The hidden historical gems of York

Posted: August 5, 2013 in Historic Buildings
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At 200ft high, 500ft long and 100ft wide, York Minster is difficult to miss. It remains the tallest structure in the city, dominating the skyline since 1472, but it is not the be all and end all of what the countys historical capital has to offer. York is crammed literally in the case of Shambles with fascinating ephemera and long lasting cultural gems. There are museums, attractions, shops, restaurants, pubs and magnificent architecture at every turn, but not all are as obvious at the minster.
Some, like the Micklegate Bar Museum and Richard III Museum, are tucked away up on the city walls away from the direct gaze of pavement-bound visitors.
The former is often described as one of Yorks best-kept secrets despite being located at one of the busiest entry points to the city and is a great jumping off point (not literally) for a walk along the city walls.
Micklegate Bar has stood guard over the main road from York to London for around 800 years and, to this day, whenever a royal party pays an official visit to the city they pass through this gate. Thankfully, they are no longer greeted by traitors heads adorning the battlements, but the whole gory story is still laid out in glorious technicolour most of it blood-red inside.
The Richard III Museum, lovingly created and run by history impresario Mike Bennett, is located further along the wall in the imposing gateway to Monk Bar, the only one of Yorks four gateways with a working portcullis.
Like many of the citys hidden gems, the museum doesnt rely on high-tech displays and interactive jiggery-pokery to attract visitors, leaning heavily instead on dramatic reconstructions and well-researched information to encourage guests to make up their own minds about this controversial king. Was he an evil, hunchbacked monster who brutally murdered the princes in the tower, or a loyal, courageous ruler, unfairly maligned by historians? You decide.
Richard didnt rule for long, but he packed a lot in, said Mike who, perhaps not surprisingly, has a distinct liking for Britains most notorious monarch. He was undoubtedly a controversial figure, but he died a heroic death. Ive always been quite pro-Richard, which probably explains why I do what I do.
Mike grabbed the crucial Monk Bar location when the lease came up without any real idea of what he was going to fill the space with. He eventually focused in on his passion for history and particular interest in Richard III, launching his ambitious project with more enthusiasm than funding.
I think were pretty well supported by the council and the people of York, he said. But I do get envious of larger concerns in the city. I run this place myself with no real resources and I dont get any funding from anyone. But Ive always liked working for myself to be honest, I dont think I could do anything else now.
York has more than its fair share of fascinating, although not always grand, houses that can be overlooked by visitors on a mission to tick off all the biggies on their to-see list. Margaret Clitherows house, for instance, is a tiny place in Shambles, transformed from a former butchers shop into a peaceful shrine to this selfless Roman Catholic who sheltered persecuted priests in the 16th century and was deliberately crushed to death for her trouble.
Other notable houses include Barley Hall, a meticulously restored medieval townhouse tucked away down an atmospheric ginnel; Mansion House, which has been home to the various lord mayors of York since 1725; Treasurers House, famous for its ghosts a company of Roman soldiers who appeared through the cellar wall in 1953 and its tearoom (maybe the legionnaires were just peckish); and Merchant Adventurers Hall, which has stood largely untouched for more than 600 years.

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