LONDON HAS ENOUGH 17th, 18th and 19th century houses to keep an old-house aficionado busy for years. But because the Great Fire of 1666 swept away nearly the whole of the city, it’s lacking in domestic architecture that predates the 17th century.
The city of York, on the other hand, an easy 2-hour train ride north of London, has an entire district of medieval buildings, still leaning at least, if not quite standing tall. The most picturesque street is “the Shambles,” the medieval butchers’ quarter, where many of the buildings have been put to use as stores selling chocolates and other sweets.
There’s a stupendous cathedral, York Minster, which took 252 years to build, starting in 1220, and nearly intact city walls built in the 13th and 14th centuries, that enclose 263 acres, with original gates of varying complexity. (The earliest stones date to the Roman presence in York.)
If all that wasn’t enough reason to make a day trip, I also thought, as a resident of New York, I should see the city for which mine was named, though that turns out not to be the case (it was named after James II, the Duke of York).
York is an eminently walkable city. A friend and I spent the day mostly outdoors, making a circuit from the train station, across the River Ouse, to the first-rate gardens around the charred Gothic ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey, to the cathedral area, the ancient business district and eventually back over the river to catch trains in opposite directions (she returned to London, I went on to Edinburgh).
Come see the city of York with us, in the order we saw it.
The expertly planted grounds of St. Mary’s Abbey, below. The once-magnificent building was burned in 1539 during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries.
York Minster, the largest medieval building in England, has been an Anglican church since the Reformation.
The Treasurer’s House and garden, below, extensively remodeled and restored over the centuries, is now a National Trust property.
Scenes from the warren of ancient streets…
Barley Hall, below, a restored medieval townhouse open to the public, illustrates York life in the 15th century. The building had been so altered over the centuries, even being used at one point as a plumbing shop, that no one even realized that below the brick facade was a 500+-year-old timbered house.
In the 1990s, it was restored by the York Archaeological Trust with painstaking accuracy, using original building methods and at great expense. The great dining hall is the most impressive room.
Tea time in a quaint 1960s-ish tea room
More medieval eye candy and city views…
The building below, still having a useful life as a tea shop, dates from the 14th century, with 17th century additions.
The 1762 Fairfax House, below, a fine townhouse with an important collection of Georgian furniture, was restored in the 1980s after having been used for a time as a cinema (?).
Over the Ouse again on a different bridge on our way back toward the station…
And what do you know — yet another timber-framed house of the 15th century, below. Known as Jacob’s Well, it has a carved portico from a different house and a different era.
Mickelgate was the principal street into York from the south, with this most elaborate of gates. You can walk along the parapet for quite a distance.