April 09, 2012

York - 12 March 2012

Left the flat at 9am this morning and headed into London and King's Cross. Managed to arrive there stupidly early but this is normal. Eventually, the platform for my train came up. I boarded and spent the two hours of the trip listening to Cormac McCarthy's The Road.

King's Cross station is a swarming, heaving mass of bodies that move to no set path. every person moving to whatever whim takes them.

Exiting the station at York, the first thing you see is the wall. Already built up on a hill, the view is imposing. Walking towards the town centre I passed a little cemetery, or the remaining headstones of one, just at the base of the wall. I believe some, if not all, date back to the plague. So hard to believe 75% of Europe's population was killed - I can understand why the populous would have seen it as a punishment from God.

As I walked I took note of the landmarks so I could find them again later, however, given the size of York, this wasn't a great problem.

My first stop was the Museum Gardens and York Museum. The museum is very well put together but quite small. This doesn't do it a disservice though as it is quite modern. The 3D theatre giving the chronological history of York is impressive. The only negative of this area is the lack of 3D glasses so as to experience the film as envisaged.

Looking right from the front doors of the museum, are the ruins of St Mary's.

St Mary's - Image Mine

St Mary's - Image Mine
St Mary's was destroyed when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries. When you travel around this country and see what Henry did, your understanding of his power and his hatred of Rome gains so much clarity. Saying he was a formidable man is a gross understatement.

My next stop was St Olave's. The church dates back to 1055 as the Anglo Saxon Chronicle records the death of Earl Siward of York.

Inside St Olave's - Image Mine
The Chronicle also tells us the area the church is located on was then known as Galmanho. St Olave's York is the oldest and earliest dedication to the saint, both in the UK and Norway.

The current museum gardens were known as Earlsborough in the 11th century and was the fortified home of the earls of Northumbria. The present shape of St Olaves was fixed in 1466.

Exiting the church, I turned right again and headed back towards one of the main areas of the town. Coming around a corner I found myself facing a garret. Behind me was the Art Gallery, which I didn't go into. Next to the gallery is King's House.

King's House - Image Mine
The first house on the site was built in 1278 as a residence for the Abbot of St Mary's. After the Dissolution, until the 1641, the building was the Headquarters of the Council of the North. Henry VIII, Charles I and James I stayed here and since 1963 it has been occupied by the University of York.

Crossing the road, I walked along High Petergate. Veering off to the left, looking for a coffee shop, I found myself in front of York Minster. I don't know what I was expecting but I got it.

York Minster - Image Mine
You could spend a lifetime examining the carvings on the outside alone and doubtless people have.

Detail from centre archway - Image Mine
Before I went into the Minster, I went across to its smaller neighbour, St Michael-le-Belfrey.

St Michael-le-Belfrey has existed on the site since the 8th century, with the present church from 1550. The 'le-Belfrey' refers either to the next door Minster, or to an older church which had a bell tower. Most interestingly for me, is that Guy Fawkes was baptised here.

Then it was into York Minster. Currently, there are works going on on the bell tower but a display is in the foyer to show what they want to achieve.

Looking towards the alter - Image Mine

Stained glass in the transept - Image Mine

York Minster, built between the 1220s and 1470s is world famous. Constantine began his progress to greatness from here, Roman building foundations were found and can be seen under the central towers, St Paulinus baptised the local Saxon king and many archbishops are buried there.

The king referred to is Edwin of Norhumbria and his christening took place in a simple wooden church, built for the occasion. The wooden strucutre was rebuilt of stone, survived the Viking age but was badly damaged in 1069 when the Normans took control of York.

Around 1080, Thomas of Bayeux started building a cathedral, which has gone on to become the minster we know today.

According to Bede, missionaries from Rome, sent by Elentherius at the request of Lucius of Britain in 180, to settle points of difference between ceremonials disturbing the church.

Notable burials include Osbald, King of Northumbria, and Prince William of Hatfield, son of William III (1337).

A little while ago I read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. One of the first feats of magic Mr Norrell, was to bring all the little and not so little faces of the carvings in the Minster to life. She describes the noise and the cries of all the voices, all clamouring to be heard and to tell their stories. It is only once you see how many carvings inhabit the place that you realise how much noise could be generated from a feat such as this.

Image Mine

Man getting his face pecked off - Image Mine

Laughing Monkey - Image Mine

Man trying to pus his way out of the wall - Image Mine

Not sure who these musical souls are - Image Mine

Alter in the side chapel - Image Mine

View into the choir stalls - Image Mine

Opposite view towards the alter - Image Mine

Men reviewing the stained glass - Image Mine

After the Minster I decided to just wander around. This aimless way of walking leads you into some great surprises. For example - Whip-ma-whop-ma-gate. This is the shortest street in York and was known in 1505 as Whitnourwhatnourgate, meaning, what a street.

A street name I find quite cute is "Shambles" and "Little Shambles". The shambles is an ancient street of the Butchers of York, mentioned in the Doomsday book of William the Conquerer. It takes its name from 'shamel' meaning the stalls or benches on which meat was displayed.

Image Mine

With the remaining warmth of the day fading and the sunlight going, I thought it was time to find my hotel and check in. I wandered in what I though was the right direction and came upon the Castle of York. I must admit to the girly, nerdy in take of breath at the sight.

Cliffords Tower - Image Mine

What remains is Cliffords Tower, originally a motte and bailey erected by William. The present tower was built between 1245 and 1262 by order of Henry III. The moat was fed by the River Foss. The Tower took on a new role in 1826 as part of the York County Prison. York Council purchased the site, later, for the grand sum of £1.

One of the more upsetting pieces of the castles history is the mass suicide of 150 of York's Jewish population. On the night of 16 March 1190, the feat of Shabbat-ha-Gadol, the small Jewish community of York gathered together for protection inside the castle. Rather than perish at the hands of the violent mob that awaited them outside, many of the Jews took their own lives, others died in the flames they had lit and those who finally surrendered were murdered.

From the top of the tower the view of the surrounding area is pretty but now limited. With the mist beginning to rise off the river, I headed for my lodgings.

York Castle Museum - Image Mine

Looking out towards the river - Image Mine

The Waterfront - Image Mine

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