01 May, 2007

A visit to York

York is an ancient cathedral city and the County town of Yorkshire. Founded by the Romans, it was largely redeveloped in medieaval times, to leave the street pattern existing today.

I visited York to attend a meeting, and stayed on after it was over to do some sightseeing. And what sights! York is a medieval city with many ancient but reformed churches and the glorious minster, seat of the Archbishop of York, Primate of England, although nobody calls John Smetanu a primate. Well, not to his face. The Primate of England has responsibility for the bits that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of All England does not cover.

The Committee Meeting was held in a very atmospheric room in the Black Swan, an old manor house where General Wolfe’s mother had lived, now a public house. You don’t want to see my colleagues so there isn’t a picture of the room, although someone said satanic rituals took place in the room where we were meeting. I think that might just be the bands the pub hires.

I visited some of York’s old churches including St Helen’s Stonegate, which is the church of the York glass painters’ guild, and there is plenty of glass in it. Some members of the guild are buried here.

St Martin Le Grand is a church that was partially destroyed by enemy action in the second world war in a Baedeker raid, designed to sap civilian morale by bombing important historic buildings. The meadieval builders knew their stuff though and much of the church is still standing. The church has a beautiful ceiling with painted bosses, a spectacular font cover and a wonderful east window showing St Martin. Of its modern adornments is a very curious organ, extremely small and all in clear Perspex so the workings can be seen. There is a large clock on the outside wall.

Holy Trinity Goodramgate is a redundant church cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust. The church has 17th century box pews which Arthur Mee doesn’t like as he calls them crazy. There is an old three decker pulpit and a piscine, as well as two old stone coffins.

I got a nice warm welcome at St Michael le belfry. One of the church sitters said I looked like a tourist, I have been called worse! I was only half a tourist that day. St Michael’s is in the shadow of the Minster and was where Guy Fawkes was baptised in 1570. One of the plotters to restore the Roman Catholic church to Britain he was discovered in time to prevent this disaster. England commemorates its deliverance on 5th November every year. The church was rebuilt in the time of Henry VIII. The church is well worth a visit.

A kind lady let me into St Mary’s Bishophill for a brief walk round although the church wasn’t open. The church is one of the few anglo catholic churches in York with a beautiful reredos of Victorian times.

I also saw Clifford’s tower, (see picture left) the Norman castle on a motte. Alas, in the 12th Century the York Jews, who had sought sanctuary in the tower were either massacred or committed mass suicide.

I didn’t neglect the street of butchers – or Shambles – with its overhanging houses to keep the sun off the meat. You could shake hands with your neighbour through the top storey windows. The Shambles is mentioned in the doomsday book and is now full of chocolatiers, souvenir shops and the shrine of Margaret Clitherow of York who was pressed to death for refusing to plead in court when accused of being a Roman Catholic. The shrine is maintained by the Roman Catholic church.

The City Walls sparkled in the sunshine as the stone dissolves in the rain to keep them clean. I walked along them for a few stages, but they were not particularly thrilling where I walked. From some parts I could see Terry’s sweet factory. Terry’s peppermint creams were always a treat.

York has few modern buildings as the conservation lobby has become stronger since the 1970s. Modern buildings can be as good as anything our forbears put up provided they are not stinted. In York I come to the Theatre Royal. This has a new(ish) cafĂ© bar area with octagonal columns enclosed in glass. It’s definitely worth a look, but would not be allowed in York today. Good modern architecture, which this is, is not well appreciated.

People who believe in Karma will be disappointed in this one. I was in the Museum Gardens where there was a young man smoking dope on the grass down a bank from where I was walking. As he got up to go, he lost his phone from his pocket. I shouted after him but he didn’t hear, so

I went to get the phone to chase after him, or hand it in to the police, but slipped and fell. I wasn’t hurt apart from the pain of hitting the ground but so much for trying to help people.

York’s a lovely city and well worth a visit.

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