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The history of The Shambles York England - Margaret Clitherow

This fabulous cobbled street in York still today echoes with history and is teaming with shops as it has been for centuries. A pub across the road, "The Golden Fleece", is reputed to be "the most haunted" pub in the world. The shops bustling with modern day shoppers and tourists alike. A fabulous place to include in your holiday to York. Right next to York market and only a few minutes walk York Minster. A must see York attraction is the Shambles.

The Shambles

The oldest street in York, it had a mention in the Doomsday Book under its Latin name - In Macello. The word Shambles derives from the Medieval word Shamel (various spellings), meaning bench or booth. Also referred to as Flesshammel, which means to do with flesh - it was the street of the butchers. In 1872 the number of butchers was recorded as 26. This figure dwindled over the years until the last butcher standing was Dewhurst at number 27 the Shambles.

Many things change but the Shambles in York UK is still a good street to shop in even today

Visited now for its array of shops, it presents a picture of 'olde worlde' charm with its narrow width and its overhanging upper storeys. It is said that in certain points you can reach out of the top window and shake hands with a person doing the same daft thing in the house opposite! But if you had walked the length of this street, say, 300 years ago, it would have been a very different experience! Livestock would have been kept behind the shops and slaughtered on site.

Later, when York had the cattle market it meant that cattle no longer lived behind the shops, but the slaughterhouses remained and the cattle were driven in on foot from the market. The middle of street would have been an open gutter and the waste from the butchers was washed out of the shops and into the street. Number 31 has a sloping floor for this reason.

Also, domestic waste would have been thrown down from the windows above to either drain into open ditches, or stagnate in the road. Manure was collected at night, but no great effort was made to take it very far away. The terribly unhygienic conditions led to several outbreaks of cholera, and yet it was not until the 20th century that changes were made.

Picture of the Shambles York England

The Shambles York, has many points of interest and clues to its past life. It began to take its present shape around the 15th century when housing was built on both sides. Look out for the wide window ledges on some of the frontages. These are the original benches for displaying meat. Also these shops may still have the butcher rail inside the shop, as in number 31, or the butcher hooks above the window on the outside, as does number 11.

At the very top of the street, number 1 the Shambles, you can see how the bay window is supported from the ground. If you look closely at most of the houses you will see supporting beams. Also on house number 1 you can see, above the door, an example of tie bars. Metal discs, they are used to support the internal beams and you can see many different types of tie bars along the street. Look out for low doorways (like number 9), and crooked windows.

There is a wealth of different styles of brickwork, windows and doors. If you can see as high as the gutters you can see several ornate examples of rainwater heads, and also look out for ornamental sign supports and lamps. Please do not pass by numbers 36 and 37 without noting the passage between, and the wonderfully named "ogee" arch supporting it. This is a name given to describe the elongated "S" shape used to form the arch. Finally, the last word about one of York's treasures must go to its most famous resident.

The Shambles York where Margaret Clitherow lived.

Her shrine is in no's 35 + 36. Margaret Middleton married John Clitherow, a widowed butcher who had his business at number 35. After her marriage Margaret converted to Catholicism. These were turbulent times for religion, with the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII and the continued religious warring throughout the reigns of his children. Margaret gave shelter to travelling Priests, and conducted Mass for local Catholics in her home. Warned and imprisoned for her continual refusal to conform to the protestant way of life, she continued with her activities.

The inspectors would count the windows outside the houses and compare them to the count inside, to see if an area had been concealed to hide a priest. On the evidence of a frightened child they arrested Margaret and charged her with providing cover for the Priests and with practicing Catholicism. She was offered a trial, but she insisted she had no crime to answer to, and so was sentenced to death. To be crushed to death in the prison under Ouse bridge.

Rather than be naked, she made herself a shift of white linen. She lay with a large stone placed in the small of her back and a door was laid upon her body. Stones were piled upon the door until she was dead. She was canonized on October 25th 1970, and her right hand can still be seen in the Bar Convent museum.

If you had a day out in the Shambles tell people about it. We would love to publish your stories and pictures here.

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