Making up the fabric and character of every city are stories and truths throughout place and time. Some of these are retold until they become famous facts and traditional tales. York, more than most, has an abundance of legendary yarns, from Romans and Vikings, through ghosts and railways, to Guy Fawkes and Harry Potter; its medieval history and modern influence is celebrated locally and universally.
But beneath the popular narratives are lesser-known nuggets of information to be discovered. In buildings, businesses, people and places, unique and charming pieces of the past and present surround. Equally interesting and informative to tourists and residents alike, here are fourteen things you may not have known about York.
The Original Ghost Walk – York has so many sightings and stories of ghosts that you will find several haunted tours across the spookiest spots. For a fact about the tours that tell the stories: The Original Ghost Walk is the oldest in the city, and maybe the oldest exclusive ghost walk in the world.
The York Ghost Merchant – Continuing the ghost theme, this unique shop on Shambles makes and sells York ghosts in a building that has ghost stories of its own, as they explain: ‘There is a hidden cupboard in our shop that houses some exceptional and unusual York ghosts’.
Parlormade – One ghost story which is perhaps less of a legend than some others is at Parlormade Café and Scone House on Little Shambles. Here, it is said that in the 15th century building, ‘the second floor ghost likes to open the window to let in fresh air’.
York Minster – The famous York Minster is not short of a popular fact and historic story, so here is a bit of information from its more recent past. In July 1984 the Minster was struck by a lightning bolt when a fire engulfed the roof until it collapsed. Afterwards, Blue Peter held a competition to design parts of the cathedral roof, and so some parts of the roof today were designed by children. And for another fittingly Blue Peter style fact, the York Minster tower weighs the same as 40 jumbo jets.
Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate – This street in York city centre is sure to evoke a smile, and the sign is the setting for many a fun photo. Its unusual name is thought to mean ‘neither one thing nor the other’, although a plaque suggests it translates to ‘what a street!’ Despite the long name, Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate is actually the shortest street in York.
The Rattle Owl – For a journey through different York eras, travel up and down stairs in the beautiful building that homes independent restaurant The Rattle Owl. They tell us that ‘The Rattle Owl has Roman ruins in its cellar, a Georgian front room, and Jacobean dining hall upstairs’.
Holgate Windmill – A rather unique site on the edge of the city centre, Holgate Windmill is a tower mill which is not just for show, having been restored to working order. It is York’s last surviving windmill, and the oldest five-sailed windmill in the country.
Grand Opera House – Over the centuries, buildings often change use and occupants. One cultural landmark today lives proudly where an equally important site once stood. Yes, the buildings that comprise the Grand Opera House were in 1868 originally York’s Corn Exchange.
York Theatre Royal – One theatre which was already going strong before then is in St Leonard’s Place, where York Theatre Royal dates back to 1744. Indeed, it is the oldest producing theatre outside of London.
Bettys – The famous Yorkshire café and tea rooms is popular for its timeless tradition, but in its York building is an evocative artefact from a very specific time. The basement has a wartime mirror with hundreds of signatures by WW2 airmen from all over the world who were stationed here between 1939 and 1945.
York’s Chocolate Story – York has a longstanding relationship with chocolate, and York Chocolate Story shows the history of chocolate making here. This includes the Rowntree’s factory, which was founded on Castlegate in the 19th century before being taken over by Nestle a century later in 1988.
The Great Yorkshire Sweet Shop – To sample more of this sweet-toothed city, The Great Yorkshire Sweet Shop stocks the most traditional treats for miles around. Here, the abundance extends to over 300 varieties of sweets.
The National Railway Museum – Unsurprisingly, the nation’s railway hub has many iconic reasons to visit, including the world’s most famous locomotive The Flying Scotsman. Or how about the the world’s fastest steam locomotive? Mallard raced to 126mph in 1938, a record which remains unbroken today.
York Mansion House – The official residence of the Lord Mayor of York was built for that specific reason in 1732. It remains a striking sight, and is the oldest house still in existence to be purpose built for a Lord Mayor.
Images: York Mansion House, The Original Ghost Walk, The York Ghost Merchant, York Minster, Holgate Windmill, Bettys, The National Railway Museum