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Eccentric edifices of Eboracum

April 22, 2011

The past few days have been swallowed up by our annual April fishing week – visitors to catch up with, picnics to make, riverbanks to laze on, it’s exhausting being so sociable! – but I did say I would show a bit more of York. Here we are.

In our recent wanderings around York (or Eboracum, as it was known to the Romans) I was delighted by the buildings of the old city centre. It is one of the quirkiest collections of buildings I can remember seeing. There is everything from the genius of Gothic and the crazy angles of medieval timber-framed houses to the singing symmetry of Georgian neo-classicism. On walls, over doorways and under windows, there are dates and details to beguile the eye and to set the mind speculating. And you never know whom you will next encounter on the side of a wall: a saint or a savage, a goddess or a gargoyle. Here are some examples of their eclectic enticements. (And I shall now abstain from additional annoying alliteration…)

There are bay windows,

bow windows,

and stained glass windows.

There are anomalies of era,

of tone,

and of scale.

There are buildings cramped and leaning: supposedly you can shake hands across the street from the top storey of houses in The Shambles;

and buildings too massive to comprehend in a glance. This is surely how Escher might have drawn a cathedral: a confusion of Gothic planes and angles.

Lucky old Terry, he has his name carved on a fine stone building. (Terry’s was one of the two famous chocolate manufacturers of York.)

What did this startling American Indian once advertise? A tobacconist’s shop, perhaps?

Minerva, goddess of wisdom, contemplates the tourists from above what was once a bookshop.

This imp looks very disgruntled at not being permitted a ride.

An inquisitive gargoyle on the Chapter House of York Minster,

contrasts with the impassive divines supporting the throne of a bishop above the gateway to St. William’s College.

Some of the old timber-framed buildings are so crooked, you wonder that they have not collapsed.

Perhaps it is living in the countryside that has made me relish the ubiquity of the written word in an urban environment. York has older examples than most towns. In Anno Domini 1646, Charles I was still on the throne but the Parliamentarians were winning the English Civil War.

Two centuries earlier, life was no simpler for King Henry VII: there was a tax rebellion in Yorkshire in 1489.

That same year a baby was born who grew up to be the ‘architect of the English Reformation’, Thomas Cranmer. In the fifteenth century, though, the faith of the average Yorkshireman was still staunchly orthodox. The windows of St. William’s College have the crowned monogram ‘AMR’ under them, which I believe stands for ‘Ave Maria Regina’, or ‘Hail Mary, Queen [of Heaven]’.

Other messages are more prosaic:

Everywhere you look, there are details to notice and buildings to gasp at. I don’t want to wear out your patience, though, so I’ll close with just a few more shots of buildings that I particularly liked. Hope you have enjoyed them too.

St. William's College

medieval arch at the crossroads of Goodramgate and Ogleforth

Rosie Muggles' dress shop, a fairyland for grown-up girls

And the last word on buildings in York can go only, of course, to the Minster, which outranks every other structure in the city.

You might also enjoy: Kirkwall calligraphy; An introduction to York.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. April 22, 2011 11:39 pm

    Thank you for the elegant posts: pictures, history and commentary. Such a peaceful contrast to what’s going on in the states. (If you haven’t heard about the beating in McDonalds in Baltimore, consider yourself lucky.) It’s nice to know there is some intelligence and sanity somewhere.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      April 25, 2011 11:56 pm

      Goodness, thank you; I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Margaret Lambert permalink
    April 23, 2011 12:16 am

    I think I made a hurried pause in York many years ago, but your photos encourage me to stay longer someday. And yes, the wooden figure of the American Indian is a traditional image to denote a tobacconist’s shop; I recall that Virginia was founded to raise crops for English investors. It looks like a wonderful trip…

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      April 25, 2011 11:57 pm

      Thanks for confirming my guess about the tobacconists. Yes, it was a wonderful weekend in York!

  3. April 23, 2011 7:07 am

    Wonderful photos. I stayed in York on my only trip to the UK over 10 years ago now. I loved the historical associations & the Minster was just glorious. Thanks for sharing your trip.

  4. Erika W. permalink
    April 23, 2011 1:25 pm

    Thank you for taking me back to York and my memories and a double thank you for your charming and witty comments.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      April 25, 2011 11:59 pm

      Thank you, Lyn. You certainly chose a great place to visit on your one trip over here!

      Erika, what a nice comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the post (and your own trip to York).

  5. diane permalink
    April 24, 2011 12:54 am

    I am far far away in Australia and you will never bore me with your tours and wonderful photos of the beauty of the British Isles
    many thanks

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      April 26, 2011 12:00 am

      Oh, that is so nice to know. I’ll keep trying!

  6. April 24, 2011 6:51 pm

    Oh, thank you for an ideal way of ending this lovely afternoon – a nice cup of tea and your beautifully-written and illustrated post. Wishing you all the joy of Easter.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      April 26, 2011 12:02 am

      And a very happy Easter-tide to you too! Thanks for your kind comments.

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