History tour of York

Hi everyone

So I have arrived in York! I'm due to start my 15 week costume making course on Monday which still feels a bit surreal to me, like I'm just here for the weekend and I'll wave goodbye and head home tomorrow. It's always the fear of the unknown that's the most scary part so I'm looking forward to getting started and getting to know everyone so the fun can begin. I know it's going to be intensive from day one so I thought I would arrive a few days early to get my bearings and explore the city. As my landlady alarmingly informs me, I won't have the time for sightseeing once the course starts! She has rented rooms to previous students so she has seen first hand the work that goes in and the late nights.

It's going to be a challenge I know, or perhaps I don't yet.. but hopefully it will be the best decision I could have made for myself. In fact I already know it is, if you have a dream and the opportunity to make it happen you have to go for it. The first step is scary but I know I would have had massive regrets if I didn't give it my best shot. Who knows where I will be this time next year and that's not a scary thought, it's empowering and exciting.  

I have really been looking forward to seeing more of this city, everything here has a story to tell and hundreds of years of history within it's walls. On my first day I decided to do a walking history tour and oh my god did I learn a lot. I only wish I had a better memory because there was so much information to take in! I was trying my hardest to stay focused being as it was freezing cold and my feet and hands were going numb and possibly part of my brain too, but I will try and recall the best bits in this post! I was armed with my camera so I managed to get a few shots as we walked. 

York city walls and york minster

The city walls guard the perimeter of the once much smaller city, you can walk the wall in about 2 hours passing the four bars (gatehouses) that still stand. We only walked a small section of it with views of the York minster (above left) 

Below: city map showing the walls and gatehouses

The walls were first built by the Romans in 71AD, the ninth legion set up a fortress and named it Eboracum (place of the yew tree's) After which a civilian settlement soon followed.

In 866AD York was invaded by the vikings who named the city Jorvic and the walls were given the addition of earth banks and timber Palisades. York became the capital of the viking held north while they continued to conquer the Anglo-saxon kingdoms of Britain. The palisade was later replaced in the 13th and 14th century with the medieval stone walls that stand today.

roman multangular tower

The multangular tower was originally one of two towers that looked down over the river. It is the best example of the old roman wall that stands. The lower half was built by the romans while the upper was built in the medieval period. 

the gatehouses

Above left: Monk bar Above right: Bootham bar

Monk bar

We visited two of the four gatehouses on the tour. Monk bar is home to the Richard III exhibition and the only working portcullis in the city. The third storey was added on Richard III's orders in 1484. 

Below you can see inside monk bar and the stairwell leading to the first floor, you may need to duck if you are tall! The stairwell is pretty much unchanged from the 13th century. 

The Richard III exhibition is small but definitely worth a visit, it also tells the story of the battles of Wakefield and Townton during the wars of the roses, so named as the bloodiest battle on English soil. The battle was fought by 50,000 men during a snowstorm that eventually after hours of fighting led to the victory of the Yorkists. 28,000 are said to have been slaughtered on the battlefield and as the Lancastrians were fleeing they were cut down mercilessly. The victorious Edward IV (Richards brother) made a state entry in London to become king of England. 

The battle of Townton

Painting by Graham Turner 

Painting by Graham Turner 

The exhibition includes examples in the of the weaponry used in the battle which gives you an idea of the brutality of the times as well as artefacts found on the site of the battle.

Below: Personal rings and badges found on the Yorkist line. Seeing personal items like this make me contemplate these men, not just as an army I read about in a book from hundreds of years ago but as real people, individuals with loved ones, hopes and dreams. It brings back the human element to the history.

Bootham bar

Bootham bar dates from the 13th century, apart from the archway which is 11th century. A later addition being a doorknocker added in 1501 specially for any visiting scotsmen to knock and gain entry into the city. To this day the law technically still stands that you can legally kill a scotsman within the city walls, providing you do so with a bow and arrow! 

Like Micklegate bar, bootham bar was sometimes used to display the heads of traitors, lovely!

st mary's abbey

A good example of a victim of Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries, these ruins are what is left of St Mary's abbey. Once one of the largest monastories in the north of England, it was established in 1088 as a Benedictine monastery. 

Fun fact coming up, Judi Dench once performed here as the Virgin Mary for the York mystery plays, her first professional role.

The shambles

The shambles! Known for it's preservation of medieval buildings and narrow lanes, there's something Harry Potter-esque about the place. No wonder as the street was an inspiration for Harry Potters Diagon alley set designers. 

Mentioned in the doomsday book of 1086, many of the buildings date back to the 14th and 15th centuries. Originally a street of butchers shops, the shops would have had benches that ran along the bases of the windows where the meat would be put on display. The benches were called shambles, hence the street name. The overhanging tops were designed to let little sunlight through and prevent spoiling of the meat. 

Some of the buildings still have shambles benches on the front and the hooks on the outside to hang the carcasses outside the shop.

Below: You can see the hooks on the left side 

our lady's row

Here stands the oldest row of buildings in York dating from 1316. The style of the overhanging jetties was common in medieval times because residence only payed tax on the area of the ground floor. The houses hide the holy trinity church from view as they were built on the original churchyard.

the kings manor

Kings manor was originally used to house the abbots of St Mary's abbey, after the abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII he instructed it become the seat of the council of the north. 

Henry VIII visited here in 1541 with his fifth wife Catherine Howard. It is said that during this royal progress she began her secret affair with Thomas Culpepper, one of the gentlemen of the kings privy chamber. A crime for which they were both beheaded in 1542. 


I hope you enjoyed hearing about some of the places I have visited over the last couple of days. There is so much more that I haven't included here but If I attempt it I will be writing this all day and the sun is shining outside, I'm going to get out there and do some more exploring!

I will be trying to post weekly on what I'll be up to on the course so I hope you can join  me again soon.

Michelle x