The Rich History Of York, England
Like a layer cake of history, York, England has been home to Vikings, Saxons, and Romans. In addition, the city has a reputation as being one of the most haunted cities in Britain.
York, England, is a history-lovers dream come true. While your average tourist stays about one day in York, a true history buff could linger for several months.
The Romans were the first people in York. In the years 71-73, the 9th Legion set up a new fort on the site of modern day York to subdue the rowdy bunch from the north. Bits and pieces of the Roman era still remain, particularly in the Yorkshire Museum located off Museum Street.
Not to be outdone, the Vikings also left their mark on York, although their section of the history cake is relatively thin. Once excavated, it was found the Viking city dated to the year 948. Their name for the town was Jorvik and apparently they found it an ideal base for traders, with it's fast-flowing rivers giving easy access to distant lands. Documents
were found which mention individuals with graphic names like Erik Bloodaxe, Thorfin Skullsplitter and Ivar the Boneless. Nevertheless, these Vikings were not considered any more warlike than other people living at the time. At the Jorvik Viking Centre, you'll can penetrate beneath the modern day streets to see what remains of Jorvik. Part of the tour, involves riding in a "timecar" where you'll experience sights, sounds and even the smells of a Viking city.
Just to set the record straight, Vikings never wore horned helmets. Many helmets of that period have been found throughout Europe and according to the experts at the Viking Centre, none have ever been found with horns. Another myth laid to rest!
Having a personal preference for all things "Medieval" (yet another layer of the cake), York certainly did not disappoint. The Merchant Adventurers Hall is a gem. A Merchant Adventurer was actually someone who risked his own money in the uncertain business of over seas trade. They used the hall to transact business, to meet socially, to look after the poor and for religious services.
Tucked away today, amid much more modern buildings, I nearly passed it by, before realizing I had to walk about ten paces through a covered archway to find it. The timbered Great Hall is an outstanding example of a Medieval Guild Hall. It's rare, having survived with its business room, hospital and chapel intact and still in the ownership of the company which built it. The earliest sections date from about 1360. The guild is no longer a trading association, but more of a charitable foundation and services are still held in the chapel.
York Minster (cathedral) is the most visited site in the city. Historians say a house of worship has stood on this spot since the 627, and that's a very long time. Be sure to join a guided tour, to gain a full appreciation for this immense church. Work on the structure, which started around 1220, took 250 years to complete. Young stonemasons of that time began working on the minster as early as age ten or twelve. Odd to think many of them spent their entire working lives on the project, without ever seeing it's completion.
The stained glass of the Minster is truly awe inspiring. The Great East Window is one of the largest sections of Medieval stained glass in the world, measuring roughly the same size of a tennis court! Wisely, church officials had the foresight to remove the stained glass during both World Wars. According to our tour guide, they removed it in panels, then transferred it to private homes in the country, where it was buried for protection.
York is a ghost town, though not in the usual sense of the word. They claim 140 ghosts within the old city walls, making it one of the most haunted cities of the realm. I can never resist "ghost tours," and York offered four different options. I managed two tours and loved every minute. Ghost tours generally take place in the evening and cover an area small enough for the participants to walk. Guides use their story-telling abilities and little else, to spin the yarns of shady and
strange deeds of the past.
One of the most well-known ghost stories of York, goes back to the days when the Romans occupied the city. In the 1950s a plumber, working in the cellar, first sighted a band of ghostly Roman soldiers marching through the wall of the Treasurer's House, a structure built in 1648. This story has been recounted many times in books, articles, and television. With high hopes, I visited the cellar, but unfortunately saw no ancient Romans. The Treasurer's House is worth a visit regardless, to see their period furnishings.
Three different bus companies travel the streets of York, offering hop-on, hop-off service, which makes getting around easy. You pay one price for the day and get on and off as much as you like. On the upper, open level of each bus, a hard-working though wind-swept tour guide spews out the history, stories and anecdotes as you ride along.
Although they must put up with tourists year round, including many from other parts of the United Kingdom, I found the locals very friendly and helpful. In a case of old world meeting tech world, the cybercafe which I frequented daily, sits on an ancient road called the Swinegate, one of York's oldest thoroughfares. I wonder what the Romans would think of email.....?