Walking Tours of York
I joined my first walking tour of York the morning after I arrived. A very relieved Doris, originally from Scarborough she moved here in 1982, was happy to see me. A woman of about 70 years, it wasn’t me in particular she was happy to see. It was just if I had not arrived she would have made the effort to come into the centre of York for no purpose. The walking tours have a minimum 2-person policy. This is not for the financial aspect primarily but because situations have the potential to become awkward when it’s one-on-one. “I wouldn’t trust Doris alone either!” I laugh as she turns red and gives me a gentle elbow with a big smile.
I have enjoyed the few walking tours I have encountered over the past 7 weeks travelling in England so when I saw the elaborate collection of tours available here in York I was quite excited. Some tours are run more than others so I have strategically chosen one or two walks for each day I am here. It could be that I end-up with other plans, but I am happy to have these starting out.
Our tour, “Mansion, Cellar, and Priest Hole,” starts with a location that is only appropriate for a handful of walkers at best, probably four would be the most that could attend this one as a group. Our guide unlocks a gate, followed by a door, followed a small stair and then by another door at the back of The Parish Church of All Saints North Street. This is not something I could have stumbled upon on my own, I don’t have keys to this section of the church.
Up the stairs we stand in a small storage room with boxes, spare candelabras, a monitor, and active WIFI hub. It has lovely windows matching the church although this is a later addition. A small square trap door of perhaps just over a square foot opens into the church on it’s rear wall high above the floor.
Until the 1960’s, this church had resident hermits living here. The hermit could enjoy the services and comings and goings of the church without having to actually move amongst the people. Imagine, until so recently. Our guide, Warwick, describes Hermits as being religious recluses. Some hermits had a tendency to prophetic words so in some cases it was beneficial to have the services of a resident hermit to predict the death of kings or the overthrow of churches and such. He tells us that there are 6 such dwellings attached to churches within the city of York. But it is a bit rare to see inside one, he has not taken guests here in some months. Our group size dictated this inclusion on our tour.
Also interesting in this photo is the pulley system to lift the elaborate font cover for when the font is needed for baptisms. Notice the dark square towards the top left of the window where the rope also meets the wall; that is the shuttered door into the hermits quarter from which the hermit could spy on the activity below.
A placard informs us that spectacles are very rare to be seen in medieval glass.
Our tour continues in to a tudor building with the name place “Jacob’s Well”. This building had a varied history that Warwick explains to us and shows us by drawing diagrams as we sit inside sipping a coffee. In the Bible there is a story where Jacob went to a well where he met his future wife Rachel. In one of this building’s carnations it was a pub. The name of Jacob’s Well suggested that it was a place for gentleman to come for drinks and to find wives. Except not wives, in this case they also added some bedrooms upstairs to facilitate those meetings.
At some periods this building was used as church rooms, it has experienced various renovations throughout the years to become what it is today.
This emblem and number place was originally on the exterior of the house. This was to show that the owners had paid for fire insurance. In case of a fire, a private brigade of that company would come to the rescue. If they couldn’t find the emblem they would pass on by.
The original certificate that ties to the fire insurance remains.
We have time for one more sight on this 90-minute walk. We now happen to the Mansion. Over the main entrance is the sign “ace York”. Warwick points out features from the street that could be easily overlooked. Slight non-symmetry of the windows. Holes where a second gas lamp would have been suspended. A cut-out in the iron work where coal could be poured down a chute.
Today this is a boutique hostel. He is known to reception and they are happy to let us take a look about. One could never happen off the street, be allowed to poke around and know all the odd little corners and hallways and doors he takes us through. Our guide shows us evidence here and there of this having been two homes combined to make one larger one. This was the city home of a family who had their estate in the country. They would have stayed here for a month or two at a time during their city stays.
We wander up the staircases to see the attic rooms where house-staff would have housed and wander through the now-finished basement that originally contained a kitchen of the smaller of the two joined homes, as well as storage rooms, wine cellar, and such.
This view from one of the upper floors showcases the lovely York Train Station. *CORRECTION: I was misinformed, Dorris had told me and our guide agreed but they were mistaken. It is so easy to have these mistakes happen because how do you know someone is wrong with their information. Anyway, it is a nearby hotel, Cedar Court Grand Hotel and Spa. I walked past it the next day. When you see any such mistakes in my postings, please do point them out in the comments so I can fix them. It’s impossible not to have some mistakes when presenting information about different places all the time, it’s not like I am an expert on one specific place that I talk about over and over so that a mistake would be shocking. ((Sorry, I had several really rude correction notes from Indian residents who said I was lying about some facts (I was accused of lying about place names and some names of buildings. Not sure why I’d do that.) rather than accepting that I made a few mix-ups.))
At the conclusion of our walk Doris walks me to the centre near to where we started and helpfully points me towards the information centre. I stop for lunch at Browns, sitting in an open central square where I key in this account before attending my next walking tour at 2:15. I hope I meet Doris again this week, she is keen to explore her city of 31 years. She too had not been to the three locations we visited today.
I joined a tour called “Snickelways” in the afternoon of my first day in York. The word Snickelways was coined in 1982 as a combination of three words that refer to the tiny little pedestrian alleys that exist here and there throughout the city of York. In Edinburgh they were called Closes.
We had a very dramatic tour guide who was passionate about history and historic details. In fact, he was so dedicated to showing us the wonderful attributes of this city that our tour went over by nearly an hour.
I am sure he said something interesting here, but then there was fully two more hours of him presenting us facts and figures and my brain dumped much of what he said.
That’s my excuse and I am sticking to it.
This lane was originally called “Groppe Cunte”. Yes, they did mean what it sounded like, it was a street of brothels and they highlighted that in the street name. Don’t blame me for being crass, I am just the middleman. (Later, another guide said that Grape was more simply changed from Grope and that there are Grape Streets all over Great Britain that have been changed from their initial spelling which was to help travellers find the local lanes of “women of negotiable affections”.)
At one point the many priests of York Minster lived separately. It became known that some of them were leading secular lives of playing cards and visiting ladies and such. At some point it was ordered for them all to live together here so they could keep an eye on each other. We are told that 50 or so priests had quarters here.
Dutch House is entirely build with bricks from the Netherlands. Dutch traders used bricks as ballast in their ships coming from Holland to return home with quarried rock. Do you see the cute window detail, here because of the name of the street?
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