York MinsterYork

York is one of my favourite cities in the United Kingdom. It has a rich colourful history dating back over 2,000 years. It is in the top ten of holiday destinations in the Country.

There are many places of interest to appease any visitor to the City, from the Jorvic Centre along Coppergate to the magnificent York Minster in the Minster Yard, then there is the National Railway Museum and the Yorkshire Museum the list goes on and on.

Over the next few months I will be adding a series of galleries from around this wonderful city, highlighting the wide and diverse culture that we have here in the North of England.

The City of York is steeped in history from the Minster (right) to the Roman Walls, the Mansion House to Barley Hall, all can tell a story.

The Romans founded the city (which they named Eboracum) when they invaded the town in 71 AD. They built a fort between the river Foss and river Ouse and by the middle of the 2nd Century a small town was established alongside the fort. Tradesmen and merchants settled in the town as the soldiers provided a ready source of income for their wares as well as the opportunity for them to sell their commodities and their products along the rivers and benefiting from river traffic and trade.

By the 3rd century York was protected within a stone wall and the Romans had built large public buildings and baths many of which have since been excavated and preserved. The town continued to grow and flourish until they left in the 4th century when it fell into rack and ruins.

It was during the year 627 when the Church appointed a bishop for the town, a cathedral was built as well as the bishop's palace, all within the Roman Walls. 

It wasn't until the middle ages during the 8th and 9th centuries that York as a town started its revival. It was ideally situated in the Vale of York, flat ground, and the convergences of the rivers that attracted tradesmen and craftsmen to establish themselves there. They set up markets and maximised the rivers to import and export their products and goods to other towns and cities and then further afield into Europe. By this time the population of the town was around 2,000 inhabitants. The Danes renamed the town Jorvic.

The Vikings conquered northern Britain in 866 and York became the capital of the new Viking kingdom. The town continued to grow, farming became much bigger and many occupations were taken up supporting them. There were large wool refining business's along with blacksmiths and farriers. As well as farming many families turned their hand to pottery, making ceramics of all kinds. York continued to expand as a town and by the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066 it was estimated to have a population of 10,000. 

Cliffords Tower

Cliffords TowerAlways worth a visit. Cliffords Tower (left) was built on a mound overlooking the river ouse and surrounding area, within the city walls. The view from the top of the tower are quite remarkable and well worth the effort. Visitors to York cannot fail to notice this iconic structure, especially the unnerving slant on the outer walls!

It was William the Conqueror that built a wooden castle on this site in 1086, rebellious natives burned that one down and so a second one was built. It was this building that saw one of the most horrifying incidents of that time in 1190. A mob of citizens rioted against the Jewish population of York, the Jews took refuge in this castle, many of those Jews committed suicide rather than be captured by the mob outside. Alas the mob set fire to the castle killing all those inside.

Another wooden castle was built to replace the burned out ashes of the latter, but this blew down during the 13th century. A new stone quatrefoil shape was built in 1270 on the orders of Henry 111. The roof being lost to fire in 1684. In 1332 the tower gained its present name when Roger de Clifford was executed by Edward 11 for treason. Clifford was hanged from chains from the walls of the tower, since that date the building has been known as Cliffords Tower.


Barley Hall

A little gem of a Medieval town house is  tucked away down Coffee Yard between Stonegate and Grape Lane. This house has had quite a remarkable past and a few years ago came close to being demolished. It was once the home of the Priors of Nostell and the Mayor of York. Until the 1980's the house was hidden under the relatively modern facade of a derelict office block. It was only when the building was going to be destroyed that the medieval house (pictured right) was discovered behind all the old walls. The reconstruction of Barley Hall was the direct result of archaeological excavations carried out in 1987 and 1990 - 1991. Work began to restore the hall to its former glory in 1990. It opened to the public in 1993. 

Today the house has been fully restored to its original grandeur, plenty of huge oak beams, very high ceilings and possibly the only Horn window in England. The house has been decorated to replicate the home of William Snawsell who was the Lord Mayor of York in 1468. The Snawsell family lived here around 1483 when Richard 111 was king of England. There are many rooms to visit amongst the three floors including the Great Hall laid out as it would have been in those early days, with tressled tables and wooden dishes and tumblers. Members of the public are encouraged to sit on the chairs and benches and touch the artefacts on show, The house is owned by the York Archaeological Trust and named after the trusts first chairman, Professor Maurice Barley.

York Minster

A magnificent building in the centre of York. The Minster is one of the largest of its kind in Northern Europe and is the seat of the Archbishop of York, the second highest office in the Church of England.

The Minster has a wide decorated Gothic Nave and Chapter House, a Perpendicular Gothic Choir and East End, and early English North and South Transepts. The West window in the Nave was constructed in 1338 and the opposite window in the East end over the Lady Chapel, is the Great East Window, finished in 1408, which has the largest expanse of stained glass in the world. In the Northern transept is the Five Sister Window, each lancet is over 16 metres high. The South transept contains the famous Rose Window.

The first church on this site was a wooden structure built in 627 to provide a place to baptise Edwin. the King of Northumbria. A stone structure replaced the wooden one in 637 by Oswald and dedicated to St Peter. Alas this church soon fell into disrepair and by 670 was in ruins. It was St Wilfred who repaired and rebuilt the structure. In 741 the church was destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt this time as a more impressive building with thirty alters. The church survived several marauding armies and was badly damaged again in 1069 during William the Conqueror's harrying of the North of England. It was Thomas of Bayeux the first Norman Archbishop that organised the repairs. The Danes destroyed it in 1075 but was rebuilt again in 1080. Built in the Norman style it was 364 ft long. The structure was damaged by fire in 1137 but was repaired. The choir and crypt were remodelled in 1154 and a new Chapel built, all in the Norman style.

The Gothic style of cathedrals had arrived by the mid 12th Century. Walter de Gray was made archbishop in 1215 and ordered to construct a Gothic structure similar to Cantebury. Building work continued well into the 15th century. The Chapter House was begun in the 1260's and completed around 1296. The wide Nave was built from 1280 on the Norman foundations. The Outer roof was completed in the 1330's, but the vaulting was not finished until 1360. Building work then started on the eastern arm and chapels, with the last Norman structure, the choir, being demolished in the 1390's.Work here finished around 1405. Two years later the central tower collapsed, the piers were then reinforced and a newtower was built from 1420. The western towers were added between 1433 and 1472. The cathedral was completed and consecrated in 1472.

The Reformation let to much looting of the cathedral's treasures as well as much of the church land. Under Elizabeth 1 there was a determined effort to remove all traces of Roman Catholicism from the cathedral. During the English Civil War the city was besieged and fell to Cromwell's forces, but Thomas Fairfax prevented any further damage to the cathedral. Following the easing of religious tensions there was some work carried out to restore the cathedral and from 1730 - 1736 the whole floor of the minster was relaid in patterned marble. From 1802 there was major restoration on the building. Alas several fires hampered the restoration work and by 1858 Augustus Duncome worked successfully to revive the cathedral. Preservation work continues to this very day.

The National Railway Museum

For any one interested in trains or the railway in general, the National Railway Museum on Leeman Road in York is a must place to visit.

It was way back in 1862 when the Patent Office acquired George Stephenson's Rocket steam engine. Towards the late nineteenth century railway companies expanded across the country resulting in them collecting large amounts of railway paraphernalia. The largest being the London and North Eastern Railways (LNER) and as a consequence a public museum dedicated to the railways was opened on Queen's street  in York in 1927. The other major rail contributors such as the Great Western, the London Midland and Scotish Railways and the Southern Railway continued to amass large quantities or railway memorabelia. It wasn't until 1948 though and the Nationalisation of the Railways that these collections were all brought together, which, resulted in 1951, and the appointment of a curator of historical relics. British Rail went on to establish two more museums, the British Transport Museum in London and one in Swindon.

It was as a result of the 1968 Transport Act that British Rail in conjunction with the Science Museum developed the concept for a National Railway Museum, the result being a New Museum for York on the site of the old steam locomotive depot, and the National Railway Museum down Leeman Road was established, opening in 1975.

Since then the Museum has gone from strength to strength, it expanded across Leeman Road in 1990, when it converted the old railway's goods department into the Station Hall. In 1990 the museum won the museum of the year award. Work continued and conversion of the old diesel depot next to the Great Hall into a store and latterly into the Works, now gives the public access into the workshop via a viewing balcony. In 2001 the museum gained the European Museum of the Year award.

Continuous improvements to the museum has made it one of the most popular visitor attractions in York and the North of England. 

Museum Gardens

A great place to visit for some peace and tranquility. The gardens are situated just off Museum Street and run adjacent to the River Ouse. They cover an area of about ten acres on the site of the former St Mary's Abbey. They were created back in the 1830's, Sir John Murray Naysmith was the landscape architect who laid out the grounds. Within the gardens are several historical buildings, including the west corner of a Roman fort of Eboracum with its Multangular Tower and parts of the Roman walls. There is also the Anglican Tower, which again dates back to the Roman period, during the Middle Ages the tower and walls were enlarged and incorporated into the York's city walls. Most of the other buildings date back to the Middle Ages and can be associated with St Mary's Abbey, including the ruins of the abbey church, the Hospitium, the lodge and part of surviving precinct wall. The remains of St Leonard's Hospital chapel and undercroft are over on the east side of the gardens. The Yorkshire Philisophical Society built several buildings in the gardens during the 19th Century and early 20th century, including the Yorkshire Museum and its octagonal observatory. 

The Gardens are also the location of York's Saluting Station, one of only 12 in the United Kingdom, with 21 gun salutes being fired at noon to celebrate occasions related to the Royal Family.



Castle Museum

The museum stands on the former site of York Castle. The castle was originally built by William the Conqueror to strengthen and secure his grip over the North of England following the rebellion of 1068.  York Castle Museum is quite a special place, situated within walking distance of the town centre adjacent to Clifford’s Tower and the Law Courts. There is lots to see including the museum in the street, a lifelike street scene with sound and special effects transports you back to the Victorian period. The Period rooms are quite remarkable, full of all the furnishings and fittings from that period, one of the most iconic is the ‘birthday party in a 1950’s living room. The moorland cottage also is extremely lifelike and quite familiar too. The section entitled 'Toy Stories' is quite fascinating with a wide selection of toys and games many dating back over the last 150 years, and many still quite popular today. 'From Cradle to Grave' looks at birth, marriage and death and clearly shows the differences in healthcare over the years. Another interesting section was 'The Hearth Gallery', for many years and and to a certain extent it still continues today the hearth was the hub of the house providing, cooking, heating, light, bathing etc. It is interesting to see the changes from the pre war kitchen to the 1980's. A walk along Kirkgate is a must, to feel the cobblestone under your feet, to look through the Victorian shop windows gives a good insight into what life was like during that period. Then there is the Police station and prison cells, the Chemist's and Grocer's. The second part of the museum looks at the war years and the impact and terror the first world war had on peoples lives. The section covering 'the Sixties' seems like yesterday. Towards the end of the tour are the Victorian prison cells, well worth a visit. Allow at least two – three hours for the visit plus extra time for a snack in the onsite cafeteria.

The Treasurers House

An absolute gem of a home, the Treasurer’s House is hidden away around the back of York Minster, just off Minster Yard.

The building standing here today was much the work of Frank Green, a wealthy Yorkshireman who purchased the house in 1897. The building has a much longer history though, as this house stands on the site of a mansion of the medieval Treasurers of York Minster. At the time of the Reformation in 1547 the office of Treasurer was abolished and as a result of later rebuilding the name is all that survives of the medieval building. The Young family bought the house in 1565 and rebuilt the main part of the house in the 17th Century as well as creating the present gardens with its twin Dutch gables and classical central entrance.

Thomas Young sold the house during the Civil War in 1648 and passed through many hands, in the process it was sub divided up into smaller units and eventually started to fall into decay. It was Frank Green and his architect Temple Moore who restored the property to its original shape between 1897 and 1900. The rooms as you see them today were the work of Green, who continually changed the furniture as well as adding decorations and fittings to give each room character and style for that particular period.


It was on his retirement in 1930 that he gave the Treasurer’s house and all its contents to the National Trust.