York History at a Glance
ROMAN YORK — EBORACUM
The ancient historian Ptolemy mentions Eborakon as one of the settlements of the Brigantes, a tribe that occupied the whole of the north of England. It was to conquer their territory that the Roman Governor of Britain Quintus Petillius Cerialis, led his troops northwards from Lincoln in a.d. 71.
He set up a temporary camp where two rivers met. They are the Ouse and the Foss, and when the Brigantes had been duly subdued the temporary base became a permanent fortress: Eboracum.
A civilian town gradually grew up outside the fortress, mainly to the south-west, and Eboracum became one of the leading cities of the Roman Empire, and the capital of Lower Britain. Several Roman Emperors came here. Hadrian used it as a base for his campaigns northwards. In 211 Septimius Severus died here, and was cremated. In 306 the Emperor Constantius Chlorus also died in York. His son Constantine was with him, and was here proclaimed Emperor of Western Rome —the only time an Emperor was proclaimed in Britain. He was to become Constantine the Great, one of the most famous men in history, the first Christian emperor and the founder of Constantinople.
In 406 the Roman legions were withdrawn from Britain for service in Gaul, and Roman rule ended.
There followed a time of destruction and strife about which little is known, in which legend holds that King Arthur captured York at one time. In the 7th century the Saxons settled within the fortress walls, and in 627 Paulinus baptised King Edwin of Northumbria into Christianity. The little wooden church built on the site was the first York Minster.
In the 8th century a grammar school was founded to which students came from all Europe to hear the great teacher, Alcuin. St. Peter's School, now in Clifton,
claims direct descent from it.
VIKING YORK — JORVIK
In 867 York fell to the Danish invaders, who made it an important port and trading centre, and built earth ramparts. Some old streets and their names date from this time — Goodramgate and Coney Street
. The ending -gate
is Scandinavian, the same as modern Swedish -gatan
and Danish -gade,
which means street.
Anglo-Danish kings of York reigned until 944, when Edmund conquered Northumbria and made it part of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England.
NORMAN AND MEDIEVAL YORK — THE SECOND CITY OF ENGLAND
In 1066, King Harold of England defeated his brother Tostig and King Harald Hardrada of Norway at Stamford Bridge, six miles from York, before marching south to defeat at the hands of William the Conqueror. William came to York to subdue rebellion in the north, which he did by a policy of scorched earth and destruction from the Ouse to the Tees, causing great poverty. He built two wooden castles in York on top of earth mounds, one on each side of the Ouse. These mounds today are Clifford's Tower
and Baile Hill
. The wooden castle of the former was destroyed by fire in anti-Jewish riots in 1190, when about 150 Jews died by their own hands, by the sword or by fire, rather than fall into the hands of the mob outside.
Stone city walls and gates were built in the 13th century. A great abbey and priory sprang up, several friaries and nunneries were founded, and over 40 churches appeared, as medieval York became one of the main religious centres of England. The Church exercised a tremendous control over life here, but at the same time the City prospered as a port and a centre of trade. It was a 'staple town' for wool, England's chief export. Samples were brought to the newly-built Merchant Adventurers' Hall
to be weighed. Every trade then had its guild, and York had many guildhalls where members met and traded. The Merchant Adventurers, as merchants who traded overseas were called, were the wealthiest and most powerful, but today the company is more of a social body. The Merchant Taylors' and the Butchers' guilds are still active in York. The Freemen of York were originally just the citizens, who enjoyed privileges in the city. In time these became more jealously guarded, and today one can be a Freeman of York only by inheritance, by purchase, or by special appointment.
York was the northern capital of England, to which came many Kings and Queens. The Duke of York became the title of the sovereign's second son, a tradition which has been observed until modern times. Henry I granted the city its first charter, and in 1160 Henry II held parliament here. Henry Ill's sister and daughter were both married in the Minster to Kings of Scotland, and in 1328 15-year-old Edward IIl married Princess Phillipa of Hainault there.
Richard II was very fond of York, giving the city its first Sword of State, and making it a county in its own right.
THE AGE OF DECLINE
In the 16th century Henry VIII renounced Roman Catholicism and began his great purge of the power of the Church, the Dissolution of the Monasteries. York was hit especially hard, since so much of her economy was in the hands of religious houses; but she remained the second city of England, for Henry took over the Abbot's house at St. Mary's Abbey, now King's Manor, and set up there a royal palace and the King's Council of the North, a governing body to rule this difficult half of his kingdom. Great men still came and went, although the wool trade also declined in this period.
GUY FAWKES AND ST. MARGARET OF YORK
In 1570 Guy Fawkes was born in York, probably in a house in Petergate or Stonegate; he was baptised on 16th April in the Church of St. Michael-le-Belfrey nearby, and lived in York until he was nine, attending St. Peter's School. Guy's father was a church lawyer who died when Guy was a child, and Mrs. Fawkes married the squire of a nearby village. He was an ardent Roman Catholic who converted the young Guy.
Soon after, in 1586, a young butcher's wife, Margaret Clitherow, was alleged to have hidden Jesuit priests in her house in the Shambles. On 17th March 1586 she died horribly for her faith, a door being placed across her chest and piled with stones until she was dead. In 1970 she was canonised as St. Margaret of York.
Guy Fawkes, too, was to die for his faith. He was executed in 1605 after becoming the most famous protagonist in the Gunpowder Plot, when on 5th November he attempted, with others, to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London. All over England still, on 5th November, bonfires are lit, fireworks let off, and effigies of Guy Fawkes burned. All except at St. Peter's School, York: they don't burn past pupils.
THE CIVIL WAR — MARSTON MOOR AND THE SIEGE OF YORK
After he left London in 1639 Charles I set up his Court in York at King's Manor . He established the Royal Mint nearby and his printing press in St. William's College before leaving again in 1642. The Council of the North was abolished by Parliament at this time. The Parliamentarians gathered strength, and in April 1644 their armies of 40,000 began the Siege of York. At the end of June, Prince Rupert arrived with an army of 20,000 and lifted the siege. He then set off after the retreating Parliamentarians. He overtook them at Marston Moor, six miles away, but they turned and he was completely defeated. His army fled back to York, and the siege was renewed, the city finally surrendering on 15th July.
York had suffered badly, with many buildings destroyed, but the Parliamentarian general Sir Thomas Fairfax, a local man, respected one of the conditions of surrender and forbade pillaging by his troops, thus saving the fine medieval stained glass of York Minster and the churches from destruction by puritans.
GEORGIAN YORK —THE SOCIAL CAPITAL OF THE NORTH
York now fell into a decline until the 18th century, when it became a fashionable social centre. The Racecourse (horse racing) was established, the Assembly Rooms were built, and many wealthy people from all over the north of England built town houses in the newly widened streets, notably Micklegate, Blossom Street and Bootham.
One legendary figure of this period is the famous highwayman Richard Turpin. His ride to York from London on Black Bess to establish an alibi is a purely fictional creation of Harvison Ainsworth in Rookwood. In 1684, 'Swift Nicks' Nevison, another 'gentleman of the road', had performed a similar ride using relays of fresh horses. Dick Turpin was convicted at York in 1739, imprisoned in the condemned cell of the Debtors' Prison, and hanged at the York Tyburn, on the Knavesmire. His tombstone is in St. George's Churchyard.
GEORGE HUDSON AND THE RAILWAY AGE
The nineteenth century saw York still largely by-passed by the Industrial Revolution until an enterprising draper called George Hudson, Lord Mayor of York in 1837 and 1838, and again in 1844-5, became one of the earliest investors in the railway building boom of the 1830s and 1840s. He made himself into a millionaire, and one of the leading railway figures of the time: the Railway King. He fell from power in 1849 when irregularities in his dealings were discovered, and died in relative poverty in 1871. Hudson Street was renamed Railway Street, but in 1971 he was forgiven and the name was changed back to George Hudson Street. George Hudson’s influence made York a leading railway centre and laid the foundation for its present prosperity.
The nineteenth century also saw the expansion of Rowntree's Cocoa Works (now Nestle) and Terry's Confectionery Works (now McVites) from smalI shops in the city to great factories, creating York's leading industry.
In the twentieth century some new industries came, some new buildings were built. York University
was opened in 1963, and revived the city as a centre of learning. Modern 21st
Century York has a thriving tech industry, a huge tourist industry and many colleges apart from the University of York and York Saint John’s that make it a center of learning virtually unrivaled in any part of the UK, yet it still maintains it’s medieval qualities, making it an amalgam of all the ages of its past. As King George VI said, the history of York is the history of England.