| Medieval * York |
The most famous street in the city – The Shambles - was actually the inspiration for J. K. Rowling’s Diagon alley, and it is the closest thing you can get to the magic of Hogwarts. With its overhanging houses, cobbled stones, and sloping floors it is one of the best-preserved Medieval streets in England, and winner of the prestigious ‘Most Picturesque Street in Britain’ award. But before it tapped into the marketing of magic the Shambles was a street of butchery, slaughterhouses, and animal products.
In the Medieval era of York, the street names were linked to the products which were sold there. You had the street of pigs and swine (Swinegate), that of charcoal makers (Colliergate), and the street of prostitution (Grope Lane). It is thought that ‘The Shambles’ comes from the word ‘shamel’ meaning shelves, describing the wooden window-sills set up along the street where butchers would display their cuts of meat. In the 15thcentury it was called ‘The Great Flesh Shambles’, but eventually became shortened to its current name – making it slightly more appealing on TripAdvisor.
The Shambles was a prime example of humans and animals living side by side, in harmonious but filthy conditions. Pigs would roam freely in the streets, waste would pour down the gutters, and there would be various carcasses swinging from outside the butchers’ stores – you can still see the hooks outside a few of them. The street itself was designed with this environment in mind. Many of the houses were built to slope downwards so that the offal would more easily seep into the gutters, and the overhanging buildings helped shield the hanging carcasses from direct sunlight.
The meaty nature of the Shambles shifted with the increasing regulations of the meat trade. Butchers weren’t able to slaughter animals behind their houses anymore, and the economy declined. By the 1930s, only ten butchers remained on the street. A Shambles Area Committee was set up to protect the little lane and conservations efforts were put in place. Eventually, all the slaughterhouses were demolished. The Shambles is still home to the best pulled pork sandwiches in the city, but these are now joined by an increasing number of craft stores and Potter-themed shops.
York, YO1 7LZ