Friday, 5 February 2016

York: inside the City

York Minster

In York for the weekend and we start with this walk based on one around hidden York from the AA website. The walk starts in Museum Gardens and our first sight was the ruins of St Leonard's Hospital. Erected on the site of the former hospital severely damaged in a fire in 1137, it was said to be the largest in the North of England. In the manner of medieval hospitals it would have cared for travelers and the sick, poor, elderly and disabled.

On the other side of the Gardens are the ruins of St Mary's Abbey: a Benedictine abbey founded 1088 and once the richest in the north of England, it was destroyed at the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539.

We then walked up Museum St towards the Minster, noting on the right the rather wonderful York Dispensary building of 1889, now offices.

We admired the west front of the Minster, especially the tracery in the great window (see post at the head of this post) and went in to be amazed by its sheer size. It is allegedly the largest gothic cathedral in northern Europe. The nave roof is certainly inspiring, and although built over two centuries in different styles of gothic architecture, the overall effect is remarkably harmonious.

Perhaps the most remarkable part was the Chapter House, along a passageway from the corner of the north transept. It was built between the 1260s and 1280s and its magnificent, vaulted ceiling is supported by timbers in the roof, instead of by a central column as was normal - and can be seen in places such as Lichfield.

The Minster also has an Astronomical Clock dating from the 1940s - who knew that such a thing had be made so recently. I think of this as a truly medieval creation as our most recent encounter, in Lund in Sweden (dating from 1380), would attest.

Outside again, we headed north towards the Minster Library and couldn't get the whole length of the Minster into a single shot. The Chapter House is the building on the left with the pointed roof.

Now our route took us along Chapter House St, Ogleforth (the first of many weird and wonderful street names) and Goodramgate into Bedern, a modern housing development which yet contained the lovely red brick Bedern Hall, the 14th century refectory of the Vicars Choral of York Minster.

Some small streets took us to St Saviourgate at the end of which is the extraordinarily named Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate, York's shortest and most famous street.

The plaque says that it derives from it derives from the phrase Whitnourwhatnourgate meaning "What a street!"- which sounds like nonsense to me. Wikipedia says that "most modern sources translate the phrase as 'Neither one thing nor the other'", which doesn't get us much further.

The route continues past the half-timbered Herbert House (1620) down an alleyway to reach Fossgate.

You are confronted by this extraordinary building, which turns out to once have been the Electric Theatre, York's first cinema, built in 1911.

Fossgate leads down to a bridge over the River Foss, where there was recent flooding. Some shops and restaurants, sadly, are still closed. Crossing the river and turning right and right again you come to Merchant Adventurers' Hall. This was originally a guild hall built in 1357. Its undercroft housed an almshouse for the poor of the city. The chapel was added later.

Following the bank of the Foss, we came next to the wonderful Clifford's Tower, this is all that remains of the Norman keep of York castle.

Nearby is the handsome 18th century building which began life as the Debtors' Prison and is now part of the York Castle Museum. Pevsner said that "this building is, next after the Minster, the most monumental of York". The tower has an unusual clock, with only one hand, installed in 1716 by  a York clockmaker, John Terry.

We departed from the AA route here as it was getting too dark to see, passing the celebrated Fairfax House and the less well-known, but more imposing, Castlegate House (below), both by the great local architect John Carr of York.

Castlegate and Spurriergate led us back to our hotel in Coney St where we could not fail to admire this wonderful clock outside the church of St Martin-le-Grand. It is known as the Little Admiral and dates originally from 1779.

One final thought: you can't help but notice than any amount of streets in York are called "-gate", which seems at bit puzzling. It turns out that this a corruption of the Norse word "gata" which in fact means street.

Conditions: pretty grey.

Distance: maybe three miles.

Rating: five stars. The Minster is magnificent and there is just so much to see.

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