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York’s Historic Streets Part One

Visit York and North Yorkshire through Video

In this episode we discover York’s Historic Streets Part One and although we haven’t covered every street in York, we have picked out some of the highlights.


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The Shambles

York’s Historic Streets Part One


The most well known historic street in York is The Shambles and certainly one of the most photographed by visitors. It is the only street in York that was recorded in the Domesday Book, but not as The Shambles but rather as two butchers stalls located near St Crux.

This is fitting because the road between King’s Square as towards Pavement was once known as Marketshire owing to its stalls.

What is famous about the Shambles are it’s almost touching buildings that lean towards each other above you, narrowing the gap where you can see the sky. You might just assume that the buildings are old and have come to lean forward. In actual fact, they were especially designed this way to protect the meat being sold below from direct sunlight, one of the reasons why the street is narrow. At that time, there was no refrigeration and the meat was sold as fresh as it came. The livestock was slaughtered close to the Shambles and blood would drain down the course of the street, perhaps prompting the plagues in Tudor times. The livestock came from the cattle market which at the time was in the Walmgate area. In fact, livestock would even graze on the earthworks of the city walls in this location. However, as the Shambles was once officially known as Haymongergate, this donates that the livestock may have also been fed with hay, perhaps in the winter months.

You will notice the large window sills which are also quite low that acted as shelves in which the butchers would use to sell their meat. Around 1240, the street was named Haymongergate but by 1394 it had been renamed to Neldergate owing to the bones being crafted into needles at the time. By 1426, it was renamed once again to the Great Flesh Shambles and these days it has been abbreviated to simply The Shambles.

The wooden shelves were known as fleshamels which is an anglo Saxon word and you might want to look out for the hooks as some still remain. The buildings along this street date back between the 14th century to the 17th.


The Shambles Market

York’s Historic Streets Part One


The Shambles Market is situated behind The Shambles and would have been the location were livestock was slaughtered, behind the butchers premises. Today it is a daily market but originally the market was held in St Sampson’s Square and Parliament Street until 1955. At that time, the market was significantly reduced where the market on Parliament Street only traded on a Saturday and only a few stalls functioned on St Sampson’s Square. This was until a newly cleared area between Newgate, Jubbergate and The Shambles became the existing location for the daily market which is extraordinary to visit. It is not just about fruit and vegetables, but it retails a much wider range of goods and edible products. You will also notice a narrow brick building that retails meat and fish.


Parliament Street

York’s Historic Streets Part One


In the months leading up to Christmas as well as other special markets you may find stalls and independent eateries upon this broad street, and perhaps even amusements for both adults and children. However, this broad street was not always so open as it is today. Parliament Street used to consist of buildings rather than an open space until the 19th century. As the markets were getting more cluttered, a new area was required. In 1834, the buildings were demolished to open an area for a new market which is why we see this broad street today. The street is known for its mainstream banks, high street retailers and eateries.


St Sampson’s Square

York’s Historic Streets Part One


In the 12th century St Sampson’s Square was originally known as Arkiltofts owing to Arnketil who was a leading figure in the day. In 1130, it was owned by the royal larderer who took charge of the sale of meat in the area. By 1250, the size of the area was reduced as the buildings surrounding were constructed to form a square and was known as the Thursday Market.

Today you will discover the Roman Bath public house where you can see the remains of a Roman communal bath in the basement. Additionally, you will see Browns of York Department Store who are somewhat historic themselves as they have been trading for over 100 years and is still family run. It stands on the square but is officially situated on Davygate beside it.


Kings Square, Colliergate, Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate, Pavement

York’s Historic Streets Part One


At the northerly end of The Shambles is the small square known as King’s Square where Colliergate, Low Petergate, The Shambles, Goodramgate, Church Street and St Andrewgate meet! It is also the home of York Chocolate Story which reveals the history of one of York’s main employers during the day. However, back in Roman times it was where the south-eastern gate of Eboracum was situated built in 108. A surviving inscription stone resides in the Yorkshire Museum. By the 10th century, it is believed it became the site of the Royal Palace fo Danelaw and by 1430 the west side was a site for a row of mercer or textile shops. Until 1937, the Holy Trinity Kings Court church reside here but was demolished.

The name Colliergate first appeared around 1303 owing to some local charcoal merchants but the street originally fell just outside the original Roman Walls for the fortress. With the demolishing of the church in 1937, the northern end is wider and the square enlarged.

Today you will find Barnitts which was established in 1896 and has reside here ever since. The property was purchased from an ironmonger by George Barnitt who was an agricultural ironmonger himself but today Barnitts retail all manner of hardware as well as home and garden items.

Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate was first mentioned in 1505 but as Whitnourwhatnourgate. It later became Whitney Whatneygate. It is the shortest street in York and the main building you see is that of St Crux Parish room which was part of a large Church known as St Crux. It once had other properties in front of the existing but these were demolished around 1750 as was the church in 1887.

Herbert’s House

At the foot of The Shambles you will notice a wooden framed building across the road. Up until recently this was a shoe shop. It originally was occupied by Sir Thomas Herbert who was a personal assistant to King Charles I and even attended him at his execution in the capital city. After the execution, Sir Thomas Herbert was now jobless and he retired back to York. It is thought that King Charles gave him his pocket watch. This is of particular interest because it is the first recorded account of a watch being given as a retirement gift! It was constructed around 1620 with John Jacques as the architect.

Pavement was one of the first streets to have a paved way in York and it’s earliest mention is around 1378 and was an important commercial area in the Anglo-Scandinavian period. It once contained a market cross which was sadly demolished in 1813.


Low and High Petergate

York’s Historic Streets Part One


Many people walk upon Petergate not really realising how important the street has been throughout history. It was the marking line of the via principalis of the Roman fortress between two gateways. A Roman headquarters existed around the site of York Minster obviously before it was constructed.

You’ll notice that many of the streets end with gate as a suffix. This is because ‘gate’ is an Anglo-Saxon word for street. Peter comes from York Minster’s full name of Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter in York, hence Petergate. High and Low Petergate came about owing to Sir Francis Drake in 1736, but never became well used until around 1800. High Petergate is the portion between Bootham Bar and York Minster and Low Petergate takes you the rest of the way.

There are many fine buildings along Petergate including the Italian Restaurant which was once York College for Girls but today they are occupied by independent retailers as well as popular eateries. One notable building is the Guy Fawkes Inn which was a dwelling place for Guy Fawkes who attempted to destroy the Houses of Parliament with 36 barrels of gunpowder back in 1605. He was born possibly on Stonegate in 1570 but was baptised in St Michael le Belfrey church opposite the Inn. He was hanged for his attempt in 1606 and of course fireworks and bonfires are lit every year on November 5th.


Stonegate

York’s Historic Streets Part One


Many walk along Stonegate without realising that this is one of the oldest streets in York. Aforementioned, a Roman Headquarters existed in the Minster area and Stonegate was the via principalis, or the main street that runs in front of the headquarters. It ran to the main gate under St Helen’s Square and towards the River Ouse where an old Roman Bridge once existed. Of course, the Roman Fort was walled and you’ll see remnants of the wall in Museum Gardens along with the Multangular Tower. In Norman times, stone would have been delivered at the river and taken along Stonegate to construct the Minster.

The first recording of Stonegate is from around 1118 and as ‘gate’ means street in Norse, it stands to reason that the stone paving would have given the street its name. Many of the properties near the Minster housed those belonging to the church. However, one of the most notable buildings is Mulberry Hall which dates back to 1372. It was originally two storey but a third storey was added in 1434.


St Helen’s Square

York’s Historic Streets Part One


St Helen’s Square is where the main gate or porta praetorian would have appeared along the original Roman walls. You will find a plaque on a wall in the area. Until the 18th century, the square was a burial site belonging to St Helen’s Church. Today you will find the famous and equally historic Betty’s Tea Rooms that began with a Swiss baker coming to England to start his own business in 1907.

You will also notice the Mansion House which is the grand dwelling place for the Mayor of York. It was built from 1725 until 1732 and took this long because funds to construct the house ran dry quickly. The design had no real architect as such because the design was taken from the Gibbs Book of Architecture, and it was not uncommon for designs to come from so called pattern books during the day.


Coney Street

York’s Historic Streets Part One


Coney Street is one of York’s main shopping streets but its first mention was back in 1150 when it was called ‘Cuningstrete’ which was the King’s Street, and as the word street is used, this denotes it originates from the Anglican period. What is now Lendal was considered as Old Coney Street and from St Helen’s Square to Ousegate was known as Coney Street and Little Coney Street which is now Spurriergate. In the 12th century it was renown for its Jewish population.

Running parallel with the River Ouse it provides access to the City Screen Cinema and Basement venue as wall as the Sky Walk where you will find some popular bars beside the river. You can also receive some great views of both Ouse Bridge as well as Lendal Bridge the opposite direction.

Just next door to this access, if not alongside, stands St Martin Le Grand Church which has an impressive overhanging clock. The church was constructed in the 11th century but the tower was added in the 15th century.

The Clock however, wasn’t added until 1856 with its carved figure of the Little Admiral which dates earlier in 1778.


Castlegate

York’s Historic Streets Part One


Castlegate is the original road to the castle but in Roman times it ran parallel with the River Ouse until it reached the gateway in what is now St Helen’s Square. Therefore, many visitors may not realise they are walking along a Roman road.

It also has some notable structures including York’s tallest spire at St Mary’s Church and is grade I listed. The church dates back to the 11th century but the current structure is actually from the 15th. In 1867 and 1870, the church was restored once again with the east window and roof.

Castlegate also has another notable attraction that being of Fairfax House which is a Georgian Town House open to the public. It was more than likely built in the 1740’s but was later purchased by Charles Gregory Fairfax, the 9th Viscount Fairfax of Emly, in 1759 for £2000. At this time, the interior was remodelled by John Carr who was an architect of the day. It was purchased for restoration by the York Civic Trust in the 1980’s.

Of course, as you’d expect Castlegate is the street that leads up to the remaining castle. Clifford’s Tower is sadly all that remains of two of York’s Castles that sat opposite each other with the Ouse in between. However, opposite Clifford’s Tower resides the York eye when up until 1974 four districts intersect here. It is also situated where the much of the castle complex once stood. Today, the Castle Museum and the Crown Court remain.


Clifford Street

York’s Historic Streets Part One


Clifford Street is a busy street that links Ousegate with the castle area and runs parallel with Castlegate but wasn’t the original street to the castle. You will find York Dungeon on this street which building was the Victorian Institute of Learning back in its day. The York Dungeon began in 1986 and consists of some gruelling story telling through live shows featuring the lives of Dick Turpin and Guy Fawkes gunpowder plot on parliament as well as others.

Also of a theatrical nature, the Grand Opera House resides just next door which is a grade II listed theatre by English Heritage. In actual fact, the building was never intended to be a theatre but a Corn Exchange as well as an accompanying warehouse next door and built in 1868. The two buildings were merged and by 1902 it opened with the performance of Little Red Hiding Hood which was a pantomime with Florrie Forde. It also showed films between 1906 to 1916 on a regular basis. In 1989 it opened as the Grand Opera House with a performance of Macbeth.


In part two we will be looking into further streets in York and finding out more about them including Aldwark, Micklegate, Bootham, Blossom Street, Finkle Street and more. Until next time!


Further Episodes of York in Focus

Museum Gardens

York Walls

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