• CONTACT US if you have any problems registering for the forums.

Yorkshire York, A Medieval Walled City

The historic centre of York with its walls, narrow paved streets and overhanging houses has hardly changed for hundreds of years. Traffic controls have succeeded in keeping the centre of York virtually traffic free. Pedestrians spill out onto the paved roads adding to the medieval feel. Everywhere is within easy walking distance and streets like Low Petergate, Stonegate and the Shambles are a pleasure to explore with their timber frame and stone buildings.


York architecture.jpg

There is plenty to keep the shopaholics entertained, followed by afternoon tea at Betty’s. (If you decide to skip the afternoon tea, do treat yourself to a Fat Rascal from the bakery shop instead!)


For those not wanting to walk there is always the hop on hop off bus. Others prefer to see York from a cruise on the river.

York has a long history, stretching back to the Romans who established a major walled town here. Part of the walls and one of the Roman towers can still be seen in the Museum Gardens (#3).

Multangular Tower.jpg

The remains of the Basilica survive in the Minster Undercroft. Perhaps one of the most intriguing Roman legacy is the story of the ghosts of a defeated Roman Army (#19) seen in the cellars of the Treasurer’s House.

The Vikings sacked York, covered the Roman defences and established a major Viking settlement in the area of Coppergate in the late C9th. When Jorvik opened in 1984, it was the first of its kind, travelling back in time to the sights, sounds and few years ago. York Viking Festival is celebrated every February.

Particularly aimed at children, but also of interest to adults too, is Dig in the redundant St Saviour’s Church. This is a hands on experience in archaeology, to excavate finds from the four major periods of York history and a chance to handle real artefacts.

York is a typical medieval city, surrounded by walls and dominated by church and castle. The magnificent Minster is at one end and Clifford’s Tower on its grassy moat at the other. There isn’t a lot to see inside Clifford’s Tower. (#6) This may be one to admire from the outside.

Clifford's Tower.jpg

The pale stone of York Minster glows in the sunshine and is one of the largest and perhaps most splendid Gothic buildings in Northern Europe.


The inside is equally as impressive with the splendid stone choir screen with carvings of the Kings of England from William I to Edward VI and some splendid medieval stained glass.

York Minster.jpg

Don’t miss the C14th crypt or the Undercroft with remains of Roman York. Sung evensong (#11) in the choir is a magical experience. Entry includes a free floor tour which is well worth doing. There is an extra charge to go up the tower

Many medieval churches survive in the historic centre including the delightful Holy Trinity Church tucked away behind Goodramgate, still with its C17th box pews gently subsiding into the nave.

Holy Trinity.jpg

St Mary's Church Bishophill Junior with its Saxon tower was built over the Roman Garrison and pieces of Roman tile work can be seen in the tower.

St Mary's Bishophill Junior.jpg

All Saints' Church on North Street which has one of the best collections of Medieval stained glass in a parish church.

All Saints' Church, North St.jpg

St Michael le Belfrey on High Petergate opposite the Cathedral, was where Guy Fawkes (of the Gun Powder Plot) was christened, although this font has disappeared and no-one knows what happened to it.

St Martin’s Church on Coney Street has risen from the ashes, having been destroyed by bombing in the Second World War. The south aisle has been restored as a small church and is a successful meld of C15th and modern architecture. Fortunately, the C15th stained glass west window was removed for safety before the war and has now been re-erected at the back of the church.

St Sampson’s Church on Church Street is no longer used as a church and is now a social centre for the over 60s. This is the place to head for a cup of tea and a chat. Alternatively, there is the tiny St Crux Parish Hall, at the junction of Pavement and the Shambles. This is all that is left of what was once one of the largest medieval churches in York. It is now open during the summer as a fund raising tea room. Different charities can ‘rent’ it for one day a year. Helpings are generous and prices are the cheapest in York. When expressing surprise to the lady behind the till, she smiled and said “We’re the best kept secret in York!” They are as there is no information on the internet advertising when they are open and Tourist Information doesn't know either!

St Crux Parish Hall .jpg

Completely different is the Bar Convent on Blossom Street, the oldest surviving Roman Catholic Convent in England, which has a small museum covering the history of the convent as well as stories of persecution and martyrdom during the reformation. Don’t miss the chapel tucked away in the roof to avoid being discovered. This also has a very good cafe.

There is more history in the Yorkshire Museum in the Museum Gardens with exhibits on archaeology and geology as well as the history of York from Roman to Medieval times.

Yorkshire Museum.jpg

The Castle Museum is a fascinating visit covering the social history of York with reconstructions of a Victorian street with shops. This was one of the first museums to adopt this approach and is still one of the best. The C18th prison buildings look at prison conditions including the cell where Dick Turpin spent his last night.

Castle museum.png

Bringing the story more up to date is the "Cold War Bunker" which gives visitors chance to enter the two storey underground bunker built in the 1960s in preparation for a nuclear war. It is the only one preserved in operational condition and would have acted as a nerve centre and monitoring nuclear fallout.

The National Railway Museum is a perennial favourite and tells the story of rail transport in Britain. It is the home of iconic steam locos such as Mallard, City of Truro, Flying Scotsman and the Green Arrow. It also has a display of Royal coaches as well as a travelling post office.


York used to be renowned for making chocolate with Both Terrys and Rowntree based here. Now the chocolate is made elsewhere. The Chocolate Story is a popular visitor attraction for all ages telling the story of chocolate in York, with a chance to make your own chocolate.

Beer however is still made in the city and their beerts can be sampled at Brew York.

For those preferring the stately home experience, the Treasurer’s House (#15) tucked away behind the Minster was lovingly restored by the wealthy C19th industrialist Frank Green to hold his collection of furniture and pictures. The gardens are free to enter when the house is open and are a haven of peace and quiet away from the tourist bustle of York.

Treasurer's House and Gardens.jpg

Fairfax House near Clifford's Tower, is an understated Georgian brick building near Clifford’s Tower. It has superb plaster ceilings and one of the best collections of period furniture in York.

Fairfax House.jpg

The immaculately restored Barley Hall, (#7) tucked away behind Stonegate, is one of the oldest timber frame buildings in York and was once the home of the Mayor of York.

Barley Hall.jpg

It has been comnpletely restored by York Archaeological Trust and the ground floor has been furnished what it might have been like in the C15th. Upstairs is an exhibition area.

The timber frame Merchant Aventurers’ Hall (#10) dates from the C14th and is where the wealthy York merchants gathered to do business. It is the largest timber-framed building in the UK.

Merchant venturer's Hall .jpg

The Great Hall or Guildhall on the first floor, was the main meeting place of the Guild and where they conducted their business and entertained. This is one of the best timber frame roofs in northern England.

Merchant venturer's Hall  (2).jpg

York’s history also had its dark side. York Dungeon is not for the faint hearted being an interactive experience with a cast of actors and special effects. For those wanting to explore the seamier side of York, ans several companies run nightly ghost walks.

The walls make a lovely walk in the sunshine and the Museum Gardens (#3) just outside the walls, with the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey (#4) are a lovely place to drop out on a warm summer’s day.

Museum Gardens.jpg

York really has the lot - including a cat trail, which begins at the Cat Gallery Shop on Low Petergate and takes about an hour looking for small statues of cats seen on buildings scattered across York.
Last edited:
I absolutely adore York, but when we were there last summer it was so incredibly crowded that it was more pain than pleasure. Some of the sights you listed might be a good alternative to being crushed to death on The Shambles. We visited on 2 separate occasions, but could have used a third to see some of the places you mention. Thanks!
Museum Gardens

Set in the centre of York, along the River Ouse, the gardens have a wonderful collection of trees, shrubs, perennial plants and bulbs. They are popular with both locals and visitors. There are large expanses of grass for the children to play and plenty of seats for adults to sit and enjoy the sunshine. Add in the historical interest with the remains of the Roman wall and the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey, there is plenty to do and see here. On a sunny Sunday in April, the ice cream van was doing a roaring trade too.

The gardens were created in 1830 for the Yorkshire Philosophical Society by the landscape architect Sir John Murray Naysmith. Originally designed as pleasure gardens, they also contained a menagerie of animals and birds. This included a very mischievous bear who had to be sent to London Zoo by stagecoach.

Now they are very attractive gardens with grass and mature trees. In spring there are flowering bulbs in the grass.


Among the grass are small flower beds, each with a specific theme. Inside the main entrance off Museum Street is a rock garden using old stone coffins.


The fern garden is tucked away behind the Multangular Tower along the Medieval town wall. The stones from St Mary’s Abbey are used to line the paths and make small terraces.


In front of the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey is a large rock garden with alpines and dwarf conifers planted between blocks of limestone.


The Yorkshire Philosophical Society also built the splendid neo-classical Yorkshire Museum for their collection of artefacts. This has displays covering biology, geology, archaeology and astronomy. Being a shame to be inside on such a nice day, we gave this a miss this visit.

The small octagonal observatory at the centre of the gardens was built at the same time and is the oldest working observatory in Yorkshire. As well as a telescope, it also contains a clock which tells the time based on the positions of the stars. It is 4 minutes, 20 seconds behind Greenwich Mean Time and was the clock by which all clocks were set in York. The observatory has been restored and is opened at different times during the year by volunteers.

The gardens are on the site of the original Roman Fortress of Eboracum. By the C4th, this was surrounded by a stone wall with towers. Part of the stone wall can be seen in the gardens along with the Multangular Tower at the north west corner of the fortress. Built of limestone, they have decorative bands of terra cotta along the walls. The tower has ten sides, was three storeys high and designed to hold a catapult. The later stone work at the top with the narrow arrow slits is medieval.


The stone coffins inside the tower were brought here from other graveyards in York.


The medieval wall and the Roman wall can be seen to the north of the Multangular tower.


The remains of a Roman interval tower can be seen along the wall. At the far end is a small Anglian defensive tower, dating from the C7th.


When York was sacked by the Vikings in the C9th, they strengthened the defences by burying the Roman and Anglian walls beneath a massive earth embankment. Beyond the Anglian tower is a display showing the different levels of the banks from Roman to Medieval times.


Website with opening times

Last edited:
Museum Gardens cont - St Mary's Abbey

The ruins of the nave and crossing is all that is left of St Mary’s Abbey

A Benedictine monastery was founded here in 1088 and was one of the wealthiest and most powerful monasteries in Medieval England and the abbey estate occupied all of the present gardens. The abbot ranked equal with the Archbishop of York.

The original abbey church is now St Olave’s, which pre-dated the Norman conquest and was built just outside the abbey wall.


By the church is a gateway which was the main entrance to the abbey. Next to it is a large square stone building which was the abbey guest house. Poor people could claim alms and food here.



As the abbey grew in importance, St Olave’s Church was replaced in the C13th by a larger and more splendid building in Decorated Gothic style. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, much of the church buildings were destroyed. The Yorkshire Museum was built over the site of the chapter house.

All that remains of the C13th abbey church is part of the north and west wall of the nave.



The Hospitum, taking its name from hospitality rather than hospital, is thought to have been the guest house for lower rank visitors to the abbey. It was originally part of a group of buildings that included a brew-house and stables. The stone built ground floor dates from around 1300 and would have been the refectory and storage areas. Stone would better resist regular flooding by the river. The timber frame upper floor is later and would have offered dormitory accommodation.

It is now used for conferences, private parties and as a wedding venue.


The ruined gateway at the side is C15th, and was probably the entrance to a passage that ran towards the water-gate by the river.


Last edited:
Museum Gardens cont - St Leonard's Hospital

The remains of St Leonard’s Hospital are on the east side of the Museum Gardens, near the entrance from Museum Street.

The building was funded by John Romanus who died in 1255 and was built on the site of an earlier hospital of St Peter which was destroyed by fire in 1137. At the time it was the largest hospital in Northern England, owning extensive lands and was run by a community of men and women of the Augustinian Order. During the C14th it could hold as many as 240 patients with 18 clergy plus 30 choristers.

As well as caring for the ill and infirm of York, it also distributed food to the poor as well as prisoners in York Castle. The sick could not be treated for a physical illness until they had confessed their sins. Prayers were a regular routine of the hospital. The large windows were designed to allow fresh air to circulate as there was the belief that disease was caused by ‘bad air’.

After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, St Leonard’s was destroyed, leaving York without a hospital until 1740.

Today all that is left is the entrance lobby, undercroft and part of the chapel. The vaulted entrance lobby by the main entrance off Museum Street now contains information boards about the Museum Gardens and associated buildings.


It leads to the entrance to the undercroft and chapel.


The vaulted undercroft is supported by octagonal pillars and is the best preserved part of St Leonards. Unfortunately it is now rather a scruffy area with litter blown in.


There is little left of the chapel which which extended above the undercroft. The best view is from the entrance to the gardens by the Central Library.

Last edited:
Clifford’s Tower

The north was the centre of resistance to William the Conqueror after the Battle of Hastings. In an attempt to subdue the area and impose discipline, William built two castles on either side of the River Ouse. All that is left of Baile Hill Castle on the west side of the river, is a wooded mound next to the city walls. Clifford’s Tower still stands proud on its motte opposite.


The original castle was built of timber but was burnt to the ground twice before being replaced by a stone castle in the C13th.

The wooden castle was the site of one of York’s Bloodiest moments when 150 Jews were massacred here in 1190. The event is commemorated by a plaque on the side of the motte. Tensions had been increasing between Christians and Jews in the C12th. Many people were in debt to the moneylenders and crusading propaganda was directed against the Jews as well as Muslims. The Jews had taken refuge inside the wooden castle from a rowdy mob and rather than renounce their faith, decided to committed mass suicide and set the wooden tower on fire.


The central tower was originally called the King’s Tower and is thought to have become Clifford’s Tower after Roger de Clifford was executed for treason by Edward II and hanged in chains from the walls.

The tower is an unusual as it is not circular, but is a quatrefoil design with four overlapping circles, a bit like a four leaved clover. It had two floors linked by spiral staircases in thickness of walls. It was originally surrounded by a moat and linked to the walled outer bailey by a drawbridge. This again was moated and had a massive gatehouse. As well as housing the king when he visited York, the castle was the administrative centre for the north of England.


In the C15th, the castle was also used as a jail for local felons and political prisoners. In 1596, the castle’s jailer Robert Redhead, began demolishing the tower and selling the stone for lime burning 'for his own profit'. He was only stopped after prolonged protests by the city council.

The castle was in poor condition at the start of the Civil War and was reroofed and refloored at start of hostilities to provide storage rooms for ammunition and a gun platform on the roof. The gateway was reinforced and enlarged. Above the doorway are the arms of Charles I and the achievement of Henry Clifford, 5th Earl of Cumberland.


The tower was used as a garrison by Royalist troops until York fell to the Parliamentary Army and continued to be garrisoned until an explosion in 1684 destroyed the interior.

I visited before the major restoration when the interior was just an empty shell, with the remains of fireplaces and latrines in the walls.



Spiral staircases led to the top of the walls. Above the gatehouse is the chapel, with blind arcading round the walls and a small aumbry cupboard. By the C14th this was also used as a store room, referred to as the Treasury.



The top has now been covered over and therre is a series of walkways in the inside of the keep, along with a new visitor centre. The views from thetop of the roof deck are just as impressive as ever, especially on a clear day.


There isn’t a lot left to see inside Clifford’s Tower, although the views from the top are good. As with many other ruined castles, this is probably most impressive when see from outside.

Last edited:
Barley Hall

Barley Hall, tucked away behind Stonegate, is a recreation of a Medieval townhouse which had lain hidden and forgotten until tewenty five years ago. Now part of the York Archaeological Trust it is very much a hands on experience.

The timber frame building dated from the 1360s although it has been altered many times since then. It must be one of the oldest non ecclesiastical building in York. It was originally the York townhouse of the Priors of Nostell Priory, near Wakefield. As prebendary canons of York Minster, they were expected to attend ceremonies, services and business meetings in the city. The ground floor rooms were probably used for storage, with the day rooms and bedrooms on the first floor. The prior would have met guests and conducted business in the great chamber.

A new wing was added in 1430 but the priory fell onto hard times, partly due to the cost of rebuilding the priory church and a series of unsuccessful law suits. They had to lease out the building. At the time, it was one of the most expensive properties. It became the home of William Snawsell, a leading York citizen, goldsmith and Lord Major of York who wanted a house to reflect his standing. His family lived in the house until the late 1480s.

After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the building was confiscated by the crown. By the C17th it was divided up into smaller dwellings and by the C19th it housed tradesmen’s workshops.

The house was in very poor condition in 1987, when it was bought by the York Archaeology Trust who carried out a full investigation and there was a major restoration/reconstruction of the hall, reusing as much of the medieval timber as possible. It was named Barley Hall after the Trust’s Chairman.

IMGP9141 copy.jpg

It is a typical Medieval hall house with a screens passage separating the living area from the kitchen and working areas.

The ground floor has been furnished to what it might have been like when William Snawsell lived there. All the furniture and fittings are modern replicas and it is very much a hands on experience as visitors can sit on chairs and handle the objects. There are a lot of information boards covering the history of the hall, William Snawsell and life in York. During the excavation and restoration of the hall, a lot of roof and floor tiles, brick, pottery and coins were found. Some of these are now displayed.

Barley Hall cont - the ground floor rooms

The shop and ticket office leads into the STEWARD'S ROOM. This has a beaten earth floor, suggesting it was used by the servant’s rather than the family. The steward was an important member of the household, with overall responsibility for the household staff and accounts. The purpose of this room in the Snawsell household is unclear. It may have been used for storage or sleeping. It is furnished with a bed and table.


Through the doorway is the vestibule and the great hall.

The GREAT HALL has a lovely glazed tile floor with a square brick inset where the open hearth would have been. Above would have been a smoke hole in the roof.

IMGP9168 copy.jpg

At one end of the room is a raised dais with the high table where the family and important guests sat. Down the sides of the room are trestle tables and benches which were used by the rest of the household. At the opposite end of the room was the screens passage which separated the rooms used by the family from the kitchen area. This would originally have had timber frame and plaster wall. It is now a public right of way, lined with large glass panels.

IMGP9153 copy.jpg

IMGP9154 copy.jpg

The walls are covered with painted hangings which were cheaper than tapestries. These were dyed with natural dyes (madder for red and indigo with weld for green). The white rose, Rosa Mundi, represents the Virgin Mary as well as her monogram and IHS representing Christ.

The high table is laid out for a feast. These were all about presentation and a display of wealth and status. In pride of place is a peacock. This would have been served when the King was present and the beak and feet would have been painted with gold before serving. The skin and feathers would have been carefully removed and the bird stuffed with herbs and spices before being roasted. The skin and feathers were then replaced and the bird served with great ceremony.

IMGP9156 copy.jpg

Swans were also served on special occasions , Again their beaks were painted with gold and they may be given a small crown.

IMGP9157 copy.jpg

Boar’s head, joints and raised pies were commonly found on the table. There were also ‘subtleties made from marchpane (powdered almonds, sugar and rose water). These were carved into fantastic creations, again reflecting status and wealth.

IMGP9155 copy.jpg

Pottery, pewter and glass were used on the high table and glass, Other members of the household would have used wooden plates, or low grade pottery and horn cups.

Off the great hall is the VESTIBLE which is now a display area with examples of medieval pottery. Banquets could take a long time and in the C15th chaffing dishes were used to keep food hot. The food or sauces rested on the raised knobs round the rim and hot coals were placed underneath the dish. The ash fell through holes in the base and was collected in a small chamber below.

IMGP9163 copy.jpg

These cheap pottery drinking mugs were made in the Walmgate and Fishergate areas of York.

IMGP9161 copy.jpg

The C15th ‘Humber ware’ jug and chamber pot were made further south along the River Humber.
IMGP9165 copy.jpg

There is also a fragment of carved stonework from the shrine of St William of York, a C12th archbishop, which stood near the high altar in the Minster until the Reformation. This was a massive structure and could have accommodated four kneeling pilgrims. The green area in the drawing shows where this piece of masonry may have come from.

IMGP9170 copy.jpg

IMGP9171 copy.jpg

The tomb was destroyed and the stonework had been buried in the Preceptor’s Court opposite the west end of the Minster, possibly with the intention of reassembling the tomb later.

A modern staircase leads out of the vestibule to the first floor. This is the only way to access the rooms across the screens passage. This was the working part of the house. The KITCHEN was probably in a separate building to reduce the risk of fire. The buttery and pantry were small rooms lit only by a tiny window. Candles provided a bit of extra light but working there must have been difficult.

Next to the screens passage is the PANTRY. This was used to store bread and was where food was plated up before serving to the great hall.


The BUTTERY next to it was used to store wines and ale. It has a selection of pottery flagons used to serve the drinks.


The larger room opposite these two rooms is now described as the TUDOR SCHOOL ROOM. There are display panel about schools in York, most of which were run by the church. The room is furnished with a table and benches and there are examples of children’s games.

IMGP9225 copy.jpg

On the walls are two display charts about fabulous beasts and Uroscopy. This is the science of examining a person’s urine to diagnose disease, depending on the colour.

IMGP9222 copy.jpg

Last edited:
Barley Hall cont - the upper rooms

Stairs from the vestibule lead to the GALLERY on the first floor. This is a long room, which was separated into two halves by a brick fireplace and chimney. It has an open window giving a view down onto the great hall below.

There is a reconstructed of a horn window in the wall opposite. Horn was a lot cheaper than glass, which couldn’t be manufactured in large sheets. They were common in many buildings.

Cow horns were soaked in water to soften them, heated and then cut and rolled into strips. These were not very large as only the semi-transparent centre part of the horn could be used. The horn lets through a surprising amount of light although you cannot see through it.

IMGP9177 copy.jpg

Horn was also used to make drinking vessels and spoons as well as windows. The horn was strong and flexible as well as slow to burn and resistant to water.

The far end of the room is set up as a drinking tavern with a table and benches in front of the brick fireplace. There are tavern games to play.

IMGP9179 copy.jpg

IMGP9181 copy.jpg

There are also small display cases with coins, pottery, wax seals and fragments of medieval glass found during excavations. The stained glass armorial shield was made sometime between 1500-1700.

IMGP9187 copy.jpg

IMGP9186 copy.jpg

The lesser chamber and great chamber lead off the gallery and are above the steward’s room and the shop and ticket office. They would originally have been reached by an outside staircase.

The LESSER CHAMBER may have been a bed chamber and now has dressing up clothes and information about the medieval guilds in York.

It leads into the timber frame GREAT CHAMBER with its shuttered windows.



This would have been the grandest of the private rooms and would have been a combination of master bedroom, study and private dining room. This had its own external staircase from the courtyard. The room now has a lot of information about the Church in York, the Reformation and the Dissolution of the Monasteries. There is a model of the long demolished St Andrew’s Priory on Fishergate as well as carved stonework from it. There are examples of stained glass from the priory, glazed tiles and bones found in the rubbish pits.

IMGP9208 copy.jpg

IMGP9209 copy.jpg

IMGP9203 copy.jpg

There are also two C14th stone bosses from St Mary’s Abbey (#4).

IMGP9206 copy.jpg

IMGP9207 copy.jpg

At the other end of the gallery is the PARLOUR. This is a small and cosy room above the pantry and buttery. The ceiling was made of oak laths held in place by wooden pegs.

IMGP9211 copy.jpg

The walls are covered with red and green striped hangings. These were typical of C15th buildings in York and dyed with natural dyes. Madder was used for red and Indigo and weld made green.

This was probably the room used by William Snawsell when he was conducting business. The table was placed close to the window. The red chest is a copy of a hand carved C14th chest and would have been used to keep important documents.

IMGP9216 copy.jpg

There are examples of horn books on the desk. These were a layer of parchment covered with a thin layer of horn to protect it. The horn was soaked in water to soften it and then heated and pressed to flatten it. The books were used to teach children the alphabet or prayers.

IMGP9215 copy.jpg

In the corner of the room is a portable latrine.

IMGP9213 copy.jpg

A modern staircase goes to the ground floor and the pantry, buttery and Tudor schoolroom.

Barley Hall isn’t the easiest place to find in York. It is tucked away down a narrow alleyway off Stonegate. Coffee Yard is just on the Minster side of the wooden banner ‘Ye Olde Starre Inne’ across Stonegate and nearly opposite Betty’s Cafe and Tea Rooms. Keep the ticket safe as it gives free entry to the property for a year.

Last edited:
Merchant Adventurers' Hall - the finest surviving guildhall in Britain

The Merchant Aventurers’ Hall is a splendid stone and half timber frame building set off Fossgate. It was one of the most important buildings in Medieval York and is the largest timber-framed building in the UK.

IMGP2866 copy.jpg

IMGP2865 copy.jpg

The Merchant Adventurers' Hall was built between 1357 and 1368 on the site of a Norman mansion and had three main rooms. The Guild Hall was used to conduct business, for meetings and social activities. The Undercroft beneath was a hospital or almshouse to help the sick and the poor. The chapel provided for their religious needs. Three anterooms were added in 1600. These were originally two cottages built against the Guildhall on the Fossgate side. They had finely carved woodwork on the outside.

IMGP2932 copy.jpg

A committee room was made out of a corner of the Guildhall in the early C19th. The Governor’s parlour was added in 1947-9.

To understand the building, it is necessary to understand who the Merchant Aventurers' were and the importance of the Guilds in Medieval England.

The Merchant Aventurers' was originally formed by influential men and women as a religious fraternity dedicated to Our Lord Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1430 they were granted a royal charter by King Henry VI and renamed 'The Mistry of Mercers’, mistry being a term for an occupation. This gave them more authority to manage their business and regulate trade. They became the wealthiest and most powerful Guild in York. It provided important social, business, charitable and religious functions to its members. Admission was by patrimony, apprenticeship or purchase. Members were mainly mercers trading in wool and cloth. Working as a Guild they could control entry to the city, agree minimum prices and standardise weights and measures, fine people trading who weren’t members. They also provided social care for members on hard times or for widows and families. They also provided charity to the community.

During the Reformation in the 1540s, the Guild’s fortunes declined. The Hall managed to escape being confiscated by the Crown as the members stressed their importance as a trading organisation and played down the religious role. They were granted a new charter by Elizabeth I which granted them the status of the Company of Merchant Adventurers of York. This granted them a monopoly all all imported goods arriving in York, except fish and salt

Merchant Adventurers' Hall cont - the undercroft and chapel

These are on the ground floor of the original building. The walls are made of stone and brick, and is the oldest known use of brick since the Romans. Since being built, the water table has risen and the undercroft used to flood regularly. Because of this the floor level was raised by about five feet. Unfortunately there were bad floods in December 2015 when the undercroft was flooded to a depth of two feet.

The Undercroft, like the Guildhall above it, is divided in two by its supporting row of timber posts. Much of the stone and brick was recycled from earlier buildings. Originally it would have had small windows with wooden shutters. The large windows are Georgian. This was a hospital and almshouse from 1373 - 1900. Thirteen poor and infirm men and women were cared for by chaplains paid through the Guild. The great quadruple fireplace was added in the C16th. Before then it would have been heated by charcoal braziers. On the walls are Benefactors boards. The banners show the coats of arms of some of the Medieval guilds.

IMGP2867 copy.jpg



At the end of the far aisle is the chapel, built around 1411 and separated from the Undercroft by a wooden screen. This has a strong box in front of it, secured by metal bands.

IMGP2868 copy.jpg

This was used by ill and poor in the hospital as well as the members of the Merchant Adventurers' Guild.

The furnishings of the Chapel are late C17th. It is painted in the original colours, with a three decker pulpit and reading desk at one end. On the walls are the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed, along with the Royal Coat of Arms.

IMGP2869 copy.jpg

IMGP2870 copy.jpg

The three glass panels at the end of the Undercroft next to the chapel depict the Annunciation. They were made by Harry Stammers, one of the leading glassmakers of the C20th, for the former York College for Girls in Petergate.


Merchant Adventurers' Hall cont - the guildhall

The Great Hall or Guildhall on the first floor, was the main meeting place of the guild where they conducted their business and entertained. It is a massive double aisled building as timber could not be found long enough to span the width of the hall. The roof is supported by a row of large central timber posts with crown posts held together by wooden pegs. The frame was assembled on the ground first and the timbers were marked before being reassembled. Round the walls are pictures of past Guild members.

IMGP2901 copy.jpg

IMGP2902 copy.jpg

IMGP2905 copy.jpg

The windows were originally ‘four light mullions’ set high in the walls. Originally without glass, these were later replaced by the large Georgian sash windows. Two of these blocked windows can be seen to the right of the door. Another, now glazed, is above the servery at the end of the hall.

IMGP2903 copy.jpg

IMGP2904 copy.jpg

The green panelling and the Governor’s stall at the far end of the hall are also Georgian and originally came from the Assize Courts. Above them is the coat of arms of the Company of Merchant Aventurers'. This is used at formal Company meetings, called Courts, with the Governor, the elected head of the Company at the centre with his Deputy and Wardens on either side. The set of scales in front dates from 1790 and was used to check weights being sold

IMGP2906 copy.jpg

At the opposite end is a fireplace. Above is a picture of the Old Ouse Bridge in York, where ships loaded and unloaded.

IMGP2907 copy.jpg

Merchant Adventurers' Hall cont - the committee room

Off the Guildhall is the committee room which was added in the early C19th. This is a much smaller room with a lower ceiling and more suitable for private meetings.

By now, the Guild had lost its trading monopoly as was less of a force in York. Members often preferred to hold their meetings in a nearby coffee house. The room now has a large table as well as an old strong box and a display of old documents. The archives contain hundreds of medieval charters, account rolls and books from the C13th.

IMGP2910 copy.jpg

IMGP2912 copy.jpg

The model of Emperor Napoleon, a great taker of snuff, stands in the corner of the room and was used to advertise snuff. It is one of three models imported from France and was a well known figure in the city for over 177 years, before coming here on a long term loan.

IMGP2914 copy.jpg

The display cabinet under the large fireplace has examples of brass weights, old keys, documents and wax seals.

IMGP2911 copy.jpg


Documents 4.jpg

On the left is the Company Seal with the Holy Trinity above ships and sea. On the right is the Hospital Seal of the original fraternity with Christ crowning the Virgin Mary under a canopy. The writing reads “The common seal of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Hospital and its brothers and sisters, next to Foss Bridge, York”

IMGP2918 copy.jpg

Merchant Adventurers' Hall cont - the anterooms and the governor's parlour

The three anterooms on the first floor were added in 1600 and were used for displaying and selling cloth.

In 1890 they were used as homes for caretakers of the hall. They have timber frame walls and a display of carved C16th and C17th furniture. In the fireplaces are examples of strong boxes showing their complex locking mechanism.

IMGP2919 copy.jpg

IMGP2924 copy.jpg

IMGP2920 copy.jpg

A copy of the Royal Charter of 1581 from Queen Elizabeth I who created the Company of Merchant Aventurers' is on display in Anteroom One.

IMGP2921 copy.jpg

The large evidence chest at the top of the stairs in Anteroom Two dates from the 1340s and was bought by the Merchant Aventurers’ in the early 1400s to hold their account roles and other important documents.

IMGP2922 copy.jpg

At the far end is the Governor’s Parlour, added between 1947-9. This is a comfortable room which looks a lot older with its C17th oak chimney piece rescued from a nearby house that was being knocked down.

IMGP2926 copy.jpg

IMGP2927 copy.jpg

The display cabinet on the far side of the fireplace contains the company’s silverware collection, amassed over 400 years.

IMGP2929 copy.jpg

The two panels of stained glass in the windows date from about 1900. On the right is King’s Staith in York, where ships were loaded and unloaded.


The left hand panel is a North Sea Port either in France or the Low Countries.

The Company of Merchant Aventurers’ is still active today as a charitable group with over 150 members. It has campaigned on issues that affect York including the founding of York University in the 1960s. They continue to use the building for their meetings and social events. It is also a wedding venue.

The Hall is open daily, except Sundays in winter. It may be closed for special events. There is an audio guide which has a lot of information about the Hall. For those not wanting to use the guide, ask to borrow the written transcription. This gives a much clearer account of the guild and its work than the information boards in the building. The ticket gives free entry for a year.

There is no car parking at the Hall. The post code is YO1 9XD

Treasurer's House

Tucked away behind the cathedral, this was where the Cathedral Treasurer had his house. This was a very important position, second only to the Dean. As well as controlling the cathedral finances, the Treasurer was expected to entertain important guests. After the Reformation, the post was abolished and the name is all that survives. Nothing is left of the original building. The present building
with its Dutch gables and central hall is C17th. The best view is from the walled garden.


These are free to enter on days when the house is open. The central grass area is surrounded by herbaceous borders. There are plenty of seats and it is a lovely place to sit away from the bustle of tourist York.

By the end of the C19th, the house had passed through several owners and was divided up into separate properties in what is described in the guide book as a ’state of decayed gentility’.

In 1897, one of these properties was acquired by Frank Green who rapidly bought another three. Frank Green was the grandson of a very wealthy Yorkshire Industrialist. The Green family wanted to improve their social standing and had estates in Yorkshire and Norfolk and the pursuit of a sporting life gave then entry into the social elite.

Frank Green was in this early thirties and chairman of the family business. He was an eccentric bachelor with a passion for travel and collecting furniture and paintings. He wanted somewhere to display his collection. He began to restore the house, designing each room to fit round the furniture of a different period. Everything was carefully positioned, and small studs in the floor indicated the exact place for each piece of furniture.

He was a bit of a dandy and was always impeccably dressed sporting a floppy bow tie and brightly coloured waistcoats. He was very fussy and insistent that servants got things right. In the basement there is a notice for workmen in the house. “All workmen are requested to wear slippers when working in this House. By order Frank Green”.

He would check up on the cleanliness and tidiness of his staff. At night he would inspect the kitchen, and turn out drawers he thought untidy. He told staff to wrap all the pieces of coal in the house individually in newspaper, as he could not stand the sound of them rattling.

He used Temple Smith to restore the house, described as a 'bug ridden slum’, back to its C17th shape and dimensions. Sash windows were removed and replaced by mullion and transom windows. He created a great hall in the central block as he believed the house would originally have had one, creating a huge open space. Work was completed just in time to host a royal visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales and their daughter in 1900. Frank Green and the Treasurer’s House were very much part of the social whirl of the day.

He gave the house to the National Trust in 1930 and it is still very much as he left it. The eccentric character of Frank Green can still be seen and felt today.

Treasurer's House cont...

The house is entered through a gateway in the wall off Ogleforth. This leads into a lobby added in 1906. A doorway leads into the garden. Beyond is the ENTRANCE HALL.

This is a very stylish room with white and black marble floor and striped patterned wallpaper, copied from a design found under panelling at Clifton House in King’s Lynn. The fireplace with a cast iron fireback, stands on a raised stone plinth. The small ticket desk is here, with the steps to the basement behind it.


A passageway leads to the WEST SITTING ROOM. The panelled walls are painted emerald green and the fireplace with its gilded figure of Leda and the swan was moved here from another room. In a small alcove off is a small ivory and ebony games table which came from north east India.


Steps lead up from the passage way into the GREAT HALL, which must be one of the most impressive rooms in the house. An upper floor was removed, opening it up to the rafters. This effectively split the house into two halves with the Dining Room and King’s Bedroom above, completely separate from the rooms on the other side of the Great Hall.


The Great Hall has bare stone walls and a white and black marble floor. The fireplace is again set on a raised stone dais and has chairs and a small table in front of it. The windows overlooking the garden have small roundels with medieval glass.


A wooden staircase, based on the one in nearby St William’s Hall, gives access to the timber from minstrel’s gallery above.


The relief ornament was added in 1922, based on designs from Knole House in Kent.


Beneath the minstrel’s gallery is a massive oak table dating from about 1600 which was made from a single tree trunk, cut down the centre to form two planks.

A doorway leads into the DINING ROOM with its C18th wood panelled walls and elaborate plaster ceiling, the only one in the house.


Lighting was provided by a central chandelier with candle sticks on the walls. The fireplace is also C18th, although Frank Green probably added the over mantle with its painted picture.


The room feels bare as Frank Green took the dining table and chairs with him when he left the house to the National Trust. There are two glass fronted display cupboards containing a selection of cups and saucers and decidedly over the top tea pots.

Treasurer's House cont...

A doorway at the far end of the Great Hall leads to a lobby with the splendid WILLIAM AND MARY STAIRCASE off it.


This was installed in the early C18th and has been little altered. The portraits were bought by Frank Green at a sale from a stately home and are not family ancestors. The hand blocked wallpaper was added by Frank Green and was made by Watts and Co and is described as ‘Malmesbury’.

Two doorways lead off the lobby, one to the Court Room, the other to the Blue Drawing Room.

The BLUE DRAWING ROOM was the principal room of the house and where Frank Green entertained important guests. This was two rooms when Frank Green bought the house, but he removed the partition to make one large Regency style room and repositioned the fireplace. The rather oppressive peacock blue walls picked out in gold were Frank Green’s choice. Plenty of mirrors help reflect light into the room. Around the fireplace are pale cream upholstered chairs.


The highlight of the room are the boule writing desk with its brass and tortoiseshell inlay and two small cabinets. These glow in the sunlight.



The technique was devised by André-Charles Boulle in the early C18th and is referred to as Boulle marquetry. He usually worked with brass and tortoiseshell. Boule cut out patterns in the chosen material, producing two pieces referred to as the ‘part’ and ‘counterpart’ and produced two pieces of furniture that were mirror images of each other. In one, the copper sat on a background of tortoiseshell. In the other, the tortoiseshell is on a background of copper.

The other room is the COURT ROOM, so called because it overlook Grey’s Court and a courtyard. It is reached either from the lobby or the Blue Drawing Room. This is a small elegant room with pale grey panelling and a small fireplace with cast iron fire back.


The room is dominated by a model ship in a glass case. The ship was made French prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars using animal bones. It has 132 guns and eight anchors. Frank Green bought this in very poor condition and paid a retired naval captain from Deptford to restore it for him in 1912. It is a beautiful piece of work. The ship has no name and may be a model of a Portuguese ship. The case was made specially for it.


Against a wall is a lovely Japanese lacquered cabinet with images of storks.


Treasurer's House cont...

There are three rooms above the Blue Drawing Room and the Court Room, reached up the William and Mary staircase. The Royal Rooms were used when the Prince and Princess of Wales and their daughter Princess Victoria visited in 1900. After their coronation, Frank Green changed the names to the Queen’s and King’s Room and asked for permission to place the Royal Coat of Arms above the beds.

The TAPESTRY DRESSING ROOM has early C20th wood panelling and C17th Flemish tapestries. These hide the C17th brickwork as there wasn’t enough panelling to cover all the walls.


On a wall is a lovely embroidery of the story of Esther. Dating from 1630-40, this shows Esther pleading with the King of Persia to save the Jewish people.


Leading off the Tapestry Room is PRINCESS VICTORIA’S ROOM. The bed came from Hougham Hall in Norfolk and is hung with dark green velvet with gold trimmings. The panelling and tapestries were placed here in 1910 as the room was originally decorated similar to the Queen’s Bedroom. The heavy bottle green paint and bed hangings make the room feel dark. The only light is provided by the Venetian glass chandelier.


Beneath the window is a massive marble topped table supported massive figures of simulated metal sphinxes.The massive marquetry linen press was made from laburnum wood. On the dressing table is a lovely mirror with thin layers of etched ivory veneered on sandalwood, whose sweet smell helped scent the room.



The QUEEN’S ROOM, lit by a gilded chandelier, is dominated by the tester bed, again from Houghton Hall hung with gold drapes. The wallpaper is a Watts and Co damask fabric. On either side of the bed are two lovely Boulle cupboards of brass on ebony, each a mirror image of the other.


There is another Boulle chest of drawers by the fireplace.


The King’s Room and the South Dressing Room are completely separate on the opposite side of the house and reached via the wooden staircase off the Great Hall.

The KING’S ROOM originally had white painted wall. The present pink stencilled scheme dates from 1908, after the visit of the Prince of Wales. The design is based on that in the C16th painted chamber in nearby St William’s College. The bed hangings are red velvet and the bedspread is a lovely Queen Anne period embroidered quilt. The HRH dressing gown and slippers are a ‘bit of fun’ added by the National Trust.


A corridor with glass fronted display cabinets with glass goblets, leads to the South Dressing Room. This was originally wallpapered but this was later replaced with green painted panelling.

Beyond is what is described as the Blue Flat, which is completely different to the rest of the house. It was lived in until recently, and has only just been opened up to visitors when we visited in 2015. It consists of blue painted rooms with white ceilings plus a blue and white tiled bathroom. One room has a series of quotes on the wall. Another contains dressing up clothes and there are second hand books. Stone steps lead down to the Entrance Hall, tea room and shop.

In some ways the Treasurer’s House wasn’t quite what we’d expected. It feels very much a display house rather than a lived in house with an eclectic collection of furniture and pictures. It is very much the creation of Frank Green. The Boulle cabinets are particularly impressive and the garden is a lovely place to sit on a warm sunny day.

Treasurer's House - the ghosts in the cellar

This is probably the most famous ghost story in York.

In 1953, a young apprentice plumber, Harry Martindale, was working in the cellars of Treasuerer's House when he heard a noise three times. A Roman soldier appeared through the wall blowing a trumpet, looking very weary and plodding. At first only the top half was visible until the soldier stepped into the trench Harry had been digging, when all of him became visible. He passed through the wall opposite and was followed by a soldier on horseback and then another 20 soldiers. All looked dirty and unshaven. They were wearing green tunics and had short sword on their right side. There was no standard. They all passed through the opposite wall and the music faded. Harry described them as very solid figures which looked just like real people. Afterwards he went off sick and never returned to this job. He joined the RAF and later became policeman in York. In 1969 during work to stabilise central tower of the Minster, it was discovered the line of Roman road went directly under the Treasurer’s House. Harry went public with his story. Experts questioned him and decided he had seen the ‘Forgotten Army’, the skeleton army left behind after the Romans had left. There have been other sightings but none for several years.

You can listen to Harry talking about his experience here.

Pre covid, the Treasurer’s House run cellar tours into the part of the cellar where Harry saw the ghosts.

The tour begins with a brief description of Roman work before donning hard hats to go into the cellars. These are a network of narrow brick lined passageways beneath the Treasurer’s House. There is one very low bit where you really do need a hard hat.

The tour takes you past the remains of a Roman pillar found when the cellars were extended in the early C20th when Frank Green bought the house. He didn’t want it moving, so built a small brick alcove round it. In fact the pillar has been moved at some time and isn’t in its original position.


We were taken to see the wall where the Roman soldiers appeared and were told the story. There were no ghosts this visit.


The present floor level is above that of the Roman road. This was excavated in 1969 but was back filled. There is periodically talk of exposing it again, but there has never been the money to do this.

How to Find Information

Search using the search button in the upper right. Search all forums or current forum by keyword or member. Advanced search gives you more options.

Filter forum threads using the filter pulldown above the threads. Filter by prefix, member, date. Or click on a thread title prefix to see all threads with that prefix.


Booking.com Hotels in Europe
AutoEurope.com Car Rentals

Recommended Guides, Apps and Books

52 Things to See and Do in Basilicata by Valerie Fortney
Italian Food & Life Rules by Ann Reavis
Italian Food Decoder App by Dana Facaros, Michael Pauls
French Food Decoder App by Dana Facaros, Michael Pauls
She Left No Note, Lake Iseo Italy Mystery 1 by J L Crellina

Share this page