The City of York England
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York’s Historic Streets

todoinyork.com City of York England

York's Historic Streets

York's historic streets are world famous and some have even made it onto the big screen. The Shambles, Petergate, Micklegate, Stonegate, Castlegate and Coney Street have all played a role in York's dramatic history.

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The Shambles

The Shambles is not unique to York as it simply means a street of butchers. However, it is somewhat unique in its design. At the time when there was no refrigeration, the streets were narrow with the buildings almost touching above for a reason. This was to prevent the direct sunlight spoiling the fresh meat being sold below. The grazing animals came from the Walmgate area and were slaughtered around the back of the Shambles. You can still see butcher hooks on some of the window frames today.

The Shambles York
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Micklegate

Owing to its south facing position, Micklegate was the Royal entrance to the City of York. Monarchs would have to ask the Lord Mayor's permission to enter the city. Only two monarchs failed to follow this tradition, Queen Victoria and Henry VIII. The name Mickegate means 'Great Street' denoting that it was the most important street into the City of York. The Mount and Blossom Street leading up to Micklegate follow the path of a Roman road.

Micklegate the Great Street
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High and Low Petergate

Low Petergate was a direct road to the Minster and it consisted of shops and stalls leading up to the cathedral for the passing trade. High Petergate is also the residence of Guy Fawkes who was born around the corner on Stonegate and was baptised at St Michael le Belfrey Church. Petergate marks the original Roman road through the portal dextra and portal sinistra gateways to the Roman fortress. Today it serves as a source for independent artisan retailers.

Low Petergate York
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Stonegate

Stonegate is one of the oldest streets in York in terms of its route as it overlies a Roman road that lead from the River Ouse to the headquarters in the area of where York Minister is situated today. It also passed a former Roman gateway in the St Helen's Square area. Stonegate comes from Stone Street, possible referring to the stone road that lead from the river. Building materials for York Minster was delivered on the River Ouse and taken along Stonegate.

Stonegate York
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Minster Gates

Minster Gates was one of the four locations that gates to York Minster once existed. It was also the site of the principal gate. The figure you find here refers to Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and learning. Noticing the books she is resting on, this denotes the book binding trade that exist in the area. Minster Gates is found intersecting Petergate and Stonegate, so it was an extension to Stonegate, the Roman route to the headquarters.

Minster Gates
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Parliament Street

Parliament Street was a market place between 1836 and 1955, although the market originally was located in St Sampson's Square. The market was opened daily although Saturday was considered the main market day. Additionally, there was originally a further row of buildings running parallel in the centre. These were demolished to make way for the market that was getting larger and more popular. Today it consists of high street retailers and banks as well as seasonal markets. It also hosts the yearly St Nicholas Christmas Market.

Parliament Street York
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Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate

Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate has the longest name for a street and yet ironically the street is the shortest in the City of York. Its first mention stems back to 1505 with the name 'Whitnourwhatnourgate'. At a later date it became known as Whitney-Whatneygate. It's uncertain what the name means but it's thought to denote 'neither one thing nor the other'. It was the area of a large church known as St Crux that was demolished in 1887. However, you can still see the surviving St Crux Parish Room today. There are remnants of the church's north wall at the rear of the buildings on this street and the church stretched out towards Coliergate and Kings Square. Today the street contains only three properties.

Whip Ma Whop Ma Gate
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Walmgate

Walmgate has had a turbulent and tumultuous history. In 1489, King Henry VII established further taxes in order to fuel the military effort against the French. This invoked a revolt (the Yorkshire Rebellion) when the 4th Earl of Northumberland, Henry Percy was sent to collect it. The would be tax payers considered Brittany too far away and of no interest to the people of York. A meeting with the Earl lead to his demise as violence ensued. It was also damaged during the Civil War in 1644 when York was under siege. Parliamentary soldiers dug a tunnel under the bar and this was filled up again the following year.

Walmgate York
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Coney Street

Coney Street was hugely populated by Jews in the 12th Century. The Aaron of York was regarded as the wealthiest Jew in England at the that time. By 1190, the Jews in York were massacred and their homes were burnt down owing to the expulsion of the Jews in England. However, the street originates from the Romans as it ran beside the wall of the fortress and the River Ouse at the opposite side. The original Roman bridge across the Ouse existed at the northern end of the street. Its first mention however was in 1150 in written records and it was noted as the most important street in York. It was known as 'Cuningstrete' meaning King Street. Coney Street and Spurriergate were the same street until it was later split into three parts.

Spurriergate and Coney Street
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Aldwark, Ogleforth & Chapter House Street

Aldway, Ogleforth and Chapter House Street are quite possibly the oldest streets in York as they were established by the Romans. Chapter House Street flows to the former Roman Headquarters in the Minster area from the Roman gateway that once existed near Monk Bar, the medieval gateway. Excavations have uncovered many artefacts that derive from Roman times.

Oglethorpe Looking Towards Chapter House Street York
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The Shambles

York’s Historic Streets

This quaint medieval street that we see today was literally a market place in its heyday. The Shambles is not a unique name or term given to this individual street as it simply means street of butchers. Most towns and cities had a ‘shambles’ during medieval times. The more fascinating aspect of this particular street is that it is very narrow with the upper storeys of the buildings almost touching above you. This is no flaw in construction but it was designed to be this way. The shade that the buildings cast protected the meat being sold below from direct sunlight. 

At the Kings Square end of The Shambles you will notice a plaque containing information about the street. Here we learn that the name Shambles originates from the word ‘shamel’ which refers to the stalls or in this case window ledges where the meat was displayed. The animals were grazed in the Walmgate area and eventually they were slaughtered in a yard behind The Shambles. 

It comes strongly recommended to seek out such plaques, many installed by the York Civic Trust. They give you a wealth of information about the location. 

Do not miss the butcher hooks that are still present on some of the buildings along The Shambles. One of the shops on this street also contains a so-called Priest Hole where Catholics would hide during a time they were persecuted. Bar Convent on Blossom Street was a secret convent and it is the oldest in the country. See if you can locate the Priest Hole down the Shambles.

The Shambles Market

York’s Historic Streets

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 when 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.

Micklegate

York’s Historic Streets

Micklegate is referring to “the Great Street” as it was used by monarchs to enter the city. This is owning to its south facing position. The street descends a hill and on a curve to the right, taking them across the River Ouse and into the city centre. The streets proceeding Micklegate, Blossom Street and The Mount approach from the south and were originally Roman roads. 

If you have followed our City Walls tour, you will know already that the gateway, Micklegate Bar, was the main entrance to the City of York and it was also known as traitors gate as the heads of those who rebelled were boiled in a kind of tar and hung upon the gateway. This even included the then Duke of York. 

You will also encounter a former all girls school, St Margeret’s School for Girls. Although the school came about in 1905, it eventually relocated to this building in 1912. It later closed in 1968. 

Cats, Lamps and Bricked Up Windows

York’s Historic Streets

Domestic cats are certainly not uncommon in York, many residents keep them as pets. However, you may notice black or white ornamental cats situated next to an external lamp on some of the buildings. These cats were intended to be lucky charms but they eventually became a hallmark of a particular York architect. There are around 20 of these in the City of York including Walmgate Bar.

Some of the windows you will notice have been bricked up, particularly on upper storeys. This is owing to a Georgian window tax, paying tax on the amount of windows a property has. So to be frugal, some Georgians bricked up some of their windows in order to save money. It is thought it’s where the phrase ‘daylight robbery’ derives from.

Ensure that you look out for these and they are a reminder to look up and down when visiting the City of York. Not everything is conveniently at eye level!

High and Low Petergate

York’s Historic Streets

Petergate creates a great deal of interest for visitors to the City of York as they contain lots of charming artisan independent retailers. Back in medieval times however, Low Petergate was packed with stalls and shops leading up to York Minster. 

This is perhaps a very old street reaching back as far as Roman times when it stretched between two gateways, porta dextra and porta sinistra. The Roman route would have matched that of Petergate. Just underneath Bootham Bar, are the remains of a Roman gateway. 

On Petergate, opposite the Minster, you will see the home of Guy Fawkes that is now an inn. 

Parliament Street

York’s Historic Streets

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

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

York’s Historic Streets

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 that 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

York’s Historic Streets

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.

Pavement

York’s Historic Streets

At the foot of The Shambles you will notice a wooden framed building across the road. Up until recently this was a shoe shop but is now York Gin. 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.

Stonegate

York’s Historic Streets

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 at the site of 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

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.

What is currently Harkers Bar, you will see a plaque pertaining to a former Roman gateway. The route of the original Roman wall ran the course of Stonegate and St Helen’s Square and lead to the River Ouse.

You will also see the current St Helen’s Church with a lantern tower very similar to that of All Saint’s Church in the Coppergate area. The lantern tower that was lit at night acted as guide into the City of York.

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. Having said this, it is believed that William Etty may have played a hand in its design. 

Coney Street and Spurriergate

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

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. 

Castlegate House sits opposite Fairfax House and was constructed around 1759 for the Recorder of York (Peter Johnson). In 1920, a Masonic Temple was added. Similar to Fairfax House it was designed by architect John Carr.

 

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 flowing in between. However, opposite Clifford’s Tower resides the York eye when up until 1974 four districts intersect here. It is also situated where much of the castle complex once stood. Today, the Castle Museum and the Crown Court remain. 

Clifford Street

York’s Historic Streets

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. 

Aldwark, Oglethorpe & Chapter House Street

York’s Historic Streets

Don’t be deceived by appearances, Aldwark is one of York’s oldest streets and thus a noteworthy one. In fact, even the name Aldwark predates the Vikings and is completely old-English. In fact it’s meaning is fortification and pertains to the original Roman wall that protected the fortress. The most northern section of the street would have been inside the walls and would be linked to Ogleforth at the opposite side of Monk Gate and links to Chapter House Street. Chapter House Street would have been the site of the Roman fortress via decumana and a Roman gateway existed just a little further down the walls from Monk Bar, facing Chapter House Street.

 

In the 1970’s owing to regeneration, much excavation was carried out and the remains of a Roman barracks was discovered in numbers 1-5 along Aldwark. Also a lead pipe was discovered in the area which may denote that the centurion quarters had a water supply, perhaps deriving from the Foss nearby. In addition a Roman burial was also discovered but it is not only Roman activity that has been unearthed here as Anglican and Anglo-Scandinavian activity has also been uncovered in the form of pits cut into the Roman mosaics as well as pottery, coins and the like. 

 

Bootham

York’s Historic Streets

On the White Horse Public House you will see a plaque that explains the word Bootham comes from a west Scandinavian word. Booth’s would imply that there were some extremely humble dwellings existed here including workshops for craftsmen and we also learn that the Bootham area was hotly disputed between the city and St Mary’s Abbey

Like Aldwark, Bootham is closely associated with the original Roman walls because it was the Roman’s approach road from the North and Forest of Galtres. Remains of a Roman gateway exists underneath Bootham Bar and the original Roman walls followed the existing walls in the area. Bootham itself would have met the Barbican such as what can be seen at Walmgate Bar, and archaeologists have located the path of the Roman road within the bar and outside it too. Sadly, the barbican at Bootham Bar was removed in 1832. 

 

Another notable feature upon Bootham is the abbey walls and towers. It made St Mary’s Abbey the largest walled abbey in the country and it came in handy on several occasions. They were constructed by the abbot after 1262 after a heated mob murdered some monks from the abbey.  Beside York Art Gallery on the right, you can follow the wall behind that takes you into Museum Gardens.

Davygate

York’s Historic Streets

Today, Davygate is renown for it’s high street shopping but don’t be fooled as this is a very historic street that has seen many changes throughout its history. In fact it could be described as the street between two squares, St Helen’s and St Sampson’s. Similar to Aldwark, excavations have uncovered what remains of a Roman fortress as well as the legionary barracks walls which lie underneath some of the buildings on the Betty’s Tea Rooms side. 

Obviously gate means street, but Davy comes from Davy Hall which had ties to David le Lardiner who was the King’s Larderer or someone who took charge of the larder. The larder consisted of venison from the Forest of Galtres as well as freshwater fish which derived from the Kings Fishpool, as William the Conqueror dammed up the River Foss to create an artificial lake. 

 

Davygate finished its course were it meets Stonegate yet the church yard of St Helen’s Church intervened. The church like All Saints Church nearby has a lantern tower which was lit at night to guide travellers to the city through the dense forestry. Blake Street that continues onward was established in 1730 when the Assembly Rooms was established. It was intended to allow better access for coaches to the new assembly rooms. 15 years later, Davy Hall was demolished of which area provided land for the new burial site as the old one was taken to provide access to Blake Street.  

Blossom Street & The Mount

York’s Historic Streets

Blossom Street and The Mount is also the path of a Roman road. In fact, Blossom Street is the site of a Roman cemetery. It was not uncommon for the Roman’s to lay their dead to rest on the side of the road, possible so that they could hear everyday life continuing. Blossom Street however, was originally known as Ploxwaingate which in todays terms is Ploughman Street. It has always been a residential area and the Rowntree family moved here in 1845. It is also the only area outside the city walls to survive the Siege of York.

 

In the Middle Ages it was also the site of a cattle market because at the time, a tax was charged inside the city walls so it was financially sound to hold it outside of the city walls. Only Blossom Street and Bootham are the only two districts built outside the city walls until 1800. As it is a vital street from the South, it contained many inns as a place to stay for travellers. A horse drawn tram operated here between Micklegate and the Mount which helped to establish the plan of the street. 

 

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