There was a special event on at the National Railway Museum on in July of this year, so it was the perfect chance to visit the city (Gemma will post about the event soon) so we did our exploration of the city before the main event…
Status: City of York Unitary District, North Yorkshire, City, England
Eating & Sleeping: Greggs, National Railway Museum Cafe
Attractions: York Minster, Cliffords Tower, River Ouse, City Walls, River Foss, Jorvik Viking Centre, The Shambles, Castle Museum, Court Buildings, Mansion House, York Dungeon etc
Remember the size of the Cathedrals in Lichfield and Lincoln? Well York Minster blows them away completely. Standing a truly jaw dropping height of at least 230 feet (the same size as a 23 storey building) it lays claim to being the largest Gothic Cathedral in northern Europe, and you can see why. The people milling around the bottom of it give it a good sense of scale.
There are three towers on the building, two at the front (174 feet each) and a central tower (200 feet). There were at least three previous Cathedrals on the site, with the first dating all the way back to 627. The current building was started in 1220, and took an amazing 252 years to complete, with the final part (the two western towers) being finished in 1472.
The original tower had fallen down during construction of the rest of the building in 1407 and had to be replaced.
The cathedral fared well in it’s later history compared to other ones such as Lichfield, but a lot of its treasures and windows were destroyed in an effort to remove Roman Catholicism by Elizabeth I. During the Civil War Oliver Cromwell took control of the city in 1644 but no further damage was done to the Cathedral.
The most damaging event happened much later in 1840 when an accidental fire started (Following a deliberate arson attack in 1829 which damaged the east arm) and it completely destroyed the roof in the nave, south west tower and south aisle. This was all repaired and today it is the most visited attraction in the city, and if you climb the 275 steps to the top you get fantastic views across the city and a chance to explore its unique architecture.
One of the most well known features of the Cathedral is the Rose Window, pictured here at the very top of the building at the side, containing glass installed in 1500 and is to symbolise the union of the royal houses of Lancaster and York after the War of the Roses.
York Minster had been our starting point, and from there we moved through the rest of the historic city centre, coming out at Mansion House, the home of the Lord Mayor of York. Started in 1725 in the Georgian Era, it took 7 years to finish, and it finally opened in 1732. Strangely, the architect of the building is unknown. It contains many interesting artefacts, and chief amongst these is the Royal Sword of York from 1416 which once belonged to the Roman Emperor Sigismund (1368 – 1437).
Another notable building in the centre is the Guildhall (15th Century), and although you can’t see it on this picture it is situated behind Mansion House.
From here we took a stroll down the River Ouse, which flows through the city. On the picture above you can see the Lendal Bridge. Originally there was a rope-ferry at this spot, and Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910) herself used it in 1852. The first attempt to build the bridge ended in disaster when it collapsed and and killed five workmen. The second attempt was more successful and the bridge still stands today.
There are various bridges down the river, many of them dating back a few hundred years. Newer ones such as the Millennium Bridge from 2001 also cross the river. Boat tours are available on the river to explore the city, and we saw lots of them around.
Further downstream we found the Skeldergate Bridge, pictured above. It carries the A1036 over the river, and has been stood on the spot since 1880, and opened as a toll bridge. The tolls were finally abolished in 1914.
We came off the river path here and across to York Castle, also known as Clifford’s Tower. The ruined Norman keep stands atop a large mound and gives great views of the surrounding area to help spot attackers. The current building is from the 13th century after Henry III had the original wooden castle rebuilt in stone. It was involved in the Scottish Wars between 1298 and 1338, before being used for administrative purposes. By the 16th century it was in a state of disrepair and wasn’t repaired until 1642 to assist during the Civil War. Used later as a jail in the 18th century, the main facilities were demolished in 1935, and the tower is all that remains, and is a popular tourist attraction. We have been in before so we didn’t go in today but we did climb the steps to get some photographs over the rest of York from the front.
Looking directly out from the doorway you can see the (From left to right) York Museum Trust, York Castle Museum (founded 1938) and York Crown Court. These buildings stand on the site of or are part of the original buildings, most of which now no longer exist. The museum is based in two prison buildings on the site, the Debtors Prison (built 1701 to 1705) and the Female Prison (built 1780 to 1785).
Just up the street from here, is the York Municipal Court building, a stunning construction full of stone arches and brickwork. This whole area was previously made up of poverty stricken streets, so in 1852 they were demolished, and new, grander and more modern buildings replaced the crime ridden slums, with the Court building one of them. It really stands out both from street level and from the top of Cliffords Tower, with the Clock Tower rising up above the rest of the street.
After leaving Clifford’s Tower we wandered back through into the city centre, and we went passed The York Dungeon. It opened in 1986, the second in the UK after London in 1974. The Dungeon contains a series of exhibitions about York’s bloody history, including one set in 1551 using replica streets of the time. There are also ghost stories and regular events. It reopened in March 2013 after it was devastated by floods.
Another similar museum in York is the Jorvik Viking Centre, one I have visited a few times over the years and really enjoy. As the name suggests it is all about the Viking settlers and includes various exhibits and information. There is a replica settlement with sounds and smells, as well as life size mannequins of the inhabitants. It was founded in 1984 and was given a massive revamp in 2010.
Our final stop before heading off to the National Railway Museum was the above street, known as the Shambles. It is a good example of medieval streets in York, although this is one of the narrower streets. It is named the Shambles as there used to be lots of butchers shops on the street and it was the name they gave to their meat on display.
In 1872 there were at least twenty five butchers in residence on the street. There are no butches now on the street but some of the shops do have meat hooks left outside. It is the most famous street in the city and popular with tourists.
York, like Lincoln, is a truly beautiful city and there is plenty to see. It is the most medieval city in England, and rivalled only by Edinburgh in the UK itself. The entire city centre is lovely old buildings, aside from one or two shopping centres such as the Coppergate Centre. It is definitely one of the stand out cities, and typifies English Heritage and History.
There are other museums in the city aside from the Castle Museum and the Jorvik Centre, including the York Army Museum, and the Royal Dragoon Guards Museum. On the banks of the river there are the York Museum Gardens, in the grounds of which resides the Abbey of St Mary, dating back to 1271.
York has good transport links, with the East Coast Mainline between London Kings Cross and Edinburgh Waverley stations running through the town, and this also gives good links to Glasgow, Peterborough, Durham, Newcastle and Berwick-upon-Tweed.
The nearest international airport is Leeds Bradford International, and the nearby A1(M) Motorway (For Newcastle and London) connects with the M62 towards the airport, via Leeds and Bradford, and from here it goes on to Manchester, Salford, Liverpool and the M6 (For West Scotland, The Lake District and Lancashire, and down to Birmingham and the M5 for The South of England) and the M61 (Towards Bolton and Preston).
York is one of the most popular tourist cities in the UK, and you will never get bored once you arrive, and you could easily spend a good few days exploring and still find something new.