things to do in this historic city.

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In this episode, we are going to look at one of York’s central open spaces, the Museum Gardens. Not only is this a scenic open space in the city of York, but also is a great place to meet and social distance during the pandemic. However, in the city centre, we recommend wearing a face covering at all times.


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York’s City Centre Open Spaces

York Museum Gardens in Focus

Certainly in the year of the pandemic, open spaces have been vital during lockdown so people can use them to get their daily exercise. Reports have recently herald the likelihood of another possible lockdown owing to the increase of coronavirus cases, so it could be the case we will depend on them further.

Museum Gardens

York Museum Gardens in Focus

The best entrance into York Museum Gardens can be found in Museum Street next to Lendal Bridge, but you can also enter by the River Ouse and Marygate. The gardens not only contain some open spaces but also is the home of some very notable structures. In fact, Museum Gardens is the home of an abbey, a museum, an observatory, a tudor accommodation, a gatehouse, a Roman tower, a medieval hospital and even a church. If you visit the gardens on the correct day and time, you might even discover the RSPB who regularly visit. They allow you to handle one of the birds of prey and have your photo taken at a small fee. There is a lot contained in this park to see and do which is why we’ve filmed our first episode here.


Multangular Tower

York Museum Gardens in Focus

The first historic structure you’ll see is the Multangular Tower in the location of the original Roman walls. Outside of the Coronavirus pandemic you can also see it around the back too. Not everyone realises that the city walls only follow some of the route of the original Roman walls. The Romans constructed a wall to strengthen a fortress they had constructed here. The Multangular Tower is the survivor of two corner towers of which purpose was to protect the wall itself. The Romans replaced an earlier timber construction with stone comprising of limestone, millstone grit and Yorkshire stone or elland stone. The lower smaller bricks under the red band are of Roman origin whereas the larger bricks on top are from the medieval period.

During York’s Roman occupation, the site of York Minster was the location of a Roman headquarters and you can see a Roman column there today which was unearthed by archaeologists. You will also recognise the statue of Constantine I which is more of a modern construction. He was a Roman Emperor who had an understanding of Christianity. Between the two corner towers were some interval towers along the wall too. However, at the time of the Dane’s arrival, much of the walls were in poor repair and the Vikings pulled them down and constructed new walls. The Multangular Tower is the only surviving Roman tower which can be found here in the Museum Gardens.

Unfortunately, we are unable to take you to the reverse side at present therefore the footage we see of it here is taken from 2019. Under normal circumstances you can take a look at the tower from this angle. In any case, you can see the the tower was at a right angle in the wall system and would have run through to the next corner tower with around 10 interval towers in between.


St Leonard’s Hospital

York Museum Gardens in Focus

Another structure as well as the abbey that didn’t survive the dissolution of the monasteries was that of St Leonard’s Hospital which is believed to have been the largest medieval hospital in England. Much of what remains today is part of the chapel undercroft of which ceiling is a notable feature to look at. The hospital began its journey after the Norman Conquest but it may not have been what you imagine a hospital to be. The hospital also catered for the poor and even the prisoners from nearby York Castle of which you can still see the keep today known as Clifford’s Tower.

St Leonard’s wasn’t the first hospital to exist at this location as it superseded St Peter’s Hospital which was extremely damaged by a fire in the 1100. This hospital was so large it actually shared its grounds with York Minster and covered the space where the Theatre Royal resides now. After St Leonard’s was dissolved in 1540, York was without a hospital for 200 years until around 1740. You can also see and access the structure from the entrance to the city library next door.


The Yorkshire Museum in the Museum Gardens

York Museum Gardens in Focus

In between the Multangular Tower and St Mary’s Abbey resides the Yorkshire Museum. This is quite significant to the establishment of the entire gardens because in the 1830 the York Philosophical Society acquired the land in order to construct the museum. They were allowed to purchase the land on a promise they would also introduce a botanical gardens with it. The Yorkshire Museum overlaps as it were, some of the abbey’s ruins and these can still be seen today in the abbey’s basement. The building itself is designed in a Greek Revival style and was designed by William Wilkins who was also known for the design of the National Gallery and University College London.

Today, the Yorkshire Museum hosts a collection of historic artefacts pertaining to the area in the form of fossils, archeological finds, rock specimens and extinct plants and animals. It also features some statues and stoneworks from St Mary’s Abbey as well. The abbey is under the ownership of the York Museum’s Trust. Please check the York Museum’s Trust website for opening times during the Coronavirus pandemic. In better times, it certainly comes highly recommended to pay this museum a visit, even more so if you have a passion for history.


St Mary’s Abbey York Museum Gardens

York Museum Gardens in Focus

The gardens are also home to St Mary’s Abbey which like the majority of abbey’s is a ruin owing to the dissolution of the monasteries. Simply put, any abbey’s that were built prior to the 1500’s were dissolved by Henry VIII who wanted to redirect funds from religious sites at that time. St Mary’s was not only the wealthiest Benedictine abbeys in its day, but was also the largest walled abbey in England.

One memorial you may not have expected to see from the Abbey is that of William Etty who was a Victorian painter who painted nudes in historical scenes. He also campaigned against the demolition of the city walls as the council at that time claimed they hindered traffic flow in the city. His statue can be seen in Exhibition Square outside the art gallery.

The Abbey has ties not only with the dissolution of the monasteries but its beginning was heavily tied with William the Conqueror who after 1066 wanted to strengthen his clench on the North of England. However, construction of the abbey didn’t begin until 1088. The estate where the abbey resides included the entire Museum Gardens and also included a Church, St Olave’s where William Etty’s memorial is situated we saw a moment ago.

When visiting, it is highly recommended to walk alongside the Yorkshire Museum to the end and turn around towards the remaining structure. As you can still see much of the foundations, it helps you to visualise and understand the enormity of the structure in its heyday. You can also receive some fantastic photography from this location too. Don’t forget to look out for the abbey walls from the inside. You can also see the rear of the King’s Manor that we come to talk more about later. Don’t forget that inside the Yorkshire Museum is a model of how the abbey church would have looked like.

The Abbey today which is now obviously a ruin, is situated in some attractive gardens that are well maintained. This year has obviously been difficult with the Coronavirus lockdown, yet this open space is a safer place to explore many of York’s attractions.


St Mary’s Abbey Gatehouse

York Museum Gardens in Focus

Like all other walled sites, the abbey walls obviously contain some form of a gateway. The Gatehouse to St Mary’s Abbey situated on Marygate next to St Olave’s Church and is now the home to the York Museum’s Trust. The building itself is known as St Mary’s Lodge, and it is at this building that the poor would come and claim alms.

Sadly, owing to Henry VIII’s dissolving of all the monasteries in the 1530’s, by 1540 all the abbey buildings had been converted into a place for the King himself to stay when he visited York. As time passed, these buildings fell into disrepair and some were converted into lodgings, not for humans, but for agriculture.

Despite its history, today it is a warm welcome to those accessing the Museum Gardens from Marygate. When you visit, don’t forget to look out for the plaque relating to John Phillips who was a geologist with his uncle who took residence in York. He became keeper of the Yorkshire Museum as well as being the secretary of the York Philosophical Society.

Much of the Abbey Walls accompanying the gatehouse are still intact today. You may simply assume that the walls were constructed the same period as the abbey itself, but in actual fact they came later in the 1260’s. Today they stand as the most complete abbey walls in the UK.

At the riverside the wall has a circular tower which served as a toll system for vessels on the River Ouse. The city itself also had a toll system where they would collect murage or tax from the vessels for the upkeep of the city walls. You will notice arrow slits in the tower intended as a defensive mechanism. These walls were required several times owing to disputes about land ownership as well as taxes during their heyday. Although the abbey was the most wealthiest and powerful in the country which brought much to York, it was also a source of conflict at times.

From here, you can follow the abbey walls along which take you back to the gatehouse and a further cylinder shaped tower to Victoria Arch at Exhibition Square. As you are walking alongside them, don’t forget that these are part of the largest and wealthiest walled abbey in the country. Like the multangular tower, it contains some larger stones as well as small ones too. However, unlike the tower, the walls weren’t constructed in Roman times, but the outer stones of the wall are no longer present which explains the varying stonework.

Prior to arriving at the corner tower, you will notice that there is a facsimile shutter at the top of the wall. This shutter was a protective mechanism for soldiers who would close the shutter to prevent themselves from being hit by their enemies. They would open the shutter when they fired on the enemy below. There is a plaque containing a brief description of the shutter and its purpose.

At the end of this section of the wall you will see the vibrant classic red phone box which is quite the British icon. But you will also see the cone shaped roof of the circular end tower. This tower is situated on a right-angle in the wall as the wall now heads towards the direction of the city centre. At the current time, the De Costa Academy of Singing is situated in this tower.

One of its notable points of interest is its cone shaped slate roof as well as the leaded glass windows. Unlike the tower beside the River Ouse, it has not arrow slits in the walls making it look more aesthetic than defensive.

Around the corner is a small seating area beside an exposed section of the wall and interval tower, that being not obscured by shops and eateries. It is situated in an area of York known as Bootham, and you will notice Bootham Bar on the city walls close to the Minster.

In Exhibition Square you will see the Art Gallery and statue of William Etty aforementioned, as well as another corner tower to the abbey walls. The arch is known as Victoria Arch but the tower itself is more rectangular than circular in formation.

Sometimes visitors to York often confuse the abbey walls with the city walls as the York Bar Walls exist just over the road. As they are both constructed with limestone they look very similar which also adds to the confusion. The city walls are open to pedestrians whereas the abbey walls have no pedestrian access and are separate from the city’s defences.


The King’s Manor York Museum Gardens

York Museum Gardens in Focus

Within the Abbey walls is another structure that survived the dissolution of the monasteries simply because Henry VIII admired the building and desired to use it as a palace on his visits to York. He instructed it to be the council of the north until the council was abolished in 1641. This of course is the fittingly named King’s Manor. This building was constructed originally to house the monks from St Mary’s Abbey, probably established sometime in the 11th century, however, the earliest parts date back to the 15th century. The King’s Manor has been extended twice over the centuries. Between 1667 and 1688 it belonged to the Governor of York.

Today it is used by the University of York and you can study archeology here. However, before 1958, it was used by blind school until the buildings were acquired by York City Council who then leased them to the University. During term time the Refectory is open as a cafe which is also open to the public. Of course, during the pandemic you will need to check the website first.

Don’t forget to give brief attention to St Olave’s church next door to St Mary’s Lodge. This isn’t the original church but it was extensively rebuilt in the 15th century and restored in 1848.

The Gardens

York Museum Gardens in Focus

The gardens themselves were designed by Sir John Murray Naysmith but they were much different than how they appear today. The original gardens also had a pond as well as a conservatory and even a menagerie. The Museum Gardens have been in the care of the York Museums Trust since 2002 after changing ownership from the City of York Council.

Like any garden, the Museum Gardens attract insects, birds, animals and visitors of a human nature. Certainly, the grey squirrel are a common feature but you will find a variety of garden birds including Robins, Nuthatch and Dunnock. As far as insects are concerned, a must to see is the tansy beetle which you will find on a tansy plant. These creatures have a green and orange vibrant sheen upon them. Therefore be alert to creatures of all shapes and sizes.

The Hospitium York Museum Gardens

York Museum Gardens in Focus

At the foot of the Museum Gardens is the Hospitium meaning hospitality. Today it is an events venue belonging to York Museums Trust, although it is unclear what its actual purpose was although it is thought it was a place of lodging for visitors to the abbey. These visitors would be such as merchants who wouldn’t be permitted to enter the abbey itself.

One thing that is known is that the arch at the side of the building suggests a boat house and the River Ouse would have originally come up to the building. Therefore this suggests that it may have had a warehouse function too. The river would have come further into the gardens and almost meeting the hospitium. The arch that you see was known as a watergate arch, and this was built much later than the original building. The main structure is thought to be from the 1300’s whereas the boat house would have been from the 1500’s. It’s important to remember that the course of the River Ouse has been canalised in modern times and the river would have been wider especially after heavy rains.

In 1828, the York Philosophical Society use the hospitium to house some of their collections both prior to constructing the Yorkshire Museum and afterwards. However, the building had to be extensively repaired first. The building today makes an impressive scene in the gardens and can also be seen when walking beside the River Ouse.

Just astride from the Hospitium is the Story Telling Garden. This tranquil and private area is surrounded by soundproofing trees and shrubs to create a relaxing area for young ones to listen to stories. The path takes you through a double wooden gate and into a private area with some natural looking seats for both grown ups and children.

York Observatory Museum Gardens

York Museum Gardens in Focus

Shortly after the land was acquired, construction began on Yorkshire’s oldest working observatory in 1832. The observatory consists of a 4″ refractor telescope which was installed in 1850 by Thomas Cooke. You might laugh at this, but Cooke in this case has the letter ‘e’ at the end and has nothing to do with failing travel agencies. In fact, Thomas Cooke went on to construct the largest telescope in the world at that time. However, as it stands today, the refractor telescope was installed in 1981 when the observatory was restored.

The observatory itself was constructed between 1832 and 1833 but it also includes a clock which was constructed much earlier in 1811. This clock is no ordinary clock because it measures time in relation to positions of stars. What is fascinating about it is that all the other clocks in York were set by its time and yet it is always 4 minutes and 20 seconds behind Greenwich Meantime. Today of course, all clocks are set to the standard GMT.

Thomas Cooke is not the only famous astronomer from York. John Goodricke and Edward Pigott were also well known astronomers from the city and Goodricke has a part of the University of York named after him whereas Pigott was the first englishman to discover a comet and have it named after him.

We hope you enjoy your visit to the Museum Gardens in York. For some useful links relating to things to do and see in this the museum gardens please see the description below. Until next time.


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