Bedern Hall

Bedern Hall

Bedern Hall is a fine 13th century meeting-hall, hidden away barely 100 metres from the east front of York Minster. ‘Bedern’ is linked with the current German word “beten”, which means “to pray” (Old English: gebed = ‘prayer’; aern = ‘house’).

Bedern Hall was built for the “College of Vicars Choral” (est. c.1250), whose members were the priests who deputised for the Minster canons when they were away. In the course of time each of the thirty-six canons had his own vicar.

Little was known about the Hall and its environs until 1973-1980, when the surrounding buildings were demolished and the York Archaeological Trust undertook excavations.

This showed an original structure built 1250-1270 of an entrance from Goodramgate (still open – it runs to the left of the pizza restaurant opposite the National Trust shop), and two long buildings on either side of this entrance route and parallel to it. The northern-most one of these buildings was a huge timber-framed dormitory, at least 50 metres long and 12 metres wide. The first floor was shared by the vicars, each of whom used the space of one bay against one or other wall. Clearly the original aim was for a communal establishment perhaps similar to that at Fountains Abbey.

However, pecking-orders soon developed, and by the 1330s the dormitory had been divide into relatively large individual rooms. Some vicars had their own personal toilet facilities. The servants, by contract, used an open communal latrine on the south side of the site.

The wealth of the Vicars Choral soon grew. They offered to sing and pray for the dead – for a fee. Payment often came in the form of property, perhaps the property of the deceased (a small price to pay for eternal life). By 1400, the Vicars rented out some 240 properties, and had two mills, two tile works, and a brewery. In addition, they received revenues from three local parish churches – Fryston, Huntington, and St. Sampson’s, York. (Cottingham, near Hull was later added to this list.)

Just inside the entrance from Goodramgate you can still see the College’s private chapel, built in the 1340s. It is dedicated to the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin, and St Katherine.

Some of the vicars seem to have been rather troublesome. A comperta of 1362 reported several of them “walking about the streets dressed like laymen and wearing knives and daggers”. In 1375 they demanded extra wine if the quire organ was used at high festivals; and in 1408 there was a serious quarrel which led to the expulsion of the sub-chanter after an order had been made forbidding the service of wine to the vicars at or after meals.

Later, in 1472, “ non-resident canons left the entire control of the minster to the vicars, and that the vicars were not careful of their trust. Some of them came into church as late and went out as early as possible. Quire services did not begin until some time after the last peal had sounded. The sub-chanter and three vicars were incontinent. Frequent absence from church was common; and, while the statutes required twelve vicars to be present daily on each side of the quire, as many as four were rarely to be found in their places. The Bedern gate was often left open and without a light until ten o'clock at night. Among the vicars, John Fell was conspicuous for his misdeeds. He said mass hardly once a fortnight; he was a nightwalker, seldom returning home by ten o'clock; he talked and laughed in quire, and excited some envy and strife by the messages which were brought to him in the common hall from 'temporal lords.' When the Bible was read in hall, Fell and others would sit by the fire and talk.” (Page 1974).


*Hall, Richard (2004) "Bedern Hall and the Vicars Choral of York Minster". York: York Archaeological Trust.

*Page, William, ed. (1974) 'Collegiate churches: York (including York Minster)', A History of the County of York: Volume 3 (1974), pp. 375-386. []

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