Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Shambles of York

[Click on the images for a bigger, better view.]

Have you heard of The Shambles? It's the Yorkshire version of ambling, twisting, turning, narrow, cobbled streets of medieval York.

However, there's also an actual lane called The Shambles, which is considered to be one of the best preserved medieval streets in Europe. It even has a mention in the Doomsday Book (commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1086). The street that you can visit now has been modernized since then with buildings from the 14th and 15th centuries. (Modern is as modern does, eh?)

The name, Shambles, is Anglo-Saxon in origin; shammel meaning shelves, and stands for the shelves that were commonly found in most open-front shops.

The street had many butcher's shops, their homes, and also slaughterhouses. The meat was hung up on meat-hooks for sale on the outside of the shops with smaller pieces set out in shop window shelves for display. Lacking a sanitation system, the pavements of the street were raised on either side of the street to provide a channel for washing off the blood and offal that naturally ended up on the street.

The winding lanes, which surround The Shambles, are so narrow in spots that if you walk down the lane with your arms outstretched, you can touch the buildings on either side of the lane. This is not a design by a drunk architect, a resettling of buildings over time, or the building McMansions in tiny spaces. Medieval towns were deliberately built like this.

In The Shambles, the overhanging timbered fronts of houses were close-set on purpose to protect the wattle-n-daub walls below and also to prevent the meat from spoiling due to inclement weather.

So there you have it. The next time you visit York, be sure to include this spot in your itinerary of places to see.