York

Picture Credit: Alison Howland (IFY Community)


The ancient walled city of York is located in North Yorkshire, at the meeting point of two rivers, The Ouse and The Foss. In 2011 it had a population of 154,000 people. It became well known for several industries including, trains and chocolate.

Nowadays York is also known for being one of the major tourist destinations in the county because of its many historical landmarks and attractions, such as The Shambles, Clifford’s Tower and The Railway Museum, which reflect different points in its past.

York Minster took centuries to build. Picture credit: Steve Plows (IFY Community)
York Minster took centuries to build. Picture credit: Steve Plows (IFY Community)

 

York Minster was built from 1220, to 1472, taking several generations of builders and stonemasons to complete this impressive structure. It is the second largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe and is the seat of the Archbishop of York, the second highest office in the Church of England. It is noted for its stained glass, most notably in the Eastern window, which has the largest expanse of medieval glass in the world. Others, such as the rose window in the south transept, which commemorates the union between the Houses of Lancaster and York, plus the five sisters window, which dates back to around 1260 are important features of the building. The Central tower makes the minster 60m high and can be seen for miles around, dominating the York skyline. A planning byelaw means that no new structure in York can be taller than the Minster.

The building has had a chequered history, including the looting of its treasures around the time of The Reformation and the destruction of Catholic items during the reign of Elizabeth I.

It has also been set on fire twice in 1829 and 1840, while in more recent times was struck by lightning during a thunderstorm in 1984.

York’s ancient walls were originally built to protect the city from invasion and replaced the old Roman fortifications, which lay underneath them to this day, buried by the Vikings. The medieval walls, seen today are the oldest and most complete fortifications in the country and unlike other cities were preserved once they had become redundant by the 18th Century.

The four bars and surrounding walls were constructed from 1250-1315. The four main entrances are named Micklegate, Bootham, Walmgate and Monkgate and would be the first port of call for all those who wished to enter the city. Famously until 1754 the severed heads of rebels and traitors were hung above Micklegate Bar. By this time the walls had fallen into disrepair as their use as defences had became redundant. They were renovated during the Victorian period for pleasure purposes and are still important features of the York tourist trail to this day, offering fantastic views of the minster and the city centre.

The shambles is a fine example of an old medieval street. Picture credit Maurice
The Shambles is a fine example of an old medieval street. Picture credit Maurice Fletcher (IFY Community)

 

The Shambles, which date back to the 14th Century, is a famous narrow street, which was home to the city’s butchers until the last century. It has many features that still remain today, such as meat hooks, large window sills to display meat and a runnel, where all the waste would be thrown into. This scene of mess and chaos is where the term “a shambles” derives from. The timber framed properties, which lean towards eachother are one of the last few examples of an original medieval street in the country.

Halfway down the shambles is a shrine to Margaret Clitherow, the “Pearl of York.” She was born in 1556 and aged fifteen married York butcher, John Clitherow, whom she lived with on the famous street. In 1774 Margaret converted to Catholicism and used to hold secret masses in her home, which at that time was against the law. In 1586 she was arrested and executed for “harbouring catholic priests.” Her life and martyrdom is commemorated at the shrine, which is near to where she was executed by being crushed to death.

The Yorvik Viking museum is the result of a five-year archaeological dig conducted in the Coppergate area of the city from 1975-81. During this period the remains of an ancient Viking street were found preserved beneath the ground. This astonishing discovery which uncovered houses, workshops and over 20,000 other interesting objects was turned into a museum and opened in 1984.

Since then the attraction has been re-developed and visitors can find out what it was like to live in Viking York. The discoveries made during the dig are on display, along with audio- visual commentary on how the Vikings came to settle in the area, their influence on society and demise in the 10th Century.At the time of writing this museum is sadly closed due to the effects of the Boxing Day 2015 flooding, but is set to re-open in early 2017.

Overlooking Coppergate is Clifford’s tower, the keep of the old York Castle, which was built by the Normans to defend the city and keep order over the native population. The tower was completed in 1272 to update the castle’s defences and was latterly used to keep prisoners in until 1929. It sits prominently on a mound overlooking the two rivers and the rest of Old York. Visitors can ascend the steps up to the tower and explore the long history of the site.

In the buildings below Clifford’s Tower is The Castle Museum. This was founded by Dr John Kirk in 1938 and explores life in York through the last few centuries. Its principle feature is a re-created Victorian Street which was extended in 2012, a large collection of toys, and displays of period rooms, such as a 17th Century dining room plus a Victorian parlour. Recently a display about life in a prison, based in the building’s former cells has been added to the attraction.

Exhibits at the York Railway museum. Picture credit: Chrsi McKenna wikipedia GNU Document licence.
Exhibits at the York Railway museum. Picture credit: Chris McKenna wikipedia GNU Document licence.

 

The York Railway museum is home to one of the largest national collections of trains in the country. It opened in 1975 and charts the history of rail in Yorkshire, showing photographs, artwork and vehicles used from the heyday of train travel in the 19th Century to the present day. Its main attraction is The Flying Scotsman, which is being restored by the museum. It was built in 1923 and became the first locomotive to reach 100mph, while travelling from London to Edinburgh.

The attraction features another great engine, “The Mallard,” which also broke the speed record for a train of its kind. There is also a replica of Stephenson’s rocket and a Japanese bullet train, the “Shinkansen.”

Nearby, at the side of the River Ouse is the Yorkshire museum and gardens. This was originally opened in 1830 and was one of the first purpose built museums in the country. It was re-opened in 2010 and provides five galleries exploring the history of Yorkshire from ancient times through to the present day. It boasts one of the finest archaeological collections in the country and displays several local discoveries, including the Anglo-Saxon “York Helmet,” found by a builder in 1982 lying under Coppergate and The Cawood sword, discovered in the late 19th Century and a fine example of a Viking weapon used during their invasion.

The attraction also has an extensive natural history section, which contains 2,000 specimens, including the reconstructions of an extinct dinosaur and bird, The Great Auk. There is also a geology display, which shows the formation of the Yorkshire landscape and examples of rocks and fossils found throughout the area. In the centre of the museum gardens is the York Observatory, which was built in 1832 and is the oldest working one in Yorkshire.

York Dungeon was opened in 1986, the first one of the chain outside London. The tours, which start every seven minutes includes various actor-led shows, depicting horror-themed events through time, such as outbreaks of plague, the gunpowder plot and the Roman invasion.

Just off the Shambles in King’s Square is one of the city’s newest attractions, the York Chocolate story. This examines the history of confectionary making in the area and has interactive displays, which introduces the main characters who owned the chocolate factories that were once a major part of the city’s economy. There are demonstrations from the museum’s in-house chocolateers and plenty of opportunities to sample their products!

There are a whole host of other tourist attractions based in and around York to suit most interests, including The York Maze, The farming museum, Bishopthorpe Palace, home of the Archbishop, and the Yorkshire Air Museum, based at nearby Elvington.

To help accommodate the large influx of tourists to York the local council have developed a unique transport plan, aimed at easing congestion on the narrow medieval streets in the city centre to make it a more pleasant experience for tourists.

The city is served by five park and ride stations, located around its edge to enable out of town visitors to complete their journeys into the centre on public transport, with buses leaving every ten minutes. At the time of writing two new, extended park and ride schemes have opened in the city at Poppleton and Askham Bar.

Meanwhile York is well connected by road to other Yorkshire cities, such as the A64 dual carriageway to Leeds and Scarborough, the A19 towards Selby and Middlesbrough plus the A1079 to Hull. In 1987 the A1237, York’s outer ring-road was opened to bypass the city centre.

The University of York is an important learning and research centre. Picture credit:
The University of York is an important learning and research centre. Picture credit:Alexander P Kapp wikipedia creative commons.

 

York houses two higher education establishments and a thriving student population based at the University of York, opened in 1963 and York St John, which started as a teacher training college in the 19th Century and was given University status in 2006. York College also provides a range of higher education courses for students post sixteen.

York has a diverse range of shops and commercial activities. Within the walls there are a multitude of high street names, independent retailers, gift shops and cafés, aimed at the tourist’s wallet. One of the most famous is Betty’s tea rooms, which was established here in 1937.

Near Clifford’s tower, the Coppergate shopping centre was established in 1984 and houses shops including Boots, Marks & Spencer and Miss Selfridge. However it is outside the city walls where the major recent commercial developments have been made. The arrival of the ring road in the late 80s saw three major out of town shopping centres develop, Clifton Moor, Monks Cross and York designer outlet, the latter of which opened in 1998. Newgate market, which lies between The Shambles and Parliament Street, has over 100 stalls and been present since medieval times.

York is noted for its vibrant live music scene with two venues, virtually next door to each other, Fibbers and The Duchess, doing battle to attract some of the top live acts in the country. Other notable nightspots include Club Salvation, Flares and Popworld. It is claimed that York has the most number of pubs per ratio of population and there are many famous old hostelries in the city, such as The Ye Olde Starre Inn on Stonegate, which dates back to 1644 and The Golden Fleece, one of the most haunted pubs in Yorkshire.

York has also acquired a very rich culture and is served by two major theatres. Firstly the Theatre Royal, which opened in 1744 and is situated on the site of the old St Leonard’s medieval hospital. Its program has an emphasis on plays, aimed at a variety of audiences. It also has a thriving youth theatre with workshops and classes held throughout the year.

Secondly The York Grand Opera House was opened in 1902 and stages a variety of traditional plays, opera, ballet and comedy shows.

The York Barbican is also an important live entertainment venue. Built in 1980, as a swimming pool it was extended in 1989 to include a sports hall and bar facilities. However the Barbican closed in the early 2000s, before being bought and re-opened in 2011. The venue now hosts a range of concerts, comedy shows and sporting events, including the UK Snooker Championships.

The York Mystery plays have been long established in the city since medieval times, when they were performed on waggons in the street to celebrate the festival of Corpus Christi. After the reformation of the mid-1500s this Catholic celebration was abolished by the state and in 1569 the York mystery plays ceased to exist. The tradition was revived some 400-years later in 1951 and performed on a fixed stage in the Museum Gardens. Some of these early productions featured a young amateur actress called Judi Dench. Nowadays the Mystery plays have returned to their roots, with this year’s performances being staged on waggons at various locations throughout the city during July.

Unique to York is the abundance of street performers, a tradition which has carried on for decades. They can be found on King’s square, where The Clash once famously busked in 1985, and on nearby Parliament Street. This large, pedestrianised area of York is also home to the annual food and drink festival in September, while in the following month the whole City Centre is lit up by the Illuminating York event, which show light displays on many of the city’s landmarks.

The depth of history associated with York has meant that it has become synonymous with many ghostly goings on and has gained a reputation for being one of the most haunted cities in the world. Ghost stories of Roman soldiers, a starving child looking mournfully out of a house during an outbreak of the plague and a Victorian child who fell to her death in Stonegate are told during nightly ghost walks around the city centre.

The Knavesmire at York Races is an important racecourse and once hosted Royal Ascot. Picture credit: Chris Barnes (IFY Community)
The Knavesmire at York Races is an important racecourse and once hosted Royal Ascot. Picture credit: Chris Barnes (IFY Community)

 

Another well-known feature of York is the award-winning Knavesmire racecourse, which dates back to the 18th Century. It lays to the south-west of the city and hosts the Ebor festival every August. In 2005 it held Royal Ascot, while the famous meeting’s usual venue was closed for redevelopment.

York City FC, nicknamed The Minstermen is a historic football club who currently play their home games at Bootham Crescent. They famously beat Manchester United 3-0 at Old Trafford in 1995-6 League Cup, which remains one of the best results in the club’s history. Rugby League also has a presence, in the shape of The York City Knights, who currently play at The Huntington Stadium.

At the time of writing a new community stadium is being built to accommodate both the football and rugby league clubs, as well as provide extra sporting facilities for the people of York. The River Ouse is home to York Rowing club, a popular sport amongst the city’s student population.

York is a very historic and beautiful city, enjoyed by both its residents and visitors from all over the world.


The first permanent settlers in the York area were the indigenous Brigantes tribe, who ruled large parts of the North. In AD71 the Roman invasion saw the legions sail across the Humber from Lincoln and stop at the confluence of the two rivers. They eventually took over the native population and set up one of the most important settlements in Britain called Eboracum.

To defend this new town a fort was built, which still exists underneath the current site of the Minster. York’s prominence in Roman circles increased when in AD306 Constantine The Great was crowned emperor here after the death of his father during a visit to the settlement, which already was one of the principal cities in the Roman Empire.

Par of the original Roman Walls are still in evidence around the city. Picture credit: Kaly99 wikipedia creative commons.
Part of the original Roman Walls are still in evidence around the city. Picture credit: Kaly99 wikipedia creative commons.

 

After the Romans left in the early fifth century York became the chief city in the new Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria and renamed Eoforwic.

In 866, the place was invaded again, this time by the Vikings, who established it as a major river port and capital of their Scandinavian empire because of its links to The North Sea. The city was renamed “Yorvik” and occupied until 954 when the Vikings, including ruler, Eric Bloodaxe, were driven out of the city by King Edred during his attempts to unify the whole of Britain.

The Norman invasion also had a profound effect on the city. Two years after the battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror travelled north to quash rebellions against his rule, which resulted in the construction of York Castle to re-enforce his authority. It has been used for many purposes down the centuries including a prison, place for public executions and in the Royalist defence during the Civil War. The ruin of the castle’s keep, Clifford’s Tower still stands on top of its motte to this day.

Clifford's Tower, The keep of the old York Castle is still there after many centuries. Picture credit:

Medieval times brought more wealth and history to York. Evidence of this can be found with the construction of York Minster. Work began in 1220, but it was not until 1472 that the entire building was declared complete.

During the renaissance period York provided two of the most interesting characters in British History. Firstly, Richard III, who is alleged to have ordered the murder of the two princes at The Tower of London in 1483 and was defeated two years later in The War of the Roses by the future Henry VII. His body was discovered in a Leicester Car Park in 2012, but has been re-buried in that city’s cathedral, despite claims that the body should return home to York. Another famous resident was Guy Fawkes, who was part of the foiled gunpowder plot to kill King James I on November 5th 1605 and is commemorated throughout the country on bonfire night.

Victorian York saw the growth of the railways and engineering as a major employer in the city. Entrepreneur George Hudson first brought trains to York in 1839 and due to its location, halfway between London and Edinburgh the city became a very important stop on Britain’s rail network. It also housed the headquarters of the North Eastern Railway and at its height employed over 5,500 people. When the present station was built in 1877 it was the largest in the world.

The now derelict Terry's factory in York is a symbol of the city's chocolate heritage. Picture credit: wikipedia public domain.
The now derelict Terry’s factory in York is a symbol of the city’s chocolate heritage. Picture credit: wikipedia public domain.

 

By the turn of the Twentieth Century York had a wealth of confectionary factories, including Rowntree’s, later to be bought by Nestle in 1988 and Terry’s, which made its last chocolate orange in the city around 2005.

Modern times have seen the whole city’s policy dedicated to tourism. The walls, which have existed in York since Medieval Times were further restored, while the building of its museums in the latter half of the 20th Century has further increased the influx of tourists to the city. York’s position on two rivers has played an important part in its history. In 1997 the last commercial boat sailed up the River Foss to deliver ink for the city’s local paper, The York Press (formerly the York Evening Press). The two rivers were widely used until then for carrying freight to the port of Hull, but are now used is mainly for leisure. The Foss is non-navigable outside the walls and the Ouse, previously a tidal river is controlled by a lock at nearby Naburn. They have also been the cause of several floods in both the year 2000 and in 2015 when large parts of the city were submerged once again during the Boxing Day floods.

The future of York is a balancing act. While the authorities strive to protect its past they are also attempting to move the city forward with the times. Evidence of this is the provision of new retail and service facilities out of town, such as the new community stadium. These future developments seek to complement the history located within its walls, thus attempting to keep both visitors and residents happy at the same time.




There is archaeological evidence to say that Mesolithic people lived in the York region between 8000 and 7000 BC.

York was founded in the year 71 by the Romans following their victory over the Celtic tribe of the Brigantes They named the city Eboracum and it became the capital of Britannia Inferior a Roman province.

York was later to become the capital of the Kingdom of Northumbria and of Jorvik. The word York derives from the Danish , Jorvik in the 9th century AD which eventually became the word York. In the middle ages York was rendered as Yerk and Yourke in the 16th and Yarke in the 17th.

The Roman Emperors Hadrian, Septimus Severus and Constantius I all held court in York. When Septimus Severus was Emperor he proclaimed York the capital of Britannia Inferior. Constantius I was in the city when he died in 306 AD and his son, Constantine The Great was proclaimed Emperor by his soldiers.

In 866AD Viking raiders captured York. Jorvik became a major river port and was an integral part of Viking trade routes throughout Europe. Eric Bloodaxe was the last Viking ruler of Jorvik, he was defeated in 954 by King Edred.

Two years after the Norman conquest of England in 1066 the citizens of York rebelled against Norman rule. The rebellion was put down but York suffered devastation during Williams Harry of the North campaign.
The first stone Minster was destroyed by fire during the uprising and the Normans decided to build the new Minster on the same site. The building was started by Archbishop Thomas in 1080.
1190 saw the infamous massacre of the Jews. It is said that up to 500 men women and children were slaughtered.

York was a major wool trading centre in the middle ages and became the capital of the ecclesiastical province of the Church of England.

York’s walls are three miles long and this makes them the longest walls in England. The area inside the walls is over 250 acres.

Guido Fawkes (Guy Fawkes) was born and educated in York. He was a member of the infamous Gunpowder Plot that attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament and King James I. Its aim was to rid the country of Protestant rule. The plot failed of course and Guy Fawkes, along with many of his conspirators , was executed at Westminster. The intention was to Hang, Draw and Quarter Fawkes but he managed to jump from the gallows and break his neck so avoided the gruesome agonies of Drawing and Quartering.

York Minster is York’s Cathedral and it is the Largest Gothic Cathedral in Europe. It is famous for its Great East Window which covers over 2,000 square feet and it is the largest example of medieval glass in the world.

The Shambles is often said to be the best preserved medieval street in Europe. It was once known as The Great Flesh Shambles and the name refers to the original trade in the street. Butchers used to display their meat on shelves in the street. It is now a street of souvenir shops, eateries, a bookshop and a bakery. All the butcher shops have long since disappeared but some shops on the street still have meat-hooks hanging outside.

York is home to The Castle Museum and the Museum Gardens. There are also many historic features and buildings. The Jorvik museum, The York Art Gallery and the Richard III museum are all worth a visit.

York is also home to the National Railway Museum. There are a vast collection of locomotives. In the collection are the famous locomotives The Flying Scotsman and the world’s fastest steam locomotive, The Mallard.

Also situated in York and open to the public is a preserved Cold War Bunker. It was previously the headquarters of No 20 Group, Royal Observer Corps.

York’s Theatre Royal, established in 1744, is a world famous theatre. The Grand Opera House and the Joseph Rowntree Theatre are also very popular establishments.

1744 saw the establishment of York racecourse. In August every year it holds the three day Ebor Festival which includes the famous Ebor Handicap race which was established in 1843.

York is twinned with Munster in Germany and Dijon in France.

There are many famous people associated with York. These include, Guy Fawkes, Ivar the Boneless (a Viking Chieftain), Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree (Choclatier and reformer), Joseph Rowntree (Choclatier and Philanthropist).

Many actors and performers come from York, including Judi Dench and Frankie Howerd. Writers from York include W. H. Auden, Lawrence Sterne and Justin Hill.
Frank Dobson, the famous Labour politician is from York.
Steve McClaren the former England Manager is from York