George is a story teller. He doesn’t just give you facts and figures, he gives you anecdotes. At first I was a bit restive, but after a while I got into the groove and I loved it. He has a real passion for the history of York and he loves sharing it. I took masses of photos to remind me of his stories and I’ll share some of them with you.
We started off by walking through some gardens at the back of King’s Manor in York. He said that the people of York are a bit quirky, a bit left of centre. The university were given permission to use this garden as an experimental one, to grow plants from all over the world and see how they did, but they had to publish their plans in the paper first to see if there were any objections. They decided to plant a fern garden. They published what they were wanting to do with all the ferns, but mentioned that there was a dead tree in the centre of the garden bed that had to be removed.
A flood of objections came in. “You can’t remove that tree! It’s been there forever!” “My husband proposed to me under that tree! It has to stay,” etc. So they solved the problem by pulling it up and then turning it upside down. Those are the roots you can see. Everyone was happy.
Here is the old Roman wall down the bottom, with the medieval one on the top. Can you see how it’s in a dip in the earth? It wasn’t always like that; we’re just standing on 2,000 odd years of rubbish.
See the coffins to the side? York has tons of Roman, Viking and Medieval artifacts, to the point where it has to be really special before it rates more than an uninterested yawn. The Romans used to do most of their burials along roads, because once the spirit of the dead person woke, they’d eat the chicken placed there with them, take the coins left on their eyes to pay the ferryman, then they’d move the massive slab of concrete or rock on top of them and start walking along the road to get to the afterworld.
Two coffins they found side by side were opened and found to contain two females. They each had a small casket at their feet, which was unusual. When opened, these caskets contained the most beautiful sandals. That tickled me. Can’t you imagine these two friends popping their cool sandals on, because you can’t turn up to the Underworld looking ill-dressed, and then walking down the road arm in arm together?
Here’s the remains of the monastery. After Henry VIII got rid of the monks, the townspeople were given permission to demolish the buildings and use the stone elsewhere, which they did with great gusto, as this particular manastery was very fat, rich and corrupt and they weren’t at all well-liked. The abbot’s house, which was turned into the King’s Manor as his seat of government in York, was built with a moat around it for added protection from the townspeople. The mystery is that this beautiful portion of the wall is still here today. Why did they stop taking these stones away? No-one knows. The university does quite a bit of open-air plays and uses this as the backdrop.
Then we went for a walk around the town. This sign was unrelated to it. I just saw it and liked it.
When the Victorians came along they decided to clean up certain parts of York. There was a street that was wall to wall brothels. Outrageous! So they got rid of them and then decided to change the name of the street. But changing the name of anything that’s been around for hundreds of years is hard. People just revert back to the familiar. So they decided to change just one vowel. Change the ‘a’ to an ‘o’ and you’ll have the original name of the street. 🙂
No visit to York is complete without a visit to the Shambles. It’s absolutely awesome. It was thronged wth people when we went on our walk, but later I went back because I’d noticed there was a wool shop there, (there’s a cowl in my future that’s going to be made with wool from the Shambles.. that’s my York souvenir) and there were fewer people in it. We were there about lunchtime during the walk.
George was standing here talking to us at the head of the street when I took this photo. Do you see how it’s fairly open and wide where we are, but then it narrows down as the buildings come out?
Apparently back in the olden days you paid property tax on how much land your place of business occupied. So those canny businessmen built their shops with a small-as-possible ground floor, then they’d add on a few extra inches on the second floor, then a few more on the third floor….
Here’s how close the buildings would’ve been all the way down the streets, not just in this one part. George said how the people who came to this part of town wore very wide-brimmed hats and long cloaks to protect themselves from chamber pots being thrown from the upper floors into the middle of the street. You can see from the photo that there wasn’t much room to dodge.
Here’s a shot of the middle of the street. You can get a better idea of the size of it two photos up. This would’ve been open sewage, just waiting for rain to come and wash it away. Now I know it rains a fair bit in England, (even in the middle of summer… ) but when you keep in mind that this is a butcher’s street, with shops with open shelves (no glass of course) lined with raw cuts of beef and mutton, with raw sewage literally a couple of feet away…. mmmm yummy.
This house is a shrine to Margaret Clitherow, the catholic saint. She was believed to have lived here when she was married. After the Church of England came in she took instruction and decided to become a Catholic, which was a big mistake. She taught kids in the catholic faith, hid priests and did all those sorts of things. When she was arrested she refused to recognise the authority of the court, arguing that it wasn’t a case of following the law, but of her following her own conscience. Of course this wasn’t listened to and she was sentenced to be pressed to death.
Unfortunately, after they bought this house and set up the shrine, it was discovered that she didn’t actually live in this house… it was few doors up. They held a meeting and decided that the catholics wouldn’t mind, so it was left as it is. I went inside and there’s an altar there, where people can pray, with a few things about her on the walls.
Someone lives at this address… notice the number? It’s not 1A or 1B…
After the walking tour ended I went to the most disappointing exhibition of Richard III at the York museum… I should’ve waited till Leicester… then asked some lovely people the way back to the Shambles to get some wool. My theory of always talk to people with a dog was proven right again… and just LOOK at the dog. It’s a sign, everyone!
She’s a 14-year-old mini wire-haired dachshund. She was so sweet. (I’ve emailed a breeder. It’s going to happen, everyone. It may take a while, but it WILL happen.)
Then I went to the cathedral. Minster. Whatever you call it. It was HUGE. We walked around the outside of it on the tour and it was extremely windy. As in gusty. The legend, according to George, was that the devil was chasing St Peter/Paul/someone around and around the cathedral. As Paul/Peter/whoever rounded a corner he jumped inside a little door and slammed it shut behind him. The devil didn’t see and so to this day he continues to race around and around the cathedral, believing that his quarry is only a few paces ahead of him. We can feel him rush by.
You might have noticed in some of the photos on this trip, I’m wearing a grey poncho. I bought this in China when I was in Hong Kong 2 years ago and it’s light but WARM. This is in the middle of summer, people! It was dragged out of my bag when we were at the cathedral. Minster. Whatever you call it.
York has many stained glass windows, and most of them are still the medieval glass, which is very unusual after Henry VIII and then the puritans. When we were at Worcester Cathedral the guide told us how Cromwell told his troops to stable their horses in the cathedral, use one of the chapels as their latrine and to shoot out every window with colour on it. The same orders were sent here, but apparently there was a commander in Cromwell’s army who, although he was a puritan, was still a boy from York and had grown up with the cathedral. He sent a message to Cromwell saying something along the lines of, “if you ruin the cathedral you’ll have to do it over me and my army.” Cromwell didn’t have power or available men enough to do that and so the cathedral’s glass was saved.
Look at this screen. It’s got the kings of England from the conqueror up to… I think Richard III. (Don’t quote me on that last line. I can’t remember and I’m trying to get this finished before I race down to a full English breakfast. Mmmmm… bacon…. where was I?)
Here’s William the Conqueror and his son.
Here’s the stone coffin of an archbishop. See the hole in it? That was so as the body decomposes the juices run out of it and into the ground. Apologies to anyone who may be eating right now.
Underneath the cathedral they found the remains of a Roman fortress. This is a glass floor.
Further along I saw this:
I love that a sewer that the Romans built still works!
Now look at this. I was underneath the cathedral going through a (frankly, not that interesting) exhibition, when I see this. What a country. Who has Tsar Nicholas’s cross and then just casually, almost as an afterthought, chucks it into a glass case underneath a bloody big church???
Here’s a close-up.
York doesn’t have any interesting tombs, but it does have a few interesting knick-knacks.
I love the devils’ faces.
I loved this statue. Because of course the Virgin Mary would’ve been educated.
This next one was really impressive.
It’s 1,000 years old!!!!! I was talking to the guide near it, who stops people from using flash photography, and she said the pages are made of vellum, not parchment, and that’s partly why it’s survived.
While I was there (and this happened at Westminster Cathedral too), everyone stopped to say the Lord’s Prayer. It was very moving. Look at where I happened to be sitting when it happened:
There were a couple of markers I found interesting. Here’s the first one.
This next one was fascinating, as it’s been translated from the latin.
Can you believe it? She was 38 and had 24 children. OMG. The poor thing would’ve been absolutely worn out.
I liked this shop sign.
Then as I was on my way home, I was like a salmon swimming upstream. A soccer match had finished. Then I could hear singing. It was getting louder and louder and then I could see the guys were going out on the road.
A bystander told me that they’d recognised their club president’s car. They’d surrounded it and were singing and clapping and it sounded great. They were slowly moving with the traffic and it was all very good humoured. (Though I don’t mind betting the people in the car would’ve been slightly on edge.) It was big and loud and powerful and I loved it.