As Britain’s best preserved medieval street, the Shambles is of course one of York’s tourist hotspots. Photos of every possible angle of the Shambles exist online and the iconic street can be viewed via Google Street View, but it can’t recreate the experience of having those buildings loom over you from both sides, close enough in some places to touch both sides at once with your fingertips, with the overhangs casting shadows even at midday. Trying to manoeuvre through the Saturday afternoon crowd is a trying task, but (as rare an occurrence as it is) walking down this enclosed street when it’s otherwise completely deserted is inexplicably eerie. Every footstep echoes between these old buildings, disturbing only the ghosts of butchers and homeowners of centuries past.
‘The Shambles’ can refer to the many twisting streets surrounding this one, which was mentioned by William the Conqueror in the Doomsday Book of 1086. Many of the buildings, originally homes and butchers’, date back to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The shelf-like appearance of the overhanging upper floors was designed to shelter the meat from butcher’s shops from direct sunlight. These buildings are still in use, though not a butcher’s in sight! Most of these businesses are independently owned and provide a unique experience to visiting this street, many of which I will talk about in greater depth on this page another day. Beside the street is the daily Shambles Market which has been active since the Viking settlement, now home to more than eighty-five stalls of culturally diverse goods from fresh produce to clothes and cosmetics, exotic gemstones and fresh flowers. Nowadays there is ample seating and free Wi-Fi—what more could you ask for?
By Fearn Britton