History of York

History of York

The history of York as a city dates to the beginning of the first millennium AD but evidence for the presence of people in the area date back much further to 8000/7000 BC. As York was a town in Roman times, its Celtic name is recorded in Roman sources as "Eboracum" and "Eburacum"; after 400, Anglo-Saxons took over the area and adapted the name by folk etymology to Old English "Eoforwīc", which means "wild-boar town", and the Vikings, who took over the area later, in turn adapted the name by folk etymology to Norse "Jórvík" meaning "horse bay."

After the Saxon settlement of the North of England, Anglian York was first capital of Deira and later Northumbria, and by the early 7th century, York was an important royal centre for the Northumbrian kings. Following the Norman Conquest of 1066, York was substantially damaged but in time became an important urban centre as the administrative centre of the county of Yorkshire. York prospered during much of the later medieval era; the later years of the 14th and the earlier years of the 15th centuries were characterised by particular prosperity. During the English Civil War, the city was regarded as a Royalist stronghold and was besieged and eventually captured by Parliamentary forces under Lord Fairfax in 1644. After the war, York slowly regained its former pre-eminence in the North, and, by 1660, was the third-largest city in England after London and Norwich.

Modern York has 34 Conservation Areas, 2,084 Listed buildings and 22 Scheduled Ancient Monuments in its care. Every year, thousands of tourists flock to see the surviving medieval buildings, interspersed with Roman and Viking remains and Georgian architecture.

Prehistoric settlement

There is archeological evidence that Mesolithic people settled in the region where York now is from 8000/7000 BC, although it is not known if these were permanent or temporary settlements. During the Neolithic Period polished stone axes indicate the presence of people in the area where the City of York is now, especially on the south west bank of the River Ouse, just outside the city centre near the area where Scarborough bridge is now. Evidence for people continues into the Bronze Age with a hoard of flint tools and weapons found by Holgate Beck between the railway and the River Ouse, burials and bronzes found on both sides of the River Ouse and a beaker vessel found in Bootham. Iron Age burials have been found near the area on the south west bank of the Ouse where the concentration of Neolithic axes were found. Few other finds from this period have been found in York itself but evidence of a late Iron Age farmstead has been uncovered at Lingcroft Farm 4.7 km (3 miles) away at Naburn.cite book | last = Hall | first = Richard | title = English Heritage: Book of York | origyear = 1996 | edition = 1st Ed. | year = 1996 | publisher = B.T.Batsford Ltd | pages = 26-27 | isbn = 0-7134-7720-2]

Roman York

The Romans called the tribes in the region around York the Brigantes and the Parisii and York may have been on the border between these two tribes. During the Roman conquest of Britain the Brigantes became a Roman client state but when their leadership changed becoming more hostile to Rome Roman General Quintus Petillius Cerialis led the Ninth Legion north of the Humber.cite book | last = Willis | first = Ronald | date = 1988 | title = The illustrated portrait of York | edition = 4th Ed | publisher = Robert Hale Limited | isbn = 0-7090-3468-7 | pages = 16-17]

York was founded in 71 AD when Cerialis and the Ninth Legion constructed a military fortress (castra) on flat ground above the River Ouse near its junction with the River Foss. The fortess was later rebuilt in stone, covered an area of 50 acres, and was inhabited by 6,000 soldiers. Much of the Roman fortress now lies under the foundations of York Minster, and excavations in the Minster's undercroft have revealed some of the original walls.cite web | title = York's history | publisher = City of York Council | url = http://www.york.gov.uk/leisure/Local_history_and_heritage/yorks_history/ | date = 2006-12-20 | accessdate = 2007-10-01] cite book | last = Shannon | first = John | coauthors = Tilbrook, Richard | title = York - the second city | publisher = Jarrold Publishing | date = 1990 | isbn = 0 7117 0507 0 | pages = 2]

At some time between 109 AD and 122 AD, the garrison of the Ninth Legion was replaced by the Sixth Legion. There is no documented trace of the Ninth Legion after 117 AD, and various theories have been proposed as to what happened to it. The Sixth Legion remained in York until the end of Roman occupation about 400 AD.cite book | last = Shannon | first = John | coauthors = Tilbrook, Richard | title = York - the second city | publisher = Jarrold Publishing | date = 1990 | isbn = 0 7117 0507 0 | pages = 2]

The Emperors Hadrian, Septimius Severus and Constantius I all held court in York during their various campaigns. During his stay, the Emperor Severus proclaimed York capital of the province of Britannia Inferior, and it is likely that it was he who granted York the privileges of a colonia or city. Constantius I died during his stay in York, and his son Constantine the Great was proclaimed Emperor by the troops based in the fortress.cite book | last = Shannon | first = John | coauthors = Tilbrook, Richard | title = York - the second city | publisher = Jarrold Publishing | date = 1990 | isbn = 0 7117 0507 0 | pages = 2]

Economically the military presence was important with workshops growing up to supply the needs of the 5000 troops garrisoned there and in its early stages York operated a command economy. Production included military pottery until the mid-third century, military tile kilns have been found in the Aldwark-Peasholme Green area, glassworking at coppergate, metalworks and leatherworks producing military equipment in Tanner Row. New trading opportunities led local people to create a permanent civilian settlement on the southwest bank of the River Ouse opposite the fortress. By 237 it had been made a colonia one of only four in Britain and the others were founded for retired soldiers. [Hall, "English Heritage: Book of York", Pages 31] York was self-governing, with a council made up of rich locals, including merchants, and veteran soldiers. [Hartley, Elizabeth [1985] . Roman Life at the Yorkshire Museum, The Yorkshire Museum, ISBN 0-905807-02-2 P.12]

Evidence of Roman religious beliefs in York have been found including altars to Mars, Hercules, Jupiter and Fortune, while phallic amulets are the most commonly found type of good luck charm. In terms of number of reference the most popular deities were the spiritual representation ("genius") of York and the Mother Goddess, there is also evidence of local or regional deities. There was also a Christian community in York although it is unknown when this was first formed and there is virtually no record of it in archeological terms. The first evidence of this community is a document noting the attendance of Bishop Eborius of Eboracum at the Council of Arles in 314. [Hall, "English Heritage: Book of York", Pages 97-101]

ub-Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Viking York


Following the Roman withdrawal from Britain in 410, there is a lack of written evidence about York in the 5th and 6th centuries, a pattern repeated throughout Sub-Roman Britain. There is evidence of 5th century settlement near the Ouse at York, [Pryor, Francis [2004] (2004). "Britain AD:A Quest for Arthur, England and the Anglo-Saxons", Harper Collins Publishers, ISBN 0-00-718186-8 P.173] and private Roman houses, especially suburban villas were occupied, after the Roman withdrawal. [Hall,"English Heritage: Book of York", Pages 32]

In Nennius's list of 28 towns of Sub-Roman Britain, York is listed as Caer Ebrauc. This may indicate that York became the capital of a British kingdom called Ebrauc possibly around 470.


The Angles, coming from northern Germany and the Jutes from southern Denmark, apparently first appeared in the vicinity in the late 5th or early 6th century, and their cemeteries have been excavated close to York on The Mount and at Heworth. There are, however, few objects from inside the city, and whether York was settled at all at this period remains unclear.

After the later Saxon settlement of the North of England, Anglian York was first capital of Deira and then of the united kingdom of Deira and Bernicia, later know as Northumbria. Certainly by the early 7th century, York was an important royal centre for the Northumbrian kings, for it was here that Paulinus of York (later St Paulinus) came to set up his wooden church, the precursor of York Minster, and it was here that King Edwin of Northumbria was baptised. The first Minster is believed to have been built in 627, although the location of the early Minster is a matter of dispute.cite web | title = York Minster: a very brief history | url = http://www.yorkminster.org/learning/the-minsters-history/ | publisher = The Dean and Chapter of York | date = 2007 | accessdate = 2007-10-04]

Throughout the succeeding centuries, York remained an important royal and ecclesiastical centre, the seat of a bishop, and later, from 735, of an archbishop. Very little about Anglican York is known and few documents survive. It is known that the building and rebuilding of the Minster was carried out, and of the construction of great church of the Alma Sophia (Holy Wisdom), the location of which still remains a mystery.

York became a centre of learning under Northumbrian rule , with the establishment of the library and of the Minster school. Alcuin, later adviser to Charlemagne, was its most distinguished pupil and then master.

Of this great royal and ecclesiastical centre, little is yet known archaeologically. Excavations on the Roman fortress walls have shown that they may have survived more or less intact for much of their circuit, and the Anglian Tower, a small square tower built to fill a gap in the Roman way may be a repair of the Anglian period. The survival of the walls and gates will have meant that the Roman street pattern survived, at least in part, inside the fortress. Certainly excavations beneath York Minster have shown that the great hall of the Roman headquarters building still stood and was used up until the 9th century.


:"For Viking York, see Jórvík."

A large army of Danish Vikings, called the "Great Heathen Army" captured York in 866, and, in 876, the Vikings settled permanently in parts of the Yorkshire countryside. Viking kings ruled this area, known to historians as "The Viking Kingdom of Jorvik", for almost a century. In 954 the last Viking king, Eric Bloodaxe, was expelled and his kingdom was incorporated in the newly consolidated Anglo-Saxon state.cite web | title = Jorvik: Viking York | publisher = City of York Council | url = http://www.york.gov.uk/leisure/Local_history_and_heritage/yorks_history/03_jorvik/ | date = 2006-12-20 | accessdate = 2007-10-05]

A renowned scholar of this era was Wulfstan II, Archbishop of York.

Several churches were built in York during the Viking Age including St. Olave's built in 1050 on Marygate which is dedicated to St. Olaf King of Norway and St Mary, Bishophill Junior which has a 10th century tower that was heightened in the early 11th century.

Medieval York

Following the Norman Conquest of 1066, York was substantially damaged by the punitive harrying of the north (1069) launched by William the Conqueror in response to regional revolt.cite web | title = Norman and Medieval York | publisher = City of York Council | url = http://www.york.gov.uk/leisure/Local_history_and_heritage/yorks_history/04_norman/ | date = 2006-12-20 | accessdate = 2007-10-01] Two castles were erected in the city on either side of the River Ouse. In time York became an important urban centre as the administrative centre of the county of Yorkshire, as the seat of an archbishop, and at times in the later 13th and 14th century as an alternative seat of royal government. It was an important trading centre. Several religious houses were founded following the Conquest, including St Mary's Abbey and Holy Trinity Priory. The city as a possession of the crown also came to house a substantial Jewish community under the protection of the sheriff.

On March 16, 1190, a mob of townsfolk forced the Jews in York to flee into Clifford's Tower, which was under the control of the sheriff. The castle was set on fire and the Jews were massacred. It is likely that various local magnates who were debtors of the Jews helped instigate this massacre or, at least, did nothing to prevent it. It came during a time of widespread attacks against Jews in Britain. The Jewish community in York did recover after the massacre and a Jewish presence remained in York until the expulsion of Jews from England took place in 1290. [Hall, "English Heritage: Book of York", Pages 58-59]

York prospered during much of the later medieval era and this is reflected in the built environment. Twenty medieval parish churches survive in whole or in part, though only eight of these are regularly used for worship. The medieval city walls, with their entrance gates, known as "bars", encompassed virtually the entire city and survive to this day. The city was also designated as a county corporate, giving it effective county status.

The later years of the 14th and the earlier years of the 15th centuries were characterised by particular prosperity. It is in this period that the York Mystery Plays, a regular cycle of religious pageants (or plays) associated with the Corpus Christi cycle and performed by the various craft guilds grew up. Among the more important personages associated with this period was Nicholas Blackburn senior, Lord Mayor in 1412 and a leading merchant. He is depicted in glass in the (now) east window of All Saints' Church in North Street. The period from the later 15th century seems to have witnessed economic contraction and a dwindling in York's regional importance. The construction of the city's new Guildhall around the middle of the century can be seen as an attempt to project civic confidence in the face of growing uncertainty.

Dating from the later medieval era, and now a popular tourist attraction, is the Shambles, a street of timber-framed shops originally occupied by butchers. Some retain the outdoor shelves and the hooks on which meat was displayed. They have overhanging upper floors and are now largely souvenir shops.

Early modern York

Few buildings of significance were put up in the century after the completion of the Minster in 1472, the exceptions being the completion of the King's Manor (which from 1537 to 1641 housed the Council of the North) and the rebuilding of the church of St. Michael le Belfrey, where Guy Fawkes was baptised in 1570.

During the dissolution of the monasteries all the monastic institutions in the City were closed including St. Leonards Hospital and in 1539 St. Mary's Abbey. [Wilson, Christoper and Burton, Janet [1988] (1988). "St Mary's Abbey York, The Yorkshire Museum", ISBN 0-905807-03-0. P4] In 1547, fifteen parish churches were closed, reducing their number from forty to twenty-five - a reflection of the decline in the city's population. Despite the English Reformation making the practice of Roman Catholicism illegal a Catholic Christian community remained in York although this was mainly in secret. Its members included St. Margaret Clitherow who was executed in 1586 for harbouring a priest [Whitworth Ed. [2000] , "Aspects of York:Discovering local history", Warncliffe Books, ISBN 1-871647-83-5. Pages 77-85] and Guy Fawkes who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605.

Following his break with Parliament, King Charles I established his Court in York in 1642 for six months. Subsequently, during the English Civil War, the city was regarded as a Royalist stronghold and was besieged and eventually captured by Parliamentary forces under Lord Fairfax in 1644. After the war, York slowly regained its former pre-eminence in the North, and, by 1660, was the third-largest city in England after London and Norwich.

In 1686 the Bar Convent was founded, in secret due to anti-catholic Laws, making it the oldest surviving convent in England.

York elected two members to the Unreformed House of Commons.

On 22 March 1739, the highwayman Dick Turpin was convicted at the York Grand Jury House of horse-stealing, and was hanged at the Knavesmire on 7 April 1739. Turpin is buried in the churchyard of St George's Church, where his tombstone also shows his alias, John Palmer.

Modern York

In 1796 Quaker William Tuke founded The Retreat a hospital for the mentally ill, situated in the east of the city outside the city walls, which used moral treatment.

Largely thanks to the efforts of "Railway King" George Hudson, York became a major centre for the railways during the 19th century, a status it maintained well into the 20th century.

On the 29 April 1942 York was bombed as part of the retaliatory Baedeker Blitz by the German Luftwaffe when 92 people were killed and hundreds injured. [ [http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/search/display.var.1333684.0.luftwaffe_pilot_says_sorry_for_bombing_york.php "Luftwaffe pilot says sorry for bombing York"] , The Press, York (2007), retrieved on 23 September 2007.] Buildings damaged in the raid included the Railway Station, Rowntree's Factory, St Martin-le-Grand Church, the Bar Convent and the Guildhall which was completely gutted and not restored until 1960.

During the cold war the headquarters of the Number 20 Group, Royal Observer Corps was moved to the newly constructed York Cold War Bunker in the Holgate area of York. It was opened on the 16 December 1961, was in operation until 1991 and was then turned into a museum owned by English Heritage.cite web | title = NO 20 GROUP ROYAL OBSERVER CORPS HEADQUARTERS | publisher = English Heritage Pastscapes | date = 2007 | url = http://pastscape.english-heritage.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=1310348&type=&class1=Defence&period=Modern&county=None&place=york&yearfrom=ALL&yearto=ALL&recordsperpage=5&source=text&sort=1&nmr=&defra=&p=1 | accessdate = 2007-09-22]

In October and November 2000 York experienced the worst flooding in 375 years with over 300 homes being flooded.cite web | title = The impact of the October–November 2000 floods on contaminant metal dispersal in the River Swale catchment, North Yorkshire, UK | url = http://www.aber.ac.uk/iges/staff/Macklin%20files/HP%20Dennis%20et%20al.%202003.pdf | publisher = Wiley InterScience | date = 2002 | last = Dennis | first = Ian A. | coauthors = Macklin, Mark G.; Coulthard, Tom J.; Brewer, Paul A. | pages = 1 | accessdate = 2007-09-23]


See also

* History of Yorkshire
* Medieval churches of York
* Religion in York

External links

* [http://www.historyofyork.org.uk History of York] : Extensive site dedicated to the History of York
* [http://www.british-history.ac.uk/source.asp?pubid=183 Victoria County History of the City of York] : part of British History Online.
* [http://www.british-history.ac.uk/catalogue.asp?gid=89 Register of the Freemen of York, 1272-1759] : key biographical source, originally published by the Surtees Society. Part of British History Online.
* [http://www.stmary-bishophill.co.uk/ Parish of St. Mary Bishophill Junior]

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