Welcome to York
One of the most beautiful cities in the north of England, the historic City of York is situated at the confluence of the the rivers Ouse and Foss. The surrounding Vale of York is known for its gentle arable land bounded by the North York Moors and Yorkshire Wolds to the east and the Pennines to the west. For almost 2000 years York has been central to the religious and political life of England, a position which led King George VI to claim that the “History of York is the History of England.” Today this ancient city is famed for its parks and gardens, museums and galleries, fine architecture and cultural scene.
While the Vale of York has been inhabited since prehistoric times as far as we can tell, settlement at York owes its earliest origins to the Romans. After conquering the area in 71 AD they fortified their new territory by building forts. One such structure was constructed at the confluence of the Ouse and Foss, which guarded over an important crossing place in the River Ouse. The Romans called the settlement Eboracum, possibly from the Roman word for the yew trees found in the area. By the third century this was a thriving town, one of the most important in the Roman Empire. The city was enclosed by a stone wall, had sizeable public buildings such as baths, a garrison for over 6000 soldiers, large mansions which housed the wealthy and powerful as well, as other buildings. It is perhaps testament to the town’s importance that the “first christian emperor” Constantine I (Constantine the Great) was declared emperor in York in 306 AD. Today a bronze statue sits close to the spot.
As a result of the decline of the Roman Empire, soldiers at York were sent to Gaul by the end of the 4th century and the town went into decline, shortly before they abandoned Britain altogether in 407 AD. Within a century the Saxons had taken the area and re-established a settlement at York as a major capital of the Kingdom of Northumbria, which they called Eoforwic. In the 7th century one local ruler, Edwin, reintroduced Christianity and established a wooden church, which would eventually become York’s cathedral. By 627 York had its first bishop, Bishop Paulinus.
A 9th century civil war in Northumbria provided the opportunity for Ivar “The Boneless” to conquer York in 866. The settlement was renamed Jorvic, from which the current name is derived. York became the capital of a new Viking kingdom, resulting in a significant period of growth and development. Trade with the rest of the Viking empire led industry to boom. Of particular importance was the woolens’ industry, although craftsmen such as blacksmiths, potters and antler and bone craftsmen also flourished. Meanwhile, York also developed as a religious centre; the cathedral, now built in stone, maintained one of the most substantial schools and libraries in Europe. By the time of the Norman conquest there were probably a little under 10,000 inhabitants in the city.
During the following centuries York was the undisputed capital of northern England and the kingdom’s second largest city. York’s ‘Grade-A listed’ city walls and gates were built at this time, while the awe inspiring structure of York Minster gradually began to tower over the city in all its gothic glory. York’s Castle was also developed on Baile Hill and today the stone structure is known as Clifford’s Tower.
York’s development was not without setbacks. The townspeople found themselves on the losing side of the Wars of the Roses (1455-1487) when King Edward IV (r.1461-1470) ascended to the throne. In 1536 Henry VIII began the Dissolution of the Monasteries, which effected such an important religious centre as York enormously, although the political decline was in some ways offset by the strengthening of the Council of the North, thereafter held at York in King’s Manor. Many of York’s buildings were damaged during two sieges in 1644 by Parliamentarians during the Civil War, before the city finally submitted on the 15th of July of that year. Moreover, 4 outbreaks of the black death slashed the population between 1550 and 1645. Despite all of this hardship, by 1700 the population was around 13,000.
During the following two centuries York would continue to grow, but would become of lesser importance, overshadowed by booming northern factory towns like Manchester and Liverpool. But while York failed to industrialise, it maintained an important role as the cultural and social centre for the north of England’s privileged classes. York’s impressive Georgian and Victorian architecture owes much to these wealthy northerners who invested much in the town.
By the 1830’s a journey to London had been reduced to 20 hours by improvements in the coach service, before it was made obsolete by the arrival of the Railway in 1839. From this time on, manufacturing began to expand and various banks, building societies, offices, public libraries, and art galleries sprang up. While today manufacturing is not as important as it once was, York’s role as a cultural centre is in no doubt and its reputation as one of England’s most beloved cities remains firmly intact.