York Observatory

York Observatory was built in 1833, with the refractor telescope added in 1850 by Thomas Cooke.

There is also a clock sited at the Observatory which was originally constructed in 1811, and which was donated by Dr. Pearson, the Vice President of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The Observatory was frequently in the national press in the mid nineteenth century when it offered good vision of various astronomical features. In 1861 the Observatory’s 4.5 inch glass telescope was used to watch a comet which had “an extraordinary appearance”. Mr TS Noble, the secretary of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society said, “the nucleus was most brilliant, of a yellow light, surpassing Jupiter in intensity”.

The Observatory is sited at the Museum Gardens and can be visited by the public, which are currently held every Thursday and Saturday from 11.30 until 14.30.


In 1070 Monkgate was known as Munecagate, and by 1154 it was known as Munkgate.

St. Maurice’s Church is situated on the corner of Monkgate and Lord Mayor’s Walk and was built in 1878 to replace a smaller church. This was in turn demolished in 1967, although the graveyard and gardens still remain.

The Grey Coat School was situated on the street and Monkgate was also the first home for the York County Hospital.

Businesses on Monkgate in 1834 included:

Mrs Clarkson’s Boarding House
Grey Coat School
John Tabor’s Boarding House
Anthony Whimp, Food Supplier, No. 21
Henry Othick, Blacksmith
Joseph Ellis, Bricklayer, No. 9
Francis Robinson, Coal Merchant
William Cawkill, Gardener
Sarah Barker, Hosiers, No. 20
William Briggs, Grocers
Ralph Todd, Grocers
John Flintoft, Stonemasons, No. 23
Bay Horse, Public House, No. 24
Black Horse, Public House, No. 34
Unicorn, Public House
George Mason, Tobacco Pipe Maker, No. 19

Monk Bar

Monk Bar is the tallest of all of the York gates and dates from around the thirteenth century and retains the Plantagenet Arms. There were initially three floors, with a fourth added in the fifteenth century, and each of the floors can be defended independently.

The Bar once contained Little Ease prison, which once housed Alice Bowman in what was a tiny prison cell, measuring just 1.6 metres across. Bowman was imprisoned for her Catholic beliefs during Queen Elizabeth’s reign.

In 1824 the city commissioners looked at what they thought would be improvements to the city and noted that, “the Corporation lately resolved that as Monk Bar is a most uncomfortable and unsafe avenue for foot passengers, and as all the the other Bars have each a detached passage for pedestrians” and plans were drawn up to build a passageway along the side of Monk Bar. Changes didn’t happen quickly however several months after it was reported that no pathway had been constructed after a “false rumour” that the Corporation of York had no power to remove or alter any part of the City Walls. The changes did though take place in 1825, although it meant the destruction of the Monk Bar barbican.

In 1829 however the city authorities paid 540 pounds for repairs to Monk Bar and the areas of wall just by it. Monk Bar does however have the city’s only working portcullis, which was last lowered in 1953 for the Queen’s Coronation.

Seebohm Rowntree

Seebohm Rowntree was born on the 7th July 1871 at Bootham, St Olave Marygate, the third son of wealthy chocolate manufacturer Joseph Rowntree and his second wife, Emma Seebohm. He joined the family chocolate company and in 1897 joined the Board of Directors, helping to develop the scientific research department of the Rowntrees.

He is known for his first book, “Poverty, a Study of Town Life in York” which he wrote in 1899 and which was published in 1901 by Methuen. The book was a look at the social conditions which people in York lived in, and second, third and fourth editions were published in 1902 and it became an important book because it defined just how bad housing and poverty was in parts of the city. The conclusions of the book are available here.

Rowntree’s research showed that 9.9% of the city’s residents could not afford the necessities of life, and that although 12% of working class families lived in comfortable homes, and 62% lived in tolerable homes, he found that 26% lived in slums. His research was comprehensive and he was one of the first to question families in detail about their living conditions, paying for one full-time assistant to help him but also securing the help of many volunteers.

Rowntree was a friend of David Lloyd George, the Liberal Prime Minister, and he hoped that his research would be useful to developing social policy. In 1911 Rowntree published a joint book with GR Lavers titled “Poverty and the Welfare State” and he published two further studies into poverty in York, in 1936 (the conclusions of his second book are available here) and 1951. Rowntree is remembered for his contribution to social policy, and his belief that welfare helped productivity, so it was in the interests of the country to minimise poverty. He died on the 7th October 1954 following a heart attack, his wife Lydia had died before him in 1944, and he left four sons and one daughter.

Rowntree Park

Rowntree Park was given to the city by Joseph Rowntree in 1921 to commemorate the staff of Rowntrees who had died in the First World War. At the time the land given amounted to 17 acres and cost Rowntrees 1,700 pounds to acquire. Rowntree park is situated off Terry Avenue by the River Ouse and formally opened in July 1921.

A set of gates were added to the Terry Avenue entrance to commemorate those who had lost their lives in the Second World War. There are also entrances to the park in Butcher Terrace, Cameron Grove, Richardson Street and Lovell Street. There is a story, which is not based on actual evidence, that the purchase of the land for the park by Rowntrees was to prevent their rivals Terry’s from extending their own factory.

Following a 1.8 million pounds refurbishment, part funded with just over 1.3 million pounds from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the park has recently been restored. There are a range of facilities available, including a woodland walk, tree trail, lake, childrens’ play areas, tennis courts, a skate park and cafe. There was an outdoor swimming pool which was opened in 1924, but this was demolished amid strong local protest, in the mid 1980s.

The park is now 25 acres in size can be visited every day of the year other than Christmas Day and is open from 08.00 on Mondays to Fridays and from 09.00 on Saturdays and Sundays, always closing at dusk. The Friends of Rowntree Park also have a web-site at http://www.rowntreepark.org.uk/.

Sir William Robinson

Sir William Robinson was the MP for York from 1698 until 1722 and also the Lord Mayor of York in 1700. He was born in 1654, the son of a York merchant, Thomas Robinson and his wife, Elizabeth Robinson.

Robinson had five sons and one daughter. His son, Thomas Robinson, served as the MP for Thirsk from 1727 until 1734 and for Christchurch from 1748 until 1761, and his brother, Tancred also became Lord Mayor of York twice. Sir William Robinson died on the 22nd December 1736.



The election results for Sir William Robinson were:


Sir William Robinson – 1,238 votes (elected)

Tobias Jenkins – 1,026 votes (elected)

Edward Thompson – 669 votes


Sir William Robinson – elected unopposed

Edward Thompson – elected unopposed


Sir William Robinson – 1,245 votes (elected)

Tobias Jenkins – 784 votes (elected)

Marmaduke Prickett – 544 votes


Sir William Robinson – elected unopposed

Tobias Jenkins – elected unopposed


Sir William Robinson – 1,282 votes (elected)

Robert Benson – 823 votes (elected)

Marmaduke Prickett – 648 votes


Sir William Robinson – elected unopposed

Robert Benson – elected unopposed


Sir William Robinson – elected unopposed

Robert Benson – elected unopposed


Sir William Robinson – 1,368 votes (elected)

Robert Fairfax – 832 votes (elected)

Tobias Jenkins – 802 votes


Sir William Robinson – 1,388 votes (elected)

Tobias Jenkins – 1,225 votes (elected)

Robert Fairfax – 844 votes

Resurrection Men

Although reported widely in the local press in 1825, in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries York was hit by a sinister problem, that of body snatchers, or resurrectionists. These individuals would dig up freshly buried bodies and take them to sell to medical schools, often in Edinburgh, which made York a prime target as it was on the main coaching route. Friends of Dick Turpin, whose gravestone can still be seen in the churchyard of the now demolished St George Church, had had to rebury his body after an attempt was made to steal it.

St Denys at Walmgate was targeted, a soldier at Fulford was dug up in 1830 and some bodies were stolen from the Archbishop’s Palace at Bishopthorpe. In a bid to try and stop the practice the York Chronicle suggested that sulphuric acid should be poured over the body to make it unusable for medical research.

During the early nineteenth century many families kept watch over fresh graves at night, or made iron casings to cover the grave, but the problem continued, made worse that it wasn’t technically a crime to steal the body, much more to steal the clothes or effects that the body was wearing, hence why many bodies were quickly shed of their clothes.

In April 1832 a gang of body snatchers were though caught and sent to the county assizes after digging up the body of Robert Hudson. The gang had been led by John Craig Hodgson, who was sent to York Castle with William Germain, William Henry Bradley, James Norman and Henry Teale.

Many local residents had feared the new threat, which never actually happened in York, of being murdered and the body sold, and it wasn’t until the 1832 Anatomy Act that the problem of body snatching finally started to disappear.

Red Tower

Red Tower is the only section of the city walls which was built in brick, hence the name. The tower was built in 1490 in an area of a break in the city walls, in a site which was formerly marshland.

The different style of building stone was noted however and the city masons were unhappy that tiles were being used and the city had to protect the tilers from the masons. However in 1491 the tiler John Patrik was murdered by William Hindley and Christopher Homer. A ditch was later dug around the tower in 1645, which has long since been filled in.

The Red Tower, which had also become known as Brimstone House, had become derelict by the mid nineteenth century, the roof had disappeared and some of the walls had started to collapse. There were threats of demolition in 1855 and the Board of Health Committee said that demolition would improve health by opening up the area.

Demolition was however opposed, the York Antiquarian Society campaigned against the loss of the building and the local press reported that demolition risked, “our venerable remnants of bygone ages will be swept away” and “public opinion is decidedly against any wholesale destruction”. The campaign to avoid destruction was successful, and in 1857 the Red Tower was restored. In the 1880s a playground was built next to the Red Tower.

York Railways

The railways have been an important part of city life over the last 150 years, and the city is the location for the National Railway Museum. The station is situated on the East Coast main line, with trains going from London’s King Cross station to Edinburgh Station.

The first railway station in York was opened in 1839, and a larger building built in 1841. They were both situated inside the city walls, and the second railway station still exists, and a large hole was made through the city walls to let the trains enter the station.

The third station, which is still used today as the city’s railway station, was opened in 1877, and there are eleven platforms still in use reflecting the continued important of the railways to the city.  When it was built, it was the largest station in the country, with an 800 foot long roof and curving platforms.

The station building was badly damaged in the Second World War, but was repaired in 1947. The station buildings were again renovated from 2008 to 2009, although the planned ticket gates which the train operator wanted to install were refused planning permission by York Council.

York Racecourse

The first record of a race meeting in York was at the course at Clifton Ings in 1709, although there was also some evidence of horse racing during Roman times during the days of Emperor Severus.

In 1730 the York Corporation moved to the current racecourse site at Knavesmire due to the constant flooding at the Clifton Ings site, despite money being spent to drain the course. The first race at this new location was held in 1731.

In 1754 the first grandstand was built at the racecourse, designed by John Carr. There were a number of ways used to raise the money, one of which was that the city provided some money and loans to the racecourse and they also funded some prizes, and secondly, 250 people each paid 5 guineas which also gave them seating rights and a brass token. In addition the Blake Street Assembly Rooms gave 40 pounds to make good the Knavesmire site. New grandstands were added to meet increased demand over time in 1890, 1965 and 2003.

Today the racecourse still exists and is one of the country’s most important race meeting locations, known especially for the annual Ebor Handicap Race.

The racecourse’s web-site can be found at http://www.yorkracecourse.co.uk/.